This review is going to look a little different this time…because it’s not just about the product…but what this product can do for you. So I’m going to tell you a story of how journaling VERY recently made a huge impact on what was happening with Jax. Why consider journaling? It can make such big and important changes…and help keep track things you might otherwise miss. It can make or break your riding career…no I’m not exaggerating. I almost quit riding a couple months ago… (Note: If you make it to the end of this article…there’s a coupon and a giveaway for you!).
I did my first article on The Equestrian Journal in early 2018 and while it doesn’t seem that long ago…things were very different for me back then. I was childless…I wasn’t even pregnant yet! I was riding Spice and we had just started showing 4th level. DE was a fairly young website still. I was closer to 30 than I am to 40. 4 years doesn’t seem like a lot…but man it sure is when you look back at it.
I have been on and off journaling that whole time using The Equestrian Journal and sometimes google docs…and sometimes random scraps of paper. Very organized I know. Sometimes…especially when I was working on something specific, we were having struggles, or during off show season I was very dedicated to journaling. Other times, like when I’m in the middle of show season and focusing on test riding and prepping and let down from shows…the journaling fell away naturally.
Journaling isn’t for everyone I know and it’s not for every time in life. You need to be in a specific mindset to make journaling work for you for sure. You have to be observant. You have to be focused on change and growth. You have to be willing to make the observations however painful and grow from them. Tracking what you do every day at the barn can be helpful for tracking horse health, training issues, behavior issues, etc. Looking back years or months later to track progress is very helpful. To continue to progress forward somethings you just need to take notes, make observations, make discoveries and suggestions for yourself. And The Equestrian Journal is set up to help you do all of that.
Since I started using The Equestrian Journal, there have been a few changes that improved the product for me, so I’m adjusting the score for this review. I highly prefer the new biding as it’s sturdier, easy to carry and very pretty! I liked the ring binder before the most, but it honestly was just too bulky for me to want to carry around. I also liked the spiral version, but it wasn’t as sturdy and she’s addressed that with sturdier covers. The value is still good and I don’t mind paying the price for three months worth of pages in each journal (or more if you ride less). I love the new designs with the beautiful images on the front and it makes the journal more attractive than before which I appreciate.
For years (since I first tried The Equestrian Journal) I always take some version of notes when anything is noticeable or important. I also take notes when Jax pops up lame, his back is sore, he’s fat, he has an abcess, whatever… I try to keep track of as much as possible for my knowledge when I look back. I also keep all show sheets and notes from clinics so I can keep track of my learning. So when I started journaling again after a break for a little while, I just let it flow. I tried to motivate myself to look at things and improve and get better, but a lot of it was just documenting how good or crap the rides were, how many times Jax tried to bite me that day, how I felt driving home, what the weather was like, how we could or couldn’t do something I tried, etc.
So how did journaling and my notes become a life changer this year? I should start this off by saying…I’m an AA. I ride one horse. I haven’t ridden another horse in a couple of years. I don’t have decades of experience with horses…with lots of horses…with lots of injuries…training barriers…etc. I’m an AA…so that’s a big barrier for being able to catch things quickly. I hate saying “there’s something wrong with this horse” as an AA because I feel like a lot of times that’s a cop out people use to back off their horses…even if there’s nothing wrong..because of some failure as a rider within themselves. It’s always the rider right? How many times do we hear this? Well anyways…something was going on with Jax…and my stressed out, dramatic human brain kept blaming it on me.
Hind-site is so clear isn’t it? That’s why journaling is so important to keep that history as clear as possible. Without all my notes and journaling…I am not sure I would have ever figured it all out.
Backstory Time! Last year Jax jumped up to 2nd level with flying colors. When I first started riding him 2 and a half years ago…he wouldn’t even canter. He’s learned SO fast and he’s so talented…and he likes learning and working hard! Our first two shows of the year were high points! How amazing! We’re going to Championships and we’re going to win.
A few months later…he’s lame at a show out of now where on his left hind. Vets found nothing when they came to look at him the next day and he didn’t present lame. At around this time he started going lateral in the canter when I asked for collection. Fast forward and the rest of the season was a struggle at the level we’d dominated earlier in the year…but I thought it was just me…just my brain…my AA lameness showing up again. If only I could do better. Keep going.
After the season was over…we started the changes. They went…not so great… He was on and off feeling good. Some days he’d feel great and I felt we could go somewhere. Others simply cantering on the left lead at all in a decent bend was beyond us. He’d get REALLY worked up whenever we started to canter because he knew the changes were coming. Some days he would be so out of control, it was best to just not canter. People assured me changes were just like this. Some horses just had a hard time with them (despite Jax being super-learner up to this point). He had chiropractic. He had teeth done. He had his hock injections. He had bodywork and PEMF. I even had my body worker friend teach me how to do some things so I could keep him the most comfortable he could be.
He never presented lame outside of his normal stiffness. We thought we had everything covered. By January my trainer thought we could try a 3rd level test at a show and get a solid score even if we didn’t get the changes. Things didn’t go great. In fact…he all but refused to turn left when I had to do the turn left turn left to do my salute on the center line. I pulled the plug on show season after watching the tests on video. He acted similarly with his owner a few weeks later in the show I’d scratched out of…dodgy to the left, but it was passable at the level.
With the feed back I was getting from my coach and clinicians I assumed it was just me (I should mention that in my coach’s defense here…she wasn’t getting to ride him much if any for months due to a health issue on her part) and holes I’d allowed in his training. I was putting too much pressure on Jax. He was fighting me instead of trying. I backed off. Stretching work. Trail rides. Less hard work. I put the changes away for a month or so. I put collection away for a month or so. He did great. As I tried to add things back in…it was clear to me something was still going on, so I focused even harder on myself. More Pilates. More stretching. More breathing. I was doing something wrong when I asked for more clearly. I needed to fix my position. My aids. During all these times I was taking notes.
Then while reading up on my journal days from the past many months, I noticed something that would have been obvious to someone else with more experience probably. I finally noticed that every single thing he was saying no to vehemently was all based on what his left hind leg was doing. Even down to the walk pirouettes. Connection during certain moments of the stride. Inability to take a half halt on tracking left. Turning left. Bend left. Cantering. Changes. I also noticed that his rides were so much worse on days after he worked very hard…or on days after he had a day off. The changes would come one ride…and the next ride it would be a complete mess. Ditto the half passes…ditto just collecting the canter a little bit. One step forward, one step back in complete rhythm for months and months. We had assumed all along that any issue with that leg was weakness from the old injury…protecting it. He wasn’t lame. He wasn’t tender on it. It was a training issue…
I was at this point feeling like he might be done and 2nd level was his top out. It got to the point I didn’t see any other option than saying that out loud despite my “don’t blame it on there being something wrong with the horse” thing. I started asking questions during my 30 minute sessions with my coach and after a few weeks of questions, I told her my concerns and that I thought he might not be able to go further. Maybe that old injury was just too much to overcome and he’d never say yes. She told me it didn’t present like an issue with his previous injury and when the vet last looked (in January) nothing was amiss. She did mention offhand that maybe he needed his stifles injected (I’d never experienced a horse with a stifle problem…so this was all new to me). She started riding him more regularly and confirmed she thought there was something going on physically. OMG I had been right. I should have listened to my gut! Damn. Within a few weeks, the vet had come out, done flexions…and he flexed very badly on his left stifle. The next week injections were done.
Hind-sight… It bothers me that I let it go this long (even though we did make efforts to make sure he was comfortable…just not the right ones). I don’t know if I ever would have caught it if not for the journaling and mindful questions and experiments.
The first ride back full work after the injections, Jax from early 2021 was back. He was relaxed. He could bend left. He could half pass both directions in both gaits. When I asked for a change he got a little excited, but he was able to do one…and he wasn’t uncontrollable before or after. He was happy (even eager) to work. I have had the best rides on him in the last few weeks in probably a year. Within another week we were back working on changes. They’re not perfect, but he’s trying now. He’s not panicking and stressed now. He’s not going out of control. Sometimes if the set up isn’t right he gets a little silly. He was hurting all along and I’m sitting here feeling like a silly idiot for not listening to my gut earlier.
But seriously…without tracking all our struggles these last many months, who knows how much longer it would have taken to get to this point. And on top of that, without all the documentation, introspection, researching, studying and trying again that happened because I was journaling, I think I would have actually quit. I even came close with the journaling, but it gave me a lifeline. Something to focus on and commit to change. All I can say now is thank goodness for journaling and The Equestrian Journal!
Now if you made it this far congratulations! Use code INSIGHTFUL for 30% off your The Equestrian Journal (two uses per customer).
Now for the giveaway! The Equestrian Journal is giving away a journal (you pick the cover design) to one of our readers. All you need to do is comment below on one of these topics:
1. What current problems you’re having with your riding and how you think a journal will help you.
2. Tell me about what past journaling has helped you with.
Giveaway entries close June 15th, 2022.