Finding the correct distance to a fence can be difficult to master and takes many hours of practice. However it is achievable and you don’t have to jump everyday to improve either.
Go to a show or watch a horse show online to see how the riders at the top of the sport ride. Watch their rounds and count down the strides to each jump. See if you can tell how many strides it will take and if the rider will be long, short, or just right to the jump.
Exercises to Develop Your Eye
Practice over poles on the ground. Ground poles are one of the best ways to practice finding the correct distance to a fence. They are great to develop your eye without having to jump your horse everyday. Perfect for riders with only one or two horses. Place the poles alone, on related distances, in courses, and sporadically around the arena. Some horses may need ground poles raised for them to take a bigger stride over it. Practice counting three strides out before reaching the pole. Then try counting from further distances. Counting past 10 strides isn’t really necessary. You can also practice adjusting your speed to the poles and adding and subtracting strides. The horse must instantly go forward off of your leg as well as come back from your seat and hand.
Look early at the pole until you get close to it then look ahead. Do the same thing when jumping, look at the top rail until you are about one stride away then look up and over your jump. However, if you have a problem with constantly looking down try to keep the pole in your peripheral vision. When riding a related distance, automatically look up at the next pole and start preparing to get your horse there on the correct distance.
A similar exercise is riding next to the jumps but parallel to the standard instead of over them. Ride toward the standard as if you were jumping it but pass by instead. Practice finding the correct stride to each fence and count to the next.
Practice getting to a single cavaletti from a long, short, and correct approach. Then start practicing over small cross rails and verticals. You will learn when the fence is coming up a little short, long, or perfect. If you are having a problem with circling, walk up to the jump until about 7 or 8 strides away then pick up a canter and ride to the jump. Doing this will make you adjust your horse instead of circling because you have already gotten pretty close to the jump. Don’t break up your approach when finding a distance. Instead, create a rhythm in the canter, then go forward to the fence.