Lately, many equestrians have found themselves with something they don’t typically have in excess: time. For some of us, this newfound downtime has provided opportunities to clean tack, catch up on the latest equestrian books, and bake treats for ourselves or our horses. On the other hand it’s left many wondering, how can I improve my ride, out of the saddle?
I asked two renowned hunter/jumper trainers, Kip Rosenthal and Archie Cox, how equestrians can use video, either of themselves or others, as a tool to improve their riding. Kip Rosenthal is an accomplished trainer and judge, with a PhD in clinical counseling psychology. Archie Cox is an experienced trainer and judge, as well as a Noelle Floyd Masterclass instructor. They shared the following tips to help riders get the most from videos.
1. Watch Your Video Three Times
Both trainers recommended that riders watch a video a minimum of three times to get the most of the experience. Kip shared the strategy she teaches her students to ensure that watching videos is constructive rather than discouraging.
The first time you watch the video, just watch the round or test as a spectator to see what it looks like.
The second time, pick out something you’ve been working on with your trainer, like how steady your hands are on the approach to a fence. As you watch the video, look for the times when you get it wrong and how it affects your horse.
Then, the final time you watch the video, focus on the same aspect, but this time watch what happens when you get it right.
Kips feels that it’s critical to maintain a balance between looking at issues that need to be improved, and seeing other areas where they have improved. “Videos are a fabulous tool, if used properly,” Kip says. “A lot of times, when people watch videos, they just look at what’s wrong. If you’re just looking at what’s wrong all the time, I don’t think it gives you the confidence to be a better rider. When you turn that video off, the image that you want to have in your mind needs to be what worked.”
2. Focus on One Detail at a Time
It’s clear that Archie Cox has an extremely keen eye for detail. In our conversation, he mentions no less than twenty different things a rider could focus on as they watch footage of their rounds. He suggests that each time you watch a video you should hone in on a different detail to observe, from the position of your foot in the stirrup to your horse’s facial expression. Each of these small details contributes to having a great round.
“As you’re watching your video,” says Archie, “pick one part to study throughout the course. Watch your hands, your heel, your leg, your balance above the horse. Watch how the horse approaches the jump and how he goes away from the jump. All the small details. Try to identify, after the fence, does your horse land light as a feather? Has the canter stride become longer and longer?”
Want to learn more from Archie? Join Equestrian Masterclass today to get instant access to his video course, along with a library of others from top trainers and experts.
3. Move on from Mistakes
When you identify a mistake, it’s important to see it as an opportunity for improvement. Kip says, “When you make a mistake, understand how to fix the mistake, then throw it away and don’t think about it anymore. Always think about what works, don’t think about what doesn’t work.” She says that if you continue to ruminate on what you’ve done wrong, you end up repeating the same mistakes, which only leads to frustration.
Archie stressed the importance of using positive language to get results in your riding. “What I try very hard to do, as a rider, a trainer, a coach. I try very hard to tell people what to do and I avoid the words ‘not’ and ‘don’t’. Tell people what to do, there are enough things not to do.”
"When you turn that video off, the image that you want to have in your mind needs to be what worked.”
If you’ve identified something you’d like to work on in your video, try to reframe it using positive language. Let’s say for example that you notice in your video you duck while you’re jumping. In your next practice session, instead of thinking ‘don’t duck’, think ‘shoulders back’ or ‘eyes up’.
4. From Observations to Results
Video can help you become more aware of what you can improve. Archie says, “Once you’re aware of it and you point it out you’re going to say, ‘I want to do it better’ and look for ways to improve in the saddle.” He suggests that using a simple game can be an effective way to make improvements. “I’ll say, how long can I keep my eyes up? Can I do it over the whole course? Then you catch yourself when your eye level lowers.”
Kip recommends exercises that give you feedback on your position. For instance, if you notice that your hands are unsteady, try bridging your reins. Because your hands are connected, you’ll notice when your hands are steady and when they’re not.
5. Learn from the Pros
Both Archie and Kip recommend watching top level riders whenever you can, whether that’s on a video or at an international competition.
Archie suggests watching videos of horse-rider combinations that are similar to you and your horse. “If you’re a smaller sized rider, watch videos of Margie Goldstein-Engle. If you’re a young man riding and you’re tall, watch the body control of Ian Millar. Watch someone that is the appropriate size because you can notice how that person uses their body or their weight to help influence what the horse is doing.”
If there’s something specific you’ve been working on, Kip said it can be helpful to watch a professional and really focus on that aspect. “Watch their hands the whole time, just eliminate every other part of their body. Watch how smooth they are, watch how their arms follow the horse with every stride of the canter.” She says that it's helpful to watch professional equestrians on young horses in addition to more experienced horses because you’ll see them do more when they’re riding an inexperienced horse.
While watching the pros, keep in mind what’s accessible for you as a rider. Archie stresses that there are always things within reach that amateurs can work to improve. “Remember, great riders have that magical feel, but as a rider, everyone can have their eyes up, they can have their hands very still, they can have their heels down and their boots polished. Everyone can do that. That is something with practice and determination, it’s available to everyone."
If you want to take your equestrian education to the next level, subscribe to Noelle Floyd’s Masterclass where you’ll have access to video courses from some of the industry's best trainers, grooms, vets, behaviorists, and mental coaches.
Feature photo by Anasofia Vazquez.
Written by Alyssa Friesen
Alyssa is an amateur equestrian with a passion for storytelling. A conservation communicator by day, she enjoys riding her thoroughbred Speedy, exploring wild places, and reading good books in her spare time.