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1 7 Steps to Stress Free Competitions - Master Dressage

These steps assume the rider is relatively calm 🙂

When it comes to competing you can be blessed with a relaxed horse, who’s behaviour changes only minimally or you may be in a different position. You may get to a competition and find yourself with a spaced out horse, who lacks focus and is difficult to control.

Some of you, depending on your horses temperament may be able to skip steps.

Step 1

Working at home your horse must be completely focused. Working at home you must be completely focused. Too often both rider and horse ride along only half focused. Read the section of the book on focus, by now though looking at accuracy you should already naturally be more focused at the task in hand. I hope by reading the section on Practice you are now more aware of what you should be doing.

You must also have done plenty of ground work too. Your horse should be easy to handle, focused on you and in its own body! If  at home the horse is agitated and unfocussed when being handled it will be at nightmare at competitions.

To help I recommend using the ground work of Andrew McLean, of – I have seen phenomenal emotional changes occur in horses using this system. They become more aware of the handler, rider and learn to focus on both.


Photo 1 : Desensitising the horse through stroking all over with the whip

Step 2

Riding at home with friends. Can you maintain your horses attention and focus at home both on top, and on the ground with some other horses working in? This means that you should be starting off with your ground work first. Testing your ability to stop, go and park, even with others riding around you. Please play safe, this should be an organised session. You friends need to be walking, trotting around the outside of the arena as you work and not coming too close.


Photo 2 : Parking the horse

You also want to practice riding around the arena with other horse’s walking towards you, trotting towards you and so on. With horses that you horse knows and isnt afraid of, you should be able to improve his confidence of other horses approaching him head on.
Step 3 *

Book a 1hr use of an arena at a different venue. The same tasks apply. You need to be able to work the horse in ridden and handle him successfully on the ground. This is really great value, you will have the entire arena to yourself in a strange environment. Make sure they are aware you are doing ground work. Also be clear to state if you intend to lunge or not. Some centers will assume ground work means lungeing and will not be happy about that, so make your intentions clear.

Step 4 *

Book a 1hr use of an arena at a different venue and take some friends along. The same tasks apply. You need to be able to work the horse in ridden and handle him successfully on the ground. Again, play safe, everyone should be aware what the goal is and it should benefit you all.

* Step 3 & 4 may be swapped depending on your horse. He may be more distracted alone, or with friends.

Step 5 +

Book yourself into a dressage practice day. A typical format you should look for is that you have a 20-30 minute slot with the judge to do the test and discuss it afterwards. This will put you in a place with strange horses but there should not be too many others in the arena due to the slot times. Remember ground work is also important, when in the lorry park. Just some very basic tests will help re-establish things.

Try to make sure you warm up procedure is the same no matter where you go. Take the horse through its basic warmup routine. Well trained habits are your friends.

Step 6 +

The same as above but with Friends. Having horses around that your horse knows can add in extra stress due to separate issues. But sometimes it also works in your favour.

+ Step 5 & 6 may be swapped.

Step 7

A full blown competition. Try to start out at a local quiet venue and work you way up from there.

Quickly test your ground work in the lorry park ( only very basic stuff and be safe ). Warm up as normal, reassure your horse and take your time.
Good luck!