I have heard many people recently wishing to give dressage a go on their horse or wanting to make the step up to affiliated competitions but being a little nervous about it. Here are a few of my tips that I hope you will find useful at whatever level you ride at.
TOne bad movement doesn't make a test. - I've often seen people riding their tests and all is going swimmingly until something simple happens, say the horse spooks or they ride a bad transition and then for some reason the test seems to fall apart. For example with the rider tensing up and they either block the horses forward movement or rush them out of balance. They may start riding inaccurately or worst case scenario forget the test completely.
So what happened. Well quite often riders will have a bad movement and have a complete meltdown thinking they have totally ruined the entire test, when in actual fact all that has happened is they have got a bad mark in that one movement. Some tests have over 15 movements (that's 15 individual marks) and that's before collectives at the end. So if you have a bad movement, sure you will lose marks in that one box but so long as you can get yourself and your horse back together there is no reason why the rest of the marks should be affected.
The judge isn't out to get you - Ok so you got a bad percentage in your last outing, first thing many people do is blame the judge.....STOP! For a start, by putting yourself in the arena you have agreed for that person to analyse your performance. And that judge, especially at affiliated shows will only score what they see in front of them. Sure there are some judges firmer on the marking than others, but these are the ones you learn from. If every judge was to go round telling every rider they were perfect, non of us would ever push to progress in this sport.
Acknowledge other competitors, they are not the enemy - I often encounter other riders staring across the warmup at each other like they are about to go head to head in a battle. Yet we often forget that everyone is at the competition for the same reasons. To simply do the best they can, and hopefully come home with a frilly at the end of it. So instead of ignoring your fellow competitors why not try saying hello or even a simple smile, give the rider coming out of the ring before you a 'well done' and the rider going in after you a 'good luck'. Not only will this help settle your nerves but you'll find you start talking to people and making friends.
Don't throw away marks - I've seen many riders doing just this, heck i've even come out of tests knowing I have done it myself. Firstly its not a race to get from entry to exit as fast as possible so take your time to ride as accurately as you can and set your horse up for every transition if you rush you will only ride a messy test. Secondly, be prepared. Know what the difference is between riding a corner and riding a circle, Know how to ride an effective change of rein etc and you will always come away with a better mark.
Perfect turnout, Matchy matchy....... It really doesn't matter - Have you ever noticed that your test sheets don't have a box for a turnout mark. That because dressage isn't like showing where every little thing has to be perfect. The judge really doesn't care if your horse is coming down the centre line wearing a brown bridle and a black saddle or wether you have a wonky plait. What they want to see is a horse and rider in working correctly and in unison with each other. As long as everything follows the rule book you will not be marked down or eliminated on the things you are wearing.
Forget about others being better than you, compete against yourself - The competition world is no place for a sore looser. Sure winning is fabulous at the time but it isn't the be all and end all of everything. What we as riders should be aiming to do is improve ourselves and horses whilst enjoying the journey we are on. By simply entering the arena you have already achieved something that many may not. So the fact that someone else trotting around in the warmup arena is clearly better than you, forget about it! They are on their own journey and if you work hard enough on yours you will one day be the person in the arena that people are looking up to as being better than them.