The off-course elimination is one the more frustrating outcomes for the equestrian competitor — maybe because it feels like a mistake that doesn’t carry any learnings with it. If you miss at a jump because your horse bulged left out of the corner, well, you have something to work on for next time. But when you go off-course? The first time it happens, you probably chalk it up to a bad day and move on.
The second time you go off-course, you may feel a twinge of panic or self-doubt. Like, is this a thing now, that I forget my course? Am I senile? Let those thoughts go. You probably had an off-day and it’ll never happen again. Even so, you still may be motivated to switch up how you memorize your show round. Here are eight strategies that will help.
1. Name the Jumps
Every jump has some defining feature that’s worthy of a descriptive nickname. Maybe it’s a white panel or a brick wall or an ugly coupe or pillar standards. In the jumper ring, you can make use of the colors — for example, here in St. Louis, we see a red-and-yellow setup by Mo’s Jumps that we’ve fondly named McDonald’s.
When you repeat the course back to anyone who will listen, use your descriptive names. It doesn’t matter if your husband or sister thinks you’ve gone bonkers when you say, “cotton candy vertical to McDonald’s oxer.” The point is that you are memorizing the way the jumps look and the order in which you’re looking for them.
2. Break the Show Course into Sections
If remembering the individual jumps feels overwhelming, group combinations together and remember them as one unit. This is particularly effective for your more straightforward hunter courses. Your pre-ride mantra, for example, might be something like: quarter-line jump, diagonal five-stride, outside one-stride, etc. If you get the very first jump right, and you know you’re looking for a diagonal line next, there’s usually only one place to go.
3. Plan out Your Turns
For jumpers, equitation and even handy courses, memorize your turns along with the jumps. If you described the course out loud, it might sound something like this: McDonald’s oxer, right turn, cotton candy bending line in five steps, left turn to the horse-head one-stride, etc.
Knowing the turns helps you look for the next jump early — always a good thing — and can spare you from the frantic scan of the entire arena if you blank for a moment.
4. Repeat the Course, Jumps and Turns out Loud
Repeat your course out loud in detail to anyone who will listen, or no one in particular. You could even add in any riding tips that are specific to your horse. For example: “McDonald’s jump, then balance” or “right leg, right rein to cotton candy vertical.” If you’re the creative type, you could even make a song or a poem out of it.
5. Visualize Your Ride
Visualization is just another form of repetition. It’s most effective if you can get very detailed — the jumps in your visualization are full-color, you can hear your horse’s stride and you can feel the reins in your fingers. Anytime you have a free moment before your round, run through the course again in your head.
6. Walk the Course if You Can
If you have the opportunity to walk the course, do it. Look at every jump head-on and take a mental picture of the approach. You can then use that for your visualization later.
7. Draw the Course
Try diagramming the course on a piece of paper from memory. Or, when you’re on horseback, use your finger to draw the course out on your leg.
8. Play Games
If you find your memory fails you outside of the horse show, you can try loading a few brain-game apps on your phone. Apps like Luminosity, Elevate and Fit Brain Trainer are designed to improve both memory and mental sharpness.
If brain training is not your thing, you may enjoy the Jump Off Pro app. Designed for equestrians, it allows you to upload your courses and then “practice” them by drawing your route with your finger. Get that right and the app then gives you the option to “ride” the course, which involves navigating the jumps with a rider’s view and steering by tilting your phone.
Do you have any tactics for memorizing your course? Share in the comments!