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Preparing for a big competition

With the UK regionals and area festivals coming up, that now would be a great time to talk about how best to prepare for a big competition. Were going to talk about the horses preparation as well as the riders preparation, the training in the lead up, what to do on the day of the competition and how you can prepare in a way that is going to help you perform at your very best.


1. Control The Controllables

The first thing i want to talk about is a way of thinking that we were taught in the lead up to my first Europeans. There were a lot of things that had the potential to influence me and my horse, we were in Italy so the heat would play a big part, (the pony team had competed there the year before and there had been a lot of lessons learnt) but we didn't know how our horses would respond to the heat. Also the time of day we were competing at wouldn't be known till the day before; our horses would be looked after by team grooms rather than our own, all the team horses would be travelling together on one big lorry which wasnt usual either and we also weren't taking our own lorries so our normal preparation that we each did before a competition wouldn't be able to happen the way it normally did either. The fact that all these changes were happening and there were lots of unknowns i found really difficult, i also knew that the horse i was taking really suited a routine too and i didn't know how he would react to these changes either. Add to that the stress of a major championship and i was, to put it lightly, rather stressed.

But, (there is a positive here i promise!), we had a team meeting in the lead up to leaving and our chef d;equipe (who is the person who looks after the team and keeps us all in line); said a great statement that i live by all the time now.

Control the controllables. Spend your time and energy focussing on the things you can control. All the things you cant control, no matter whether you think they will help or hinder you, you cant control them you cant change them, so any time, resources and energy you spend worrying about these things will be wasted. You have the ability to change the things that are under your control so, to the best of your ability, change or choose to keep as much as you can that will help you perform at your best.

So things like the weather, whose judging you, who you go after or before in the competition, all those things you cant control; dont waste your time worrying about them. You wont change them, you worrying about those things wont make you perform better. So turn your focus to the things you can control, your training in the lead up, your preparation, your mindset. These are all things you can control and could make a huge difference to how you perform on the day..

2. Work out what you need to perform at your best

A big part of your preparation is about knowing yourself. Knowing what makes you feel good, confident and ready to compete. What puts you in that positive headspace. Whether that's having everything organised a few days before, knowing and running through your test a few times in the lead up, knowing who you want around you that makes you feel calm and confident. All these things will help you work out how you want those last few weeks and the day of the competition to look; and how it needs to be for you to perform at your best and enjoy the experience too.

Its also worth spending a little bit of time thinking about what potentially could put you into a negative state of mind, what could make you feel stressed, or nervous or anxious? Whether that's running late, or not knowing your test or forgetting something.

What i like to do with my clients before a big show is to get them to write down all the things that put them in a positive mood (so what makes them feel confident and excited) and then all the things that put them in a negative mood (what makes them feel anxious or stressed or worried). And then once you have that list, cross off everything you cant control so if getting stuck in traffic makes you stressed, or you are in after a top rider which makes you nervous or anything like that, cross it off. You cant control it, you cant change it so we forget about it. Then anything that's left that you can control you're going to write down what you are going to do to help make sure those positive things definitely happen and those negative things definitely don't happen.

(I do have a worksheet type thing that i use with my clients so if thats something youre interested in then just message me and ill send it over to you)

3. The training before

This is a big thing you can control and has the potential to get you and your horse in a great place to compete. Again its all about knowing yourself and your horse.

If you know you worry about learning the test then run through it the week before.

If your horse anticipates the test, then maybe do it in your head or run through it a few weeks before rather than

If you know having a lesson gets you in the right headspace than do that.

The thing is with this is that every horse is different and every rider is different, put those both together and each horse and rider combination are going to need to do what works for them. What works for you, may not work for someone else and vice versa so again, its about thinking about what will get you in the right headspace as well as riding at your best, what will get your horse in the best physical and mental space to be at their best.

Its also worth mentioning that as you plan out what you and your horse are going to do in the lead up, like with everything with horses, don't get caught up if your plan doesn't go perfectly the week before; you may have a bad training session, your horse may lose a shoe or you might not feel perfectly prepared and all of these things are okay. As dressage riders we like things to be perfect, i mean we basically do a sport where were aiming for perfection. But i love the saying 'plan for perfection, prepare for disaster' - i don't know if anyone said that or if i just made it up but i always plan as much as i can and set out what i want to do and what i want to achieve but then i prepare that if none of it happens or things go to pot, i cant do anything about it and, again, i cant control the un-controllables so i don't waste energy or attention on it and instead focus on the things i can control and change.

4. Dont give yourself unnecessary stress the day before

If you can hack, and you and your horse enjoy hacking then hack or do pole work or something where the pressure is off. If you feel you and your horse need to train the day before do things that arent focussed on the test. Maybe ride some transitions to keep your horse in front of the leg or ride some suppling exercises. Dont let yourself get dragged into feeling like you need to run through the test once more, or practice those centre lines one more time. All that practice and training should have been dont the week or weeks before.

Its very easy to start obsessing on something the day before the show (maybe not everyone does this but i definitely do). I would nearly always cry in my final training session before a big show when i was younger because i would obsess over one transition in the test or one movement that i guarantee to you was good the week before and good in the test the next day but because i didn't feel it was perfect i wasn't happy with it. So now,, i very rarely train my horses the day before a show, i may stretch them or hack or pole work or a little session to keep them supple but i wont do any movements because i know ill become obsessive. So again, it comes back to that point that knowing yourself and what you need and what will help you is really important.

5. Know the rules

There are a few changes to the rules at area festivals and regionals so make sure youve read up so you dont get caught out. Things like you cant take your stick in with you, ive had so many who forget this rule and are automatically eliminated and its so frustrating! You also cant have a caller so making sure you know your test is extremely important.

There is a bit in the BD Rulebook about regional and area festival rules and as its all online now if you cant find it just message me and i can send it over to you,

6. What to do after the show

Finally, i want to talk about what to do after youve competed. I think its so easy to put all your focus on that competition and then it happens, and theres always then that lull of 'now what'. And ive heard it happens even more the bigger the show, because i guess the bigger the lead up. So olympians come back and get really stuck because theyve spent 4 years training with their goal of being the olympics and then it happens and they then dont have a goal or a focus or anything to go for.

So, one thing i do say is to have another goal already in place for after your show. Whether thats youre just going to have some fun enjoying your horse and not training or whether you have another show or training goal in mind, having something will then give you something to aim for after your big show has been and gone.

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