A Routine to Help Riders See Progress

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Riding in Aachen, Germany this year.

By Anna Morton

Imagine journaling, you might see a pink fuzzy pen waving as someone contemplates their dreams and doodles ponies. Now imagine a confident horse and rider gliding effortlessly across the arena. Two very different scenarios.

While journaling might give us glittery connotations, I want to talk about how journaling has helped me see progress in riding and how it became a motivational resource. Journaling is not a new concept, but it might be anunderestimated tool. Tools such as journaling can help our riding while out of the saddle, especially in the time of our global pandemic.

This journal page to help focus and document rides

You may have noticed small details in a routine that the pros do, like visualizations or simple exercises that can have a huge impact. I am obsessed with finding out what these small details are. We see top riders and trainers taking notes daily, and we see The Dressage Foundation supporting journaling through giving grant recipients The Equestrian Journal. It’s a useful tool that all riders can incorporate, and for me has been one of those game-changing details in my riding.

I went from not knowing what a shoulder-in was, feeling insecure about my dressage knowledge, to now riding in Germany at a professional barn. My daily routine built a space to document learnings and a way to track progress that led to more confidence.

I implemented this routine as I did not want to be re-learning the same concept ten times or hear my trainer say “shoulders back” every three minutes. My notes gave me focus before a ride, and then a way to reflect on what happened or what was learned. I recently took some time to sift through years of my old lesson and riding notes, and it motivated me to be here writing this article.

If you kept a diary when you were younger and are lucky to still have it, isn’t it fun to read through? If you start a journal for your riding, you are creating a personal resource that is fun and educational! Having the ability to go back to when you learned a half-pass for the first time is quite useful, enjoyable, and funny at times.

After reviewing my notes, I took time to create a printable format of my journal routine, now having intentional pages for rides rather than filling up a blank notebook. I shared these pages with fellow riders and trainers who wantedmotivation for a new routine. I’d give them this outline to start:

  1. What are 2-3 things to improve?
  2. What did we do or learn during our ride?
  3. What do I want to learn or do before the next ride?
My pony and I after winning a competitive/endurance trail ride in 2003, compared to a recent photo from 2018, in Ohio.

Make it easy for yourself, a few terms or concepts like ‘shoulders, heels, corners’ that you want to improve, and review this at the barn before you get out of the car. After your ride, note down what you actually did. Digest all of this and focus on what is important for the next ride.

Easy! It creates a helpful routine when you keep going.

In Baden-Württemberg, Germany, spring 2020.

I found it particularly helpful (and fun) to watch a training video or read an article in between rides for motivation. This can also be a fun midday break when we just need a minute for ourselves. Sometimes it takes 3 minutes to take notes, and other days you’re filling up pages and researching exercises for two hours. The great thing is that you can cater this routine to what you want to learn and define your own goals; journaling should be reflective and personal for your own growth. 

My habits have changed throughout the years. I like to owe my growth as a rider to my daily routines, not luck. My horse journey started as a little girl riding through trails and fields on my spotted pony, and it was just three years ago I started dressage lessons once a week. Fast forward to now: I am living and riding in Germany, and riding multiple horses with confidence. If you would have told me I’d be in this position three years ago, I would have laughed! The biggest change was becoming more of a confident and independent rider, and my journaling enabled this.

I want to share this routine as it’s something so easy that might be able to help! Fast forward from now, and I guarantee you will have a fun time sifting through your notes. You will gain a personal resource of notes from rides and lessons – what worked, what did not, why did some things go well. Start now and see where you go!

About the Author: Anna Morton grew up riding different horses and in many different disciplines with her family in Ohio. She started taking dressage lessons and wanted to soak up as much as she could. She created Horsewrite which you can learn more about here: https://horsewrite.com/

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