Over the years, several riding instructors have tried to convince me of the importance of keeping a log or journal to track my rides – especially my lessons. While it sounds like a great idea, and makes so much sense, I was at first admittedly quite horrible about doing so. It has taken me awhile to find a format that works for me, as the traditional “notebook in the tack box” method was just not productive. So, fellow riders, read on to discover how to make a riding journal work for you!
Keeping a riding journal is beneficial for several reasons:
- It allows you to track your horse’s progress and your own. It’s nice to be able to go back, read over your notes, and see the general upward trend after a particularly frustrating ride.
- You can look back and see when your horse began having a certain difficulty, and how you solved it – was it something you were doing, a soundness issue, did you need to experiment with a few different riding techniques? This can be helpful down the road if you have a similar issue.
- • You will have a record of any tips or techniques that stood out for you, and any lightbulb moments. • It can help keep you motivated and on track.
- You will be able to see the general plan and exercises your instructor has used to help develop your horse. This is a great resource if you are developing another horse down the road, are helping a friend, or just need to backtrack with your horse when coming back from a layup.
- It will allow you to track your horse’s physical fitness, if you are looking at entering an event or race.
The question of how to get started in writing your journal is not a silly one. Sometimes when you are sitting there with all those blank pages in front of you, it can feel daunting, as if you are supposed to know how they will all be filled. Your journal does not have to be a novel. It certainly can be if you’d like – you never know, there could be some publishing potential in there one day! However, most people just jot down a few notes or bullet points after each ride. Some use shorthand to help keep things brief.
Paper or plastic?
What format should your journal take? We have advanced beyond the basic pen and paper format of traditional journals and diaries. If you are keeping your journal at the barn, this format is probably your best bet, since you don’t necessarily need to worry if you misplace it, or spill saddle soap on it.
You can also keep track on your Blackberry or iPhone. At home, you can save your journal on your computer – whether in a special file or document, a blog, or using a program specifically designed for such purposes, such as Rendaivu.
What do I write?
The content of your journal depends on what you feel is important. Certainly include things like equipment changes, new techniques, lightbulb moments, hints of unsoundness, development of behavioral issues (however small), and any tips or comments that really stuck with you during a lesson. Make notes of any extra “little” things you notice in your horse – uneven sweat patterns, taking a longer time to cool down, etc.
Include the date for each entry, and whether you had a lesson (and with who). You can also include things such as the length of session, what exercises and movements you focused on, how much time was spent on a particular exercise, or the number of repetitions.
If you are rehabbing your horse back from a layup, keeping track of how much time is spent at various gaits is valuable. Many will also use this type of tracking in disciplines where condition is absolutely vital to performance.
It can be fun to paste in photographs every once in awhile, if you have someone who can record your ride for you.
Getting to it
When is the best time to write in your riding journal? Well, this depends on you! Some people like to leave their journals at the barn with their tack, and write in them right after each ride. I discovered this option is not for me, as trying to scribble out notes in a freezing cold barn does not do much to motivate my persistence in record keeping.
Others like to keep their journals in whatever vehicle they usually take to the barn, or at home. I personally prefer the “home” option, though this can sometimes lead me to put off my writing and eventually forget to do it. In the beginning, writing out your notes may seem tedious, and you may have to work at sitting down and doing it before you get into the habit.
Some people like to leave their riding journal at the barn with their tack, and write in them right after each ride.
The real motivation
In the grand scheme of things, though, you need to keep up with your riding journal because you want to, or else you simply won’t continue with it. If you constantly feel like you “have” to, if it becomes a “chore” you resent, then I encourage you to re-evaluate your methods until you find something that really works for you. Try an online program. Try an application on your phone. Make it fun!
Perhaps for some that might be stretching it a bit. I am still not perfect. I still sometimes put it off. It is not always my favorite thing in the world to do. But it does come in handy, and I have found a method of keeping a riding journal that works for me. I encourage you to do the same. It can be fun, not to mention instructive, to sit down once in awhile and go back through your notes, remembering certain moments and lessons, and tracking your progress over time.