Book Review: Stride Control

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Exercises to Improve Rideability, Adjustability, and Performance

By Jen Marsden Hamilton

Published by Trafalgar Square Books/, ISBN: 9781570769733, 158 pages, Paperback, Kindle

Reviewed by Margaret Evans

Show jumping and eventing are demanding, technically driven sports of precision, accuracy, and speed. And riders know that the elusive success to clear each fence or combination of fences is driven by stride control, a skill that not only produces the correct number of strides to approach a fence but, more importantly, the quality of the stride.

Jen Marsden Hamilton is an icon in the world of equestrian coaching, and her latest book, Stride Control: Exercises to Improve Rideability, Adjustability, and Performance is essential reading for any horse person. And it’s a fun one! Jumping is all about staying between the standards and over the coloured sticks, writes Hamilton candidly.

Course design is nothing less than a technically fine art that really challenges today’s riders.

“Stride control is about the rider creating and controlling the horse’s stride and rhythm based on the knowledge the rider possesses of the course being ridden (course analysis),” writes Hamilton. “Are the distances (measurements) between the jumps normal, long, or short, and how does this relate to the horse being ridden?”

But when Hamilton defines what stride control actually is, she gets down to the nitty-gritty of technique.

“It’s about creating enough canter to get to the jump, jump the jump, and leave the jump to jump the next. The main focus is longitudinal connection (leg to hand) and control, while also maintaining correct suppleness laterally and giving more control longitudinally. It’s about strengthening the horse and doing gymnastic exercises to improve the horse’s shape and technique over jumps. It’s about the flatwork between the jumps. The hardest part about jumping a course is getting to the jumps! That’s flatwork!”

This book is a gem, filled with colour photos, but what really bounces off the pages are all the clear diagrams showing how and why. They may look simple on paper, but each exercise must be carried out correctly in the arena to help riders fully understand a movement, a turn, a line, straightness, or lack thereof.

Hamilton builds one exercise upon another with explicit directions. For instance, one exercise combines a ground pole and a serpentine to be ridden at trot and canter, combining flying or simple changes on the centre-line. That single ground pole will transition to two jumps, a vertical and an oxer, as the exercise series progresses. Throughout the book, key points maintain the reader’s focus, reinforcing important aspects covered in the chapter.

“Any straightness problems on the flat will haunt you when jumping on an angle. Keep working on straightness in all your flatwork, improving the way your horse responds to your turning rein aids (open rein and bearing rein).”

Hamilton is based in Canada and her skills are in demand worldwide. She developed and wrote the National Coaching Certification Program’s Level III – Jumper; and was awarded the Canadian Coaching Association’s “Year of the Coach” Coaching Award in 1988, and the 3M Coaching Canada Award for Coaching Excellence in 1996.

Stride Control is an absolute must-have for anyone in the jumping sports disciplines.

Book Review: Stride Control