Preparing and planning for the competition season ahead
Benjamin Franklin put it nicely…’if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail’. And while we know all too well that horses like to continually throw us curve balls, framing a short, medium and long term plan will pay dividends. not only for your horse’s performance but also for your sanity. With a busy training yard based in Co. Meath, our super star dressage blogger – Kate Dwyer – gives us some insights into how she plans for the seasons ahead.
Throughout my Winter Training, I am constantly thinking and planning ahead to the New Year and new season. This ensures that when the New Year arrives I have goals and aims already set. Preparing and planning for the season ahead is a must for every competitive rider. Goals help to keep you focussed.
Goals – they’re not just for football players…
Firstly, I always have a long term goal. The length of this goal can vary for everybody. For some it can be up to 4 years and for others it can just be the year ahead. My long term goals are focussed on major Competitions such as the Olympics, the World Equestrian Games and the European Championships. With my top horse Fabio, these are always on my mind and are something that I am constantly focussed on and aspire to. I also have what I would consider my short term goals, which for me, are usually the year ahead. These tend to be focussed on National Competitions, Championships and FEI International Competitions either in the UK or in Europe.
It is crucial that you and your trainer are on the same wavelength in terms of what your goals and aims are so that you are both aware of what you hope to achieve in the long and short term. So, if you haven’t already, make a date to chat with your trainer about what you want to achieve this year, then you can put the training schedule in place to make sure it happens.
First things first – the annual check ups
When beginning your season, it is very important to ensure that all memberships, registrations and vaccinations are renewed or up to date. It can be very easy to be unaware of the different rules for National and International Competitions, finals versus non final shows etc and it is important to look to your Governing body for all information and what is required. If in doubt, ask!
I always have my vet in the yard at the start of the year for vaccinations and to ensure that passports are up to date. I feel this is a great time to have my competition horses given a full vet check to make sure there are no niggling issues and I also get bloods taken. I find it really useful to record my horses’ bloods for reference, then if we have any problems through the year we have a baseline to compare them to.
If it has wheels, sooner or later it will let you down…
Unfortunately, this seems to be all too true! I like to try to minimise such risk however, so every year I send my lorry to be serviced and certified road worthy. I also ensure I have all of my appropriate paperwork ready for any long journeys. From my experience, the criteria for drivers is continually changing, especially for lorries travelling abroad. Therefore, if you plan to travel overseas, it is so important to ensure that your vehicle and any associated paperwork complies with EU Regulations for the Transportation of Livestock. This is taken very seriously and you are responsible to ensure the safety and well-being of the animals in your care.
That dreaded 5 letter word… Budget
Unfortunately, like most horse owners, budgeting is an area that I can’t avoid! The budget, at the end of the day, determines what you can achieve during your competitive year. When I am planning my short and long term goals I am constantly aware of my budget (or lack of!) and what I can and can’t afford – both from a training and a competition point of view.
Horses are a very expensive sport/hobby and to embrace your aims and goals and achieve what you wish you have to consider your budget. This is where planning and preparing are essential.
When I am looking through International Competition Schedules I choose 2-3 Competitions that are not too far away from each other geographically and that are on around the same time (allowing adequate time between each competition to travel to the new venue). Attending a few competitions during one trip means you get more experience for your money by cutting back on ferry crossings, which can be very expensive!
Fit for purpose – it takes two to tango
I find that while most riders I work with recognise the importance of their horse’s fitness, they often forget about their own. But to me, it’s as important for the rider to focus on their own fitness and suppleness as it is their horses’.
That’s why the gym is an important part of my daily routine. If you ride several horses a day, the riding itself will keep you cardio-fit for dressage. But I feel it is a good idea to vary your fitness and build up strength in other muscles – especially your core strength! Flexibility is also extremely important as we horse riders tend to get quite stiff and tight. Like your horse, training and nutrition are an important part of your lifestyle – remember, you are a team and success takes team work.
On the horse’s side, having your horse competition ready takes ongoing good stable management. Through correct training, feeding and exercise you will have a horse who is ready for the job. However, the stress of transport, leaving home and the atmosphere of the competition itself affect all horses differently, so they are factors you must consider when planning your competition schedule for your own horse.
We’re fortunate in Ireland that most competition centres are within a few hours reach of the majority of the country, thanks to Ireland’s small size. However, if you travel internationally, long journeys come with the territory and ferry journeys can lead to weight loss, stress and even illness. Although it is not always possible, I like to travel my horse on International journeys with a companion as the company of another horse on these long journeys can have a calming effect.
To deal with these exhaustive journeys you must have a fit horse, especially if they are to compete when they reach their destination. I try to vary my routine with my top horse – Fabio – as much as I can. Taking him to new venues to make transport a more natural thing is important. I like to vary his workload between days where he just stretches, building up to more extensive work, then bringing him back down again so as to rest the muscles and keep him sound. He goes on the walker most days as I can’t hack in my area and I also add canter work to keep his fitness levels up. He also enjoys the beach! It is important to keep it fun and varied.
So go and get planning to have fun, to compete and to bring home some ribbons!