Preparing for the First Competition

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Here we talk to British Horse Feeds sponsored rider Heidi Woodhead about how to prepare your horse for his first competition. Heidi provides some tips to ensure the nerves and excitement are channelled into success.

Heidi and her husband Ian, along with the team at DHI Event Horses are well known for producing and developing young horses in the world of eventing.

Preparation for the Show

Firstly, it is important to remember that preparation is key, as is every stage with a young horse.

It is advised not to compete a youngster without having taken them to visit a competition previously. This way they can experience the atmosphere and environment involved at an event with no pressure to perform.

Top tip: Ideally you want to pick a nice quiet show or event and take them for a ride around first. Once you have done this you can then decide what the next step is and if they are ready to compete.

There are a lot of things going on at competitions that will seem like the norm to us. However, to a young horse that has never been before these small details are picked up on and may seem exaggerated.

Things that you can expect are; children running creating noise, dogs barking, cheering and clapping, as well as flags, banners and tents flapping in the wind plus the loudspeakers. It can be quite daunting for a horse who hasn’t seen any of this before.

Photo by Country Pursuit Images

You can never be over prepared and it will be a big help for both rider and horse. Your horse should be capable of doing more than what will be asked of him and be well within his current level of training at home.

At the Show

Ride your horse round the show and try to work them in the warm-up arena with the other horses. Just sitting and watching what’s going on will help your horse become accustomed to the busy atmosphere of a competition.

If your horse is travelling with a companion, part of the learning experience will be for him to be left on his own whilst the other horse goes off to compete. Be prepared for this to unsettle him. Someone will need to keep an eye on him to make sure he is in no danger and doesn’t hurt himself if he plays up.

Tack up your young horse inside the horsebox, making sure you have enough space to do so. By doing this, you will not have to struggle tacking him up when he is all excited watching everything that goes past.

Work your horse just as you would do at home, by keeping to their routine will help minimise their anxiety. If your horse is prone to getting over excited, you may have to find a quieter area to work in.

Remember to not give in too quickly. You need to try and keep the experience as positive as possible and always end on a good note.

Top Tip: It is best to practise in an arena at home with other horses being ridden around you. This will help get them use to working around other horses.

Standing your horse in the collecting ring is a good way for him to watch the competition and see the crowds. Practising to stand still and relax is all part of the process of his learning.

You need to be thinking one step ahead of your horse. Be ready for him to react to any new sights and sounds. It is important for the rider to remain calm and relaxed so that you do not over excite or panic your horse, but also ride confidently so he feeds off your confidence.

Beforehand, work out your schedule for the day before getting to the competition. Give yourself plenty of time to collect your number and get your horse and yourself ready.

Remember on your first competition, do not expect too much too soon. Enjoy yourself and try to keep it a positive and rewarding experience for the horse.

Heidi feeds British Horse Feeds Fibre-Beet and Cooked Linseed as part of a balanced diet to provide her horses with a high fibre, low starch and sugar diet.

Both feeds provide the necessary protein and slow release energy without the fizz for the young horses right up to those at the top level.