Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail! (Preparing for a Championship)

Posted by admin on 8 August, 2019

Ahead of the British National Dressage Championships, we asked one of our fabulous riders, dressage rider, Sara-Jane Lanning for her advice for preparing for a championship show..


There are lots of chances these days to ride in a championship competition, whether it be an unaffiliated league final at your local equestrian centre, an affiliated grass roots championship, an area festival final right up through to Regional Championships and ultimately the Nationals.

If you qualify for any final you are there by right and therefore have as good a chance of anybody else at doing well. But you can help your chances by preparing for all eventualities!

  • Know the rules
  • Do your research
  • Have a plan
  • Test Riding

Firstly, knowing the rules sounds obvious but will anything differ at the final? Could you ride with a whip in the qualifier, but won’t be able to on the day, the same with a caller for your test. Check the rule book as the rules can be different for the associated championships to those at areas, regionals and nationals. Unaffiliated competitions may well have their own rules. Is it Pony Club, Riding Club or BD, make sure you have the relevant rule books or look online. There is nothing worse than suddenly having to change something at the last minute at a show as you hadn’t checked first.

Research your championship venue, have you been there before, do you know how to get there and how long it should take? If your horse is a spooky sort and would benefit from an outing there first to get used to these surroundings, is this possible. You could go to a normal show there in preparation or do arena hire, or even have a lesson there. On the day of the competition do you need a warm up class first if these are on offer? Would your horse be better for doing the arena walk if there is one? Is this early that morning or indeed the night before? Would he be better competing straight after a long journey or better for resting in a stable for the night, or even a few hours before?


Only you really know your horse, so yes ask your trainers advice, but ask yourself all those questions and come up with a plan. Make sure you have everything you need ready for the big day and everything is clean and in a good state of repair. If you are doing a stay away show remember all the extra things you need to pack!

Feed, bedding, hay, mucking out tools, rugs and clothes for all weather eventualities, grooming and plaiting kits, everyday riding wear for the arena walk or schooling session the night before, numbers, food and drink for you and your helpers, horses’ passport, the list goes on! 

“My top tip is to take a wheelbarrow to save you having to carry everything long distances, as sometimes you may well be parked quite a way from the stabling, and when you get there it may be wet and muddy so you can keep things in the barrow!” 

 I store my numnahs and white boots or bandages in the zip up clear bags that rugs come in as these keep things clean and dry whilst you are getting ready. Don’t be put off if you don’t have a big lorry with fancy living, I’ve managed regionals and nationals for 8 years with an old trailer and some camping! It hasn’t stopped me winning 24 regional titles and a national one too!


Do lots of test preparation. Learn the test, make sure you know it inside out and can pick it up at the drop of a hat from any point in case you have a mistake or anything goes wrong. As a judge I learn not just the pattern of the test but where each movement starts and finishes and then if there is a mistake I can minimise the loss of marks by knowing at which point I need to have recovered by for the mistake not to effect the next mark too!

If your horse tends to anticipate don’t just keep riding the test but practise the individual movements mixed up or in different places. I even practise my tests on the wrong horses as I have the luxury of a few to ride. Go to test riding clinics and get the opinion of some high listed judges to see where you can improve your marks. Take your tests sheets or videos to your usual trainer to get yet more feedback and to help them understand if you may ride differently at a show to how you do when they see you in a lesson.

Make sure you know how to correctly ride the different size circles especially if your championship test is in a 20 by 60 metre arena and you are used to a short arena. Ride in all weathers and temperatures as its highly likely it will not be perfect for the main event!


On the big day, check out the arena before you ride, know how to get to the warm up from the box or stables, and from there to the competition arena. See if there is room to ride around the outside of the white boards before the bell and remember the new rules that whips (if not allowed) can not be taken into the competition arena but must be dropped before entering, not like the old rule of just being dropped before entering at A! This would now mean elimination sadly. See if there is a tack check and if so remember to present yourself to the tack checker straight after your test, do not dismount and undo your noseband!

Remember it is just another competition, the judges don’t set out to mark harsher at a championship but if there are several (will be three at an area festival or regional and can be five in some classes at the nationals) then they will see everything due to the varying places they sit so nothing gets missed! Take note of that when you are thinking about accuracy in a test, a straight square halt that misses X may well still get a good mark from C, but could equally deserve a 5 from B!



Enjoyed these top tips? You might love reading Mike & Trish Ryan’s Top Eventing Tips

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