Read “How I Improved My Riding (HIIMYR) Part One” first.
From the time I learned to read and on up through my teenage years, I was an obsessive reader. I would get a stack of books from the library (often reaching the limit of how many one person is allowed to check out at a time) and read every single one in a week – usually finishing at least one on the first day. I used to read at every available moment throughout the day. Like to the point where my parents made a rule in our house that we couldn’t read at the table during meals. Not even kidding.
Adult life got in the way of all that reading, unfortunately, but whenever I take on a new project, get an idea, or have a question about something, I can get stuck reading online for hours. So it was only natural that when I wanted to improve my riding last winter while my trainer was away in Florida, I took to doing research.
In a previous post, I talked about a few of the blogs/articles I read and the information I gleaned from them. I had pinpointed a few key areas that I wanted to focus on – namely my legs/hips. Every time I had a question, I went back to good ol’ Google to see what I could find. This research was my starting point for making changes.
What to Read
One thing I’ve found helpful is to regularly check in with the many equestrian blogs I follow. There are so many thoughtful, articulate riders out there sharing their everyday ups and downs with riding, including some incredibly detailed lesson/clinic reports. Some of my favorite bloggers are especially good at doing all of this with a heavy dose of humor, which makes for some very entertaining reading! Even if these bloggers are outside of your main discipline, there is usually still some tidbit to glean from their posts. If you haven’t read many blogs and don’t know where to start, here are a few of my favorites:
You can also find a whole host of ideas by signing up with Bloglovin‘, a handy source for keeping all of your blogs in one place for easy reading.
Besides blogs, google some of your favorite riders and trainers and see if they have written any helpful articles that may be posted online (Jane Savoie and Mary Wanless are two examples that have a wealth of info on the web). Sometimes, if I read about a clinician in a blog post that I find interesting, I take some time to search for them to see if I can find anything else they have written, published, etc., and am able to learn a little bit more that way.
Videos Are Your Best Friends
I’m such a visual person – I can learn so much faster from watching something that I ever could taking in information in other ways. So when I stumble across a concept that I’m having trouble visualizing just by reading, I hit up Youtube and do a video search. Or, one of my favorite things to do is to find a rider that possesses some sort of position trait that I want to emulate and obsessively watch everything they’ve ever done, while making mental notes/trying desperately to absorb their powers through osmosis. Ahem.
But in all seriousness, it helps. Because once I have a picture in my mind of how something should look, I can call up that mental image while I’m riding, and work on applying it.
Which brings me to the next thing – it is SO helpful to find a way to get videos of yourself riding. Whether you drag your husband/boyfriend to the barn once a month or kidnap a friend and force your smartphone into their hands and specifically tell them when to start and stop recording…it’s worth it. If you can do it everyday, then first of all I want to know your secret, and secondly: kudos to you. At the very least, try to get a video or photos after you’ve been practicing something new and you start to really feel a change. Even if it’s a small as trying to consciously lower your left hand more.
Yes, I know there are a lot of people out there who hate to see videos of themselves riding. But trust me, please? If you need to, practice watching your videos while pretending you’re somebody else. Be as objective as possible. Instead of groaning when you see your left hand fly upwards during the canter, look at what you’re doing with the rest of your body in that moment, and try to brainstorm small things you’d like to try next time, in order to work towards fixing that habit.
If you’re lucky enough to have a trainer that will encourage you to send video clips between lessons for extra feedback, by all means DO IT. I mean, don’t overwhelm them…however, when you feel like you’re getting somewhere with a particular issue, that might be a good time to take a short clip and send it along.
Phone A Friend
I can’t stress how important it was to me to have barn friends to bounce my ideas off of during this process. Okay, yes, we all work together every day, so they had a hard time escaping me when I started to get extra nerdy and spout about my biomechanics/position changes. But still.
If you ride alone at the end of your work day and don’t see other barn friends that often, this is where social media and/or the blogger community can be extra helpful. Do you have a horsie friend that you can chat with online? Or skype with? Check in with them every so often to chat about what you’re learning. Or that friend you kidnapped to take videos for you – can you you pay them in pizza in order to listen to you for 30 minutes? Having the support of a listening ear (or better yet, someone who is also practicing similar things) goes a long way.
WRITE IT DOWN
Yeah, it’s like homework, but so much better. Sometimes, just the simple act of writing things down is all you need to help clarify a particular exercise. Personally, I tend to get pretty (overly) excited about new, improved feelings in my horse/my position, which often causes my head to fill with a jumble of enthusiastic phrases/ideas/you name it. (Hint: this is part of why I blog) Being able to write those things down is helpful for me, because I’m able to straighten everything out and put my feelings into legitimate sentences.
Take notes as often as you need to, or every day, or every time you watch a video/read an article/do a thing. For me, taking notes when I want to change something I’m doing is important. When I experience something new in a particular ride, I often try to come up with buzzwords to help me find that feeling again. When something doesn’t go as I’d like, I try to think it through and then take notes on what I want to try next time. During my winter in Florida four years ago, I blogged regularly about my lessons, and it was a huge part of what helped me remember so many of those concepts.
Of course, when you’re note taking, you’ll want to do your best to keep everything organized in some way so that you can easily refer back to your past lessons/rides, in order to check your progress. I’m a very goal-oriented person, so I also like to keep tabs on my riding goals, my strengths and weaknesses, as well as keeping track of any new exercises that I’ve found helpful.
One of the best ways to keep everything in its place is with The Dressage Rider’s Journal. When Ruth came home from Florida last winter and told me about her idea for this journal, I was super excited, because it’s EXACTLY what I would’ve loved to have while she was gone! Since then, I’ve seen the project evolve into the 190 page planner/journal/calendar that it is now, and I’m extra-super excited to have the chance to give one of these cool journals away to a lucky BecausePony blog reader.
So, at the end of this series, I’ll officially announce the giveaway and let you know how to enter. In the meantime, check out the full details of the book here, and keep an eye out for Part Three of my post series in the next few days.