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Getting Comfortable with the Pace

I’ve mentioned this ad nauseam on the blog, but pace is really, freaking hard. Finding the right pace and maintaining it is absolutely critical to success over fences (at least in the hunter ring)… and it sounds so easy. But let me tell you, for this weenie adult amateur, it is not. It’s like the holy grail or a unicorn; you want so badly to find it… but it seems always just out of reach.

I always thought that pace was just a different way of saying speed, but that’s not true at all. There is so much more that goes into pace than just being fast — you need impulsion, straightness and  adjustability.  It’s also extremely easy to lose pace once you’ve got it — your path, hands, legs, seat and eye all play critical roles in maintaining pace. Basically, in order to achieve the proper pace and maintain it, you have to be working for it every stride.  And it’s hard.

Cantering on the Forehand
This is how you lope on the forehand.

Currently, I struggle with not only knowing what the right pace feels like and maintaining it throughout a course, but also being comfortable with it. You know that whole stereotypical ‘hunters go so slow, they’re practically loping over fences’ and how everyone seems to bash that? I LIKE TO RIDE THAT. Not because it looks good or even because the fences flow well (because when you’re crawling like a snail, the fences do not flow well)… but because I’m a big, fat, nervous Nelly. A normal canter pace feels like a gallop to me and makes me nervous. So I’ve been practicing opening Miles up and riding a faster canter pace, even on the flat.

But once in a blue moon we do gallop (with all four hooves off the ground!)

Guys. GUYS. It’s working! For the first time ever, I was able to get three different paces between ground poles (4, 5 and 6 strides) without becoming totally undone and wonky. And in my lesson last night, once Miles and I got rolling, we had some really awesome jumps that felt effortless because we had enough pace. Sure, it’s not perfect and I need to work on getting more pace sooner… but I can feel that 2’6″ stride pace now and I’m not afraid. This is progress worth celebrating 😀


Fly On Over is an equestrian lifestyle blog devoted to connecting horse lovers around the world. By providing equestrians with practical tips and tricks related to horse ownership, discussing training techniques for horse and rider, as well as covering industry news.

25 thoughts on “Getting Comfortable with the Pace

  1. Awesome!!! That’s a big accomplishment. I used to gallop my old man in the hills and was totally comfortable with him at any speed, but that didn’t transfer over to Courage very well. :-/ It’s a process.

  2. Once you can master it with poles I swear it’s easier with jumps than poles! It’s really hard to ride a horse that has to be pushed to make the strides, just can feel so rushy. I actually picked Stampede because I knew that we would not have to work to make strides ever, lol.

  3. Woohoo! Awesome job! I call that correct pace the magic canter. The magic canter is elusive, but once you find it… all is right with the world. There is no missing. There is no chasing for the strides. It’s just magic. MAGIC!
    My horses seem to be much more willing to give me the magic canter in the show ring (thank goodness for that) than anywhere else. I guess if they’re going to be stingy with it, I’m glad it comes when it’s really needed.

  4. Yay! I struggle with pace too. A normal canter feels fast to me, especially since Max’s stride was so small and Gatsby’s is so big! Glad you’re finding it.

  5. Pace is absolutely like the holy grail or a unicorn. It’s SO HARD. I totally hear you. I have always been allergic to speed – I blame a small furry pinto pony who ran away with me daily as a child. Scared the daylights out of me. When I did the hunters, I too preferred to crawl around the ring, often with disastrous results because it turns out it’s very hard for your horse to jump around a course from a lumbering unbalanced lope. But – I think ground poles are an excellent way to improve your feel of what the right pace is. And counting 1-2-3-4 out loud as you go around the ring so you can hear when your rhythm changes. Once the ground poles are easy make them teeny weeny little cross rails. That helped me a lot. Glad it’s starting to click for you!

  6. Hooray! I struggle with pace too. Chloe has a pretty decent stride length so when we are going at a nice pace, it feels like we are GALLOPING!!! It really helps me to have someone video me riding a course and then go back and watch it right away so I can see what I just felt. 9 times out of 10, what felt crazy and galloping was just a nice, forward pace. 🙂

  7. I have trouble with pace, as well, especially across the country. At least when you’re doing adults on a horse two hand smaller than everybody else’s, pace is simple: as fast as possible, all the time. Then I climb onto my thoroughbred and suddenly we’re actually getting two strides in a two-stride combination and I am lost.

  8. yay way to go! pace is definitely a puzzle for me, and when nervous i revert to the slow lope too. the thing that seems to be helping me right now is seeing isabel’s shoulders come UP in front of me. technically i should be thinking of her sitting more on the hind end… but i’m a visual learner and can actually see her shoulders haha. this way i can differentiate between that fast flat canter on the forehand that definitely does not work, and the right ‘bouncy’ canter..

  9. Pace IS hard. That is why I prefer not to ride horses who have to be pushed pushed pushed all the time to go. I like ones with a little bit of an engine! Easier for me to whoa than to go 😉 The pole exercise and changing strides is probably one of my favorite exercises though. Not only works on pace, but helps tune your eye since you obviously have to know where you are if you keep changing up the stride length.

  10. Pace is crucial to any discipline. Hunters, jumpers, dressage, whatever. Any also seems to be the most difficult thing to achieve in said disciplines. Just like we think hunters go slow, the assumption is that jumpers go fast. But how fast is too fast? And you don’t want to be flat or you pull rails. But don’t over adjust and go to slow either. And it’s not just a matter of moving the legs faster or slower, but changing stride length. I’ve been riding for my whole life, and I still have trouble with pace because each horse is a little different, and each day the “right” pace may not be the same or achieved in the same way. Sounds like you guys are well on your way though!

  11. Pace is super hard! When I’ve set up poles in the past and attempted to get different strides, it has quickly escalated from “fast” to “faster” to “holy jesus SLOW DOWN”!

  12. Pace is everything! And of course it has to be hard 🙁 Too much–you are running. Too little–you crawl over the jump. Right in the middle–can’t stop micromanaging it (at least in my case). So tricky!

  13. Go you!! I feel like pace is something every jumping rider is going to struggle with throughout their career, because the right canter is the basis for a good jump. I know what the ‘magic canter’ feels like at this point, it’s just knowing what to do to get it 100% of the time that’s hard! GO GALLOP AROUND!!! It’s fun! 😀

  14. I always like to record myself on video, and then watch it. What you think feels like you cantering around a bazillion miles an hour, when you put it on video, definitely does not.

    Helps me put things into perspective.

  15. So funny … okay, not to you, but for me, I am laughing because my trainer(s) are always telling me to SLOW down the canter. Think SLOOOOOWWW motion. Speedy wants to just rush through everything because being on your butt is HARD. Good job finding the right pace though. :0)

  16. Woohoo! I definitely struggle with feeling like I’m going faster than I am, I like to rock them back and sit down rather than really open up, which can be problematic.

  17. That’s definitely fantastic progress that is DEFINITELY worth celebrating!! I agree with you completely- even once you find the pace (which is really hard), maintaining is is soooo hard. The struggle is real.

  18. Yay!!! This is so awesome! Be super proud of yourself. I know how hard it can be to push and maintain pace. It’s a constant battle for me too. But doesn’t it feel so good to jump when you’re on it?!?!

  19. I have this exact same problem! But it seems like it’s hard to find good advice or exercises online to work on getting used to a more flowing pace. I’m trying to show next year (and I haven’t since I was a kid in 2001…), but I know that if I’m going to do well, I need to learn and feel comfortable with a flowing pace. THANK YOU FOR SHARING!!!

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