Competitions are usually very social events. Some of us ride to compete, the competitions being the main focus of our riding, but some of us use competitions to ride, giving us another way to enjoy our horses and our friends. Competitions offer the opportunity to build personal skills as well as equestrian skills. Working consistently towards goals, regulating our feelings and managing stress, dealing with the highs and the lows of winning and not winning, are some of the personal skills we can build with competitive riding in any discipline.
I think that equestrian sports both require and build capacity for us to regulate our feelings. We need to be able to achieve equanimity, to be calm in the face of all kinds of stress, in order to be able to train and manage our horses most effectively and enjoy our competitions.
If you’re going to compete you should set a SMART goal for the competition. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely. For example, at the recent Sydney CDI my goals were to do an error-free Grand Prix and hopefully qualify for the Freestyle, which is my favourite class. This goal meets all the SMART criteria, although I knew it would be difficult given how tense Limelight was in the arena at SIEC last year.
We can achieve an error-free Grand Prix outdoors quite often but it’s not so easy for him indoors. So, my overarching goal was to try to ensure that Limelight was as relaxed as possible so that he would leave the ring feeling that it wasn’t too frightening. It would not have been realistic for me to set a goal like “I want to get 70% in the Grand Prix” at that indoor show – even though that is certainly a long-term goal of mine. When we can achieve an error-free relaxed test, then I might be able to ride for more power and higher marks. But we need to build towards that in achievable steps.
So, set yourself a SMART goal for your competition, building steps towards your ultimate goal. Your goal might be to travel evenly in your showjumping round, or to be able to do some shorter lines against the clock. You may be aiming for a cross-country round clear and confident, without stressing on time if you are stepping up a level; but if you are competing at an established level you may want to be clear on jumping and time, or achieve a score to qualify for another level or a championship.
REMEMBER THE 6P RULE
As always, remember the 6P rule: Perfect Preparation Prevents P— Poor Performance. If the competition is important, plan your horse’s shoeing a week or so before the competition. Know the rules and the requirements of your competition. Have a running sheet with the relevant times schedule written down. Allow extra time in case of unexpected difficulties. Share this with all your support crew. Ensure your gear is all ready, is clean and well maintained, especially reins and stirrup leathers. Do not use new gear, it may not fit as you want it to.
Riders don’t tend to think of themselves as athletes, but we are. We think of our horses as athletes and are aware of the need to ensure that our horses are fed and watered, given electrolytes and supplements as needed. We ensure that they are warmed up and cooled down, legs iced etc. Horses competing in strenuous disciplines should be given a small, nutrient-dense feed about two hours before competitions, and hay limited in this time. Clean water should always be available.