When I moved to Tucson to open my horse boarding facility last spring, I found all my riding journals from college. Reading through these reminded me how far I journeyed during my four years at Rocky Mountain College and how much my riding improved. I grew from a girl who could ride any rank ranch horse but had never been in the show ring to a woman who could clear a four-foot hunter course with class and style. I documented Okie’s journey from an unstarted colt to a mostly-finished hunter, and I am thankful I still have these records.
After college, I fell out of the habit of keeping a riding journal. I trained a few horses and gave a few lessons, but never really did anything formal. Now, I am in the horse business professionally, and I have started a riding journal for each of my horses and will add another when I find the right project horse. Regardless of whether you are a beginner rider or a professional trainer, a riding journal helps you set specific goals, which keeps your training sessions on-track and improves your equitation. These are the steps I take to keep a thorough riding journal.
Choose a Notebook
My college riding journals are in plain spiral notebooks (buy them here), but as an adult I really enjoy writing in a fancy notebook with a good pen. I am currently using this Studio Oh! deconstructed journal (buy it here) and I always write with Pilot G2 pens in a variety of colors (buy them here). I keep my journal in my tack room, so if you plan on doing the same, choose something sturdy.
Another option is to purchase a formal equestrian journal. This one has prompts for you to fill in for each ride and a space for a photograph of your horse (buy it here). This is a great choice if you want more structure in your journaling.
Before I ride, I write my goals for this session in my notebook. This cements them in my mind so that I know what I want to accomplish. At the end of my ride, I can note if I achieved these goals, or if I need to break the big goal into smaller steps.
Start at the Beginning
I often find myself thinking of my training sessions as starting when I put my foot in the stirrup, when in reality, it starts when I walk out to catch my horse. I can tell if my mare is in heat as soon as she sees me approaching with her halter. I track each mare’s heat cycle in my riding journal. If you ride a gelding, this is where you can document anything you notice about his behavior before you catch him. Some horses are extremely affected by the weather or by other changes in their environment.
What does your horse eat? Have you made changes to his feed? This can affect his performance. I document any changes I make as well as my horse’s worming and vaccination schedule. Okie is prone to injection site reactions, and these affect her performance for several days after. It is easy to forget little details like this unless you write them down. This is especially important with a horse you intend to sell because these are things that the new owner will want to know. The more you share with a new owner, the more credible you are as a seller.
What tack did you use on your horse? I am very specific here because tack can really affect performance, especially if it is ill-fitting.
Did you do groundwork before your ride? See Four Points to Evaluate While Lunging Your Horse for specific behaviors to document. I note what I did and how my horse responded to me.
Evaluate Your Ride
The first note I make in my journal is whether I met the goal I set before my ride or not. If I did meet it, what specific steps did I take to do that? If not, can I meet it on my next ride, or do I need to set a different goal? This is where I find holes in my training and know when I need to take a step back.
Where did you ride? Was it in an arena? On the trails? Did you haul out? How did your horse respond in the environment?
What was the weather like? What was the temperature? Wind and temperature can have huge effects on your ride’s success, and you will start to see patterns with your horse’s performance and the weather.
Evaluate yourself. Was your mind in a positive place, or did you experience negative emotions? How did you feel physically?
Evaluate your horse. How was his attitude? How was he physically? Did you notice any change in his health?
If you work with a trainer or instructor, evaluate them. Did they understand your goal and help you work towards it? Do they have other goals for you? By honestly evaluating your trainer or instructor you will see if they are the right fit for you and if they are working towards the same goals.
Plan Your Next Ride
I end my journal entry with my plans for my next ride. When will it be? What will we work on? I read these notes before my next ride to remind myself what I thought was important.
Consistency is Key
A riding journal only works if you write in it consistently. Setting goals and recording my results are part of my riding routine now. This fall and winter I will start to work with project horses specifically to resell, and I document each horse’s journey in their own riding journals. When the new owner asks for details, I will have those details available. This builds my reputation as a trainer and a seller, which brings more opportunities to me.
Your reason for keeping a riding journal may be different than mine, but setting goals and honestly evaluating yourself and your horse allows you to see where your training has holes and what your strengths are. I believe as equestrians, we should be continually learning and improving, and a riding journal reminds us how far we have come.
What do you record in your riding journal? Let me know in the comments below!
Welcome! I've been a freelance writer since 2002 and have numerous horse-related articles published in print and online publications. I have a Bachelor of Science degree from Rocky Mountain College with a major in Equestrian Studies and a minor in Business Management. My current business ventures include High Plains Arena and real estate investing.