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Whether you are a trail rider, a weekly "lesson" participant, or a die-hard clinic auditor/participant you can get MORE out of your time, effort, and money spent by keeping a riding journal.
Now, hold on and don't sigh yet... I'm not recommending a "write everything that was said or learned" journal. Instead think of it more as something to highlight 3 focus points from your session.
Staying Neutral
Don't focus on the big or obvious things and don't write your opinion such as "I like that my horse..." Write your entries from a neutral perspective rather than an emotional one and jot just several focus points that you worked on with your horse. The sooner you can make your entry after your ride the more accurate it will be. "Life" can happen and even just a day or two later you'll forget a lot of what you had noticed during your last session with your horse.
What to write about
You may want to include: what, when and how you asked something of your horse. Then observe the level of his participation mentally, emotionally and physically to your communication. You'll find his physical participation will be a reflection of his mental end emotional availability towards you.
Why keep the journal?
Many times we think we "know" our horses, but all too often the little details escape us. Once you start to make it a point to raise your level of awareness when working with your horse, you'll find that you'll also start to "learn" a lot more about both yourself and your four legged partner.
Examples journal entries:

• How long into a session when working your horse either from the ground or when riding does it take for him to sigh, like his lips or blow his nose?

• Is he "patternized" and require a "routine warm up" or is he mentally available to address whatever you offer whenever you might present it?

• Does he "always" respond in the same manner when you ask a specific task of him?

• Evaluate yourself when you present one specific task for your horse. What did you learn about you? How, when, and why did you do what you did? What are other wise you might be able to communicate the same desired result using different aids?

Keep in mind
Health Wise- if you notice odd physical behavior (coughing, runny nose/eyes, soft stool, etc.) make a note of it. A lot of times it can help prevent or diagnose an on-coming health issue. Keep track of worming, vaccinations, shoeing, etc. and notice if there's a correspondence to a change in your horse's health.
Lameness- if you start to notice your horse becoming sore after a certain type of workout you might be able to "break down" what is causing this and prevent any long term damage.
Learning from YOU
Learn from the past- REVIEW past entries in your journal once month. You'll be amazed at how fast your level of awareness and sensitivity increases once you make a point of noticing the small details. You'll also be amazed at how much you "thought you knew" but then had forgotten as you advanced on. It's always a good idea to go back and review the basics no matter what level rider or horse you have.
Enjoy! Sam

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