Eventers – fail to prepare, and you prepare to fail!

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The eventing season is only just beginning – and this time of year offers us the chance to focus on the past year’s successes, ascertain whether training goals have been reached, and plan for the coming year. Many eventing competitors will be keeping their horses’ training programmes at top levels in order to get ready for their upcoming shows and events.

The ultimate test If you are unfamiliar with the sport of eventing, it is often described as ‘the ultimate test of horse and rider’. The sport, also known as horse trials, comprises three main disciplines (dressage, cross country and show jumping), that take place over one, two or three days – however, unless you are competing in international classes, most events are run in a single day. The scores from each element combine to produce an overall total. Like other equestrian sports, eventing sees men and woman of all ages (professional and amateur) competing against each other; riders commonly compete in affiliated competitions from the age of 11. Riders start at a level that meets the combined abilities of horse and rider, and progress ‘up the ranks’ if desired. It is all in the preparation The key to enjoying the sport of eventing, and being placed if you are riding competitively, is in the preparation. Eventing can be an expensive sport, so it makes sense to maximise your chances of enjoying a competition, or getting the most from the facilities you are using. If you are riding professionally, or at least hoping to accumulate competition points from your country’s governing body, it is advisable to have specific goals about what you want to achieve from attending an event with your horse. Here are our top five tips for preparing for the 2015 season -

  1. Winter is the ideal time to go back to basics, and focus on your flatwork – it is the cornerstone to achieving balance and rhythm over fences, and the suppleness and obedience your horse gains will also make you safer when jumping. Falls are common in eventing, so if you plan to reduce the risk factors for a fall, riding a supple, well-schooled horse is essential. Using pole work in your winter schooling programme will help keep your training fresh – there’s nothing worse (for horse and rider) than endless, boring arena-work with little focus. Twice a week, with a friend or your instructor to help on the ground, set up an odd number of poles in the arena – if you set them up as canter poles, you will be able to do walk, trot and canter work over them – depending on your horse’s stride, set them up at 9-12ft apart (ensure the same distance between each) and ride over them, focussing on straightness and forwardness. Once your horse is comfortable with the distance, ask your friend or instructor to roll them out an inch at a time, so your horse has to ‘reach’ further to clear the poles – repeated on both reins at different gaits, this exercise is useful for developing cadence in the paces, especially in trot.
  2. A good cross country horse must be bold and straight, as well as fast, so if you are attending cross country clinics this winter, focus on your approach and getaway lines. If you do not have access to cross country facilities, utilise the local hacking available to you, and work out specific, straight routes up hills, through parkland and across paths to improve your ability to assess straightness, speed and direction when riding.
  3. Many points are wasted in the show jumping element of eventing due to knock downs, and now is a good time for you and your horse to hone your jumping skills. The best riders are renowned for their ability to ride tight lines, or see an unusually long or short stride. This only comes from practise, setting up related distances in the arena, riding narrow fences to improve accuracy and developing your horse’s ability to move ‘up and down the gears’ in canter, eg. achieving transitions of pace within a gait. It may be tempting to focus on riding higher fences, but honing the basics is key to leading riders’ success.
  4. Check your tack and equipment – obviously to ensure it is safe and in good condition, but also to make sure it is fit for purpose. Did your horse go well in his bit – is it worth hiring a few other bits from a retailer for example, to see if the horse’s attitude or carriage changes? Now is also a good time to check that your saddle is a good fit; those riders whose saddles are modular, with changeable gullet plates, can place a ‘spare’ gullet plate (that is close to the size used currently in the saddle) on their horse’s backs regularly. This helps riders keep tabs of their horse’s shape – if the spare gullet plate is a good fit, do you need to change the current one in your saddle, particularly if your horse’s shape has changed recently?
  5. Invest in some technical riding wear that responds to your body movements and regulates temperature – March, the start of the eventing season, can still be cold, so clothing that is built to perform will see you through to spring and summer. For example, Horze’s ladies’ white Show Off Shirt (product ID: 32086) is a long-sleeved competition top with a zip-up collar, for warmth under your jacket or body protector. Because the material is 95% cotton and 5% spandex, you will experience fit, flexibility and breathability with this item. For schooling at home with your horse, you can’t beat denim – Horze’s Royal Equus Selfpatch Denim Breeches (product ID: 36519) have an improved fit and stretch suede details on the pockets, plus double self-fabric knee patches, for comfort and style in the saddle. When cross country riding or competing, look no further than Horze’s body protector, for enhanced rider safety – it is light and comfortable and moulds to the body. (Beta Level 3, 2009 standard and EN-13158 certified.) Visit www.horze.com for details of these products and more.

Horze have a team of experienced riders, trainers and equestrian journalists who shared their knowledge and expertise through this blog.