5 Back to Schooling Trainer Tips OR How I Discovered The Importance of Note-taking with Training

In thinking about my Back to School theme with this month’s eNews editorial, my mind began to drift on schooling and training in general. I began thinking about note-taking and comparing my extensive dressage lessons to the, very new to me, surfing lessons and how I could apply my experience as a well-studied equestrian to develop my surfing skills. I’ve developed some not so stellar habits, reinforced some issues with confidence, and have been re-thinking the “you just need time in the water to improve” mantra. It hit me at the top of yesterday’s surf session when it was suggested I go into each session with a single intention. “Hmm?” I thought. With all my backsliding as of late, how about just popping up? Ok, so surfing seems like a dramatic departure from dressage but truly are they all that different? The intent of harmony between two objects on a giving surface where perfection lays in the appearance that the human is doing nothing to control the board. This thought led to scrolling back through some older dressage articles I’d written where I noticed patterns in my training cycles. I compared these articles dates to my post ride notes dates. The ebb and flow of it all made me realize the distinct importance of note-taking directly after your rides and especially after your lessons.

Whether you’re a beginner or an international pro, write down your thoughts, ideas or issues faced in your daily rides as you’ll likely face the same issues in different circumstances throughout the years. For example, almost all of us are “handed” meaning we’re stronger on one side of the body than the other just like our horse athlete partners. Writing down what you felt or how your body shifted will reinforce, for many through decades of riding, where our strengths and weaknesses lay hopefully allowing us to build on those strengths and improve on or overcome those weaknesses.

As I began to write about my last month’s take aways from my new sport, I collected a variety of highlighted tips from my dressage notes the last ten years which I’ve found repeatedly helpful. No matter what discipline you ride, I hope they might inspire you in your rides as well…

Training with Gwen Blake:

  • Try cantering on the quarter lines and simple change of lead through the walk to counter canter to activate the hind leg
  • Key note after my first Grand Prix test, the passage was too slow to develop so have the first few strides feel like trot then bring it back to the more elevated passage
  • For better jump in canter pirouette think of my hips to his ears for a climbing feeling
  • Softer aids think of touching the horses side with the stirrup iron will help with spur control 

Clinic with Janet Brown-Foy:

  • Basic position reminders WALK is 4 beat and go with the flow with the legs pushing back against the breath of the barrel, TROT is a 2 beat and ask for more forward only with the inside leg and on the up posting beat when the inside hind leg is coming forward, and CANTER sit inside with the weight inside and the outside leg as support only while the inside leg and seat bone ask for the canter

Training with Anky van Grunsven:

  • The rider sets the tempo, not the horse
  • I used the term push with my legs. Anky says to use the word tap instead to ask for a reaction
  • In my canter work keep the haunches from swinging in. Keep the horse straight as to engage and carry themselves. Moments in the canter of true carriage with a loop in the rein. When Anky said the moments were good it felt like we were climbing up a hill with a canter pirouette feel
  • Watch interview with Anky

Theory with Elizabeth Madlener:

  • A horse can only become receptive (or submissive per the training scale term) to a ground person when they understand that the person is the Alpha. He will then give himself to his rider. Perhaps the chain goes, respect leads to receptiveness which leads to trust then confidence and finally harmony
  • Watch interview with Elizabeth

Training with Geoff Butler:

  • Maintain a tempo conducive to helping the horse keep his balance and not making drastic tempo changes which will have him searching for his balance constantly
  • A tool for activating the hind leg is to not slow the tempo so much that the engagement is lost. This is not to say running them forward or onto the forehand but that a more active pace can be a useful tool
  • Watch interview with Geoff

Theory with Jean Luc Cornille:

  • The idea that there is one technique for training is completely ridiculous
  • There is no glory in the victory gained at the expense of the horse’s soundness. Instead of forcing the horse to perform they have to be ready for what we ask
  • Watch interview with Jean Luc

So try this… Keep a pencil & paper, your smartphone, laptop or tablet handy in the tack room to jot down ideas you had from your ride or lessons you learned or perhaps even what you want to focus on with your ride the following day. Perhaps that single intention to step in the sand with? Just give this a try for one month, look back, and see if you notice a more dramatic improvement in your riding. While the perfection we strive for is often illusive, note-taking provides a path of personal education and exploration that we can’t fully embrace otherwise.

My August tip?.. Do yourself a favor and try Bye Bye Odor if you haven’t yet. I have a bagillion uses in my equestrian life and am already finding some amazing uses in my surfing life as well!