Perhaps your thinking of returning to riding after a few years or fancy picking up the reins for the first time, then the next step is to find the right horse riding centre to learn or brush up on your skills. Here we explain what to look for when choosing the right place.Read More
Whether you’re keen to work with others or you’d like to try some simple techniques on your own, here, confidence coach Ian Banyard gives us three easy exercises to help you work on your confidence, whether your fear stems from a memory of an accident or something you just can’t pinpoint.Read More
Boost your confidence by building trust with your horse. International coach and confidence enthusiast Charlotte Dennis tells you how in five simple steps.Read More
The Expert: Justine Davies - Justine is a doctor, rider and journalist, who understands jugling a busy working life with caring for horses.
Riding during pregnancy is a personal choice - it probably doesn't have any effect on a healthy pregnancy but there's always a risk of an injury.
Whether or not to ride during pregnancy really comes down to personal choice. Many riders, including Sylvia Loch, think it's too risky. However, in his report for the Hong Kond Jockey Club, Professor Michael Rogers - an obstetrician at the Prince of Wales Hospital, Hong Kong - writes: "In a healthy, uncomplicated pregnancy, horse riding per se does not cause any obstetric problems unless an accident occurs."
You can imagine the scene - you put your horse in the field and he gleefully trots over to his companion, mane flowing, tail raised. His friend asks why he's so happy and gets the reply: "My rider is pregnant - no work for me for at least nine months."
You, meanwhile, will probably not be so keen on giving up one of your favourite pastimes.
There are three main reasons why women are cautious about riding during pregnancy. The first reason is that horse riding is exercise and women are often confused about how much exercise to do during pregnancy. For at least 150 years, women have been advised that they should only do light, stretching exercise during their pregnancies and up until fairly recently, women were also advised to have a month of 'laying in' after giving birth to recuperate.
Nowadays, continuing to exercise during pregnancy is recognised as a good thing for both mother and the baby - but still, the majority of doctors are cautious and will only recomment that pregnant women walk, swin or do yoga.
Despite this, many women do quite vigorous exercise such as running and aerobics during pregnancy and doctors have found that, unless the woman has a history of early labour or miscarriage, more vigorous exercise probably doesn't do them any harm. So, from the point of view of horse riding being an exercise, it shouldn't cause you too much harm during pregnancy.
The second thing that concerns pregnant women is the percussive, or jurky nature, of horse riding - they worry that this and the open pelvis position that they sit in may cause miscarriage. No one has compared the rate of miscarrage in women who ride throughout their pregnancy with those who don't ride, so it's difficult to say whether or not horse riding can cause a miscarrage. But, if you do have a previous history of miscarrage, it's probably better not to ride during your pregnancy.
The third and probably most important concern of women who are thinking of riding while pregnant, is the risk of injury. There's no doubt that horse riding can cause injury and falling from a horse or being on the receiving end ofa kick may well put both you and baby at risk.
Fact - If you decide to ride while pregnant, but experience swelling of the hands, feet or face, seek medical help
Be kind to yourself
Although riding is part of our lives, we need to recognise that our horses are usually going to be skipping with joy if we have to take some time off riding.
For a horse, being ridden is like riding a bike and once taught they don't forget - although they may pretend to forget every now and again!
For this reason, if you do have to stop riding for a while, don't worry - you and your horse will soon get back into it.
The most important thing is that when you do ride, you make sure you're as fit as you can be so that both you and your horse have a great time and enjoy yourselves, whatever you're doing.
When it comes to hacking, feeling confident is vital if you’re going to enjoy your rides out and relish every sight and sound. Here's how to put the confidence back into your riding!Read More
Keeping control of your horse in an open space such as a field or out on a hack can be challenging, particularly if he spots his friends in the next field or the freedom goes to his head.
The aim of the game is to make him think that open spaces are pretty ordinary and nothing to get over excited about, so spend as much time as you can with your horse relaxing away from the arena.
-Ride him calmly in a new field
-Lunge him in an open space or long-line him down a quiet lane
The more time he spends outside with you in a calm and controlled environment, the more relaxed he’ll become when you take him to new places and ride new routes out of your arena.
Rosie’s top tip
If you’re particularly nervous about venturing out of the arena alone, enlist the help of an experienced friend to either walk alongside you on foot or ride with you at first – but make sure their horse is a sensible, confident type who will happily take the lead.
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Whether your bête noire is bucking or jumping, don’t let fear limit your riding activities. Follow confidence coach Ian Banyard’s four easy steps to help you control your fear and become a happy, confident rider.Read More
If your horse is particularly spooky around traffic and you’re worried about taking him out on the roads at all you can begin the desensitisation process in the comfort of the yard. Trainer Melanie Watson tells you how...Read More
To ensure you’re brimming with confidence every time you jump, rider and trainer, Karen Dixon is on-hand to offer some handy tips.
Leaving the ground on top of a four-legged beast with a mind of his own is a frightening prospect and it’s bound to send you into a bit of a spin. “I know that jumping is a daunting prospect for a lot of riders, particularly the under confident ones,” says Karen. “But it’s easy to bring the fun-factor back into jumping with some simple exercises.”
Here are Karen’s key jumping confidence exercises:
Perfect your position
In order to feel as confident as possible when jumping you must first ensure you have a secure, balanced seat and jumping position. To achieve this, stand up out of your saddle and shift your weight into your heels - remember not to grip with your knees. When you come to a fence, tip your shoulders forwards in front of the vertical and be sure not to let your legs slip back as this will unbalance you. It’s a good idea to practise this on the flat before you start over fences. A few circuits in walk, trot and canter in the jumping position during every ride is a great way to perfect it. Riding over poles will help to replicate the feeling of jumping without actually having to do it, which allows you to concentrate more on the quality of your position rather than the fence, which can be a real confidence booster.
Desensitise him to prevent spooks
Rider frighteners and bright, spooky fillers are part and parcel of most cross-country and show jumping courses, so you need to ensure your horse is desensitised to all possibilities before you hit the track. Getting your horse out hacking or riding him around spooky objects in his arena or schooling area is a fantastic way to get him used to things and ensure he’s prepared for every eventuality. Scatter your fillers around your arena and warm your horse up around them. The more he sees different spooky objects in random places, the less reactive he’ll be to them.
Build confidence over solid fences
Fear and apprehension around fixed fences isn’t uncommon, but cross-country can be one of the most fun and exhilarating rides of your life if you’re able to conquer it. I always recommend going along to a training session or hiring out a cross-country course with an experienced friend. Following a more confident rider over a fence is the ideal way to build your confidence. Start small at first before working you way up to the larger rider frightener fences. You can even have your instructor on hand to offer guidance and support from the ground.
Using a neck strap will give you added security and prevent you from sending nervous signals to your horse down the reins. Consider investing in one today and use it until you feel more confident.
More about our expert
Karen Dixon is a four-time Olympic event rider who competes, trains, rides and produces young horses. She also retrains ex-racers from her yard in County Durham.
We've all experienced that out of control feeling, either on board or from the ground, but, as our behaviour expert, Rosie Jones, explains feeling out of control is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about....Read More
If, like many riders, you’re a bag of nerves come competition day, your horse will feel those nerves too. As he senses your anxiety, it’s possible he’ll start to mirror what’s going on inside your head so, for some simple advice from our expert Caroline Putus, to help you maintain calm throughout your competition day, read on.
“When nerves take hold the most important thing to do is to ensure you ground yourself before you even start handling your horse,” says Caroline. “If you start to get anxious while handling, move away from your horse and calm yourself before going back. As soon as you start to feel uncomfortable, take a few calming breaths.”
Here are three simple tips to help:
1) Calm your breathing
- Make your breathing as slow and rhythmical as you can
- Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth
- Take twice as long to breathe out as you did to breathe in. This is the key. An easy way to do this is to count (e.g. breathe in to the count of three and out to the count of six)
2) Just relax
- Relax your stomach and abdominal muscles - this will make you feel more relaxed and more grounded and your horse will respond to this
3) Use homoeopathy
- The homoeopathic remedy Gelsemium is fantastic for performance nerves. Take one tablet on the day (only take this remedy as and when you need it)
- Finally, Bach Flower Remedies may also help.
For more information visit www.carolineputus.co.uk
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NLP Master Practitioner Wendy Jago helps you get back into riding with a fresh sense of confidence...Read More
Your limbs can only be as strong, effective and independent as your core tone allows. Your core is not just your tummy – it’s your whole trunk –and controls the position of your hips, seat bones, shoulders and posture. So you can see why it’s essential to balanced riding.
Here's how to test and build your core strength.
Pilates is one of the most widely recognised core training systems and is used by elite riders. Classes are available in gyms and village halls around the country, and there’s a wide choice of yoga or pilates DVDs you can rent or buy.
Once you’ve got an idea of the basic posture adjustments you need to make, you must work at improving them. Workout time isn’t limited to 20 minutes a couple of times a week if you want to re-educate and realign your body for the good of your horse. But that doesn’t mean you have to slave away at the gym –spend time driving, shopping or mucking out working on your body alignment.
Have a go at balancing on an exercise ball in a riding position while working or watching TV. This technique is advocated by biomechanics specialist Mary Wanless, as it aids coordination and balance, improves core tone and will give you valuable feedback about your possible riding faults. For example, which way do you always roll – to the front, back or side? Which side? Which muscles do you consciously have to activate in order tostabilise yourself?
What is your horse telling you? Many apparent schooling problems in the horse, such as head throwing, not going forward, a trot that’s hard to sit to, a canter that breaks or a horse who won’t stretch to the bit, are actually down to the rider blocking the horse. Of course, there may be other health-related issues causing these problems, so do examine them first. If there are no underlying issues and you’ve been using gadgets to correct these problems, your horse may need body work such as massage and groundwork to release all of the bracing you’ve put in and give him time to recover.
One of the simplest ridden exercises you can do to develop your balance is simply stand in your stirrups – not hover in a jumping position or lean forward, but stand – straight up as if there were no horse beneath you, and maintain your balance. Start at halt and progress to walk, trot and canter.
We don't instinctively know how to be perfect horse owners - we learn through education and occasional trial and error. Read on to discover how to avoid making the most common mistakes
1. Feeding incorrectly
It’s not surprising equine nutritionists see lots of horses who aren’t being fed correctly. The most common mistake is not feeding the correct amount because you’re not really sure how big your horse is.
“Find out what your horse weighs by using a weightape and condition scoring,” says Katie Williams, equine products manager at Dengie. “Then you’ll know if he’s too fat, too thin, or just right and you can decide what feed is most appropriate. Call different feed companies for advice to see which type of diet will suit your horse best – there are different ways to get the same result.
“Find out exactly how much to feed and pay attention to the details on the back of the feed bag. Feed by weight, not bulk, so weigh feed rather than measure it – a scoop of nuts is a different weight to a scoop of fibre.
“Feed can also help with performance and behaviour issues. If your horse has too much fizz, or lacks stamina, you can help by changing his feed.”
2. Using the wrong tack
If you’re having problems with your horse, check your tack isn’t to blame. Jeffries’ Dave Darley has plenty of advice.
“Start with sensible tack – go for a snaffle bit and cavesson noseband and don’t change a bit because certain people use them or they look good. You may have to pay more for the best quality tack, but if you buy cheap, you can end up buying twice.
“Have your saddle and bridle fitted by a qualified master saddler – bridles can come in components and you’re likely to get a better fit than with off-the-peg. Have your saddle professionally fitted, maintain it, and have it regularly checked.
“Don’t expect tack from one horse to fit another, and if you’re buying a new horse, find out what tack he’s been ridden in before. Clean your tack with a natural, fat-based dressing, but never saturate new tack in oil. Finally, research the tack you want to use, and make sure you know how to recognise quality. There’s a useful video atwww.corporatedvd.co.uk/jeffries.htm where you can see how much work goes into well-made leatherwork.”
3. Failing to ask for help
We’ve all experienced horsey doldrums, but are you suffering in silence when you could be getting help?
“We’ve all been there, pros and amateurs alike,” says Sandie Chambers, sports psychologist with Humans and Equines. “Many riders spend time on their riding and their horse’s condition but neglect the mental side of things.
“A sports psychologist will help you take control of your mind and use it to your advantage, rather than let it destroy your confidence and limit your beliefs. They will set goals to achieve a specific well-formed outcome. We can also help make unconscious reactions more positive – for example, changing competition nerves for competition excitement.
“Sports psychologists have a bagful of strategies and techniques to help you ride better and achieve the results you want.”
4. Comparing yourself to others
If you’re struggling to progress in your competing, or at home, it can be frustrating to see your friends overtake you. But comparing yourself to other riders can be demoralising.
Young eventer Emily Llewellyn has won individual and team gold at the Young Rider European Championships, and understands the pressures riders put themselves under.
“In the past I’ve had things go wrong and felt like it’s the end of the world. What you have to do is look at riders who are beating you and break down their performance. Examine how they’re riding, why they’re winning and ask, what things are they doing right? Can you emulate them? Compare yourself to riders the same age and standard as yourself, and don’t be afraid to make friends.
“Remember, riding isn’t a race to get to the highest level as quickly as possible – stand outside the situation and get some perspective. Perspective, along with a balanced, level-headed attitude, has helped me, and should help you, too.”
5. Having the wrong routine for the horse
Horses thrive on routine. Eventer Kate Walls, who runs a competition and rehabilitation livery yard in Lincolnshire, explains that problems including weight loss, tension and bad behaviour can result if a horse is kept in the wrong routine.
“A good yard should follow the golden rules – it shouldn’t be too noisy and there should be an established daily routine of feeding, turnout and exercise, determined by the horse’s needs and not the owner’s.
“Make sure your routine provides enough exercise for your horse to do the job you want him to do – you can event up to around Novice level on an hour’s work a day but, above that, you should add hill work and fast work to increase fitness. On the other hand, if your horse is a veteran, or very young, he shouldn’t have too heavy a workload. And always ask for help if you need it. If you’re keeping your horse on a routine that makes you struggle because of lack of time, it’s worth considering moving to a more inclusive livery package, for your own sake as well as your horse’s.”
6. Wasting money
We’ve all popped into the tackshop ‘just for a look’ and come out laden with goodies. But do any of them really help our horses? The answer is ‘no’, according to Grand Prix dressage rider Lucinda McAlpine, whose horses are all barefoot, and live out 24/7 without rugs.
“I believe horses need three things – free-roaming movement, grazing and a social life. Spend your time and money on finding a yard with access to those. You don’t need rugs – the horse generates heat himself and his coat is better than any rug. You don’t need the same tack as top riders, just whatever is comfortable for your horse – mine are all ridden in rubber snaffles.
“Don’t waste your money on gadgets that promise miracle results. I maintain you don’t need to spend lots of money on farriery either. My horses are all barefoot and just need their feet trimmed.”
7. Not having proper lessons
Patrick Print, FBHS and chairman of the BHS, travels the world teaching both riders and other instructors, and maintains “lessons are crucial for developing your position and a deep, secure seat. Learning to ride well is learning to ride safely. An accredited BHS instructor will be insured, have first aid training, and a child protection certificate. Some people go to a famous rider for lessons but an exceptional rider isn’t necessarily a good teacher.”
He adds that a good instructor “should evaluate you and discuss any problems. Avoid anyone who makes you feel discouraged, demoralised, or spends all their time on their mobile phone. Also avoid someone who’s constantly getting on your horse – they should be able to work from the ground. They should also be able to teach any level of rider and talk to you in plain English you understand.”
Visit www.bhs.org.uk to find a BHS instructor in your area.
8. Neglecting proper farriery
Your farrier might be one of the most important people to be involved with your horse – that’s the view of expert farrier Haydn Price.
“I believe there are no boundaries to the ways in which your farrier can help your horse. It can be tempting to try to stretch your money by having your horse shod less often, but this can lead to soft tissue injuries like corns and, ultimately, vet bills. Farriery is crucial to your horse’s health and welfare, and it matters at every level, even just for pleasure riders.
“However, don’t feel you have to go along with whatever farrier already visits your yard. Find someone who takes the time to listen to problems you might be having and communicates with you well. A good way to choose a farrier is to ask how quickly they can replace a shoe – if it’s a week, that’s too long. If it’s 24 hours, that’s what you’re looking for, even if you have to spend a few more pounds for their services.”
9. Blaming the horse
It’s a familiar feeling – that red-faced, frustrated seething, as yet again you ask, why won’t he do what I want? It’s a feeling Intelligent Horsemanship guru Kelly Marks helps riders work through.
“Imagine yourself before a jury,” she says. “In front of them, you manage to prove that, though you’re doing everything right, the horse is still not doing what you want, so everyone agrees it’s not your fault. What then? Will your horse apologise?
“Let’s say my horse isn’t changing leads and I’m absolutely sure I’m doing everything clearly and precisely. Here’s what to check: Is he in physical discomfort? Have I got the basics in place – can he perform every step up to the requested movement calmly and precisely? Has he sufficient motivation to perform the action – what’s in it for him? Is my frustration causing the horse to be stressed and confused?
“By taking responsibility, you claim the power and put yourself in a stronger position to think through the changes to get the results you want.”
10. Neglecting rider fitness
The fitter and more balanced you are, the better your horse will be able to perform. It’s something that rider fitness expert Jon Pitts sees in his work with members of the equestrian Team GB.
“Your weight is a significant load to the horse, so if you have some to lose, increase your exercise and follow a sensible diet. Riders need good balance, too, quick reaction times and good pelvic stability.
“Don't be a hero and ignore an injury to yourself. If you’re in pain, you’ll compensate and create an imbalance that will affect your horse, causing him to perform less well. Seeing a physio can be a good idea, especially one who understands riding.
“And pay attention to everyday things like mucking out – lift properly and use your body correctly.”
Being an effective rider starts in the mind first – if you think positive and believe in yourself, a better relationship with your horse will follow. To help you become the confident, fantastic rider you know you can be, follow Tina’s top tips:
You might laugh, but how much time do you actually spend holding your breath when you’re riding?
Think of something neutral, like today’s breakfast. Notice your breathing rate and how your body feels – relaxed all over or tense in places? Think of something that makes you happy and joyful and notice what happens to your breathing and the tensions in your body. Now, think of something that worries you. Notice what happens in your body: where are you tensing up and how has your breathing changed? Play with thinking of the worrying thing, but breathing like you’re happy. What happens to the worry? Next, think of something fear-inducing. Focus on your breathing and count four breaths in and four breaths out, and do this 10 times. What happens to your fearful thought?
Power of your imagination
It’s all too easy to imagine something horrible happening – those ‘what if’ thoughts. Have you ever noticed that if something happens, like the horse spooks, in that moment you cope perfectly well and feel nothing? It’s afterwards when you start to feel the fear.
Take a ‘what if’ that worries you and follow it through to a positive outcome – an outcome where you remain in control, or regain control and feel safe and happy. What happens to the feeling of fear? It might not go away completely, but you should feel calmer and more relaxed.
Stay in the moment
If we’re thinking about something that’s just happened, or might happen, we lose focus on what’s happening right now. It’s easy to wander off into thoughts of what to make for dinner, for example. But your horse is only ever aware of ‘now’ – his mind isn’t wandering.
Sit in your armchair and focus on the feeling: the sensation of your legs supported by the seat and the chair back against yours. Feel your feet on the floor, and so on. If your mind wanders, bring it back to the feeling of sitting in the chair. Increase the amount of time you can spend just sitting and being aware of the feeling, until you can sit in the moment for as long as you would usually spend with your horse.
Plan of action
Let’s take two extremes: if your fear is huge and you desperately want to beat it – for example, you’re so afraid you won’t even get on your horse – set yourself a series of tiny goals.
Your end goal might be to hack out with a friend, but your first goal should be to simply mount your horse, sit on him for one minute and then get off. This is a huge step forward. Your next goal might be to mount and have a friend lead your horse for five minutes. Your next goal might be to mount and walk around without being led for five minutes, and so on. At the opposite end of the scale, perhaps you’re planning to compete up a level next season? Your action plan of tiny goals might start wit h a truth session with yourself about all your concerns in going to the next level, and then picking them off one by one to deal with. Take each one and break it down into small chunks, so your action plan ends up as a list of things you can tick off every day.
Start an ‘I did it’ diary
It’s all too easy to focus on how far we have to go, rather than how far we’ve come. Keeping a diary of every step achieved is a great way to keep celebrating successes and reminding yourself that you’re moving towards that goal. It’s good use of your armchair time and will make you focus on the positives that happen every day.
When you venture out you have to be prepared for the unexpected but that doesn’t mean you have to leave your fate in the hands of the gods. Here we offer some handy advice to help you stay on track during every hack using the dreaded plastic bag as an example!
We all know the one - the plastic bag flapping in a hedgerow! It's an all-too-common sight and often horses will react to by planting their feet and refusing to move an inch closer.
When to react?
The key is to react as soon as you see the obstacle ahead. Every horse’s comfort zone will be different but once your horse has reached his limits his confidence will rapidly desert him and he’s likely to slam on the brakes. Once your horse has stopped, it’ll take a lot of effort to get him moving again, so the trick is to keep him going forward.
If you back off your horse will take this as confirmation that there’s something to worry about, so if you’re trotting, keep trotting.
Try also not to make too big an issue out of the spook. If your horse will go past the hazard, even if he gives it a wide berth, you can compromise. You’re not giving in – you’re still getting past and travelling in the right direction.
Keep him moving
If your horse does come to a complete standstill, you simply need to get his feet moving. If he won’t go forwards, get him moving sideways. Ride turn on the haunches – anything to get his front feet moving again. With any luck this will also take his mind of the spooky object.
Prevention is better than cure!
To avoid running into difficulties in the first place, try setting up some hazards in your arena or a small schooling area on grass to help your horse become accustomed to new things. Leading and long-reining your horse around and over things such as tarpaulin, cones and umbrellas will help to build his confidence when faced with unfamiliar objects.
As well as learning the physical skills which will lead you to confident riding, it’s possible to think yourself into a more confident state of mind.Read More
Riding is a risky business, and falling off an occupational hazard, but thanks to a new equine simulator, riders can learn how to deal with a common type
of fall as safely as possible. The British Racing School (BRS) has the UK’s first Equichute, which reproduces a ‘front door’ fall over the horse’s head with the aim of getting riders to instinctively roll as they fall, with head tucked in and dominant arm extended across the body. Before trying the simulator, trainees do exercises you can try at home – add in your skull cap and body protector once you’re comfortable.
Only try these exercises if you’re fit and well, and always practise on a gym mat or other suitable surface, with plenty
of room. Stop if you experience any pain. If in any doubt about your ability, consult your doctor first.
1. Practise forward rolls Falling off generally means being upside down, which can be confusing, but getting used to this sensation means you’re better able to influence how you fall.
2. Eliminate hesitation Once you’ve mastered forward rolls, work to make it instinctive by walking into them – stride purposefully forward and just flow into it. Getting rid of any pause can mean the difference between landing face first and falling safely.
3. Get friendly with an exercise ball Try rolling over an exercise ball in the position you’ll be trying to adopt when falling. Kneel down in front of the ball then drape your body over the top. Curve your dominant arm out and around the ball and tuck your head down in the opposite direction, curving your back. Push yourself up and over – once you’ve got the hang of this, try walking up to the ball, dropping into position and rolling over.
4. Try a judo throw Assume the position you’ve been practising with the ball, with your arm extended out and across your body with your head tucked in, and go straight into a forward roll. This uses the same principles as judo. At first it feels like you’re just throwing yourself upside down, but it helps convince your brain the action is less scary than it thought and makes you less likely to panic.
Silly mistakes can spoil your chances of dressage success. Here judges tell us their pet hates – so you can avoid them.
If there’s something guaranteed to see your dressage scores take a tumble, it’s stupid mistakes that annoy the judges and throw away marks. Sloppy riding, lack of preparation, poor turnout, failing to ride your corners correctly – these will all knock you down the order faster than you can say shoulder-in.
The good news is that such faults are easily avoided, provided you train correctly, plan ahead and gain a little insider knowledge into what makes dressage judges tick.
To help you on your way to dressage success, we’ve asked judges to share their pet hates. Read on – and make a mental note never to repeat the same mistakes that get them grumbling and that they see again and again.
For top rider, trainer and British Dressage (BD) List 3A judge John Lassetter, there’s one mistake that immediately irritates when he’s judging – and that’s corners, or rather the lack of them.
“Competitors often don’t ride them correctly or deep enough,” says John. “Instead, you should always ride deep into the corner, maintaining your horse’s rhythm and balance. This way it gives you more time to prepare for the next movement, whatever that is.
“I perpetually see riders doing a half circle between H and M, instead of riding a correct corner. They don’t have time to set the horse up correctly and so maybe overshoot the centre line, or make another mistake. Watch the Anky van Grunsvens of this world and see how they ride a corner – that’s how it should be done.
“Poor position is another of my gripes when I’m judging. So often you see riders who look as though they’re on a motorbike rather than a horse – leaning in around the corners in a wall-of-death style. Riders should always aim to keep their upper body level with the shoulders and hips of their horse, so that he or she can stay in an upright mode.”
Apply the brakes
Sonia Berry, a BD List 6 judge who rides at Grand Prix level, would like to see competitors take their feet off the accelerator during a test.
“My pet hate is riders going too fast, thinking that speed equates to energy,” she says. “They’re told their horse should come through from behind but mistake this for speed and start rushing everywhere at 90 miles an hour.
“Another bugbear is riders fiddling with the bit. I hate to see lots of movement through the hands, and there seems to be a trend for this at the moment. However, on a positive note, I have to say the level of dressage tests in horse trials has improved no end in the past couple of years.
“I’ve judged classes where horses have bucked, pranced and even left the arena during their test! But I now find the standard much higher, with horses going more confidently – so the riders and trainers are doing something right.”
Elizabeth Roberts, a BD trainee judge, agrees that judging can have its lighter moments, often thanks to cheeky ponies and their riders.
“I’ve had some funny moments, especially with younger riders at the salutes,” she says. “Having not been told, or not read the rule book, you suddenly have a small child with a cheeky grin saluting you as if they are in the army! However, I’ve also had an adult do that, too.
“On a more serious note, certain dressage tests often throw up a mistake that’s repeated or poorly ridden time and time again. One of the things I always look out for is how riders prepare for transitions or turns. At the lower levels it’s common to see a surprised expression on a horse’s face when the rider suddenly either makes a sharp turn or a ‘trot now/canter now’ aid, rather than the ‘prepare, give an indication to the horse that something might be happening’ (half-halt) and then the aid. Sometimes you see a horse looking rather shocked as he or she is surprised into the transition.”
Do your homework
“My pet hate is those riders who throw marks away through lack of preparation,” says Alison Woulds, a BD List 5 judge who rides at Grand Prix level. “A common example is when they’re asked to ride down the centre line but they don’t actually go on the centre line, instead they overshoot it. Or they attempt to ride a 15- or 20-metre circle and it isn’t accurate.
“If you’ve got 25 competitors in a class you’ll always see the odd one or two who haven’t prepared well enough. I feel like shouting at them: ‘You could have won if you’d only trained harder and spent more time preparing for this test!’
“With regards to turnout, most of the horses and riders I judge are turned out well, but there is one thing I hate to see and that’s riders with long hair in a pony tail instead of in a hairnet or bun, it really annoys me!”
“I try not to be distracted by turnout,” says BD List 6 judge and our resident Horse Answers riding expert Claire Lilley. “Whether I’m looking at a smart warmblood or a hairy native pony, I try to see beyond appearance and instead look for correct work.
“I find it’s much harder to judge at unaffiliated level because of the variety of horses and riders you see. You constantly have to keep your eye on the ball and look for a horse-and-rider combination who are going correctly above all else.
“Of course, I’ve had some funny moments. I’ve seen a pony come in down the centre line, graze at X, then divert to the car park! But it’s also rewarding at unaffiliated level to see riders develop.”
Why the basics are so vital
“The most common problem I see when I’m judging is people riding their horses over-bent,” adds Claire. “They’re obviously confused about what’s right and what’s wrong with regards to their horse’s outline, and I regularly see horses with their chin on their chest, but their back end trailing behind.
“A lot of riders, especially at the lower levels, seem to get away with riding like this at competitions, and it simply shouldn’t be allowed – the rules should be consistent. I think a large number of riders obviously aren’t being taught the correct way to ride into a contact, but on the Continent it’s common for Advanced level judges to judge at the lower levels, because they appreciate how important it is to get the basics right from the very start.
“Above all, riders need to think of their horse as a whole and learn how to hold a contact. Of course, anyone can have a momentary slip where their horse loses the contact, but your aim shouldbe to have your horse on the bit, whileholding an even contact.
“If I see someone riding their horse over-bent I will say something. And if they’re riding a couple of horses in the same competition and don’t take heed of my comments, then I’ll start getting tough on their marks. I’ve been known to get out of the judges’ car before now and go up to a rider to make my point!
“Another gripe of mine is carelessness. Accuracy is important in a horse’s training, and if you don’t ride each movement accurately then your horse isn’t going to develop the correct degree of suppleness and flexibility.
“A tatty test is due to rider error andoften it’s down to little mistakes that could be corrected with good training – leaving the rider in the placings as opposed to way down the leaderboard.
“Whenever I’m judging I want to see riders riding between the movements, as well as riding the actual movements. Above all, they need to understand each movement in a test and ride each as correctly as possible, with suppleness and flexibility.”
If you’re feeling a touch paranoid that you’ve committed one or two of the sins our judges have mentioned here, then take heart because even experienced riders can get it wrong.
“I always halt too early,” admits Grand Prix dressage rider Beverley Brightman. “I think it’s because I’m anxious to get thefirst bit of the test right, so I concentrate hard, but then the horses start to anticipate what’s next, maybe aren’t as in front of the leg as they should be, and halt too early. Then I think: ‘Ooh, I’d better salvage this and make it look as though I wanted to halt, even though I didn’t’.”
So, as you begin training for the 2010 season, remember to take on board these judges’ comments. Ironing out any niggles and concentrating on the basics with the help of a good instructor will boost your confidence – and your dressage marks – no end.
Of course, whatever level you ride at, there’s no getting away from the fact that horses have minds of their own. So don’t beat yourself up if, in spite of all your preparations, yours decides to gawk at the judges’ car or busy goings-on in the collecting ring. If you look great, ride correctly and enjoy each class, the judges will be watching – and hopefully smiling – as they write up your test sheet.
In case you were wondering..
Affiliated dressage judges are listed according to the level of classes they’re qualified to judge. List 1 judges can judge tests of all levels, up to Grand Prix. At the lowest level – List 6 – they’re qualified to judge Preliminary classes, with varying levels in between. For more information on the British Dressage judging system, visit www.britishdressage.co.uk or call 02476 698830
Recognising you have confidence issues around horses or lack of trust in your partnership with your own horse can be hard to admit, but working out what triggers your fear is the first step to dealing with it and is also essential information for any trainer who is serious about helping you.
The following questions provide food for thought. There are no right or wrong answers. However, you may be shocked at the responses that instinctively spring to mind!
1. Do you feel confident riding with your own horse or pony, but feel nervous around horses you don’t know so well? Or is your own horse the one who makes you nervous?
2. Do you prefer others to handle or ride your horse for you? Is this always, or just in certain situations?
3. Do others experience similar problems with your horse, or does he behave perfectly well for other people?
4. When your horse frightens you, what exactly does he do? How much of it is your anticipation?
5. Did you have an accident in the past and are now nervous about something similar happening again, even on a different horse?
6. Have you just bought your first horse or pony and find it very different to the riding school horse who was so familiar? Or did you buy your favourite riding school horse, only to find he’s changed personality?
7. Have you just returned to riding after a long break such as bringing up a family, and find your confidence is not what it was? Or have you started riding late in life?
8. Do you feel you’re not achieving all you and your horse are capable of, or you’ve lost your motivation to keep trying?
9. Do you find yourself making excuses for yourself and your horse about why you can’t ride at certain times or in certain places, weather or conditions?
10. What sort of support do you get from others at the yard? Do you feel they’re judging or criticising you or your horse?