Competing can be a very rewarding experience. There is the excitement of the preparation and arrival at the venue, the competition itself where you get a measure of all your hard work, the feedback for your future schooling sessions and hopefully a rosette or two if it’s been a good outing! It is very addictive and you can easily start to move up the levels and enter teams as you improve. Here are some ideas and tips for you if you are just starting out:
1. Online Dressage
If you are completely new to dressage, or can't get to a venue, this is an excellent way to start. All you need is as arena or field that is marked out, a friend with a phone that can video your test. It’s a great way to get the feedback you need from riding a test, so you know what scores you are likely to get when you do go to a venue. Remember of course, you can keep videoing your test as often as you want, until you are happy with final ‘take’ before submitting it! At Dressage4all we can give you all the help and advice you need.
2. Be working at home at a slightly higher level than the classes you enter.
You will feel far more confident if you are ready for the level above. However, when you are starting out, if you can get your horse to walk, trot a circle and get down that centre line to halt, then you are ready for an Intro test! At the moment, there are 3 BD Intro tests that are nice and straightforward. If you struggle with any of the movements or need extra help feeling calm and focused at a competition, then visit the shop at www.confidenthorserider.co.uk. Here you will find CDs and downloads specifically for Schooling and for the Dressage competitor.
3. Tips on learning your dressage test.
You usually have a few weeks to memorise the test(s), so you do have lots of time to prepare. There are many of ways to remember your test:
- Every night before you go to bed, go through the test as you go to sleep. It’s amazing how much you do take in and remember if you do this regularly.
- ‘Ride’ it in your living room or down at the yard.
- Draw it out on paper. ‘Visual’ people love this!
- Watch a YouTube video of it. Do make sure you get the right test though...
- Sit down in a quite spot and ‘see’ yourself in your mind riding the test (as if you were on your horse).
- Actually ride sections of it on your horse, but don’t do the whole test so your horse learns it too and starts to predict the movement.
- Ride the whole test a few times on another horse. I used to ride Pedro’s tests on Hettie (who was working at a higher level) and Hettie’s tests on Pedro (minus the fancy bits!). It just gave me a sense of what movement followed on when and what direction I was supposed to be going.
You want to be able to ride the test to the best of your ability and remain focused on getting the best transition at a marker. Practising in your mind will help you do this. If you know your test, that is one less thing to think about.
4. Decide if you would like to have a caller.
Make sure your caller is familiar with the test or has called before. I do suggest you ride it at home with someone calling. This is so you get used to hearing it whilst you ride. It’s surprising that for some riders it can be off-putting, but for others it just adds to the reassurance of knowing exactly where you are going.
5. Let your horse get used to other horses working around them.
Warm up arenas can be tricky if there are a lot of riders in there. If you don’t know how your horse responds to other horses coming up behind or passing, then get some friends to ride in an arena with you ‘as if’ you are riding in a warm up arena. It is not fair to expect your horse to cope with something like this if you have only schooled at home or at the yard on your own. It also means you know exactly what your horse will be like around others. Please, please learn the warm up arena rules, and if you are an instructor or friend helping out, don't lean over the rails into the arena.
6. Be organised!
Have a checklist and keep a copy at home and one at the yard. The list should have everything YOU need and everything your HORSE needs. Absolutely everything! (I love lists, so not a chore for me). Arriving without a bridle, hat or whatever will not help you to feel calm, even if you can borrow these things when you get there. Don't beat yourself up though if you have forgotten something...A very experienced event rider I know left the yard one day with everything in their lorry but their horse... (Absolutely true!) However, I’m sure that’s one thing you will remember!
7. Make a timetable.
Whether it’s in your head or (preferably) written down, you must know what you are doing and when you are doing it. I usually work backwards:
- Start: time of the first test.
- Work back - the time you are going to tack up and then warm up at the venue.
- Add time for ‘chill out’ prior to riding. (loo break/drink/egg bap/check out where the arenas are, etc.)
- Time you should get to the venue (include extra for any traffic delays).
- Time you’re leaving your yard.
- Time to start washing, plaiting, preparing your horse. Plus a bit more time for feeding, booting up, etc.
- Look at what you can do the day before.
I write all this down as soon as I have my start times. It may seem excessive, but by doing this, you are setting yourself up for the best day which will be fun and rewarding for both you and your horse!
8. Know exactly where your venue is and have all the directions and phone numbers you need.
I have directions to each venue already in my truck, plus venue phone number. On occasion, I have had to call the competition centre as there have been delays due to traffic. On these occasions I was able to do my test later than the stated test time. However, if you are unfortunate and cannot make it to the venue at all, it is courteous to just ring them as soon as possible so they can take you off their list.
9. Try to stay out of stressful situations
If the warm up arena is full of other horses, go and see if there is another area that is quieter. Get on earlier than you need if there is no other arena and walk around until there is a quiet spell before working. Once you have done your main warm up, then it is only a matter of a quick trot or canter before you are ready to go in. This is not a time to be schooling your horse, merely warming up. Do make sure you wear a watch so you can check on the time rather than depending on someone else.
If you know your horse is spooky or dislikes other horses coming close, consider tying a red ribbon to your horse’s tail. Normally this is to indicate your horse kicks, but you can do it anyway because the effect will be to keep everyone else at a distance.
10. Keeping you and your horse calm.
It can be all very exciting for your horse to arrive at a venue with lots to see. However, you need to be the one ‘consistent’ element for your horse when everything around is new, even if you don’t feel it, pretend to be calm.
The judges have many riders to look at, and although this won’t affect your marks at all, it’s much nicer to watch a rider looking happy to be there. When smiling, you will look more confident (even if you don’t feel it at the time). Plus, it will help you relax a little.
Remember, everyone else is struggling with the same things, the same issues...just to different degrees. Celebrate all the bits you and your horse did well!! Don’t worry about the things that go wrong, that’s how we learn. Think of it more as a pointer to what you can start working on. If you are not sure about a comment on your sheet, try and catch the judge for a quiet word after your test (if they have time) and see if you can chat to them about how to improve your performance.
Above all, enjoy the day and take all the positives from it!