Reducing Horse Tension During Competition

Reducing Horse Tension During Competition

Reducing horse tension can combat one of the major pitfalls riding combinations suffer with during competition. So, we’ve put together some pointers on reducing horse tension during competition.


Reducing Horse Tension During Competition

Horse Tension – Why Is It Bad?

Whether you’re a cross country fanatic or a dressage lover, tension can hinder your horse’s performance all the way up the levels.

Tension in your horse’s body can be a sign of nerves or excitability and feels as though all the muscle in your horse have become stiff and tight. With contracted, tight muscles, you can expect your horse to not be able to perform to the best of their ability. Tight muscles could mean their range of movement and suppleness is limited, as well as them not using all their muscle groups to work efficiently and effectively. Therefore, with continuous work in a tense sate, you could start to notice that your horse begins to lose muscle tone.

Additionally, tense muscles are more prone to quicker onsets of fatigue, painful lactic acid build ups, and injury, which could all hinder performance too.


Tension becomes most apparent when in the competition environment, as both ourselves and our horse’s prepare to give it our all in the new surrounds. So, how can we reduce tension in the competition environment to help our horses perform to their optimum?

Make unfamiliar, familiar…

Make the unfamiliar, familiar, by getting out and about as much as possible. Hire an arena, go to a farm-ride, or even partake in a local, unaffiliated show! This will simulate the competition environment and ensure your horse isn’t in for a shock when you begin riding at a venue which isn’t your own yard.

Taking your horse to unfamiliar surrounds can also assist you in knowing what to expect from your horse. This can help to keep you one-step ahead of your horse, avoid potential stressors, and ultimately keep you calm and collected on the day of competition.

If you know your horse has issues with certain pieces of equipment, such as dressage boards or jump fillers, school your horse around them in a familiar environment first, before tackling them in unfamiliar environment.


Reducing Horse Tension During Competition

Build it up…

Build up your experiences to bigger and busier venues. If your horse is struggling to cope in a busy collecting ring or competition environment, try down-scaling the competition.

Check out your local unaffiliated competitions to ease the pressure on yourself and your horse, or try competing in a lower level class. Although you may be capable of more difficult competitions on home-turf, tension can hinder performance and may be a sign your horse is distracted by other things in their surrounds, not giving you their full attention.

Warm Up…

The importance of warming up effienctly and correctly can never be more important than it is on a tense horse.

The warm up is your chance to make sure your horse is listening to you, despite everything going on around them. Make sure to grab their focus, through completing regular transitions and performing basic lateral work, so you can reassure them. Not only will the warm up get your horse focused on you, it will help loosen off tight muscle and begin releasing endorphins from exercise, which should help to settle your horse as well.

Help your horse to remain calm by reassuring them throughout your warm up work. Praise good behaviour with pats and scratches, and make sure to use a calm voice to settle and reward your horse. Don’t push your horse too hard, as this could make them even more tense. If you start feeling a build up of tension, give your horse a long rein and reassure them until they are settled again.



When you’re in the competition ring, make sure you are reassuring your horse – a crucial action riders often fore-go! Although you may not be able to use your voice, a small scratch on the neck can go a long way to keeping your horse calm and reward your horse for their performance. A subtle scratch shouldn’t make you lose marks either and shows the judge you are aware of your horse’s thought and feelings.

Reducing Horse Tension During Competition

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