After a winter of competing in arenas, you’ll probably be feeling pretty confident about your preferred dressage test. That is, until you turn up at the showground to find a grassy field with a few small markers to keep your horse on the straight and narrow. This can be nerve-wracking for riders, so get ahead of the game by preparing for the change at home with these helpful tips from confidence coach Helen Rennie.

“There’s a couple of reasons why markers on grass cause problems,” says Helen. “The first is that it looks different from what you’ve practised at home. The second is linked to having a fear of open spaces. The third is that your horse might just get excited when their hooves touch grass.”

How to prepare at home

There’s no better way to prepare for an outdoor dressage test than by recreating the situation at home.

“Put some dressage markers in your paddock at home and learn your test on grass,” says Helen. “It’ll get your horse used to the sensation and help you practise your test in an environment you’ll experience on the day. Some people remember their test better if they learn it in a similar setting at home.”

If you haven’t got dressage markers, use poles or blocks instead. Alternatively, try riding your dressage test next time you’re out hacking. It’ll get you both used to riding it in different places.”

What to do on the day

It you haven’t been able to practise on grass at home, fear not. Come competition day, as Helen explains, the best thing you can do is to look for similarities to the environment and setting you are used to practising in.

“A lot of riders focus on the differences at the competition compared to home, but this will stress you out,” says Helen. “Focus on the similarities. For example, the markers might look different, but they’ll still be in the same position.

“Another thing I like to get riders to do is to envisage invisible walls rising up from the markers. This helps to create an imaginary boundary for you to keep your horse in.”

Rise above competition-day distractions

At a show, it’s common to find lots of classes all going on at once. Plus the warm-up ring is likely to be busy. If your horse has a tendency to be overwhelmed by a hub of activity, it’s important you get them concentrating before you start your round.

“This comes down to focus and distraction for both you and your horse,” says Helen. “You need to practise being able to focus on the job in hand.”

How to prepare at home

Next time you ride at home, ask your friends to be as distracting as possible.

“Practise having other distractions around you, whether it’s another horse and rider joining you in the school or people doing yard jobs nearby, “ says Helen. “Try to imagine yourself in a bubble and focus on the process of what you’re doing.”

What to do on the day

It might sound silly, but if you’re struggling to focus on the day, give yourself a talking to.

“As you’re riding around, say positive affirmations to yourself,” explains Helen. “This might be something as simple as ‘ride every stride’. It focuses your brain on the task.”

If your horse is struggling to get their head in the game, distract them by incorporating transitions, circles and basic lateral movements in your warm-up. These are effective ways to get them listening to you, which will boost your confidence.

Imagine a bubble around you and your horse when warming up on competition day, shutting out those around you. It works!

Meet the expert: Helen Rennie is a rider psychology coach, driven by her love for transforming the confidence, focus and results of riders who compete. Find out more at

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