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Dressage performance analysis to identify marginal gains: how useful are your test sheets?

Alison Lincoln, author of the book Equine Sports Coaching, has a BSc in equine sports coaching and has taught on sports science and equine science courses at several different colleges in the UK. She has over 10 years experience as a Pony Club instructor, as well as experience in business performance coaching and life coaching.

Equine Sports Coaching draws on tried-and-tested coaching practices used successfully in other sports, and provides an introduction to coaching specific to the equine environment.

Here, in the second of two H&H features surrounding her advice on identifying marginal gains in dressage, Alison discusses why and how you can identify areas to improve performance by asking yourself questions about a competition day…

What about how I felt on the day?

Subjective measures such as recording how you felt the test went can be a useful source of immediate feedback. Capture this information as soon as possible after riding the test. Take particular note of what you were thinking about or saying to yourself during the warm up, prior to going into the arena, during the test and riding out of the arena. The answers can provide an insight into your psychology at these times and may give clues as to why a particular outcome occurred.

Research has shown though that free reports (unstructured discussion) of thoughts or emotions can result in many emotions and thoughts being added or omitted. This is particularly true if there is a time delay, such as discussing the event at your next training session. A more structured approach can be achieved by noting down as soon as possible after each test your thoughts, observations and feelings. Do this for each competition and then compare what you wrote with the video of that day and the eventual outcome — successful or otherwise. What did you notice?

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How useful are my test sheets?

Test sheets, when taken altogether are a useful source of information on trends. Individual test sheets are unlikely to provide really useful information as they are simply a snapshot on the day and reflect one mark for a movement that may involve several different actions (changes of direction, turns, circles and transitions). However, it can be useful to analyse a seasons worth of test sheets to understand any general trends in the marks that may be affecting overall placings:

  • Look at frequently occurring movements in the tests you are riding and calculate the average mark for each over the season. You could then, for example, prioritise your training sessions to work on movements that are scoring less than a seven on average.
  • Look at the average scores over the season for each pace. Are all three paces scoring roughly the same mark on average? If not, can you use your training sessions to get them all up to the same level?
  • Look at the average of each of the collective marks over the season. What do you notice?
  • Look at the judges’ comments over the seasons test sheets. Are there comments that appear frequently? Have you taken onboard any suggestions?

Remember — to get something you’ve never had, be prepared to do something you’ve never done!

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