It's the little things that count when you are trying to achieve that magical +70% score, as rider Sue Hayes from Cornwall knows

Winning a class, at whatever level, is a great buzz but when you score your first +70%, it’s almost unbelievable.

“I almost fell off him when I saw our score,” says Sue Hayes, who headed both restricted novices at St Leonards, Cornwall on 13 October (report in H&H 24 October). Sue was riding Jane and Derek Thomas’ home-bred Teo’s Blue an eight-year-old three-quarter thoroughbred she has on loan.

“We only began affiliated competitions last year when my trainer John Chubb persuaded me [to affiliate].” Why does John why think going affiliated is so important?

“I think it’s a good system. The judges are listed and hopefully of a consistent standard and a rider, who maybe doesn’t even expect to win, can accumulate points,” says John. “Now the qualifying system has changed this means they can qualify to compete at regionals.”

We asked John to give us his top tips for maximising your dressage score and to tell us a little about himself and his training philosophy.

7 tips for upping your dressage score

1. Before you even go into the arena make sure that you understand the scales of training so you know what the judges are looking for. This also helps you understand your strengths and weaknesses and that will give you more confidence.

2. Have a consistent warm-up routine that you stick to regardless of where you are warming up and how many horses are around. Be confident enough not to be swayed from this routine. Riders need repetition. Sometimes as a trainer you will go to a show to watch a pupil and they are doing all sorts of things in the warm-up that you’ve never done before.

3. Use the time in the arena before the judge rings the bell effectively. Take what you have done in the warm-up and that you know makes your horse go well and practise it in that minute before you go down the centre line.

4. Don’t try too hard. When a rider tries to hard they usually become stiff. Try to be fairly good throughout. Fairly good equals a seven on the judges score sheet and if you’re fairly good for every move you’ll score 70! Try to get nines and 10s and you may override.

5. Pay particular attention to the joins between the movements — the corners and the straight lines that set you up for the next movement.

6. There are movements that we don’t work on before a test as we think they are potentially easy such as free walk on a long rein or halt. But if you want a 70 you need to revisit these things regularly to extract another mark.

7. Own the test! When you go into the arena, it’s your test the judge is there to watch and reflect on. Be confident that the judge is not there to criticise you.

What’s your USP?

Hopefully I’m quite good at letting people know where they are at, where they need to go and how they are going to get there. It’s important to be honest with people.

What’s your pet hate?

Unclear key phrases — which we all use as instructors — particularly with novice riders. If you quiz them they often don’t really understand what you mean.

Share with us your signature exercise

Using half transitions: for example, if you are in trot, slow the horse down and almost commit to going in to walk but stay in rising trot. When the horse loses his connection, you still have your leg on and can change your mind at the last minute. You need to ride smoothly in to and out of the half transition. You are almost goading the horse to drop the connection or put the hand break on. This helps to refine the leg to hand balance and also helps with the halt.

What’s the best bit of advice you’ve ever been given?

I’m goal orientated and my grandad told me ‘everyone’s got goals and ambitions they are working towards but you’ve got to remember to enjoy the journey along the way.

If we were to ask your pupils, what would be the one thing they all say you continually shout?

Look where you are going.

If you are interested lessons with John, who is based in north west Devon and teaches competitive riders from novice to advance medium and also has eventing clients, visit his Facebook page, John Chubb Dressage/Equestrian or call him on 07976 184241