Tip #1 - Making The Right Selections
Set yourself up for the win. With careful selection of both the venue and the tests, you can give yourself and your horse the maximum possibility for a successful competition experience.
Venue and test selection is in my opinion one of the most under-rated yet important aspects of setting yourself and your horse up for a successful competition career. Every positive experience for you and your horse goes into the 'bank of confidence' that builds over time. If your horse needs to feel like they are the King or Queen of competition, then it needs to leave the arena feeling like it was fun and easy.
Developing our horses ego is important for their ability to perform their tests with flair and attitude. Think about Valegro for example and how he looks like he is having fun in the arena. That is what separates a good test from a great test; harmony and a winning attitude.
Venue selection can go a long way towards creating that winning environment. For example, if your horse is on the hotter side and gets excited easily, choose a quiet local show where he can have a chance to relax and settle. If you have a horse that works better in a big atmosphere where he lifts and rises to the occasion, choose a show that is going to appeal him. Venue selection is especially important when choosing to ride up a level. The less stress you and your horse experience, the better you both will be able to perform.
Stress puts you in the flight or fight mode and down regulates our ability to access our higher functioning brain systems. Many of us have had that terrible blank moment when we can't remember the next movement in our tests! That's stress! By controlling as many variables as possible, you can begin to create an environment where you and your horse can thrive.
Another variable we can manipulate is test selection. The tests are all extensions of one another, growing in difficulty as they progress through the levels. In most instances we can decide what level our horse is ready to compete in (HRCAV and Pony Club are the exception due to their grading systems). The general rule of thumb is that you should ride one level below what you are competently training at home.
Remember that stress down-regulates brain function for both us and our horses. A horse that is in a new environment is going to find concentrating difficult, so by choosing a test that he finds relatively easy will be less stressful for both you and your horse. Less stress equals a better performance. A better performance equals a great score, with the added bonus of a nice little confidence boost, and who doesn't want that!
Read my next tip: 'Using Corners' HERE!