The last aspect any competitor must consider, and equally if not most important aspect of equestrian competition, is the horse.
Without it, I suppose we could still compete, if only in a slightly, er, more humble sort of way.
But let’s be a bit more serious. The horse is our partner, and if he is not ready, we mere humans are woefully unable to compensate for the margin of error.
To be fair to the horse, we must ask what is reasonable of him in terms of both fitness and training. It is just as unjust to ask a horse to understand a new skill and execute it perfectly in a stressful environment as it is to push him to the extremes of his abilities and therefore compromise his soundness of body.
On the rider’s part, we alone are responsible for ensuring our mounts are physically ready to compete at the level we are to demand of them. Foster, for instance, is half warmblood, and as such, requires more work to get his cardiac fitness ready for anything more than Beginner Novice. Looking forward to Training level, it’s up to me to get my horse prepared by incorporating conditioning rides into our regular schedule. Mind-numbingly boring though they may be, that comes with the territory of having a [part] warmblood. Luckily, the reward is worth the work- galloping cross country on a fit (read: non-laboring) and happy horse is an amazing feeling, and gives me an accomplished feeling without ever having jumped a fence.
The second part of this is the horse’s mental preparation. Is the horse completely comfortable with the exercises we are asking him to compete at the show? Knowing that in most competition settings there is going to be some level of distraction, whether that be a horse lunging, a dog barking, or a flag flapping in the wind, keeping the experience positive can live or die by your horse being mentally prepared.
If I’m honest, right now I feel that Foster is more than prepared for Training level dressage, which to me is the equivalent of First level [pure] dressage. The jumping, as is usual, we’re teetering on the edge of being prepared. My goal is to feel comfortable jumping 3’6″ courses before doing any kind of horse trials- this so that when I walk up to a wide Training table on cross country that I won’t pee in my pants with fear (though I’m sure I still will, nonetheless). We’re not quite there yet, the recent snow especially messing things up, but that’s my requirement before moving up to a full 3 phase event. That’s the bar that makes me comfortable asking my horse to complete a task at a show.
Horses are the entire reason we compete in equestrian events, and therefore must be at the forefront of our competition considerations. With that in mind…
What do you do to get your horse mentally and physically fit for competition? What aspects of this do you struggle with? How do you decide if your horse is ready to move up a level?