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Learning on your own- The Power of Video or Pictures

Well we are in the beginning stages of wrapping up another winter season here in AZ. The temperatures have skyrocketed into the high 80’s in the last few days and will keep rising until they hit anywhere from 115-120 degrees in July and August (no, that’s not a typo.)

The final schooling horse show of the season was a success in a lot of ways; many riders seemed to have started this season in a bit of “riding plateau” and by the end discovered a mental clarity within them and how they are working and interacting with their horse.

An interesting thought crossed my mind again as I was discussing/evaluating different performances of both my own students and those of other competitors. For many people in the United States who keep their horses on their own property, or live in remote locations, they do not have access to barns, get-togethers, clinics or regular lessons where they get to not only participate, but also WATCH other riders. For many people nowadays keeping a horse boarded at home is common and rewarding, usually allowing for much more time spent with their horse without having to “commute” to the barn. On the other hand this “seclusion” decreases the level of interaction the rider has with other horse people.

Take for instance a few of my jumping students. They are not aspiring to jump huge obstacles nor attend upper rated competitions, but they’d like to learn how to jump for the sake of variety and a new avenue to try with their horses. Yet, other than maybe “seeing it a few times” at some high end competition televised or in a magazine, they have no idea (visually) of “what it’s supposed to look like.” So many people nowadays rely on watching others to help them self learn.

In this particular case of teaching riders the physical position they need to be in with their upper body, seat, lower legs and hands on the approach to the face, while in the air, and then on the landing, the visual aid of being able to watch someone can help greatly. Keep in mind not all fellow riders may be setting an example, but even so, you can still learn what NOT to do too, by watching. I always encourage people to go and watch the warm-up arenas rather than the competition arena because many times you’ll see a lot more “real” riding rather than “pretty” riding due to a judge watching.

But, what if it’s not an option for you to watch other riders? Most people nowadays have a video camera or a digital camera. This is a great alternative to “barn life” and “regular” lessons. The awesome thing about digital is that it doesn’t cost anything to take tons of pictures. If you can rope a friend or family member into taking a few minutes to photograph or film you as you ride, you’ll then amazed at how much you’ll be able to “critique” yourself afterwards.

As you evaluate yourself don’t have “pretty” as the focus, rather effective. If you see in a photo or video that your horse isn’t performing as desired- start by looking at you in the picture. What are you doing? What else could you be doing? What did you think you were doing and is that what it looks like when you actually have a visual of yourself? Most performances in horse are a reflection of the partnership between horse and rider. Instead of focusing on what you could “change” about your horse- address yourself first. If you’re sitting crooked in the saddle, how can your horse move straight? If your hands are “dumped” down low, how you can use independent and effective aids to communicate to different parts of your horse if our body is moving as one? How can you ask your horse to perform, if you aren’t?

All too often, even with instruction, a rider will think that they are riding in a certain manner or using a specific aid. In their mind they feel like they are riding as they should, but when they actually see themselves with a form of physical evidence, the realization then sinks in as to how they are “really” riding.

I’m always amazed at how quickly people can adapt or change their riding “habits” once they have a clear visual on what they think are doing versus what they are really doing.

Give it a try- your horse will thank you for it! Sam

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