Lay a 12-foot ground rail on a flat surface. Walk alongside the rail in four, even three-foot steps several times to memorize what that feels like. The average horse has a 12-foot stride, so this gives you a sense of how much ground your horse will cover in one stride.
Set up a small vertical or crossrail. To set another vertical two strides away (cantering in), stand with your back at the backside of the vertical. Carrying a ground rail, walk straight away from the first vertical, taking the four, even three-foot steps you practiced in Step 1. This equals one horse stride. Repeat the ?sequence one more time for two strides, or 24 feet. To account for your horse's landing and take-off, repeat the sequence a third time. The total distance will be 36 feet. When you ?arrive at the final spot, place the rail on the ground at the tip of your boot and set up your second jump.
After the jumps are set up, double-check your distance. Walk from the left standard of the first jump to the left standard of the second jump. Repeat on the right side to help ensure that your jumps are not set crookedly.
You should be able to ride the two jumps in a comfortable two strides. If your horse has a smaller-than-average stride or a larger-than-average stride, move the jumps in or out, respectively, to make the striding comfortable for your horse. You can also move the jumps closer together to practice riding a quieter line or move them farther apart for a more forward line.
Kelley Williams, an Intermediate event rider, operates out of her family's A Bit Better Farm in Brookeville, Maryland (www.abitbetterfarm.com).
This article originally appeared in the January 2009 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.