Suzanne Ashwell is based in Kent and competes in two disciplines, mainly BD with some BE on the side with her beautiful grey, 15hh, 12-year-old British Warmblood mare, Rapunzel, aka Betty, and in three disciplines, BE, BD, and BS with her dark brown, 14hh, 19-year-old part-bred Welsh gelding Pumlon Loveheart aka Jack.

For each horse I plan two events that I want to target, so for Betty it’s the Winter Championships and for Jack the Mitsubishi Motors Cup. The competing season finished for us in October, and they’ve both had an easy winter. Between Christmas and New Year I sat down to consider my plan for the season ahead. For instance I’ll aim Betty at the Area Festivals at medium level, plus the winter regionals. With Jack I’ll look for venues where the course is good for him and is fairly local.

My day job is working as an asset manager for a European tax board. I’m up and riding before and after work. Then commuting between Kent and London. I’m very lucky in that my boss understands and I have asked them not to give me any new and demanding work tasks until after the 3rd May (Badminton) and then after that have said “I’m all yours”.

Start by defining your goals for the season.

For each horse it’s important to have a focus on key events you want to target Planning is key. I follow the same methods with my horses as I do at work. Work out your training programme around key events; map out where your lessons will fit in. i.e. flatwork, showjumping, cross country schooling, canter work. It’s important to track which horse does what each day so you can reflect on how they feel compared to their targets.

Have a plan B (and plan C, etc.)

Bad weather/work pressures, etc. can all require flexibility in your training schedule. If a flat tyre, lorry MOT, or work trip come at you from, rather than panicking, you think actually it’s OK, we’ve got this contingency plan.

Ensure your schedule takes the pressure off regularly

Hacking time equates to thinking and relaxing time for horses and humans.

Book in back/saddler/teeth/farrier visits

Call me old fashioned but I don’t like having them shod the day before an event, so I have it done 3-4 days before.

Lorry admin - Restock your lorry with essentials

New studs (more than you think you’ll need), WD40, bottled water, plaiting spray and bands, boot tape, boot polishing kit, cleaning rags, snacks for lorry – it’s always good to have tea and biscuits to hand at the end of the day.

Fill up water, oil, and diesel ahead of trips out to reduce stress

Also knowing when the lorry needs to be MOT/plated/serviced helps.

Don’t ‘opinion shop’ about what people think you should do with your horse(s)

You know your horse best. Find a trusted trainer/trainers and work with them on your plan if needed. You know what your horse likes so learn to trust yourself.

Keep your warm-up the same between home and competitions

(once you have found a warm-up that works);  It takes the pressure off. Do the same exercises. Don’t practice new things in your warm-up.

If you’re short of time to ride

If you’re short of time to ride in the week because of work pressures, either hack or do your best warm-up (see above re: flexibility)

Assess each week (a) at the start and (b) at the end, adapt the following week accordingly.

You will find you can then easily switch work and horses when you’ve planned what you need to do, so for instance, if you have to take an important call or finish off a project, you can swap it with the day you were going to hack.

Buy yourself a ‘light alarm clock’,

the ones that wake you up to gradual daylight – they make those early mornings so much easier.

Get up pre-6am more times than you really want to…