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Preparing for Competition with Elly Darling – Feedmark Dressage Rider

Have you ever wondered how other riders prepare for a show?


Our talented dressage rider, Elly Darling, give us a rundown on competition preparation and explains what a day at a show with Fix Up Look Sharp (Fitz) looks like…



What do you do with Fitz?

Fitz is 13 this year and competing at Grand Prix. He knows his job and rarely gets schooled more than 3 times a week, spending the rest of his time hacking out.


Training before a competition…

My biggest advice when leading up to a show, is don’t suddenly change your normal work routine. Especially if you use plenty of variety in your training. The tendency is to increase the schooling in a last-minute attempt to fix a problem, which actually usually creates more issues. Stick with your plan but set sensible, achievable goals for each schooling session leading up to your competition to ensure that they are as productive as possible. 



How do you prepare Fitz for a show?

Fitz tends to have a hack the day prior to a show, so that he is fresh and a bit sparkier, as he is pretty reliable in a test. 


I also tend to bath Fitz at least 48 hours before competing as he is very sensitive to shampoo and can get hives if not rinsed really well, so this avoids a last-minute panic.


On the day of the show, I get everything possible ready before plaiting as we are really good at removing our plaits! My added lorry extras are my ice boots which are just excellent, sugar lumps (4 after every test!) and of course a sausage dog.



Tips when feeding and watering at shows…

Make sure, if you are competing late in the afternoon and your horse normally gets fed then, that you add a lunch in to the day instead, especially if you are relying on high energy feeds for stamina. This has been vital in ensuring Fitz is feeling fabulous in his test, whatever time it is.


Getting water into horses at a show is sometimes tricky, so forward plan and make sure you have something tasty with you to tempt them. My favourite is a few apples in a bucket of water, it soon gets them drinking. Or some really sloppy mash is great.



Warming up…

Once you are on and in the warm up, stay focused on your plan. Stick to your warm up that you use at home, don’t start trying to train new things. The warm up should be exactly that - a chance to warm up your horse’s body and mind ready for the test you are doing. So be effective, and don’t go over and over things. I simply do one of everything I need in the test, if it isn’t how I want it I would repeat it again, but be careful not to get fixated on something if it went a bit wrong. 


Make sure you keep the best bit for the test and don’t over work yourselves. 


I spend all my walk breaks visualising myself riding the test and how I would want it to feel. 


Ride each movement like you do at home, plan ahead, use your corners and short sides, and don’t rush! 



Cooling down…

After the dressage test, remember a proper cool down is just as important as your warm up. Use this time to reflect on the test before you have to discuss it with anyone, remember the feeling you had when you halted and saluted, that’s your gut feeling and it should be listened to! That way when you get your sheet you can be honest with yourself about the performance.



Positivity and progression…

Try and come up with a few positives and a few areas to work on, but don’t overload yourself with issues, keep it simple and come home with a new goal for the next outing.






White Cat Photography

- PatsPix

- Elly Darling