Set Yourself Up for Success No. 2

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Set yourself up for Success!

Take Responsibility

By Jennifer Clover

Being a good horse owner, a good competitive rider, or recreational rider means that you make an agreement with your horse and yourself to take responsibility for the performance and well-being of both you and your horse.    Good riding and good horse management never happen in a vacuum.  The phrase “it takes a village” is exceptionally true when it comes to good horsemanship and to riding.

The wonderful thing is that you can put together a terrific team of professionals that are happy to work with you and your horse to help you succeed in meeting your goals.  Seek professionals that are willing to work together as a part of your team.  The professionals involved include your trainer, vet, farrier, and equine dentist to get started.  Each of these people should be willing and able to help you as a part of a team effort to get you and your horse where you want to be.   If, for example, your farrier is not willing to work with your vet on a lameness problem, maybe consider a new farrier.

Take responsibility for the health and happiness of your horse.  If you suspect that an underlying problem is lurking or you are having a training problem, always look at possible physical problems first.  Your horse will never be able to perform his best if there is physical pain or a discomfort problem.  Common problems can include back soreness, bitting problems related to dental health, or arthritic changes in your horse that may lead to discomfort and training difficulties.  Discuss your concerns with all the pros on your team.  Now is also the time to check saddle fit too.  Adjustments can be made through flocking, adding or taking away extra pads and the like.  Remember that a good saddle fit also means a balanced saddle which in turn helps YOU stay balanced.  Your saddle has to fit the horse and you!

Ask your team to look at things from their different points of view and help you find and resolve any problems.  If you get a solid all clear on the physical side and the equipment and tack side, it’s now time to really look at the training program to understand a problem.   Buckle down with your trainer and get to work.

Take responsibility for your own comfort and your ability to perform your best too.   All of your riding clothes and equipment should be comfortable for you and not get in your way when you ride.  Ask your riding friends, your trainer, talk to the staff at retailers, whatever you need to do, to get the best riding gear for you.  Keep in mind though that your friend’s favorite pair of breeches may not be your favorite.  So shop around a little, try things on, and most important, give any new equipment a good test ride before the show!

Take responsibility for your preparation just before the show.  Ask your trainer “is there anything else I can do?  How would you suggest I prepare?  Do you think my equipment is just right?  Do I make changes just before the show” (usually not, unless it’s about correct fit or comfort).  Be sure you are practicing at a level slightly more challenging than the level you will be competing at.  You should walk in the competition arena feeling well prepared and confident in your and your horses’ ability to do what is asked.


Ride your dressage test on as many horses as possible.  It may not matter that each horse cannot do every movement exactly, but that you are riding through the pattern and movements.  You’ll probably also learn more as well!  You can stage out a mini dressage arena at home and “walk” your test for practice too.

Jump slightly above the height you will be competing at.  Then when you go in the competition ring, you can say, “Oh! I can do THIS!”

Check the rules for what types of jumping obstacles and combinations you might face at competition.  Be sure you and your horse are confident with all of these.

Eventing:  Be SURE you have cross country schooled all the different types of obstacles you will face on course.  Plan to leave the start box with the confidence that both you and your horse can successfully meet every fence on your course.  Have a plan and a strategy for the whole course as well as each fence.

Watch.  Go to shows and competitions and watch and learn.  See what others do well… and not so well.  Learn from other’s successes and mistakes.  See what looks really good to you and think about emulating the good stuff.

Video your rides at home and at shows.  When you watch you can often piece together just a little better what your trainer is telling you, or exactly what went so well (or so wrong) at the show.  If you tape your dressage ride, it’s really helpful to break down a video movement by movement and consider the judge’s comments and score for each movement.

When something goes wrong, honestly, really honestly, look at what could be a problem.  Were you running late and skimped on warm-up?  Did you forget a piece of equipment and decide “we’ll be ok for today”?  Did you have such a bad blister that you could hardly stand to walk, much less put your heals down?  Have your been on vacation and not allowed enough time to get back into a program before the show?  Was your horse fit enough for the level of competition?   Did you have enough help at the show?  Is it your nerves?  Come on, we all get nervous.  You can work on that too!

Ok, now you’ve identified a problem.  Start taking steps right away to work so that it improves or doesn’t happen again at all.


Know the rules and regulations of the competition.  Pack a copy of the rule book or books with your show equipment and always have it with you.  If you are not sure of a rule at a competition or have a question, you can ask the Technical Delegate for clarification.

Have all of your entry requirements taken care of ahead of time.

Check in with the warm-up steward, let them know you are there, ask if the ring is running on time, find out who goes before you.  Know that horse and their number so you can keep track.  Keep in mind that most of the ring stewards, gate crew, and other people running the show are volunteers.  Be gracious and say thank you.  It goes a long way.

Speaking of being gracious, remember the people who are helping you.  Did a good friend get up before the sun to spend the day with you at the show?  Be nice, say thank you, return the favor another day.  Remember your trainer is probably standing in the hot sun or pouring rain all day.  Even if they are getting paid, a thank you always goes a huge long way.  Have a groom?  They work very hard and usually have more people and horses than just you to think about.  Let them know how grateful you are that they are there for you.

Know the official show time.  There is usually an official clock and an announcement of official show time.  Set your watch to it.

Plan ahead for time to walk courses. 

Of course, there are always some things we cannot prepare for.  But, when we have really taken responsibility for the preparation of both your horse and yourself, other speed bumps that life or the show may throw at you are less disruptive and easier to take in stride.

By taking responsibility, you can also take credit.  When you go out and have a great ride, you will know that it was a product of your hard work, your dedication, and your commitment to working with your team.  When you do well, you and your team are all winners.  And that to me is the biggest achievement you can come home with at the end of the day.  It’s not about the ribbons.  Sure, ribbons and prizes are nice, but they don’t always go to the real winners at the end of the show.

Set yourself up for success:  take responsibility and you will come home a real winner.


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