Preparing for Competition
From the Learn What You Love series of articles, written by students at Writtle College who are doing just that, Emma Hamlet outlines the most important and overlooked considerations when preparing for competitions.
The relationship between human and horse goes back centuries. Horses became indispensible for national survival in World War 1, helping with both military demands and economics. Nowadays, there are only a few rural communities depending on horses for survival. The main purpose for owning a horse is leisure, with the majority of owners desiring to compete.
Our prized animals go through a lengthy process of conditioning and fitness training to achieve our goals. To attain optimal individual performance, horses must be in peak physical fitness and have the correct psychological state. Roughly two months before competing, the rider makes a plan of action, increasing their horse’s level of fitness, specific to the discipline. Similar to yourself, if you do not train, you cannot expect to run three miles without getting fatigued.
However, the countdown that impacts most upon the rider begins the day before the show; washing, plaiting, tack cleaning and rummaging around for clean show gear. This can be a stressful process, especially if the horse decides not to cooperate, or, in my case, is a very dirty grey.
Show time means an early morning start; true to equestrian style I spent last Sunday morning waking up in the early hours to neaten up my pony’s stable stains and plaits before heading out for the day. This normally includes the loading process, possibly the breaking point for those with tricky loaders. Luckily for my friends and I, we were competing at Writtle College, five minutes from the yard, at a show organised by first year students for a module.
Now, bring on the stress and those last minute show nerves. It is amazing to see how many different horses are able to settle into a new environment. I have been in some situations where a few individuals do not. At one show, a rather frisky horse escaped its owner and took to the fields; he clearly just wanted some jumping practice.
Entering the warm up, my spooky mare decided to show her true colours, snorting up the long side at every object on the floor and walls. This is where the rider’s psychological state kicks in, with research showing how horses act undesirably when ridden by someone with a negative attitude, compared to a positive one. After a few minutes, these arena nerves settled. This was the time to jump, or so I thought, coming into the straight at a comfortable speed, things were going fine. Then the brakes came on! Things did not look bright, but I collected her back up for a slower introduction and we were back in the air.
Suddenly our names were called, as we entered her first indoor show arena. There was a buck and a snort and we were on our way, overcoming scary fillers and other Christmas-themed decorations. On this day she did not quite make the cut, being eliminated at jump six for refusals, but since this was a learning experience this does not faze us. Not only did she jump the scariest looking jump but there was no fear of the spectators and when she jumped, she flew.
When competing, the most important thing people need to remember is that this is unnatural. Horses are learning, they wish to please us but some things take time. The best thing to do is sit back, relax and enjoy the journey, because at some point things will fall into place and you can become an unbeatable combination.
Third year BSc (Hons) Equine Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation at Writtle College