Competitions and horse shows test our ability at each level. This is similar to how students are tested at a University. If you start thinking about a horse show in these terms, it may help you be more prepared for the questions you will be asked.
The first step is identifying what the questions are at each level. A good trainer should help you with this. For example, the Training level in Eventing usually introduces a one stride combination in show jumping, and a Trakehner on cross county, which is a ditch with a log on top. Your trainer should help by having you practice each of these new elements you will be tested on. It is your job to know what your weaknesses are, what can go wrong, and what you need to do in order to answer each question successfully.
So many of us get caught up in work and family, that the lesson might hardly be remembered in a week’s time! I keep a training journal, where I write down the 5 or 6 most important points. I try and reread my notes before my next ride, and especially before competitions.
To this day, it never ceases to amaze me how much I can forget in a few weeks time. If you’re practicing your dressage test and your trainer tells you that you need to put your horse in shoulder in before lengthening him, it might be the difference between a 6 and an 8. Or if your trainer says, “Make sure you don’t cut in on a bending line, you’ll get there on a half stride and always have that rail.” By writing down what you are supposed to work on, it will make you responsible for getting it done. Unless you own your shortcomings and bad habits, and make the mental decision to fix them, they will not just evaporate on their own.
To this day, even as a professional, I write down what my horses need to improve on, what I need to improve on, and the plan for getting it done. I work on my weaknesses every day, until one day, I can reread my notes and say, “wow, that’s pretty easy for us now, time to focus on something else.”
If your trainer lists off 10 or more things you need to work on, then most likely you’re not going to even remember all ten by the time you finish bathing your horse. It’s up to you to pick 4 or 5 things that are a challenge for you, but attainable with focused practice. For example, if you have written down that your trainer told you to never come too fast to a corner combination on cross country, you might forget this morsel three weeks later. By rereading your notes prior to a competition, it may remind you of this bad habit of yours and might prevent a run-out on course! I highly recommend writing your thoughts down as soon as possible after a lesson or clinic. It has helped me immensely, and I hope it can help you too.
Written by Ashley Kehoe
Team Horze USA