Oct 20, 2020

Top 10 Tips for Memorizing Tests and Courses with Jessica Phoenix

Jessica Phoenix competed five horses in the CCI4*-S at Red Hills International in March. USEA/Kate Lokey Photo.

It has happened to all of us – you’re trotting into the arena and aren’t sure which way to turn at C, or you’re cantering around the corner in show jumping unsure of which fence is next. For riders with multiple horses, it can be even more difficult to remember what test to perform or which fence to head to on course.

Canadian Olympian and Pan American Games gold medalist Jessica Phoenix keeps busy at horse shows, frequently riding multiple horses at different levels in a single weekend, or even in a single day. That means memorizing different tests and different courses and keeping them all straight. Phoenix shares some of her tips for memorizing your dressage test and cross-country and show jumping courses so you can focus on your ride instead of worrying about where to turn next!

  1. I always make sure I have the dressage test that I’m riding available to me just before I get on the horse. [All the USEF and FEI dressage tests are available here and through the USEA Event Companion App.] I will take a quick look through just before I get on so that the test is fresh in my mind. The dressage tests mirror each other in both directions, so once you have it down one way it’s usually the same thing, or pretty close, the other way.
  2. When I’m riding multiple horses, I learn the first dressage test that I’m doing each day. I’ll know the other ones because I will have practiced the movements at home leading up to the competition, but I don’t memorize the next one until after I’ve completed the first dressage test.
  3. I won’t necessarily run through the full test at home all the time, but I run through the movements so the horses can learn their balance and where they need to be going.
  4. Oftentimes for cross-country I will walk multiple courses at the same time, especially at one-day horse trials. I’ll start the day by going out and walking all my courses. Normally at one-day events they all sort of follow the same type of track, so then it’s just about memorizing the specific approaches, combinations, and distances for each level. Similar to dressage, I focus on the first course I need to ride, and before I go out on course I will sit down with the course map and make sure I remember where I’m going and all my approaches and distances.
  5. Show jumping is usually the easiest because it’s normally all the same course – all you’re really deciphering is how the course changes from level to level. Normally there are fewer combinations as you go down the levels, and the distances change as the height of the jumps changes.
  6. One of the things I find to be most helpful is going out and watching other riders. Seeing how others do it can help you remember it. If you go later in your division you can go watch and make sure you understand where you’re going, and that you’re staying calm. The more you are in that atmosphere and around the venue the more settled you’ll become!
  7. When you’re out watching, really study the jumps. Sometimes there will be a jump that’s more spooky, and if you sit and watch and really pay attention you can go over which jumps you might need to be more aggressive with or if the distances are working at specific combinations.
  8. Another tactic I use a lot is visualization. You can go and sit by yourself and visually go over how you’re going to ride each movement of the test. You can do the same for cross-country and show jumping. In your mind, go through the test or the course several times, visualizing where you’re going to half-halt, where you’re going to balance, which turn you’re going to take. Never discount mental visualization!
  9. Something you can do to help your visualization is to take pictures of all of your jumps. As you’re going through your visualization, if you get to a fence where you can’t remember what it looks like, just pull up the photo of the jump.
  10. I use the Course Walk App a lot and it’s awesome because typically you’ll have pictures of all the fences and the minute markers which is really helpful. COVID-19 has really changed things too, because now there are typically printable versions of all the courses for cross-country and show jumping days before we actually compete or walk any courses. That’s awesome because you can have them on your phone and be preparing before you even get to the show – one plus-side to COVID-19!

Want more tips from top professionals? Check out other articles in our Top 10 Tips series!

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