If you’ve been out of the show ring for a while, or are perhaps just starting to compete, you might have some nerves. Event rider Harry Mutch shares how to prepare for a show.

For me, when taking a horse to an event, whatever the level, the danger is to over-train. It’s so easy for a rider to get carried away and overdo it with their horse and end up making a silly mistake, ultimately knocking both their horse’s and their own confidence just before taking them out to a show or event. It could affect the end result of the competition, and more importantly, their horse’s confidence to do the best job for you at the show.

I like to use bounce fences exercises before a show to really build the horse’s self esteem and make them feel good about themselves. Then, when they get to the show, they’ll be full of confidence and ready to do what is asked of them.

Exercise 1: Beginning with bounces

Time: 15 minutes

This exercise is good for riders as it lets the horse do the jumping so you can work on themselves. You can feel exactly how your horse is and whether they’re ready to compete.

  1. Set up three bounce fences in the middle of the arena, so you can approach it on either rein.
  2. Start with the poles on the floor and the third as a cross-pole to get the horse warmed up. Use this time to get your positioning correct. If you look for the middle of the fence as you turn, you should meet the centre of the fence. If your poles have stripes or different colours on them, aim for a specific section of that. A handy thing I normally do before I start is to get a bit of arena surface and place it on the point of the fence I want to jump. I am looking to jump that part of the fence.Not looking at the fence as a whole, but instead just as part of it will help to improve your accuracy when you ride.
  3. Once you have warmed up, you can build the fences into two cross-poles with a pole in front, followed by making the first pole into a cross pole too so you have three cross poles.Keep practising your positioning and accuracy.

Exercise 2: Going up to a grid

Time: 15 minutes

When the horse feels ready, you can move on to the next exercise, in which we have three bounce fences followed by further fences.

  1. Eventually you will build up to three bounces, then one stride to an upright following by one stride to an oxer. When coming to the grid, make sure your turn is correct off the corner, almost like you’d make a corner in a dressage arena. If that is correct, the horse will exit the corner with their hindlegs underneath them, giving them the best possible balance to jump.
  2. You can play around with this exercise – change the upright and oxer around, so your horse doesn’t get used to jumping the same fences every time. Make sure you are straight, and the horse is between both legs and level down the reins so that, as they take off, they are doing so evenly on both hindlegs. That way, you get the ultimate amount of jump from them all the time. If the horse drifts they will be unlevel on the hindlegs, which will affect the balance.
  3. As you do the exercise make sure your position remains in the middle of the horse, so you don’t get ahead of the movement (letting your shoulder go past your toes). That way you stay in balance so the horse is able to use their whole body to do the exercise the best they can.
  4. Make sure you aren’t trying to test the scope of the horse in this exercise. It’s more about technique, so only build to below or around the height you will be jumping at competitions.

Meet the trainer: Harry Mutch is an event rider who has competed at 5 level. Based in Northumberland, he is known for successfully producing young horses and getting the best out of them with his sympathetic way of riding. 

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