Have you ever experienced the lapse of memory that sometimes comes when you do the same activity day after day? After a while, you might stop and ask yourself, “When did I start this process? Was it two months ago? Three?” Since training a horse requires repetition, the adventure can start to become a blur, possibly hindering further progress if you find yourself stuck in a rut. That’s where a training progress journal or log can save the day.
Keeping a log or journal of your horse’s training can come in handy when making decisions about when and how to progress. For instance, let’s say you’ve been working on starting a young horse under saddle. You’ve been doing a lot of careful trotting work, and he’s been doing great. When is it time to canter? You’ll make this decision partly by feel, of course—you’ll start to “know” when he’s ready to advance. But keeping a training journal can also help you decide if your horse is physically and mentally ready for the next step. You can go back and check to see exactly how many days have you been trotting, and—perhaps more importantly—how many good days of trotting you’ve had.
A nice thing about a training journal is that it can be as detailed or simple as you’d like. You can opt for something as simple as:
- March 1st, trotted.
- March 2nd, trotted.
But you may find it more helpful to include extra notes, things like:
- “March 1st, trotted—a little fresh—inconsistent speed.
- “March 2nd, trotted, better control!”
- “March 3rd, took day off.”
By adding in details of how your horse performed (rather than just recording what you did), you’ll be able to look back later and hopefully see a bigger picture of behavior and progress emerging. You’ll also be able to spot trends, like, “Oh look, after we changed X, we began to see a lot of improvement in Y.” Or, perhaps the other way: “Why are we having so much trouble with Y? Oh, look, the trouble began when we started doing X…”
Some things you might want to add into your notes are:
- Time (how long you worked your horse, and what time of the day)
- Location (indoor arena, outdoor ring, trail)
- Weather (windy, cold, hot)
- Tack used (and note any changes in tack)
- His general attitude and behavior that day
- How he responded to a new task
You can also keep track of your own training. Riding can be quite a workout—especially if you’re challenging yourself to advance in your abilities. A riding journal—along with your riding instructor—can help you decide when to step up your game, or when to hold back and wait until you’ve developed the needed strength and skill to move on.
So no matter if the journal is for you, your horse, or both of you, keeping notes of your progress can help you notice patterns, keep you looking ahead, and also remind yourself how far you’ve come. Good luck!
Daniel Johnson is a freelance writer and professional photographer. He’s the author of several books, including How to Raise Horses: Everything You Need to Know, (Voyageur Press, 2014). Dan’s barn is home to Summer, a Welsh/TB cross, Orion, a Welsh Cob, and Mati and Amos, two Welsh Mountain Ponies. Follow him at www.facebook.com/foxhillphoto.