Forget competition anxiety — for many of us, the warm-up arena can prove more intimidating than the event itself. Take a look at these 10 tactics that you can employ to rise above your nerves.
1. Take your time: a good warm-up should never be rushed. International showjumper and British Showjumping trainer Judi Piper-Dadswell recommends loosening up for 20min — including at least 10min with the horse in a long outline — before moving on to lateral work and jumping.
2. Think outside the ring: “I’d much rather hack around a showground than battle with the frantic atmosphere of a warm-up arena rife with vocal mothers (normally mine) yelling at their partially out of control kids,” says showing rider Henry Hird. If the warm-up ring is full, he recommends finding your own alternative space to work in.
3. Make allowances: consider the needs of your horse and plan your warm-up accordingly. “If I have a young or sensitive horse, I try to pick a weekday when there are fewer amateurs around and arrange to go early in the class,” says showjumper Max Routledge. “It’s important to ease the horse in gradually.”
4. Stay aware: “It’s crucial to be focused both on what you’re doing and what is going on around you,” says event rider Kelly Aldous. “Not everybody is as switched on as they should be, and you have to prepare for the unexpected.”
5. Don’t overdo it: for showjumping Judi recommends restricting jumping practice to 3 cross-poles, three smaller verticals, 3 smaller oxers and 3 larger oxers. “If you jump these fences and you are confident that’s enough,” she says. “Do not try anything heroic just before you go in the ring.”
Sport psychologist Inga Wolframm — who specialises in equestrian sports and offers advice across the disciplines — gives her 10
6. Know the rules: it might sound blindingly obvious, but too many riders simply aren’t aware of the rules of warming up. Showjumper and showing rider Rachel Watts recommends taking a look at the guidelines printed on the back of most show schedules to refresh your memory.
7. Stick to what you know: 5min before a class isn’t the best time to start learning new moves. “I make a point of not trying to teach them anything new while warming up,” says eventer Nikki Philips. “It’s purely a gymnastic exercise to get the muscles and brain working before we go in.”
8. Acknowledge your mistakes: “When you’re in the zone, it’s very easy to make a mistake and cut someone up,” says Julie Hammond, who competes across the disciplines. “As long as you’re apologetic, though, it’s not so bad.”
9. Ask for help: Rachel suggests making friends with other competitors — particularly if you frequently attend the same shows. “When you’re alone, it’s great to have somebody there who will put up jumps for you and give you tips on walking the course,” she explains.
10. Tailor your warm-up: Judi believes that eventers often erroneously see their dressage test as a warm-up for the showjumping. “Before jumping you’ve got to come away and work on that canter so you build impulsion and can lengthen and shorten it as required,” she explains. “That can make or break a round.”