Louise Robson is the driving force behind Thoroughbred Dressage, transforming numerous ex racehorses into happy and elegant dressage divas, so who better to provide the ultimate guide to competing the ex-racehorse
1. It’s the little things: Introduce parts of your competition preparation into your everyday routine. For example, practice plaiting at home and then work your horse in the plaits – this way they won’t associate plaiting and the preparation process with going to a competition and will hopefully avoid those pre competition nerves (for your horse anyway!)
2. Practice Practice Practice: Preparation is key, so try to go out and hire an arena or go for a lesson away from home when you first start taking your horse out, if you want to be really prepared you could even incorporate your plaiting practice into your trips out. This will help you and your horse become more relaxed about the whole "going out process"
3. Peace of Mind: My ‘don’t leave home without’ piece of kit has to be a neck strap. Going out to a competition or even working at home can be exciting for our four legged friends and in turn can create tension and nervous energy. Holding a neck strap, or simply knowing that it’s there can help reduce tension and discourage you from taking a hold on your horse’s mouth
4. Get Moving: In early training racehorses are often lead around in a circle with their friends when their jockey first gets on board, they are then sent off to get on with the job in hand, aka galloping! So asking your horse to walk calmly around a chaotic warm up arena when you arrive at your destination is a big deal, and can result in tension and jogging. To avoid this simply get going as soon as you arrive, keep your warm up exercise simple and return to the walk when you both feel more relaxed, remember in racehorse speak the more you move the more you relax
5. Plan your Route: Unfortunately not every rider is the most considerate, especially when it comes to warming up at competitions, so it’s your job to keep your horse out of trouble. To keep you on track try starting start off on the left rein, this way you can keep going large without giving way to other riders. Remember to keep looking ahead, planning your next move, whilst being aware of the intentions of others – it’s the best way to avoid pile ups!
6. Positive Thinking: I believe everything should end a in nice little pat, the good the bad and the ugly! I use the humble pat as a reassurance technique, so if we’re struggling with a movement it’s a ‘thanks for trying’ pat, or if we’re feeling a little tense it’s a ‘we’re in this together’ pat, or my personal favourite.. ‘I’m not quite sure what’s going on so I’ll just pat, smile and pretend we’ve got everything under control!’ - Either way it’s a great way to instil calm into the test situation and help you and your horse relax
7. Prepare for Every Movement: Ex-racehorses commonly have a predisposition to stress, so in the competition environment they need all the help they can get. On the day take your time, get into the arena as soon as possible to allow for familiarisation and learn your test backwards - If you’re really struggling with this and the rules permit, ask a friend to read your test for you
8. It’s a Learning Experience: Think of every test as a training test, it's not going to be perfect, but you need your horse to find as much confidence in the arena as possible - remember each test should result in some form of homework, something that can be taken away and turned into a positive
9. One size does not fit all: If possible pick a test which suits your horse, if you struggle with trot canter transitions for example, don't perform a test based around those particular transitions. Instead practise tests at home and find one which complements your horse
10. Breathe! It’s simple but so many of us forget to breathe, there is no way around it! Keeping a regular breathing pattern will help you and your horse relaxed – if it’s something you struggle with try talking as you ride, this will force you to breathe at regular intervals
11. Sugar: Giving your horse a polo or sugar cube before a test, this will encourage salivation and in turn aid relaxation
12. Stretch: After your test don't just stop and put your horse away. Take them back into the warm up and cool them down. By letting them stretch you’ll not only avoid muscle strain or injury, but it will also help them wind down mentally
The most important thing.. Enjoy yourself, after all it's meant to be fun!
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