Introduction to Long and Short Strides

As a horse rider, it is important to have a good understanding of strides, their lengths, and how to measure them.
        Stride length is a measurement made between two neighbouring successive steps or jumps made by the same leg. This length is usually measured in feet or metres.

Before any equestrian event, it is important to have a good idea of your horse’s stride length. It is also very important to have the ability to shorten or lengthen strides whenever required. Most equestrian events are designed according to a standard stride length. There is generally a 57 – 60 foot distance between two obstacles. If you are jumping an oxer of up to 3 feet, there should be 57 feet between obstacles; if you are jumping 3 feet or more, there should be 60 feet between obstacles. 12 feet is considered to be a standard stride length which means the the horse will have four strides between two obstacles.
       Before starting an equestrian event, you should check whether your horse does indeed take four strides between two obstacles. If your horse takes 3 or 5 strides, the rider should work to adjust the horse’s strides to the standard length. This will improve the horse’s performance, and will help to build a better relationship between rider and horse. If the rider is able to lengthen and shorten the horse’s stride at will, the horse will be able to balance well whilst being ridden. This will allow adjustments to be made with the rider in the saddle without stopping the horse or even changing from one gait to another. When increasing stride length, the front legs should stretch more towards the front, whilst the hind legs stretch more towards the back of the horse. The ultimate result will be that the horse covers more ground in the same number of strides.

Short stride is a common effect of hind limb lameness. Neurological problems can also cause short stride in horses. Identifying a short stride is simple, however identifying lameness is more difficult. To help diagnose lameness, eliminate pain, and reduce the spread of inflammation it can be very helpful to engage the assistance of a professional. It is also vital to seek professional knowledge about how to treat lameness in your horse, and how to properly manage horses which are suffering from lameness.

Horses sometimes develop short stride as a result of practising in small, indoor areas. If this is the case, try selecting a better arena with a better floor for your horse.

Normal stride length and movement

12 feet is considered to be a standard stride length. Modern riders place huge effort into achieving standard stride with their horses. It is important to remember, however, that “driving” the horse forward is not an acceptable method. As a horse rider, you must “allow” the horse to move forward keeping your body in a position vertical to the horse’s back.  Achieving longer strides without losing the horse’s balance is important. For this to happen, the horse must relax its topline musculature, so it can be very helpful for the rider to allow the horse a free ride.

Diagnosing issues

First, it is important to know the causes of short stride in order to be able to diagnose any issues. As mentioned previously, lameness is the main cause of short stride, however false riding can be another cause of this.

Let’s discuss how to diagnose this issue. First, find an outdoor arena with a good amount of space and a good surface to allow for clear footing. Warm the horse up before starting a walk and observe the horse while it is walking. If the horse appears unwilling to walk and shows abnormal behaviours while walking, it is usually safe to assume that lameness is the problem. If there are no abnormal walking behaviours but the horse’s strides are short, work on lengthening the stride. Remember, over-lengthening of the horse’s stride can also be a problem.

Place two obstacles at a 57 to 60 feet distance from one another and then canter or trot. Count the horse’s strides. If your horse makes three strides for a distance of 60 feet, your horse’s strides are lengthened; if your horse makes five strides, your horse’s strides are shortened. Both lengthened and shortened stride can reflect badly on riders who participate in equestrian events.

In modern dressage, most riders say that it is easier to lengthen a canter than a trot. Select an outdoor area with a good terrain and mark two points on a straight line with 60 feet between them. Say “Go!” loudly when you pass the first point and say “Stop!” when you pass the second point. Continue riding until the number of strides becomes consistent. Your target is to make four strides between these two points. Remember that it is important to maintain the rhythm and tempo of the canter.

Measuring the length of a horse’s stride can be very useful. A standard stride length is 12 feet. There are two basic methods used to measure a horse’s stride length.

  1. The intuitive method

We have already discussed this method in different ways. You will need a vertical, an oxer, and a measuring tape. If your horse jumps less than 3 feet,  place the two obstacles with 57 feet between them, or if the horse jumps 3 feet or more than then place the obstacles 60 feet apart. Start your workout and count each stride loudly.

  1. The mechanical method

For this method you will need a rake, a clear and unmarked arena, and a measuring tape. First, rake the floor to make a clean riding path. Warm your horse up and then allow it to canter along this path. Allow the horse to make several cantering movements. Finally, you can find the length of your horse’s strides by measuring the spaces between the hoof marks with a measuring tape.


Shortened strides are quite common, so it is often necessary to lengthen your horse’s stride to a standard level. Here are some golden tips for improving your horse’s stride:

First and foremost, be aware that a horse is an animal just like you. They feel love, and they can sense kindness, anger and sadness. Stay calm while you are riding. Many riders become angry when their horse is not making the desired strides, and this can be extremely counterproductive. Be calm and kind-hearted to your animal. Then start performing lengthening activities. Place vertices at various heights and allow the horse to jump over them. Maintain a good rhythm of movement. This will boost your horse’s confidence, and will passively increase stride length. When measuring stride length, count out loud. This will help familiarise the animal with your voice and will help it to maintain a good rhythm.

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