Both horse and rider behave differently at competitions. Those of us who are capable of jumping the top of the wings at home may struggle to get round a set of showjumps at an event, and those of us who consistently achieve the perfect outline and extended trot when training may find it impossible to get our horses to accept the contact out and about.
If you know that your horse is physically capable of doing what is asked of him it is likely that he’s not concentrating well at competitions. As a rider it is important to help your horse concentrate on the task and therefore ensure a successful show.
Following our recent thread of how to optimise your competition warm up, we’ve put together this list of top tips to help your horse concentrate at an event.
Help your horse to relax
It is a good idea to teach your horse a ‘relaxation movement’. This is a simple movement on a loose rein that your horse will learn to associate with being relaxed. Therefore, if your horse begins to feel tense, you can use this movement to cue relaxation. A good example of this is shoulder-in on a circle, as your horse will be bending away from distractions outside of the arena.
Similarly, if you’re not relaxed, your horse won’t be either. If you struggle with your show day nerves, why not attend an unmounted confidence workshop so that you’re ready to tackle any situation in the saddle.
Work your horse on a spiral
Try asking your horse to spiral in from a 20m circle down to a 10m circle. This smaller circle will require you to use more rein and more leg. Once you are working on a 10m circle, then ask your horse to leg-yield back out to the larger circle. This exercise helps your horse to not only concentrate, but to accept the contact and work on a bend.
Mix it up
Never stick to the same thing. This is especially relevant if you are practicing a dressage test – believe it or not your horse is smarter than you think and will begin to learn the test. This can cause havoc in the show ring when he then decides to save you some time and makes that canter transition earlier than expected.
You must also try not to stick to straight lines and circles – ride squares, practice your halts, try half circles, serpentines and lots of transitions. These movements will require your horse to listen to your aids and concentrate on the task in hand. Also make sure that you get him working well through his back end and up into your hand.
If you’re working towards a certain dressage test, why not enter a different test at a lower level for some fun training – this will help to mix things up and keep your horse interested.
We say it time and time again, but we cannot stress the importance of transitions. Transitions help your horse to work off the leg, react quickly and listen to your aids. Performing frequent transitions will help prevent your horse from getting bored and allow you to control the pace and tempo of your movements. Try lots of transitions within each pace, for example riding a collected trot to an extended trot and then forwards to walk.
Enter. Compete. Repeat.
If your horse is continually distracted at shows, desensitisation is the logical solution. The more you attend events, clinics and different schooling venues, the less exciting your horse will find it. He will therefore become more likely to listen to you and focus on what you are asking of him.
Equo has a wide variety of events that you can enter quickly and easily online, so why not enter a fun competition to get your horse used to being out and about? Alternatively you could attend a training clinic and wear your competition clothes and show tack to emulate being at show. This is a great way to practice for an upcoming event.
Learn what works for your horse
It is important to learn what works well for your horse and the only way to do this is to get out there and compete. For example, if your horse won’t stand still when you tack him up, try tacking him up on the lorry. Or if he gets stressed between classes plan your day so that you’re towards the end of one class and at the start of another.
Every horse is different and has a different personality so it takes time to get to know your horse and find out what helps him to relax. A relaxed horse is a happy horse, and a happy horse is more likely to listen, concentrate and win. Good luck!
Feeling inspired to get out there and put these tips into practise? Search Equo’s upcoming events today and plan your training and competition schedule.