Are you confident you could place poles or build a course on good distances? This handy guide by popular coach and former event rider John Thelwall will clear up any confusion.

Firstly, you’ll want to practise being able to walk distances. The key is having the ability to walk a step that’s 3ft in length. Once you can do this, essentially you can measure anything.

To perfect your walk stride, measure a distance of 3ft and set out two markers at that distance. Then it’s a case of practising walking one step between the two markers until it becomes natural and comfortable.

Canter poles: 9ft

Using canter poles in your schooling sessions is another way to improve the rhythm and quality of the pace.

“Poles should be set out 9ft apart — or three of your walk strides if you’ve mastered the art of measuring them accurately,” says John.

How many poles?

This is the same as with trotting poles — a minimum of four poles and a maximum of eight.

Raised canter poles

Starting from the middle pole, you can raise alternate ends, but do this progressively so your horse gets used to the change. Leaving the first and last poles on the ground, at a slightly shorter distance of 8ft 6in, will help your horse maintain an even rhythm.

Related distances

According to John, measuring distances between the elements of a combination fence is a case of simple mathematics.

“This is when having the ability to walk a 3ft stride comes into its own with my quick way of walking distances, because no tape measure is required,” he says.

One non-jumping stride distance:

  • Two walk steps for landing over the first element (6ft)
  • Four walk steps equates to one of your horse’s canter strides (12ft)
  • Two walk steps for the take off (6ft)

Total walk steps: 8 (24ft)

Two non-jumping strides:

  • Two walk steps for landing (6ft)
  • Eight walk steps equals two canter strides (24ft)
  • Two walk steps for the take off (6ft)

Total walk steps: 12 (36ft)

Three non-jumping strides:

  • Two walk steps for landing (6ft)
  • 12 walk steps equals three canter strides (36ft)
  • Two walk steps for the take off (6ft)

Total walk steps: 16 (48ft)


Fences on a bounce distance need to be 12ft apart — or four of your walk steps.

John doesn’t regularly include bounces in his training, because he has a useful alternative.

“I feel horses benefit more from working over raised canter poles, which encourage your horse to take off with both his hind feet square on the ground and give him more power,” says John.

Meet the expert: John Thelwall is best known as an event rider, having competed at Badminton and Burghley in the 1980s. He is also an experienced racing jockey and show jumper. John now concentrates on coaching, encouraging riders to find a positive connection with their horse.

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