Horse Competition Preparation Checklist

5 Tips To Prepare You, For Your Next Horse Competition

Successfully taking your horse to a competition requires careful planning. For young horses, competition situations bring many new experiences, for example spectators, music, busy warmup rings and other distractions. 

If it’s your first time competing, you can make it the best experience possible with careful preparation and some good planning.

Seasoned competitions are always trying to improve on the last horse competition, and so it still takes coordination and pre-planning to see continued improvement.

No matter what discipline you prefer, there are some things that are consistent when preparing to take your horse to a competition. Here’s our top 5:

1. Choose the right competition and the right class for both you and your horse.

If your horse has competed at Grand Prix but this is your first season together, a training show can be a great low-pressure way to test out your new partnership without the added activity that comes with an official competition day.

On the other hand, if you’re a World Cup jumping rider and have just acquired a new World Cup horse (go you!) , you might find entering some height classes at a bigger show is the perfect way to tune into each other’s riding style in a competition environment.

Show riders, you might have a horse that benefits from a run of 3 or 4 Agricultural Shows in a row before going to a bigger show like Grand Nationals.

Eventers, you have to combine three disciplines over a weekend (no mean feat!) so you might find that going to a few straight dressage or jumping shows before a Three Day is a good way to focus on a particular area in your training. Maybe pop in a gallop somewhere spectacular too (beach anyone?!).

In summary, every horse and rider is at a different level of training as a combination and careful thought should be given to selecting the right competition to enter.

Confidence as a partnership builds over time, so set yourself up for success by being progressive in the way you increase (and sometimes decrease) the pressure at competitions on both you and your horse. Any enjoyable day out with your horse is a win every time!

2. Train for success!

Once you have chosen your competition, familiarise yourself with the expectations of the level and requirements of the class. Getting to a show and hoping your horse will crack out a centreline worthy of a 10 is wishful thinking if you’re struggling to ride him straight down the centreline at home. 

The rule of thumb is that a horse and rider should compete at a level below that which they are training. The level required at competition will then seem easy and avoids having to deal with difficult exercises as well as unfamiliar competition situations.

Print off a copy of the test paper, write a list of all the movements you need to perform and give yourself an honest score of where you’re at. It’s a great exercise to talk through with your coach as you can then make a plan to show off your best movements while working on improving any weaker areas. 

Then go to that show and get that 10 for your centreline! And send us a photo of that test paper - that needs celebrating!

3. Organise your gear early and have everything packed the night before.

It saves a lot of stress in the last few days leading up to an event if you don’t have to worry about whether your gear is clean/broken/lost/lent out to a friend...etc

If you haven’t used a piece of gear before, always practice with it at home first! 

Save yourself the stress of finding out a saddle pad slips when you’re at fence 5….. or that your boots are too small when you’re on your 4th lap waiting to be called in and can’t feel your feet….you get the idea! 

4. Plan your warm-up.

Need we say any more. A well prepared horse means nothing if you don't do your warm-up properly. You'll avoid, or at the very least minimise the chance for injury and your horse with thank you for it!

5. Help your horse to recover properly.

Once the competition is over, your job as a rider continues! How has your horse coped with the day? Does he look tired? Does he need help recovering? Is he still full of energy? Do you need to make note of anything to change for the next competition? 

Horses that have worked hard often benefit greatly from assistance in their recovery. This could be the use of ice boots after working on hard ground or jumping. It could be extra electrolytes in their feed or directly over the tongue after riding. It could be some molasses water to make sure they rehydrate. Maybe you need to book the chiro/masseuse/bodyworker for this week?

If in doubt, your vet is a great resource for correct recovery techniques.

Once you develop a good routine with your horse you will notice they recover faster, better and are more willing in their work.