Do you make New Year resolutions? Or does the very thought just make you feel guilty before you start? Let’s be realistic – most of us aren’t going to suddenly improve our dressage scores by 50% or find that we perform much better over 1.20m courses than we do over 80cm ones. If you do, please share the secret below. Immediately. So let’s forget about resolutions and think of ways in which we can improve. Here are some challenges for 2018 – do let us know what yours are.
- Be sportsmanlike. Or sportswomanlike, if you prefer.
I am really, really fed up with people who talk about “gamesmanship” when what they actually mean is “Doing all I can to scupper other people’s chances.” I don’t mean objecting when someone deliberately breaks rules, such as trying to sneak a non-novice horse into a novice class, but being generous enough to point out to a fellow competitor that they’re inadvertently breaking a rule. Red rosettes should be won on the ability and performance of horse and rider, not by default. If that means societies and organisations need stewards to police collecting rings and warn riders that they’re breaking rules, so be it.
- Read the rule books
This is the natural follow-on to the above. Every year, each discipline issues a new rule book. Every year, there are changes and additions. Every year, people are disqualified because they haven’t bothered to read the rules. Don’t let that be you – and if it is, you have only yourself to blame.
- We all need help, but if you dread your lessons, find a new trainer. He or she should make you feel inspired and encouraged at the end of every lesson, not as if you’re so hopeless you should never be allowed near a horse.
Nor should you be paying telephone number sums for lessons with trainers who can’t relate to you, your horse and your problems or who tell you you’ve “got” to have a lesson twice a week for the next ten years.
- Buy/ride a horse or pony you enjoy, whether that’s a cheerful cob, an enthusiastic ex-racehorse or a horse who tests your wits every time you put a foot in a stirrup. Most of us do it for pleasure.
- Take your tack to pieces and clean it every time you ride. Of course I’m joking – who on earth has time to do that, unless they employ a groom?
But do dismantle and clean it thoroughly once a week, wash bits after every use and keep numnahs, boots etc clean enough not to cause irritation.
- Do keep up to date with new designs in tack. Don’t believe that a magic bit, bridle or saddle will mean your horse puts himself on the bit and that you will automatically ride like an Olympic legend.
- Pay as much attention to your own health and fitness as you do to your horse’s. Warm up before you ride or start working on the yard; that way, you won’t pull a muscle in your back pushing a wheelbarrow. Yes, I’ve done that.
- Don’t be a fitness bore. I don’t know why, but my friends’ expressions glaze over every time I mention the word Pilates. (But if you haven’t tried it, please do. It’s wonderful.)
- Finally – and this is my personal challenge – work out how to learn more than one dressage test at once. Judges don’t appreciate it when you put two together and devise your own version, even though it seems perfectly logical to you.