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The time has finally come; you have been fittening, training, planning and the first major event of the season is here! How do you go about making the day as smooth and as stress free (and successful) as possible?. The first thing is to thing about your time management when you get your times. Have a look first and see when you have time to course walk. Do you have a very large gap between your times when you can walk or do you have to factor that in before you do your dressage. Be sure to leave enough time to walk the course thoroughly. We have all learnt from rushing and not walking an alternative line or even worse missing a fence out! It’s amazing how even your ability to count leaves you when stressed! Try to leave an hour slot to walk and you may be able to walk your SJ course too. Remember that most route planners are for cars, not towing live animals so add a bit on. Also look at the route – sat nav’s are really frustrating in large vehicles as they often take the most direct route straight through towns! Also factor in if you are travelling on a weekday and at rush hour – many times we have been stuck in traffic cursing not leaving and extra half hour earlier. It may also take a while to get from the box park to the course, especially at larger events.

When you get there, make sure your horse is happy, offer water and more hay or if you have a lovely helpful helper even better to get them off and let them stretch their legs and graze while you get numbers and course walk. When you course walk try to not have too many people with you who may distract you. Make sure, if you are nervous, you don’t have someone who is going to declare every fence huge and un-jumpable! Often events lay on course walks first thing and half way through the day with experienced riders / coaches. These are really helpful as often shed a new light and how to approach fences and are there to answer your questions, no matter how daft they are, everyone else is properly thinking that and daren’t ask! When you course walk be sure to look at thing like potential distractions, such as banners and the riders’ favourite, fake farm animals! Also look where the sun is likely to be for shadows and especially when looking at jumping from light to dark. When picking lines to jump technical fences such as skinnies and corners, be sure to pick something beyond the fence to aim at that is not likely to move! It’s a good idea to take photos of the fences, as this will help you when you go back through it before you ride. Try to find out when the breaks are in the show-jumping to allow a course walk if you didn’t arrive before it started. I often walk my show jumping before my cross country so I can get in there before the competition starts. Be sure to walk your distances and walk proper lines around the corners. I often see people walking courses while chatting and on their phones, and then see them ride shocking corners!! So now it’s time to think about the warm up phase. You know your horse so be sure not to do too much or too little. Some horses get a bit wound up in warm ups and are better doing less in a very relaxed way, others benefit from a quick relaxed hack round the venue and a bit of stretching then being put back on the lorry while you walk your course. Some horse may benefit from a quick lunge, and certainly if your times are tight and you have multiple horses, at least this gives the horse more of a chance to get the muscles working properly.

Be sure to have someone lunge the horse well and use side-reins so they are working correctly and obediently. Be sure to check the rule book as to what you are allowed to lunge in if you don’t know. Most horses at a low level test only need about 25mins warm up. I don’t agree with this warming up for hours as it is wear and tear on the horse, and long term will break them. Another factor is what you do with the horse the day before the competition. Some only need a quick school to focus them, others are better working hard so they feel a bit more level on the day. I have done fast work on some the day before with good results. I know of some horses who have a gallop on dressage day at a three-day in the morning to settle them! What you do in your dressage warm up is also very important; the best thing is lots and lots of transitions! They are your friend and help you get in control and focus your horse! It’s also very easy when working in in a big field to end up riding huge shapes. Be sure to ride a few smaller movements so the arena doesn’t feel tinywhen you go in. Practise what is in the test, but don’t ride the test or the horse may start to anticipate.

Just before you go in, as your crew are taking boots off, go through the test in your head quietly to make sure that you know it. Its only when I don’t do this that I forget tests! When you go down to the arena and are trotting round waiting for the judge to write an essay, keep doing your transitions. Don’t just trot round aimlessly. Also have a canter so you’ve done those transitions too. I rarely see people canter when they are going around the arena. If space allows, try to enter on the rein that you will be turning onto – this helps with being on the correct diagonal. As you come up the centre line look up and smile! It helps you relax and gives a good impression. No matter what happens in the test, keep riding forward and get to the next movement. It’s important to remember that there is a mark for each movement, so if one goes wrong, you can make it up on the next. Again, smile and the end when you salute and pat your horse, as the judge will then be doing your collectives so it’s worth a try. Leave the arena in a relaxed way and if it hasn’t gone to plan, deal with it at home or at training competitions. It will do no good to be stroppy after the event. I hate to see people telling horses off and stressing them out as it’s our job to teach the horses to relax and concentrate, and they won’t do that if they are worried about being told off all the time!

Try to find a couple of positive things about your test – if you struggle with your confidence and are the type of person who thinks that all their tests are rubbish it’s a good idea to have someone video and to only analyse when you watch the video as you may find it looks better than it feels. You will only build your confidence by being positive. So with a bit of rest time for you and your horse, you will then be onto the show-jumping. If you have a gap, try to go and watch how the course is jumping. Sometimes distances don’t ride how they walk, especially if one of the fences is very spooky. Be sure to watch how the really good riders ride the course and aim to replicate that. Show jumping warm-ups can be chaotic environments! Allow yourself enough time to warm up in case there is a fence hog in there, but not so long that you over jump your horse and it gets careless. We start warming up when there are 8 horse before us. If possible, have someone over by the steward to keep an eye on how many horses there are before you. It’s really irritating when you warm up, your horse is jumping great and then they keep pushing horses in. It’s understandable with multiple riders, but if you keep informed you can tailor your warm up. I tend to jump a cross pole, small upright, middle size upright then full height one. I then do 3 or 4 oxers building it up and wider, then the full height upright again just before I go in the ring. I try not to over jump, but react to how the horse feels. If it’s not getting in the air well enough, I’ll do a narrow over with a tall back rail and very low front rail. If its
chipping in, I’ll pull the ground line out. If it’s not concentrating on its fence, I’ll take the ground line away.

All these things can get you ready for the course. Don’t be tempted to jump too big too soon as it can take your confidence away. When it’s your turn to go in, enter the ring confidently and have a canter round getting into your rhythm. Don’t forget to wait for the bell. Aim to keep the rhythm all the way round the course and keep looking for your next fence. Allow your horse time to recover after the SJ. Let them have a drink and a graze or some hay. This all helps them relax and stay hydrated. Now is a good time for you to have a drink and an energy snack. Find somewhere quiet and go through the course in your head. Use the photos you took or the course guide in the program to remind you. Try to visualise yourself riding the course really well in a strong rhythm with good lines. This will make you feel confident and almost like you have ridden the course before If you get a chance and you are worried about a certain fence or combination, it may be worth going out on course to watch how it is riding. Be sure to only watch how the good riders ride it as there is nothing worse as being worried about a fence and then seeing someone crash and burn at it! Your horse is already fairly warmed up after the first two phases, so the cross country warm up tends to be to go up a gear and get your eye in! Jump the warm up fences positively, but also check that you can hold a line, so it’s a good idea to jump right next to the flags and on an angle to get you both focused. When it’s your turn to go down, keep the horse moving. I tend not to go into the box until the count of 2 so the horses keep moving through. I don’t like standing in the box and often horses will stick or rear.

Come out of the start positively and try to pick up your rhythm quickly. Try to move away from each fence as this is often where people waste time recovering. Hopefully you’ve practised the correct speed at home so you know what the feel is. Once you’ve finished the cross country, get the horse stripped off and washed as quick as possible. Walk them round till they stop blowing and then you can remove studs, put cold boots on and let them go for a graze. It’s a good idea to have a notebook in the lorry to jot down what was good, what could be improved about the ride / day so you have a record to go back to. You could also note what you want to improve so when you go to your trainer you can feedback constructively to make sure you progress. Hopefully now the only thing left to do is wait for prize giving!!! See you there!

Warm up and competition day