At least not as much as everyone thinks they do.
I grew up in the equitation world where it’s all about perfection. We obsess about the perfect look, the perfect horse and yes of course about the perfect distance.
There are many great tools I learned from the eq—including but not limited to the following:
- position has a purpose,
- how to stay composed under pressure,
- strategic planning, and
I always felt like I wasn’t sure I had a good enough eye for distances because so much importance is placed on that, the elusive “perfect” distance. Then as I aged out, I moved on to train with John and Beezie Madden. The first thing that stuck with me when I started training with them is that distance is the least important part of jumping a course. I can still remember where I was when John told me that there are really only three major components of show jumping:
And they are important in that exact order, the least important being distance. I have taught this mantra for 20 years. Because you can’t teach feel or necessarily an “eye” but you can teach pace and track. To be honest I wasn’t entirely sure I believed it.
Then this spring in May, I suffered a sudden, and fortunately temporary, blindness in my left eye. To make matters worse this happened on the Monday of Kentucky Spring 1 horse show.
I hadn’t shown in weeks and I also had some new horses, one of whom I planned to jump 1.45-meter. Starting out Tuesday in the hunter warm-ups was alarming when the jumps looked blurry until four strides out. I pulled up after a few mistakes and had to rethink how I needed to ride. I realized I really had to practice what I’ve been preaching—pace, track, then distance.
I learned I’m quite good on track but sometimes I get sloppy about my pace. The patience part of waiting to see a distance was a bit trickier at 1.45-meter. But by what felt like the grace God, it worked!
I thought, ‘Wow distances aren’t really as important as everyone thinks.’ Even when I would be a bit deep or long, the horses all jumped like it was the perfect distance.
Pace, track and the last component, distance… in a balanced canter and when you know and can execute the correct track, distances appear on their own. Even if you don’t have an eye to see what’s appearing, if you have the two other components right, the horse can make a good jump.
I was temporarily blind in the left eye for both weeks in Kentucky. I had to completely adjust my riding and in the end, it improved my riding immensely. Now, whenever I hear someone teaching telling their student, “you’re too close” or “you’re too long,” it bothers me.
Why are they “too close” or “too long?” Something happened with their pace or often with riders as they learn it’s about their perception of track in relation to the actual track.
One thing I do know. It’s not about the distance.
Schuyler Riley is a grand prix rider based out of her Wolfstone Stables in Wellington, Fla., and Stockton, N.J. Riley has served on many Nations Cup teams, competed in three FEI World Cup Finals, and has won the American Invitational (Fla.), American Gold Cup (Pa.) and the Budsweiser AGA National Championships (Fla.).