I once had a trainer who would say, “if you know you are going to miss, make it look like you did it on purpose.” I have found that advice to be very valuable throughout my riding career because, well, sometimes I just don’t see anything. Or sometimes I see a long spot; or a deep spot. Not every jump will be perfect. That is a fact. But, as riders, we can make the most of bad distances!
Knowing where we are, and knowing our horses’ capabilities are key. The other day, I could only see longer spots at every jump. They were not dangerously long, but with the jumps being small they were just a little too gap-y. However, I know that Chance can leave long pretty easily as long as he is in front of my leg. If I was not confident in his ability to leave long, I would probably have held and allowed the jumps to be a little deep because if he was not in front of my leg and I still went for it, I would have likely gotten a really nasty distance – or worse, a refusal. When I am paying close attention to his pace, though, I can judge whether or not he can handle leaving a little long. Knowing where you are does not always mean finding the perfect hunter gap at every jump; it also means that you can prepare yourself and your horse for a poor distance.
When I do not really see anything I typically just sit still, stay slow, and allow it to be a little deep. Instead of trying to “fix” it, sometimes it is better to just go with the miss. Then it will appear that you did it on purpose, as opposed to you adding leg and trying to fix it in two strides – which will cause an actual chip, for at that point it is too late! One of the best things to do when you have a less than stellar distance, is to just go with it. Don’t get left behind, and snatch on your horse’s face. Don’t get jumped out of the tack. Don’t stress. Just grab mane, and pretend that you meant to do that! That is why it is so important to be able to ride off of feel, rather than just by sight. It all goes back to knowing where you are. If you really tune in to your horse, instead of only focusing on the jumps, you can stay with him or her over the jumps – even when you do not know where you are.
Now, the absolute most important thing to do when you miss at a jump is to canter away and forget about it. Do not dwell on your mistake. Put that jump out of your mind, then keep going and make the next jump a little better.