The 4 Cardinal Sins of the Recruitment Video

I’ve touched on this subject before, readers, but as with everything else, the subject of what works (and, more importantly, what doesn’t work) when putting together your riding recruitment video to send to prospective college coaches is one that needs to be discussed on a regular basis – particularly this time of year when so many students are putting them together. You see, students, while no video needs to be a Terrence Malick masterpiece (unless you’re simultaneously applying for film school), there are some basic guidelines to follow – and also several things to steer clear of.

In fact, there are four cardinal sins of the riding recruitment video that you should avoid at all costs. (And yes, I’ve seen most of these committed in the early videos I’ve scanned through already this fall.)

  1. Poor camera work. The purpose of the video footage you send to a college coach is for he or she to evaluate your form over fences and on the flat (or during a dressage test or horsemanship or reining pattern – whatever your discipline is) and also see what choices you make when it comes to lines and corrections. They also want simply to see what you look like on horses with different body types (Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, etc.). And students, absolutely none of this is possible if you’re so far from the video camera that you appear as a speck to the viewer. It also doesn’t help a coach evaluate you if he or she can’t see you due to rain or dark/cloudy conditions or excessive shadows, if the video was shot vertically on a phone and therefore appears with black lines on both sides, or if the phone or camera wasn’t stabilized on a tripod. All of these things are easily remedied before the video is taken and therefore you have no excuse for sending footage of such poor quality to a coach. (It’s also not the first impression you want to make.)
  2. Poor footage selection. I never recommend that students shy away from showing coaches that they can recover from mistakes in their riding – particularly if they share schooling footage (which is where mistakes are best made so they can be learned from). But there’s a distinctive caveat to the choice to share mistakes and that is that you should never lead with them and you should never share them from the show ring. Again, it goes back to the sort of first impression you want to make with coaches – they want riders who can get the job done in competition and make good choices under pressure. Thus, a recruit video that shows the two chips you had in your equitation round last weekend or your failure to find the center of the arena in your last reining run isn’t a good choice. Coaches will shake their heads and move onto the next video if you send this sort of footage – and what’s more, they won’t call you with an invitation to campus, especially when they have a list of other prospects who send clean footage.
  3. Sharing the wrong events. Part of your job as a prospective intercollegiate equestrian is to research the competitive formats available to you and decide which one(s) fit your riding style and future riding goals. In fact, it’s your job to do this before you make your first contact with coaches because you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the basics of what will be expected of you if you join the team – and then you’ll need to send video footage of you demonstrating the necessary skills. So if you compete in both hunters and equitation, it’s more important for a coach to see your equitation rounds than your hunter rounds (though one hunter round won’t hurt as long as it still shows your form and skills). But if you’re a western team prospect and compete in speed events in addition to reining and/or horsemanship, rest assured the coach won’t care about your times in barrel racing or pole bending and, moreover, he or she really doesn’t want to see it. Stick to the format you want to compete in and save the other footage for your social media accounts.
  4. Getting too artsy. I enjoy a well-edited video as much as the next person and so do many of my friends on the coaching side. Even a little bit of background music (with no lyrics) isn’t annoying. But when the majority of the video is filled with slow motion shots, distracting splices, and footage of you grooming/tacking up/putting on your game face before you mount up, you’re missing the point and wasting a coach’s time. Remember – he or she wants to evaluate your form, not your video editing capabilities. Clean and clear and focused trumps shiny, edgy, and over-edited every time. Keep it simple.

Again, students, there’s no need to pay excessive amounts of money to have your video professionally put together and edited with all of the bells and whistles. There are many free downloads available if you need video editing software for your computer and you can keep everything simple if you just cut together your best footage into a video that runs no more than five minutes (and four is actually better). The most important thing is that the footage shows you riding at your best and is clear so the coaches watching the video can see what’s going on. That’s it.

Everything else is just window dressing, fancy software, and a soundtrack by Beyonce – none of which necessary. Let your riding speak for you and make sure it’s the best you’re capable of.

(Need help building your list of potential colleges or need your recruitment video critiqued? Contact me or pick up a copy of my book to guide you.)


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