Watch and Learn

If you can't watch it live, watch the video! Photo by Holly Covey. If you can't watch it live, watch the video! Photo by Holly Covey.

I disagree with anyone who says you can’t learn how to at least ride a little bit better from watching video. I’m a visual learner, so I know I can translate what I see into what to do on the back of my horse. So when I’m not able to watch competition live, I’ll check out the latest links and events available either streaming or from recorded video sources such as YouTube and Vimeo after the fact.

We all know and love The Horse Pesterer for his great video compilations, and his knack for getting super slow-mo through those really tough combinations, where the best among us make it look sooooo easy. Of course, live is a lot of fun and usually best, but video is a close substitute.

When I watch a stadium jumping round, I try to watch the horse’s overall energy and balance first, where his legs are going, and how his head and neck are working with his body to get over the jump. I like to watch the connection of a horse with the rider’s main source of steering (the bit and the hands) with the rider’s seat and legs.

Not every rider is perfect. Sometimes the perfect riders don’t get results, either. And sometimes the riders you see not entirely classically correct get incredible efforts from horses. So I watch the whole picture first without picking anything apart.

My second view I always notice a few things I missed first time around — like the correct distances to the individual jumps, maybe a half halt correctly placed so that the horse meets the distance perfectly or the opposite. I try to see WHY a rail might have been dropped, and try to guess whether it was front, or hind, that touched it — before scrolling back and going slo-mo to be sure. And occasionally I’ll stop the action and go frame by frame to watch how a horse is reacting to the aids or not reacting.

When watching cross country, I focus on the balance and the speed as well as how the rider sets a horse up for a obstacle or question. And I watch the horse’s ears and attitude, to see how they “read” the question. When a horse is confused, relaxed, confident, unsure, and occasionally angry — you can see all of this from the set of the ears and expression of the eyes, body, and even the tail.

I’m not critical; I’m watching for applications I can make when something similar happens to me. I try to watch a few favorites on cross country as much as I can: Kim Severson, Colleen Rutledge, Sally Cousins, Jane Sleeper. These gals are about the best in the country and I know I can’t go wrong seeing how they manage even their Novice horses on simple courses. I’m sure you have your favorite riders, too, so make it a point to watch them in person when you can, or check video from events.

All of this helps me to understand where I should be in the saddle or how I can better achieve balance and get out of the way of my horse. Of course, trying isn’t nearly the same as doing, but when I put a picture in my mind of a great round, I try to ride like the good example I’ve watched. It helps to pick horses and riders that fit my horses and my body type, too.

It’s rare that anyone, even the best, can ride a totally perfect round, and that’s not what I’m looking for. I’m looking for the horse that might land from a fence and lengthen, or flatten, and what the rider does to correct it and get the balance back for the next fence. I want to emulate that success.

Some riders you can’t even see the beautiful flow of equitation. They operate so efficiently, and the horse is so tuned to them. Those are the most interesting to me, as I will play those clips over and over! When my instructor or coach tells me to correct something, I can pull up a memory of a part of a round I’ve done where I had to perform that correction — or I can pull up that video playback of someone else doing that correction.

Either way, I want to increase my ability to ride better. In that way I take what I have seen and apply it to what I am doing, without waiting until I have all the experience to draw on. That’s how I use my visual learning preference to my advantage.

If you’re a visual learner, too, what are your “tricks” to better enhance your riding? Post a comment! Here’s one of my short video clips from Rolex, that I’ve probably watched 50 times or more. Take a look!

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