The Recency Effect – Use it to Enhance Your Training

Our memories are complex and fascinating with a deep knowledge of how the brain makes and stores memories being an enormous topic studied by psychologists and neuroscientists all over the world.

One memory phenomenon which you are probably familiar with, though perhaps have never consciously thought about, is our ability to remember the most recently presented information most easily – the so called RECENCY EFFECT.

The recency effect is dependent upon short term memory. This type of memory, also known as active or primary memory, is the ability to hold a relatively small amount of memory in the mind for a brief period of time. For example, you may be told a telephone number, be able to remember it long enough to use it correctly but then struggle to recall it the following day.

When a memory is linked to an emotion – either positive or negative – the effect can be magnified and it’s important from training point of view to be aware of this and to learn to use it to your advantage.

The recency effect can however be a double-edged sword for you as a horse rider. On the one hand, a recent successful ride can bolster your confidence and reinforce your belief in your skills. However, if a ride ends on a negative note, such as with a challenging jump or an unexpected spook, that experience might disproportionately overshadow earlier positive moments. Being aware of this possibility is important and could be the subject for a future post. In this piece we will look at using the recency effect in a very helpful way to your advantage as a rider.

You may well have experienced lessons or training sessions where you feel that you’ve mastered a skill or a movement for the first time and ended your ride on a real high telling yourself “I finally understand that” or “At last I get what it’s supposed to feel like”. It’s a great feeling that you will benefit from being able to capture and keep with you to use in future rides . However, perhaps you have found yourself in a situation where, even though you felt that you’d mastered a skill, you couldn’t recall it particularly well the next time you rode.

How can you take some simple steps to make sure that you remember what you have just learned?


1. As soon as possible after your finish your ride spend some time actively re-calling those things you learned and wish to be able to repeat.

2. Do this with as much detail as possible. What was your coach saying? What physical movements did you make in order to get the result you wanted? What did that feel like? What were you saying to yourself at the time? How did your horse respond to your actions?

3. Re-live everything about what you just achieved involving all of your senses.

4. Repeat this process a couple of times.

5. Making detailed notes and keeping them to refer back to will also help enormously

Using the above reflective practice will help to firmly embed the learning more deeply in your mind meaning that you are far more likely to be able to repeat it the next time you ride.

Like all new skills it’s important to practice this reflective technique regularly until it becomes a habit which supports your training and riding progress.