It is so exciting to be out again, and fingers crossed, the first event goes well. This sets you up for what you hope to be the trend for the season ahead. This isn’t always the case though. During a first event your horse is bound to be a bit rusty, as are you. And it can take a few tries before you both get back into the swing of things. A disappointing first run can leave you feeling a bit deflated. Just remember that it is a working progress and try and take positives from your day.
So what things can you do to make sure you are fully prepared for your first event?
Fitness is key. Don’t underestimate how much easier your horse will find it if they are feeling fit and well. We all only normally ride our horses once a day. It’s easy to forget that come competition day, we’ll be riding them three times in one day for each phase. Along with this, they also have to deal with travelling, both too and from the event. All these factors add up, affecting their fitness levels throughout the day. When training, make a fitness regime to make sure your horse is fit enough for the respective level of competition. Incorporating canter work to this regime is recommended. It’ll help out for when you’re out on the cross-country course. It’ll ensure you don’t run out of fuel by the end.
Make sure you have done your homework for your dressage. Your marks in dressage are so influential on the final placing. So, make sure you put as much effort into training for this phase as you do for the other two phases. A good way to get feedback and practice is attending some dressage competitions before the event season starts. When training for dressage, practice riding your test on grass. This will give you a very different feel to riding on an arena surface.
For eventing you must know you test from memory as it’s not allowed to be called. Learning it off by heart will also give you that extra bit off confidence when entering the ring. It’ll also reduce the chances of making mistakes and throwing away marks. Having someone on the ground can help to make sure you are riding the movements correctly. (are you straight? Are you on the center line? Are your circles circular? Are your circles too big or too small?) This will reduce your chances of throwing away marks for minor things.
I always find the judges like a harmonious and relaxed test over everything else. On the big day when warming up, don’t use this time to correct any problems or have arguments, as this could make both you and the horse tense. Just ride in a soft and tactful way. And last of all remember to breathe, look up and smile at the judge even if it all feels like it’s going wrong, fake it!
Make sure you have been out cross-country schooling before the big day if possible. Try not to leave it till the day before the event though, as you don’t want to exhaust the horse. When re-introducing your horse to cross-country schooling, aim to remind them what cross country is about. Re-introduce them to water, ditches, steps etc. Building confidence at fences they might have forgotten about over the winter. Particularly with a young or inexperienced horse.
Another thing to practice, giving you an advantage is getting your speed right cross country. Time penalties can be very costly to your overall placings so why not practice getting this right. Find out what speed you are meant to be travelling for your level of competition. Such information can normally be found on eventing organization’s websites, according to country. For the UK these speeds for certain levels of competitions can be found in the British Eventing online handbook.
For training purposes, set up two markers in a field at a set distance and try and ride between these markers at the correct pace. (for example, if you have to ride at 450m per minute. Set out a 100m stretch, you would have to be able to canter down this stretch in 24 seconds) Your speed will vary out on the course, with twist, turns and jumps slowing you down. But if you have a rough idea at the speed you should be traveling at, it should help with reducing time penalties.
I also found a cross-country course app on my phone that helps with speed & distance. I type in the speed I know I should be traveling at and the optimum time. Whilst walking the course I have the app on. During my course walk it bleeps every time I walk past a minute marker. Allowing me to know where I should be on the course at each minute. Giving me a rough idea as to whether I’m travelling too quickly, too slowly or the right pace.
My last bit of advice is to make sure you work out your timings for the day so that you feel organized and prepared. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time, so that you never feel like you are rushing. Once you’ve got your times for competition day you can start prepping your plan for the day:
Hopefully this will take away some of the stress as you will feel completely organized and in control.
I hope there are a few tips that might prove useful. Good luck at your first event and don’t forget to Enjoy!!
Charlotte is an amateur event rider, currently on maternity leave from her job in the healthcare market. A new mummy to Isabelle, desperately trying to juggle motherhood and eventing with her two exciting young horses. Humphrey and Curious George. Humphrey has qualified for the Mitsubishi Motors Cup 2018 and will hopefully be out competing at novice before the end of the season. George is starting his eventing career this year, hopefully out to a couple of 5 year old classes.