Laura Tomlinson on preparing mentally for the restart of competitions
WITH the amount of coverage the topics of Brexit and coronavirus have had recently, and their impact on competing, I want to focus my column on getting back to competition from a more practical standpoint. Those readers who have had children will understand a little more about coming back from a competition break, though of course, in very different circumstances to those in which we now find ourselves.
This time, for most people we are not talking about a physical comeback, but more of a mental comeback for both riders and horses. It is easy to underestimate how our horses might feel when they are first brought back out again after a long break from competing.
I know from my own experiences after having children how easy it is to assume that once fit and in training, you are good to go but, actually, it’s hard to make up for lack of competition practice. “Ring rustiness” is a reality for any competitor at any level. So how best to mitigate this lack of recent arena experience that we are all suffering from?
For me, a big part of test preparation is visualisation. I “ride” through my test in my head every evening as I go to bed – meaning I have “ridden” the test on each horse far more times than I could in reality. And I don’t just mean reciting the movements in order so I don’t go wrong; I “ride” every corner and the preparation for every movement as though I were in the arena on that particular horse.
I also practise the whole test or parts of the test more when preparing to compete, so I know what to expect from my horse in different sections. For example, where does he need more support or better preparation?
Create a routine
THE better prepared we are, the more confident we can be. Get yourself back into planning a competition routine, and work out what you need to have with you for both yourself and your horse. A last-minute panic trying to find show kit that has been buried in the back of a cupboard for the past six months does not make for a relaxing competition morning.
Try to fuel yourself as cleverly as you might fuel your horse in a sensible time frame according to your test and warm-up time. Remember that a horse who may have been nice and settled the last time you competed might take a little more time at the first couple of shows after a long break, so bear that in mind with your feeding regime both prior to, and on the day of, competition.
I often recommend a good gut balancer and antacid for horses on days of travel and competition to help avoid the danger of developing ulcers. I find that feeding hay up to half an hour before you get on can be a great way of keeping a horse and their stomach settled, but of course, not all horses are relaxed enough to eat when they get somewhere new and exciting, which is why an antacid can be a good idea in some cases.
For the love of horses
IT is an exciting prospect to be so close to competing again, but I know many riders will be feeling stressed and nervous as well, and their horses will be feeding off that too.
It is so important to remember that we do this for the journey and the love of our animals and that it is a privilege to be able to compete with such a powerful partner.
So get yourself as well prepared as possible, then just try to have fun and maintain a large dose of humour – I guarantee that even if the first few shows go belly-up, you will not be the only one!
This exclusive column is also available to read in this Thursday’s H&H magazine (1 April, 2021)
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