Whether you’re riding in show jumping or cross-country, many equestrians struggle with remembering their course under the stress of competition. It can seem simple when glancing at the course map, but the turns come up quickly and it’s easy to lose your way once in the saddle. Luckily, we have a few tried and true tips to sharpen your memory and help you pilot your horse to victory!
A fun way to remember your course is to give every jump a memorable code name that means something to you. The code name can be based on the look of the jump, for example a yellow and black striped jump could be the bumblebee jump. You can string the jumps together into a story if that helps you, such as maybe the bumblebee jump is followed by a blue and green jump so your story is you jump the bumblebee, then take three strides to the blue flowers.
Always a good idea, walking the course is more than just figuring out your strides between jumps. The act of walking the path you plan to ride is a way for your brain to file away the route that you need to take. When possible, walk through the course a few times to better remember where you’re going!
If you’re a visual learner, it may benefit you to create a visual representation of the course by drawing it out multiple times. The act of repeatedly drawing the course will help you to better remember where your turn needs to be and the order of every jump.
Isn’t it funny how you can still remember the words to songs you learned five years ago, but trying to remember a course can feel impossible! Due to the way human memory works, our continued exposure and emotional response to music is often why we can remember every Backstreet Boy or One Direction song. You can use this tactic in memorizing a course by attaching a line in your favorite song to every jump or by creating a song out of the course using your favorite tune!
Another study on why we remember lyrics to songs showed that the repetition of singing the lyrics out loud helps to cement the information in our brain. You can use this tactic in learning your course as well by repeating the course and any riding direction you want to give yourself out loud either to yourself or to your trainer or fellow rider.
Not only does watching a few rounds of your competition help with remembering the course, it can also give you some insight on how you should ride the course. Is there a jump that is causing a lot of stops? Does a line walk in three but look like it’s more comfortable to ride in four? Is a time-saving inside turn possible? How is the footing in front of the jumps? Be mindful that while you may see several riders making the same decision about how to tackle a tricky combination, you should remember how your horse likes to be ridden when making your own decision about how to ride the course.
Another good trick for visual learners, taking pictures of each jump on course and scrolling through them in order can help you to remember where you need to go. There are a few apps that can help you remember your course using photos including the app for eventers, CourseWalk.
Increasingly, equestrians are embracing the importance of visualization for successful competition results. Picturing the perfect ride not only can help to calm show day nerves, but also will help you remember your course and have a solid plan in place for achieving your competition goals. Your visualization should be of you and your horse completing the perfect round, so that when you head into the ring you already feel like you’ve ridden the course several times perfectly. If you’re having trouble visualizing, this article by Equus Magazine may be helpful to get you started!
With all of these tips in your arsenal, you should have an easier time memorizing your course. Don’t be afraid to use a combination of tips until you know what works best for you! Many of these can be also used to remember a dressage test as well – changing the concepts for jumps and strides to letters and movements. Our final tip is to take a deep breath before going in the ring and remembering your reason for riding – the love of the horse, the satisfaction in a good ride, and the great feeling of finishing the day with a happy and healthy horse!
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