Tip #6 - Know your test
Know your test so well you can recite it in your sleep, and eliminate the 'deer in the headlights' moment when you cant remember which way to turn at C!
It's tempting to rely on a caller when they are available, but from experience it's best to have them there as back up 'just in case'.
Knowing your test will give you time to prepare for the movements, giving you time to use those corners to balance your horse and mentally prepare yourself for the upcoming movement. This creates a feeling of control, the feeling of having more time, and a feeling of calm! Its also another variable we can control, and controlling variables limits stress. Stress affects memory and rational thinking making it more likely you will forget your test or get flustered leading to avoidable mistakes.
Knowing your tests, coupled with the back up of a caller, is very reassuring and goes a long way to minimising stress on competition day. The more brain power you can delegate to nailing your corners and riding every movement from beginning to end is going to make a huge difference to your overall marks.
Refrain from watching the rider before you. If they make an error of course, chances are you will too. In the exact same place as the rider before you did. Trust yourself and concentrate on your horse. If you can't concentrate you
can't expect your horse to too.
A great tip I got from my friend Lea Von Salzen was to learn your test from front to back, back to front, and from random sections in your test. Especially when it comes to a Championship or FEI test where callers aren't allowed. The reasoning behind this method is that if you do lose you way off course, you can pick up where you left off and know what movements follow on. That way your far less likely to make a second error from being flustered and losing your way. When you're playing for sheep stations every mark matters, and throwing away two marks over an error of course can be very very costly.
Perfect practice makes perfect! In an ideal world we would practice riding our tests a million times over but the reality is we can't. It would bore our horses to death, unnecessarily wear out their joints, they would memorise and begin to anticipate movements and honestly, there are only so many hours we can expect our horses to work everyday.
Something that I love to do is set up an arena in the house and ride my test in my imagination whilst following the patterns in my mock arena. Kids toys make great markers, or alternatively you could cut up an egg carton and write the letters on them and space them out in a clear space free of leggo! Not only will you become more familiar with the flow and patterns of the test, you can take it one step further and add in the half halts, imagine the feeling of riding the corners and flowing into the movements, the softening of your fingers as you lengthen the frame for an extended trot, the feeling of an uphill cater transition and your how your inside seat bone moves with the correct lead of a clear three beat canter. You can imagine how you would deal with and come back from a spook at a flower pot or random umbrella opening, smiling like it was nothing and getting your horses attention back on you. Riding segments of your test at home is really helpful.
Test riding is a skill that requires a sharp mind that can react to rapidly changing conditions from the horse. The ability to anticipate what the horse needs to get from one movement to the next takes practice. Because riding the whole test more than once or twice a week can become counter productive, instead pick segments of the test that follow on from each other that you struggled with when you practiced the test at home or found difficult in the last competition. An example might be shoulder in down the long side to E, a 10m volte followed by travers. By practicing this segment of the test you will hone your skills to really nail the movement on competition day.
Next tip: Warm Up Routine - Read here