Dressage judge, rider and trainer James Burtwell has the following advice for first-time competitors at this year’s national dressage championships at Stoneleigh, Warwickshire (19-22 September 2013).

1. Be warned, the warm-up is vast. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up creeping around the edge. Be sensible but confident.

2. Never look at the scoreboard before your test — worrying about what everyone else is doing won’t help you.

3. Similarly don’t look to see which riders are going before or after you — you don’t want to know if you’re following Charlotte Dujardin.

4. If work commitments and funds allow, travel up the day before so that you can do the arena walk and familiarise your horse with the championship surroundings.

5. Keep the horse’s routine as close to normal as possible — for example feed at the same time as long as your test times allow it. If you’d normally walk the horse out in the morning and school in the afternoon, and you can do that with your times, then do.

6. Take a spare pair of shoes for the horse and spare gloves and breeches for you.

7. Make sure your horse has electrolytes in his feed, especially if the weather is mild.

8. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t apologise for being in the ring — go in there and own it.

9. If something goes wrong, remember it’s only one movement — move on and don’t let your thoughts linger on the mistake or you’ll ruin the next movement too. Mistakes aren’t the end of the world, it’s how you deal with them that matters.

10. Learn your test so you know it inside out – ride it, walk it, practise it on your bike, whatever you need to do to instill it in your mind.

11. Enjoy it!

For our full report from the national dressage championship see the 26 September issue of Horse & Hound magazine

Don’t miss Horse & Hound’s latest special edition, Horse & Hound Training, for more expert advice from James on how to ride for every mark in next year’s regional championship tests. The magazine is on sale for 12 weeks for 6 October.