Image by Kevin Sparrow Photography
How often have you thought when you are training or even warming up at a show and think 'blimey, I think I’ve got this nailed! If I can get it like this in my test then we are flying!' And then you go in for said test, and well…. it doesn't quite work out like that?!
Our Brand Ambassador, International Dressage Rider Becky Moody shares her top tips for success after the bell goes..
I think this is something that all wannabe competition riders should do. It doesn't need to be official, it just means that sometimes you should go and watch a class and think about the marks you would be giving - it is beneficial for so many reasons:
1.) It makes you aware of the most common faults
2.) It makes you think about how a tiny glitch or loss of rhythm can effect a whole movement, how an 8 can become a 6 in the blink of an eye!
3.) It makes you realise that everyone has problems
4.) It makes you understand that judging is not an easy thing to do - seeing things from their perspective makes you appreciate what they have to do.
5.) It helps you understand where marks are gained and lost - often a simple transition can be worth a whole mark...
This was a technique that I was introduced to back in my young rider days to help prepare for the big international shows and championships, and I still use it a lot today.
First of all, it helps you know your test inside out and back to front - I believe this is really important, I don't ever have tests read for me, and although I accept that sometimes it is good to have the moral support of someone calling for you, I don't think it is good to get into the habit of it all the time - after all you can't have a reader at any regional or national championships.
I like to get to the shows in plenty of time so that I can go and look at the arenas, I spend time going through the test in my head in the arena in front of me, thinking about all the things I have to remember.
This would not just be about where I am going, but also my priorities in terms of the way of going and what might distract the horse - banners on the fence, flags, flower pots, nearby arenas etc...
Once I have the arena clear in my mind I go back to the lorry and whilst I am plaiting up or getting ready, I continue to go through the test several more times, thinking about both the things that may go wrong and how I want the test to look and feel. This way, by the time I go in I have already 'ridden' the test half a dozen times and am better prepared for what might happen.
I used to do this with my sister Hannah who knew both the horses and me so well, I would then say everything I was thinking out loud, and she would be able to add things or change my priorities if she felt I was going off track, I found this really helpful until I was more confident in what I was doing at which point I started doing it myself.
This may seem a slightly odd topic to have in this article, but I think that corners are just about the most important part of your dressage test - they are where you do much of your preparation, and are the best place for making corrections!
When I am teaching, I make sure that my clients make use of their corners on a day to day basis, that way, it just becomes second nature and it’s no big deal when you do it in the test. A brilliant exercise is to trot large, and then just before each corner make a transition to walk, ride a really good corner with super bend and COMPLETE CONTROL and then trot on to the next corner. This is a great exercise as it works so many of the important things all at once: the transitions get the horse more reactive and in a better balance, and the riding of a deep corner works the bend and suppleness. I then develop this, so that you don't go into walk, you just shorten the trot steps so that you get more steps in, therefore giving yourself more time in each corner. The important thing here is that even though you shorten the steps, you must still keep the activity - you should feel like you come out of the corner with better balance than you went in! (You can do the same thing with the canter as well, with either canter/trot or canter/walk transitions.
Have a structured plan for your warm up session. This is something that you need to work on developing with your trainer, so that you make the most of this important time. You should be clear in your own mind how long you need and what your basic program is. Obviously we are dealing with animals not machines – you may need to adapt the plan depending on how the horse is but if you have an under lying structure you are likely to be more productive….
Whenever I make a mistake I never think 'oh darn, that's it done with then', I think 'that is only one movement, DON'T let it be two, and where can I make marks up?' When I come out I may well kick myself, but absolutely not until I have salvaged every mark I can!
Sometimes there is nothing worse than watching yourself on video, but this can be such a useful technique to help improve your performance for next time. I find that sitting down with my score sheets and comparing them with the video can be really enlightening! Things do not always look how they feel, and it may help you to understand why a judge made a particular comment, or it may actually give you confidence that what you felt was correct even though the judge saw something different.
All in all, you have to remember that being a good competitor is largely about your mental attitude: CONTROL THE CONTROLLABLES, have good time management, have a structured warm up plan, know your test and practice your visualisation beforehand. DO NOT get your pants in a twist about the things you can do nothing about and above all enjoy your test riding!