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It takes a lot to be a trainer at “regionals time”. One needs the diplomacy of a press advisor, a crystal ball, some sort of bluetooth connection to the horse, a strong nerve and ability to hold a neutral expression.

It’s one of the year’s most stressful times, with anxious parents wearing a track going back and forth to the scoreboard, and the normally mathematically-inept developing the skills of Nobel Prize-winning statisticians to work out their chances of a wildcard.

Different riders react in different ways to the challenge of obtaining that golden ticket. Some “go silent”, making them difficult to read. This makes the trainer nervous. One doesn’t want to interrupt the riders’ thoughts, in case they are on the hotline to The Almighty — or still learning the test.

Some riders become angry when under pressure; normally charming people start attacking the horse, other competitors or stewards. There are “freezers”, who simply do nothing.

Then there’s the over-riders; previously sane people who turn into windmills on horseback. All have to be “whipped in” gently.

The stewards’ tack check can heighten emotions. At regional championships, they do this before the riders go into the arena to give people a chance to change their tack if it’s incorrect, but this resulted in problems at the Bury Farm regionals, where riders’ tack was altered before the class.

Whose fingers?

The noseband-fitting decision appears to have been implemented using the extremely unscientific “two-finger rule”. I’ve never been sure about the wisdom of this. Whose fingers? Where exactly should they be put? Are they mobile fingers, travelling from competition to competition or are we to have regional “finger doubles”. I think the whole rule needs the two fingers. We need to find a better way to check the tightness of the noseband.

This would relieve pressure on both horse, rider and steward. Engineers please step forward.

Enjoy it

Years ago, I taught a high-ranking police officer, who was a member of a police SWAT team. He was anxiously waiting his turn to compete and muttered: “I wish my bleeper would go off, so I could go and storm an embassy instead”.

I failed dismally to qualify my first team horse for the nationals for years as he had a rather depressing habit of broncing down the centre line. There is nothing more galling than knowing it’s all over before your first salute. We finally arrived at Stoneleigh, but completed the test with his tongue over the bit, leaving me convinced my career was over. We went on to earn a top 10 place at the European Championships three years on. I hope that gives hope to others.

The key to success is failure. When you have failed enough times and realise you can survive, the fear dissipates and there becomes a danger that you might actually enjoy the ride.

In learning to control my own nerves, I’ve never got on well with sports psychology, apart from learning that breathing is essential and that I should keep doing it. Jennie Loriston-Clarke recently shared with me that she always had a nice G&T before a major competition. Who would I be to argue with this great doyenne of British dressage? Wydney and I had a personal best score of just under 70% in the Nations Cup at Hickstead. Draw your own conclusions.

Ref: Horse & Hound; 24 August 2017