I was studying some literature I’d socked away, prepping for a talk I had to give on jump course design. I found, over and over, that most all courses are built on the basic 12-foot canter stride of a normal horse.

Think about that. Those twelve feet, four large steps of a human, mean everything to every jumper rider who has ever lived. Twelve quality feet of power, with liftoff and landing, and the freedom to fly in between….everything as riders that we live for.

And I even said to the clinic participants, “worry less about blingy helmets and expensive saddles and more about that horse that gives your child the solid, unchangeable, reliable 12-foot stride.”

The 12-foot stride is the thing that makes a horse valuable, steady, reliable, and a winner; and keeps them and their rider safe for many years in the showring. Why then do we design courses that play with that 12-foot distance? The answer is that we do not ride machines. Every horse can’t be perfect, every rider makes mistakes. Good course design doesn’t trick horses and riders and shouldn’t be dangerous or wrong, but it should challenge riders to find the correct length of stride and proper place from which to jump.

Good horses compact that 12-foot stride to ten if need be, or even less if the rider gets to the base of a fence on the proverbial half-stride. And they expand it to 14 if they have to or even more, stretching every joint and launching with all the strength they can find to keep from touching a jump. It is our job not to ask these impossible tasks of our horses, at least, not too often, and risk lowering their confidence in our ability to direct the orchestra of the stride.

You can’t go to your favorite tack shop, and buy the 12-foot stride. It’s not going to be a clickable link online at Amazon. Would that it was.

No, the 12-foot stride is a thing that is made by hard work and dedication to the craft, hours in the saddle, sores on your knees, blisters on your rein fingers, sweat pouring from under your helmet, the sore muscles in your back and legs and arms from riding and riding and schooling and schooling.

May all who jump bless the 12-foot stride, it makes us riders, it resets our unintentional wanderings and focuses our goals right back where they belong. Forget the bling, the fancy saddles, the costly trappings and expensive extras. Instead, buy only the 12-foot stride. It is the road to greatness.