5 ways to prepare yourself for the first dressage show of the season

5 ways to prepare yourself for the first dressage show of the season with Stephen Hayes

Here, Everything Horse sponsored dressage rider Stephen Hayes gives his top five tips to help prepare yourself for the first dressage show of the season.

Sponsored rider Stephen Hayes
Sponsored rider Stephen Hayes

Summer is approaching which means it’s time to start to dust off your show boots, bring out your horses travel boots from the bottom of your tack locker, and make a few adjustments to your now slightly tighter show jacket! Yes, that’s right, its time to go down that centre line and show the judges exactly what you and your horse are made of! Here’s some great tips on how to best prepare yourself for what lies ahead.

1. What test shall I do? 
First of all you’ll want to feel ready to compete, this means you and your horse must be fully able to ride the test you’ve chosen to do. As a rule of thumb, you want the first show to be a nice, pleasant and rewarding experience for you and your horse, so ideally pick a level under what you’re working on at home so that you can really execute the test well. At the show you’re more than likely going to be feeling a little anxious and nervous (which is completely normal) and going into the show ring thinking ‘Dam, I wish I’d of gone for the elementary as my shoulder-in is not solid enough’ isn’t going to make those nerves any better. That’s why it’s so important to be riding all of the movements in the test at home without great difficulty.

2. Pick the show venue and show date
Your first show should be at a ‘horse friendly’ facility, no big waving flags, maybe a small show where you’ll have a quiet warm up. A local show where you don’t have too far is ideal. Your show date should be picked out so that you have plenty of time to get yourself organized as you may need to buy a new white dressage saddle pad, organize transport, buy a new pair of gloves or show shirt. It’s a good idea to organize an early finish at work on the Friday before your show so you can give him a bath as these little things, I guarantee, will reduce so much pressure and stress if it’s all planned way in advance.
3. Take a trip out to the show grounds‘Oh my horse is so good when he goes out to shows’, that may be true but don’t forget he hasn’t been out to a competition all winter, he’s going to be feeling fresh, maybe a little spooky. Competitions are a completely different atmosphere to where your riding at home, if you have a horse that you know can be a little hot I definitely recommend renting the arena for an hour or so, prior to the event, to familiarise the horse with where you’re going to compete. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been grateful to go visit a venue with the horse prior to the event (one or two weeks before the show). This gives the horse chance to see everything and any ‘scary’ parts of the grounds, also you get the opportunity to work through overcoming these areas in a relaxed way without the pressure of competing. It’s also great for the rider because we can get so used to riding a test in a certain surrounding at home, when we go to a different place our brains and memory go to mush thinking about the test because we are so used to the other setting.

4. No big changes before your show
Sometimes we can hit a few training speed bumps before a show, these are majestic animals which we partner with, and sometimes things don’t always go to plan in the last week before your show, its okay, persevere and work through it. It’s important that you keep things consistent and make no big changes as this can throw you even more off course, for example; have the same friend or trainer that you’ve used at home attend the show with you. No drastic change of bits/saddles/feed/routine is recommended, simply keep everything flowing the way you know how, as chances are it’s been working for you in the past. If you feel as if you really do need to change something, change it after the show as the risk of it working or not is completely 50:50 and it’s just not quite worth taking the risk right before a show.

5. Know your warm up
I personally think this is one of the most important things that you must know and remember before going to a show. You will know by the different feelings you get from your horse, when you’re ready to start to work up through the gaits and movements. Another important part of this is knowing your test time as you’ll want to give yourself the correct amount of warm up time so you can calmly work through each part, without stressing. When planning how much time you need, think about some of the little things i.e what time you’ll get the horse out the trailer, when you’ll get changed and how long it takes roughly to get from the trailer to the arena. You’ll need to think about how much time you’ll want walking your horse around the warm up arena before you start as this may be impacted by how fresh your horse feels. To finish, give your self a few minutes to weigh up the show ring and ask the ring stewards whether your judge is using a bell or a whistle (if there are multiple show rings). Think it all through, as going into a test without enough warm up time is just the same as having way too much time that you run out of batteries before the test.

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Last but not least ENJOY IT! Best of luck!

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