Shortening and Lengthening
Shortening and lengthening a horse's stride. It's one of the more basic skills a rider needs to know in order to move forward in their riding career. It's not about going faster or slower. The goal is to keep the same momentum or rhythm while changing the length of the stride.
So here are two exercises to help you master the art of shortening and lengthening your horse's stride.
No matter what gate you do these exercises in, remember to balance the right amount of leg and rein aids. When shortening, you need to hold back, but you also need a good amount of leg to encourage his rhythm. That will encourage him to round up and establish a more collected, bouncy stride. When you lengthen, of course you need your leg on, but you also need to keep your rein aid. Don't let go of all of the work you just achieved. You need to keep that same rhythm and allow him to reach out. Don't let him rush and pull you around.
The most typical exercise would be to shorten on the short sides of the ring and lengthen on the long sides. What my coach explained to me is this exercise should be done the opposite way. We should lengthen on the short sides and shorten on the long sides. When I asked her why, she said it was because doing it the other way will teach your horse two things; to slow down in the turns and to rush your jumps. This made complete sense to me. Sure shortening on the short sides is much easier, but just because it's easy doesn't necessarily mean it's the right way.
Once you feel comfortable with your shortening and lengthening skills, you can put them to the test on course. If you feel more comfortable with poles on the ground first, that will work too. The first thing you want to do is canter down a line of two jumps (or poles). Count your strides. Next, go around again and make sure you put in the same amount of strides. This may seem weird at first, but it'll teach you to know where you are in a line. It's fine to ride and hope you'll do the same amount of strides by hoping you have the same rhythm and stride length. It's something else to know exactly how many strides you'll put in a line.
The trick to this exercise is, as you go down the line the first time, know how many strides you're at half way down. That way, as you ride down the line the second time, you'll know once you've hit the middle of the line whether you need to shorten, lengthen or stay the same.
Once you've mastered that, try purposely to add a stride or to take away a stride. Play around with the number of strides between the two fences (or poles). This will help train your eye, but it will also help train your horse to be supple enough to adjust his stride almost effortlessly.
I hope these two exercises will help you master the art of shortening and lengthening. It's not an easy skill to master, but it is really helpful. With everything, practice will make everything easier.
Until next time, happy riding!