How to enjoy cross-country competitions with your horse

Feeling nervous ahead of your cross-country competition? Eventing legend Karen Dixon explains what you can do to ensure your day is stress-free and fun.

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1. It's normal to feel nervous 

"Your adrenaline may be rushing and the nerves may have started to set in, but fear not - this is normal!" explains Karen.

"It's how you deal with your nerves and channel them into going clear and enjoying your day cross country that matters."

2. Organisation is key 

As Karen explains, the first key element to having a calmer day is being organised. 

"There's nothing worse than arriving at the event late and finding you're short of time to walk the full course, or having to shorten your warm up to meet your start time," she says.

"Once I'm at an event and the main preparation tasks are complete, I keep myself busy before I'm due to start, so my mind is focused. Even if that's cleaning my boots." 

3. Walk the cross-country course twice

"It's best to walk the course twice," suggests Karen. "Your first course walk should be the day before your competition to give you the feel of the course and the ground.

"It's best to walk it at the same time of day you're due to ride it, so you can check where the sun lies on the fences, or how it'll affect your vision riding through the trees. 

"On the day, walk the course again, putting your mind in gear as though you're riding it. To get any last-minute tips, it can help to walk the course with a knowledgable person who knows you and your horse."

4. Plan your horse's competition warm up

"Your approach to your warm up depends on your horse's mood," says Karen. "If he has a tendency to nap leap leaving the start gate, treat your practice fence as your first fence.

"So, before you're called to the start box, jump the practice fence and keep riding. That way, you're both thinking forwards. 

"If your horse is fizzy, the less time in the collecting ring the better." 

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How to warm up

Tips for riding the perfect warm up

5. Think positive 

"If a specific fence or combination on the course terrifies you, address that fear," says Karen.

"It's not a sin to be frightened - everyone else probably is too. As you approach that fence, talk yourself through each stride.

"Be confident and tell yourself you'll ride the course to your best ability."