The outdoor competition season is upon us. For those of you heading out – from experienced professionals through to those stepping out on the circuit for the first time – you’ll want to make sure you’re prepared for whatever competition day may throw at you.

Whether you’re concerned about an unseasonal downpour or warming up in an open space, these exercises from confidence coach Helen Rennie will ensure you and your horse enjoy competing outside and can focus on the job at hand.

Feel confident in all weathers

Waking up on competition day to strong winds or torrential rain not only makes you question your sanity but can also knock your nerves.

“Typically, riders that worry about adverse weather conditions are those who have young or inexperienced horses,” explains Helen. “They’re worried about how the conditions will affect their horse.

“It’s easy for riders to think ‘what if?’ and start thinking about worst-case scenarios. You’ll become stressed and tense, which your horse will sense, and you’ll lose your connection with them.”

Prepare at home

Don’t wait for perfect conditions – get out there whatever the weather.

“Rehearsing at home gives you a chance to experiment with how you’ll deal with the situation,” says Helen. “You can always get off if you feel the need to.”

Stay sensible and safe, but try riding in different weather conditions and notice how you and your horse react to them. Work on reducing tension in both you and your horse each time you ride in varying elements, so you are more prepared for whatever the weather throws at you on competition day.

What to do on the day

If the heavens open on competition day, Helen’s advice is to concentrate on what you can control.

“Think about what you can do to focus and keep your horse’s attention,” says Helen. “Check that you can control your horse’s paces and that you can get him to stop. This is a much more positive approach to take.”

Warm-up in open spaces

Warm-up rings take on many forms at shows and you’ll often have to prepare in unfenced open spaces.

“Open spaces look frightening and riders often experience something close to vertigo,” says Helen. “It all feels too much if you’re not used to being in that environment. It overwhelms your brain and you can end up feeling dizzy.”

How to prepare at home

Having a warm-up routine that you do every time you ride can give you and your horse a sense of familiarity.

“Even if neither of you are used to warming up in an open space, riding a familiar routine gives you both something to focus on and think about other than the space around you,” explains Helen.

The aim is to recreate the calm, focused warm-up routine you ride at home.

What to do on the day

If you are overwhelmed on competition day, Helen suggests doing the following:

“Look in the distance, at another horse and rider, and then back to your horse’s ears,” she says. “This stops your brain from being ‘fried’ by the space around you. Focus on riding lines, circles and transitions to help you stay in the moment, attending to the task in hand. It all aids relaxation.”

Make sure your brakes work

There’s little that can spook a rider more than the thought of not being able to stop their horse. Linked to a fear of open spaces, worrying that your horse might run off will likely make you tense. Your horse can pick up on your fear, so tackle it head on.

“Your horse doesn’t think about the future, they just react to the now,” says Helen. “If you’re worrying that they might bolt and getting anxious about it, they’ll sense there’s something for them to be nervous about.”

How to prepare at home

One simple way to overcome a fear of your horse bolting is to use an empty field to school in – seeking permission first – each time you’re out hacking.

“You might not think about it, but open spaces are all around you when hacking,” says Helen. “Use them to practise your schooling movements, for example riding serpentines and figures of eight. It’ll boost your confidence.”

What to do on the day

Instead of worrying about what your horse might do on the day, set yourself mental boundaries – especially if you’re riding in an open space.

“Picture an arena in your mind and stay within that space,” explains Helen. “Imagine A at one end and C at the other, and ride within the limits you’ve set in your mind.”

Having a set warm-up routine that you can ride is another good way to give your brain something else to think about.

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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