Remembering Courses with Dyslexia in Six (Mostly) Easy Steps

It’s the heat of show season, and we (fortunately or unfortunately) must memorize multiple courses!  Our team is bringing to you tips for memorizing courses, including when you have dyslexia, ADHD, and more.  Let’s go! (Wait, what was our jump off again?)

When I first decided I was going to pursue show jumping instead of the hunters, one thing I had a lot of trouble with was remembering the long, twisty courses. Hunters is about as simple as you can get, and the only time I went off course in a hunter class was because my horse was running away with me. It was a very large Children’s Hunter Classic and some people were there to try him out, so I was already a little stressed…but I assure you that I knew we were jumping that oxer backwards. Side note: they decided NOT to buy my horse.

Jumper courses, however, are much more confusing, and the fences can usually be jumped both ways. Even though they are numbered, who sees those when you are panicking, whipping your head back and forth, desperately trying to remember what comes after the fence with the wavy planks? After a few jumper shows under my belt, one thing had become very clear: my brain could remember up to two full courses and one jump off. Anything more than that was the equivalent of throwing away that third class fee. Eventually I downgraded my personal expectations to suit this, until one day I decided I was only going in two classes per day, max, even if other classes had the same courses I’d already memorized. 

All of that was fine until I realized I wasn’t getting enough time in the ring. This realization was actually brought about by one of my trainers, Morgan Connelly, who pointed out that I needed to stop being a baby and work it out. At this point, I was doing a lot of one day jumper shows and only doing two courses was sort of silly, so I began thinking about how to better learn multiple courses in a way that works for me.

Buck Davidson leads his students on a course walk. Photo by Sally Spickard.

Here is where I reveal that I am dyslexic, and while it was caught early in my childhood, my brain definitely sees things differently sometimes! I have a lot of trouble with right and left; if I am driving and my navigator tells me to turn left I will more often than not turn right. I’ve tried all sorts of tricks and such to fix this, but let’s just say I’m not great with it. On top of that I have a terrible sense of direction and…you probably want a GPS if you are going to drive with me. 

What I eventually understood about myself is that I do much better if I have an idea of whatever it is I am supposed to be learning in my head, like a moving map. If someone tells me a course it doesn’t really sink in until I construct that map for myself. Over time, I figured out a somewhat ridiculous routine for myself and since then I have never forgotten a course. Okay, that is a lie. I went off course in a lesson the other day. BUT! this method at horse shows has really proven itself. I’m not sure if it will work for other people, in part because we all learn differently, and in part because I think some aspect of how I learn and see things is due to my dyslexia. 

This is how my crazy brain learns courses, in six easy steps: 

  1. Stroll up to ring and figure out where the first course is posted. Take a picture on phone.
  2. Look at picture and start muttering under breath. Things like: “Dang, that is a lot of jumps!” or “What the heck kind of turn is that?” or “Oh no.”
  3. Watch a couple of people go. Look at course map in confusion. Realize I am watching the wrong course.
  4. Ignore what is going on in the ring and start going around MY course with my hand. You know: pointing at the jumps, waving one’s arm around to signify turns, dropping arm while one contemplates course map, and then commence waving again. 
  5. Walk course, trade ideas with my trainer or, if it is a non-trainer day, with my friend and show mom/minion, Jaime. Trainer or minion tactlessly brings up jump off course. Resist yelling that I don’t know that one yet and try to seem intelligent. Secretly ignore them. Vow to learn jump off soon. Later.
  6. Go back to ring side and repeat the 4th step 93876 times, until the waving is unnecessary and the course is cemented in my head. There will be more muttering, as I connect each jump to its assigned number, and I generally try to stay away from other people so I won’t annoy them. 

Here is a sample: “Jump 1 going away on the quarter line, gallop to the end to go back down the long side, to 2 and 3, which is a seven bending coming home (3 is crazy looking so make sure I have my leg on), to 4ab (the one stride in front of the judge’s booth; historically Steve doesn’t like the booth/judge so don’t let him drift left), zip up the side a bit and then rollback to 5, the tall red and white vertical surrounded by…what is that? A shrubbery? (kick!), rollback again to 6, the friendly looking tan oxer across the center line, square turn to 7, the not-so-friendly white and green oxer near the end, another really square turn to the airy plank thingy on the end….what number was that? Right, to 8, the plank thingy, rollback to 9, a big yellow and purple oxer, and then another freaking rollback to 10ab, a really tight oxer-vertical one stride coming home. TUG THE WHOLE TIME HERE. DO NOT BURY HIM AT B. Okay, cool, I got it…OMG, what’s the jump off?”

A 6 friendly tan oxer (I hope). Oh shoot, forgot about the liverpool lurking underneath it! Photo by Dalman Jump Co.

If I do this enough, over and over again, it’s a bit like a video in my mind. I can close my eyes and see the course and each jump, in a sort of aerial view. If I do this enough, over and over again, I can even carry on a conversation with someone while going over the course in my head. Well, sort of; if they don’t mind me staring fixedly at a point over their shoulder while I mutter softly, they can talk to me. 

The important thing here is to know the numbers of the jumps; instead of saying “red oxer to yellow line to green vertical,” one says “5 to 6-7 in a forward six to 8.” The numbers get associated with each jump and that, fellow sufferer, is how I can stealthily learn jump offs REALLY quickly. To make it seem like I knew it all along, I repeat the course to my friend and then airily say, “And the jump off is 1, 3, 4ab, 8, 13 (it’s the weird swoopy purple oxer), 10ab. Ha!”

I’m interested to know how other people learn courses; I sincerely hope it is not as torturous as the routine I have to go through! The weird thing is, though, that once I have the first one in my head, I can learn successive courses much more quickly. It’s as if I have the first map, and then the other ones aren’t as hard to jam into my consciousness. Any tips and tricks you guys have that you want to share?  Let me know in the Facebook comments!