It’s the time of year when people make New Year’s resolutions and plan new projects. It’s also a time to look back over the past year and, with horses, it’s a great opportunity to assess what is going well and how to improve as well as what new activities to try.
One of the easiest and most effective ways to assist in this is to build up a record of your activities with your horse through a photo diary or journal. Mobile phones are fantastic for taking photos and short video clips that can easily be downloaded onto your computer.
For the pleasure driver it is a lovely record simply to enjoy looking through, but it can also be much more than this.
With key points added you have a quick and useful record but you can add more detail — either in pictures or commentary to make it a truly comprehensive document.
This is useful for your own development as well as for bringing on a horse’s skills. Self evaluation is an essential tool for all drivers and is a routine part of any competitor’s tool kit for their development and effective progression in their sport.
Sports drivers will find their trainers and coaches are very focussed on this as a key area applied to every session and to every outing or event.
Dressage sheets are very useful — especially the written comments — and along with score sheets can easily be scanned in to give more reference along with overall placings and final scores.
The British Driving Society, although not a sports driving group, endorses the idea of a driving journal as evidence of your driving that can be used directly to help you gain their qualifications — for example the road driving assessment or more specialist elements such as showing, working with the disabled or driving trial modules.
At the most basic this is a dated record of your activities presented as a log, but the more detail that is added the more useful the document becomes in giving insights.
Young BDS members are encouraged to produce a portfolio of their driving each year. Nationwide there is an annual award presented by Ian Townsend for the best junior portfolio in two age categories, as well as the award for the best junior driver and the Brian Sims Scholarships.
The David Snowdon Award rewards the juniors for participating in many driving activities by awarding points and is a simple log sheet to fill in. Handsome certificates are given for all taking part and trophies for the three juniors who have been most active and awarded most points.
The Welsh Branch of the BDS has for many years rewarded every junior who submits a portfolio of their driving year with subsidised training or camp as well as a splendid rosette.
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Learning to drive with Sherry
As a young driver living in Mid Wales I was encouraged to do a simple portfolio every year and I still enjoy looking through the five photo-filled portfolios I did as part of this scheme. They track my driving from when I was 13 with my 9hh Shetland pony Sherry, through all the driving activities I now enjoy.
I learned to drive with Sherry, taking lessons with local instructor, LHHI Mo Francis. I took part in driving trials as well as lots of BDS activities. Sherry loved cones and handy pony best, but we did well at showing in exercise classes with our small Hillam carriage and also got to the Indoor Driving Trials Championships at Keysoe.
When Sherry retired I moved on to Welsh ponies driving a Section A to a two and then four wheeler and showing in a Leftly carriage. Because I loved cross-country driving, I broke a Section B to drive with her making a pony pair.
All this was lots of fun and looking at the portfolios brings it all back.
Hopes and aims
I think the focus of these early portfolios really helped my development as a driver as after recording your driving activities for the year you were encouraged to look forwards and write about your hopes and aims for the year ahead.
Through simple progressive steps over the years you can build up a surprising level of achievement.
By my last junior portfolio I had competed internationally three times with a Section C stallion and won two bronze team medals for Wales, one for outdoor driving trials, the other indoor. I also won the individual Derby Cup at the Channel Cup competition as well as many Private Driving Championships with the same pony, my wonderful Mr J.
Yet none of these were my original goals — in those early portfolios the aims were much humbler.
Now I’m nearly 24, but I have kept up with my driving records. They have become more detailed and sophisticated than those early portfolios, reflecting how my ambitions and driving interests have evolved and I find them an excellent training tool.
Looking back through the portfolios always brings back many happy memories of different days out with my ponies. So whether you are a pleasure driver, a driver developing their skills, or a keen competition driver, I’d really recommend keeping a photo journal for the coming year.