You have just finished cooling down from what, in your mind, was the best lesson you have had in months… As you are tending to your horse, that afterglow feeling is radiating from you; the feeling of achievement and success.
This is why I suggest having a horse riding journal or notebook packed in your tack box, so at the first available opportunity after you dismount and have taken care of your horse, you can write down the important aspects of the lesson or ride you just had. I emphasis the ‘in your tack-box‘ because even just waiting until you get home will lead to important information being forgotten and lost.
So, why is this process so powerful in us repeating that initial ride? Keeping track of the smaller details helps us to see patterns emerging in the long run between what is causing particular outcomes in our lessons or schooling sessions. We can begin to create a better picture about what is working and actively avoid what is not! There is also a higher chance that we write down and capture specific pieces of information relayed to us by the instructor that would otherwise be forgotten in the business that is life.
I recommend using a separate notebook or journal for this sole purpose and each time you ride capturing these 6 specific pieces of information:-
1. Details, Location and Weather
Here you can quickly jot down the date, time, arena, horse, instructor and what tack you used. You can also note the weather, how you were feeling before the lessons and how your horse is acting before and during the lesson. This information is useful to begin seeing patterns such as wind, or times of day, or indoor versus outdoor etc.
2. An Overview of Your Warm-Up
If you can begin to notice what constitutes a successful warm up for a specific horse or discipline, you can begin being more active in riding a warm up plan that will best prepare you and the horse for a specific schooling session or lesson. You can also begin tracking the other factors listed in item 1 to see if they do, in fact, influence the warm-up. If you record that they do indeed seem to play a part, you can begin formulating a plan to counteract those negative influences, or incorporate more of the positive ones. You can also begin to plan specific warm ups for specific exercises, such as jumping, dressage etc.
3. The Overall Theme of Your Ride
What specifically were you trying to achieve with that ride? If you had a lesson, your instructor should have outlined this at the beginning for you to understand where you were trying to go. Sometimes we won’t actually reach the end destination we had in mind for that particular session, however if this is the case, it is important to note how far you managed to get and a few ideas as to what was holding you back regarding achieving the goal. Often it will take four or five sessions towards one particular goal in order to actually reach it… What a waste if you are not documenting the small steps towards achievement along the way. Not only will you learn more, but you can also refer back to this if you encounter a similar problem in the future.
4. What Went Wrong?
If you had an instructor or trainer present in the arena with you, writing the most repeated critique here will help you focus yourself on what to try improve next time. If you are working alone, try take an honest look back at your ride; what did you struggle with? What challenged you? What did you feel could have been better? Writing these things down not only identifies the issue at hand, but also allows you in the future, to look back at past difficulties and see how you finally overcame them. All the current challenges will soon become small wins and those wins are important to fuel your desire to keep improving your skills.
5. Homework or Exercises
So you have identified your weaker points. It is important that you begin to formulate a plan to overcome them and this will involve doing some ‘extra time’ on the issue at hand. Your extra time, if you only have access to a riding school horse once a week, may be to watch videos on how others overcame the same sticking point. Or, if you have your own horse, it may just be practicing more of the same throughout the week in preparation for your next lesson. What is important to keep in mind here is that while you are riding any exercises, make sure you are holding yourself accountable to doing it right. Practice, no matter how much you do, will not make perfect if it is the wrong kind of practice!
6. Outline your Goals for your Next Ride
We all need to look forward and to have a reason to master what is currently troubling us. Therefore outlining your next goal will help keep you moving the ball down the field and keep your focus firmly locked on the bigger picture. The temptation to get caught up in the smaller details, particularly when we are starting out, can sometimes be the actual problem itself. Keep inspiring and motivating yourself by looking to the future, even if that future is only the next ride!
I strongly urge you today to go out and if you don’t already have one, purchase a nice notebook or journal and begin keeping track of your riding.
It will help you get more bang for your buck from your lessons by capturing details and information that will otherwise be forgotten. It will also help inspire and motivate you during those tougher times that we all experience when learning something new. And finally, it will help you begin to notice and recognised small patterns or details that can make all the difference between a successful ride and one that leaves you feeling less than accomplished.
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