Reports cards are an easy-to-use method of tracking a child’s progress during the school year.

But, they can also be designed to monitor the progress of horse and rider in the show ring.

“Report cards” have been applied in sports such as gymnastics, figure skating, football, etc. to provide athletes with detailed feedback about their performance that can then be studied and improved upon afterward.

I first came across this method of providing feedback a few years ago when I was reading through notes written by a respected football coach. This individual coached the receivers group, and after every game, he would re-watch the film and provide each of his players with a report detailing what they did well and areas to improve. The players loved this feedback and it allowed them to progress steadily throughout the season.

Of course, it is worth applying this to horse sports.

The most common variable in the jumper ring, and what people tend to pay attention to, is the placing and number of faults. But these variables do not provide a detailed picture of what actually happened in the ring. If there were time faults, was that the result of: Rideability issues? A bad plan made during the course walk? The horse jumping too big? Etc?

Similarly, the difference between zero faults and eight faults can be relatively minor (e.g. two light rails at the end of the course) or major (e.g. the horse completely destroyed a double combination).

To counter this and ensure riders understand what issues arose on course, trainers will speak to students after each round and analyze their ride. Although helpful, this feedback is often given in a stressful and rushed environment (immediately after a round), which limits the rider’s uptake of information. Furthermore, we know that people only remember a few pieces of information at a time, while everything else is either forgotten or only partially internalized.  

To ensure riders have a more detailed analysis they can refer to after the fact, it would be great if report cards became widely adopted in our sport.

I began using these reports a while ago when tracking the developments of a horse and rider, and found them quite helpful. I would rewatch video of the round at the end of the day and make my notes as well as score the overall performance. For each jump, a grade is provided as well as specific comments that help explain the ride.

Combined with video of their round, students can review this information later and study what went right and what went wrong. See example below.

I = Jump not visible; + = Well ridden; = Failed the ride or miscommunication; E = Error in decision making; G = Made a GREAT ride.

Interested in putting together your own report cards? Download a blank Report Card here, courtesy of Dr. Tim Worden.

Dr. Tim Worden is a scientist specializing in applying high performance sports training concepts to horses. He completed his MSc (Biomechanics and Neuroscience) and PhD (Biomechanics) at the University of Guelph, Canada, and he has worked with a number of FEI jumping riders over the years. Instagram: @twordentraining