Best of JN: Remembering Courses With Severe ADHD in I Forgot How Many Steps

It’s the heat of show season, and we (fortunately or unfortunately) must memorize multiple courses! Our team is bringing to you tips for memorizing courses, including when you have dyslexia, ADHD and more. Let’s go! (Wait, what was our jump off again?)

I’ve never had a great memory. When I’m in a conversation with someone, I have to pay incredibly close attention to remember what we were talking about four or five sentences ago. I write literally everything down, or it doesn’t happen (in college, one of the tips from the disability center was to even write down your sleeping time, because I would forget to sleep). I was diagnosed with severe ADHD about ten years ago; I’ve had a couple of neuropsychological evaluations since then and the most recent one (dating about a year ago) revealed that my short term memory is about 34% that of an average person’s. My long term memory is even worse.

So…it makes it really difficult to remember a course, even in a lesson — let alone at a show! However, it can still be done.* Here’s how I memorize courses. Hopefully, some of these tricks will help you the next time you’re trying to cram multiple courses and jump offs into your brain!

McLain Ward walking a course. Photo by US Equestrian.

I primarily memorize courses based on shapes and adjectives that I assign to them, NOT jump numbers. That does sound a little hypocritical, because you have to jump the jumps in the correct order. However, I’ll explain how this works in the steps below.

If I have to memorize multiple courses, such as if I have two classes in one day, I won’t learn them both at the same time — my brain simply can’t hold more than one course in there at once, or I mix them up. I’ll take a picture of both with my phone but then ignore the second course for as long as possible until I’m totally done with the first course. Then, I “trash” the first course in my memory and move on to learning the second one.

Here’s how I memorize courses in I forgot how many steps already:

  1. The night before or early in the morning, check schedule online to see what classes my horse and I are entered in. Attempt to figure out what time we’ll go, and what time I need to get to the show grounds, add safety buffer time, add ring-runs-late time, give up on doing any math and get to the show grounds way too early.
  2. Bumble around, hand walk horse, bribe horse with treats (if mine eats these cookies, she jumps great). Forget what classes we are entered in and check online for the billionth time.
  3. Go up to the ring and check out the jumps; marvel at how they can fit so many colorful, shiny objects in one ring; so many flowers and plants, ADHD on the loose, yeah! Take picture of course map with phone and get basic idea of course from the in-gate. Do NOT watch riders in the ring doing their rounds. If they go off-course, it totally destroys anything I learned.
  4. Figure out the basic placement of the jumps and start/finish timers. Forget that class is a power & speed which means learning more jumps in a row for the jump off. Figure out where jump 1 is, jump 2, etc.
  5. Now that I know basically where each jump is in the ring (I memorize not so much by order, but by spatial placement in the ring), visualize a “path” or line that swoops from one jump to another to create the course in one flowing movement.
  6. Assign an adjective or other defining shape to each jump based on how horrible or friendly they look, or even based on the type of color theme the jump has. Standards with decorations are super helpful, too (ie, giant grapes or clouds). If a jump is rampy, like a triple bar, it’s a triangle. If it’s a very square oxer, it’s a square.
  7. Walk the course by going to the actual start timers so I can see what the jumps look like when entering the ring (no surprises trying to find the first jump). Walk it using the actual path that I will (hopefully) ride with my horse. Speak out loud approaching each jump with whatever the identifying adjective or shape is. For example, walk up to jump ABC. Stop in front of it. Say “safari.” Go around jump, walk on the path to the next one, stop in front of it. “Friendly.” If there’s not such an obvious turn (like a rollback), I’ll remember to say  “left” or “right.”
  8. Stand in the middle of the ring and say the entire course at least twice until I can say it without stuttering. Do the same thing for the jump off. I actually do not memorize the number of strides between the jumps because a) the striding typically works out as shows set pretty precisely, b) knowing where to go is enough information to fit up in this little brain and c) if I jump into the “in” of a line or combination funky, I need to ride off my eye anyway to find a good distance to the “out.”
  9. Retrieve horse from the barn, warm up, do NOT watch other riders go!
  10. Get in the ring, have a good round, give horse more cookies, off to eat snacks!

This jump would of course be called “clouds”! Photo by Dalman Jump Co.

Here is an example of how a course might go as I say it out loud: “Apples to boats, left to nice, to square, to horrible, right to large garden, to bumblebees to oh no to bright to clouds.”

The important things for me to remember are the path that goes between the jumps and their descriptions — not the jump numbers. I also say descriptions of the jumps out loud while walking the course.

Do you use any of these tricks to memorize courses? Let us know!!

Missed our first piece on memorizing courses?  Check it out here!

*Note: I am also on medication to help with ADHD.