Rich tells us why growing your confidence is so important and how he learned to cope better with Tommy on competition day.
There is no doubt, riding in a competition can be very nerve racking, not only are you in an unfamiliar location, but there are lots of people watching your every move.
I currently compete in two disciplines, dressage and showjumping, both have their own individual requirements but there is also some common areas too. So I will start with the common things first.
My first bit of advice is if you haven't done much (if any) competing I would recommend riding a few times at home in what you will be wearing on competition day. There is a good chance you will be wearing newer boots and unfamiliar clothes. It might sound like a small thing, but this is all about eliminating every thing on competition day that might put you off., for example boots rubbing or slipping.
Next thing to do is make a list of every thing you need on competition day. I can guarantee on the day you will start forgetting things that you normally remember. I once got to a competition to find I had forgotten to pack my bridle.
Looking after your needs can seem a small thing next to the needs of a horses but it is far too easy to forget to eat and drink enough, which can have a big detrimental effect on your riding ability and nerves.
Avoid being late, this can have a big impact on your stress levels, if you are going to a venue you have never been to before, research your journey well and if you can, drive there in a car first so you know where to take your horse box and if there are things like low bridges to avoid.
Dressage tests are something that cause people a lot of stress, that’s why they are nick named ‘stressage’ the first thing to do is make sure you have learned your test inside out – even if you plan to use a caller, there is no shame in using a caller if you can in your first outings, they can certainly help, allowing you to focus on the arena and horse and put you at ease. Personally I find learning tests from a diagram a lot easier than from a the instruction text. Try and find away that works best for you.
Get a friend to watch your test and check the instructions to make sure you are doing it right, and on competition day have a copy in your pocket for a last check just in case you forget. It is also a good idea to use a photocopy rather than a print out because photocopies are waterproof.
With showjumping make sure you walk the course, and if you can walk it with your instructor then take the opportunity.
Always make sure you take time to establish a good canter before you start your round. It’s easy to feel you should jump as soon as the bell goes but there is no pressure to do that.
If you have a problem with fillers at a show, go home and make one like it so you can practice jumping it.
British showjumper Anna Edwards began competing in her teens. She is now a professional who has won the Queen Elizabeth II Cup at the Royal International Horse Show and was part of the team that took the Nations Cup in Linz for Great Britain. But she still remembers how it felt to jump as a novice and gives this advice:
“I would advise anyone if it is you first time competing in showjumping, to try and not be a hero, go at a height you are more than confident with so you can get all your striding right, learn ring craft and get the experience of the jumping atmosphere of a competition, I think it is better to do well and go home with a rosette and enjoy yourself than set your sights too high in the beginning.”
Before she moved to New Zeland, I trained with bio-mechanics coach Teresa Dixson. When it comes to competing she gave this advice:
“60% of performance in mental so lots of relaxation on the build up is important. Reward yourself in the knowledge that all your training is under your belt and you are both ready to perform at this level. Breathing is key to relaxation and stay focused on what you have practiced - it's just another ride!”
And always remember, we ride because we enjoy it!
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