The summer dressage season is fast on the way, and if you’re looking to get in the competition ring, the time to start preparing is yesterday. Get in the know, and get inspired, with these eventing tips and tricks to get you and your horse dressage ready.
Feeding & Diet
Even if you’re still months away from packing up and moving on to your next big competition, the preparations start now. As with most things, ensuring your horse has a continuous standard of great care is most important when it comes to preparing them for the dressage ring. Keep pastures in check for quality grazing and allow for plenty of turn out time. Ensure a good diet, with a ratio of around 60% hay, keeping an eye on fibre content, and starch levels in concentrate feed. It’s a common misconception that high protein will lead a horse to becoming ‘silly’, but this is actually due to starch content.
Ensuring a steady and regular routine will always lead to calmer, happier, and more content animal. The simplest dressage tip to follow is to maintain a regular routine. It’s important to keep a good routine with your horse at all times, but especially so when dressage training. Keep to strict feeding regimes and introduce any changes gradually.
Travelling and competitions can be stressful environments for even the most stoic of horses: prepare by getting your animal used to the horse box with positive reinforcement; it’s also a good idea, if possible, to have a walk around an arena environment.
Get Ring Ready
Even the most seasoned of performers can benefit from an extra pair of eyes and a fresh voice of constructive criticism. Take regular lessons to brush up on technique and showmanship. Get a friend to record your dressage training practice, and watch the video back; you can learn valuable lessons by just watching your own performance with an analytical eye. As competition approaches, start to rehearse in your dressage clothing and tack: it’s the best way to set the scene for a serious practice, and get in the mood for competition. It’ll also help your horse to become accustomed to the feel and fittings of its tack and any new grooming paraphernalia.
Set yourself some fixed goals to achieve each week; each month; each competition to help get dressage ready. The best way to improve is to focus on what you want to achieve—there’s nobody better to set your goals than yourself.
If you’ve both had quite a break, it’s important to ease back into dressage training gently. Overexertion can be more damaging than anything; your horse needs time to limber up and get back in the game, just like you—so don’t push them too hard, too fast. If your horse has had a few months off, begin with some walking, gradually introducing trotting, to crank the fitness level back up and resume their muscle tone. Once they’re ready for more intense exercise, a great way to increase fitness and develop muscle tone is to uphill hacking.
The key to event training and dressage practice is repetition. Many of the skills and techniques you’re expecting your horse to execute to perfection are complex, and often unnatural at first. Repetition is the best way to ensure an exercise becomes a natural, easily recalled, and fluid motion of your horse’s way of going. Another top dressage tip—for both your horse and yourself—is a little something to help with the rhythm of your riding: try singing a song to yourself, and keep in step with the beat of the music. You’ll be surprised at how much it can help!
As training continues and your horse becomes tired, they will naturally want to stretch down after movements. This isn’t something to be discouraged, as stretching before and after exercise is as beneficial for your horse as it is for you. It will relax any tension in their body, and reduce the risk of injury. Encourage the stretch by loosening the rein and massaging the mouth with the bit; squeezing and freeing each rein one by after another.
Just as with humans, a huge part of training has to be the reward and relaxation. Keep up your horse’s interest by maintaining a varied schedule of exercise: don’t concentrate every second of your time in the yard practicing dressage maneuvers, keep up regular hacking and jumping as well. A great dressage preparation trick—if you can do it—is to set up a work station in your practice area where everything relating to practice (even tacking up and washing down) happens. This will give your horse an effective separation of ‘work’ and ‘home’: or ‘exertion’ and ‘relaxation’.
Presentation isn’t the be all and end all of your dressage preparations, but it is important to turn both yourself and your horse out well. Keeping up a regular schedule of thorough grooming will help your horse to get dressage ready. Groom the coat with a hard brush to remove any dirt or mud, then rub with a hot towel to lift any dander from the roots. Pay attention to the tail daily by spraying it with coat sheen to avoid any tangles from building up to knots. Treat the feet by cleaning and brushing.
When it comes to competition day, prepare your horse for a dressage style presentation by ensuring you are outfitted to the dressage affiliation—if affiliated. Check the bridle, bit and spurs to make sure they meet the specified criteria. Also, remember to remove any boots or bandages before you enter the ring—it would be a shame to spoil that hard earned look at the last minute!
Braiding isn’t an essential aspect of dressage presentation, but it is always appreciated by judges. Get yourself dressage day ready by practicing those plaits over and over until they are performance perfect! Also, remember to display your entrant number professionally, using either a bridle, or a saddlecloth number.
If you really want to get ready for your dressage events, be aware that preparations start for your next competition the second you step out of the last one. Ask spectators for feedback, and use any opportunity to gain constructive criticism to improve your performance. Judges often appear at scoreboards; if you see them, don’t miss the chance to clarify points or terminology you may be confused over, or to ask for their valued advice. Use every competition as practice for the next: never rest on your laurels, or your flanks!
International Dressage Rider Gareth Hughes chooses Animalife products for his horses. He said, “My Horse’s health is utmost importance to me and Animalife’s range of supplements enables me to feel confident that their nutritional needs are being met. I believe that getting this right is an important piece of the jigsaw when it comes to managing the dressage horse; I feel that my competition horses from my young horses through to my international horse have never felt better”.