What did you do with your horse on May 14, 2020? How about on March 25, 2021? How about last Tuesday? If you’re like me and have a poor memory, you probably won’t even remember what you did with them last Tuesday, let alone months or a year ago. And for some people who ride mostly for pleasure, it may not matter that you don’t know what type of work you did with them. But more often than not, keeping a record and thus having the ability to look back at your schedule can really come in handy.
In every discipline, from jumpers to hunters to dressage to eventing, we never do exactly the same thing with our horse every day of the week. It’s not as if jumper riders practice jumping courses every day, or dressage riders run their dressage test every day—we generally have some variation in our work to keep our horses happy, healthy, and sound. For instance, a jumper might do flatwork on Monday, gymnastics on Tuesday, a quiet hack on Wednesday, flatwork on Thursday, coursework on Friday, another hack on Saturday, and then have Sunday off. This schedule may change depending on whether the horse is competing or what the training goals are.
It is nearly impossible to keep track of all of these details in your head over several weeks, months, and years for one horse, and even harder to do it for multiple horses. So what’s the solution? Some kind of record-keeping system, whether it be a notebook or a spreadsheet on your computer or an app on your phone. It doesn’t really matter what the format is so long as its accessible and you’ll remember to use it.
I am forgetful so I have to take notes. I write down not only what each horse did each day (generally classified as hack, flat, jump, or fitness work) but also notes about how they felt, what tack changes I made and whether they worked, any soundness issues, and how fit the horses felt and how quickly they recovered (particularly on those fitness days). I also write down as much as I can after I have lessons—whether it be one-line tidbits that I need to remember or specific exercises that my coach had me do. Often, I’ll draw out an exercise on the paper so I can return to the visual picture. After big competitions, I write a summary of what happened (the good and the bad!) and what our preparation was. Preparing a horse for a major competition is a science and an art, and being able to look back at the pieces of the plan can be hugely beneficial when planning for the next big show.
The author jumping at a competition. AK Dragoo Photo.
There’s also the fact that when something goes wrong—a horse starts behaving badly, or has a soundness issue—you can look back at your records and see if you can trace a problem. Maybe the horse stopped once or twice at fences a couple of months ago, and then did it again at a show, and now seems not to want to jump at all. What changed during that period? Was there an equipment or management change? Did the horse show any signs of discomfort? Often you can trace a problem back to some little signs that then developed into a larger issue. Having these records can be instructive to avoid a small problem becoming disastrous again in the future.
I probably do not look back at my records as much as I should, but knowing that they are there is comforting in and of itself. Years ago when I was starting my undergraduate degree, a fellow student told me that writing things down actually helps you remember them. I’m not sure whether this is actually true, but I do think that taking the time to write things down does help me process information. Taking 30 seconds to do this each day is worthwhile.