Preparing for competitions can be both physically and mentally challenging, with my easy guide I can help you and your horse be confident and… Competition Ready




Preparation is key to making competition a happy and stress-free experience. ‘Goal setting’ is a current buzz word and by breaking down your own goals into process goals, it can help make competition planning easier. Process goals are set and controlled by you. They can help you achieve your desired performance and the building blocks towards outcome goals, by using them to create and inspire your training plan.


We always talk about training at a level above where you want to be competing. This doesn’t just mean if you compete at 90cm you just need to be able to jump a fence that is 1m in your training. 

When planning your XC training, you will need to consider other elements and not just the height of course; for example: you will need to be able to jump fences that are on more of an angle, so that if things deviate slightly from the ‘plan’ - you have the extra tools in your box to execute the new unexpected line to the fence. You will also need to know how to travel at speeds of over 450m/m and to be able to canter for at least 5 minutes Your reactions will need to be much quicker in training, than they would be in competition to ensure your reactions are sharp. 

For show jump training it is important to make sure you are training over multiple fences… if you only train over a course of 5-6 fences then are you prepared to jump 8-9 in a competition? If you go BS or jump single phase classes you can expect to jump 12-13 fences. Making sure you have trained over larger courses can better prepare horse and rider; otherwise you can find that when you get to an event an 80 fence with a maximum spread can look more intimidating than you are used to.

Consider rider fitness - be honest with yourself regarding personal fitness, what are your strengths and weaknesses? Going XC is likely to raise both you and your horse’s heart rate into anaerobic respiration. Do you do anything in your daily routine that gets your heart and lungs used to working at this rate? If you find yourself feeling tired mid round, this can lead to poor decision making and can increase the chance of injury to both horse and rider, so it is really important to ensure you are prepared


Using your process goals can prepare you both mentally and physically and you will find that this does wonders for your confidence. The aim is to go into a competition knowing that you can ride all the movements in the test, can jump any of the questions asked and all to the best of your ability you.


How far in advance do you need to prepare? Travel distance, venue and timing are all things to consider.

There are lots of events locally as well as nationally, both affiliated and unaffiliated. BE events are regulated by the governing body   and have strict rules regarding medical and vet cover, health and safety, quality of course provided (standards are set out in the rule book), the ‘going’ and insurance. At a BE 80T event you can expect to see a trainer on-site to course walk and offer general advice and even help in the warm-up. 

If competing BE, look at entering around 4 weeks ahead of the event date (each event has an opening and ballot date, you will need to enter before the ballot date). 

We choose an event for lots of reasons: the classes on offer, accessibility, where it fits in with our horses schedule, care the organiser takes into preparing the ground, friendliness, prizes, the atmosphere and overall purpose   for the horse attending e.g. qualifications. For instance, I would not travel a young horse for miles to a ‘big’ event with lots of atmosphere and crowds for his first ‘party’. Instead I would be looking for an educational, relatively flat course and with plenty of space in the warm-up. Conversely if I’m looking to move a horse up a level or have a championship coming up then I would travel further to find atmosphere and would want to make sure I have competed over different terrains so the horse has had as much exposure as possible to a variety of elements.  It is very easy to just go to local events as they are convenient, easy and hopefully fun! but if you aspire to progress then travelling further afield will give you much more exposure and experience.


Once you have been given your times, work out how long you would like to warm-up, walk courses and the time needed between each phase. Allow plenty of time to get to the secretaries to pay start fees, collect your numbers and grab that much needed coffee! Once on-board report to the dressage steward and find out which arena you are in and how many riders are before you. 

Have a plan for your warm-up. The show jumping warm-up is where things can get a little heated. Find out which system they are using: some events run strictly to times given, others take numbers on the board. If you know which system is running you are less likely to get stressed. At BE you always report to the XC steward as you arrive at the warm-up to put your number down. 

The biggest issue for those new to the sport is not knowing the rules, e.g it is not permitted to have your dressage test called or to have a whip in the arena. Other mistakes can happen if you do not fully understand black flag rules XC and circling, crossing tracks etc.

BE events are generally all run to a similar theme, a bit of advance knowledge can make the whole process more fluent. The rule book is available online, however it can sometimes be helpful to attend a clinic to help you understand the rules and ask any questions. I run evening talks and camps to answer BE questions and to make sure riders are better prepared.


I like to have a check list for loading the lorry. I break tack and my gear down to each phase and then add the essentials such as water, sponges, spare tack, rugs and first aid kit.

Remember to take your passport and check the date of your horse’s Flu Vaccination to be compliant with the updated rules. At BE one of the vets can be sent around the lorry park to spot check and at riding club you must present your passport before you can get your numbers. 


As well as keeping your horse fed and hydrated, it is important to remember that  you are also an athlete, be sure to look after yourself too and take plenty of water and food.

Concentrate when walking the course and use the programme (to check you haven’t missed a fence out).

When going over the course don’t just use ‘1. the tyres, 2. the log’ to remember the course in your mind, I find it helpful to visualise the turns, terrain and gear changes.

Don’t overcook your horse in the warm-up, if your horse isn’t used to being ridden 3 times a day; you will not need a 45 minute warm-up for each phase or to jump 20 fences before going in the ring.

If you are going to use a stopwatch, make sure you are familiar with using it before the competition and have a good understanding of what it means. Each level has its own speed and a 15 second window to not receive time penalties, this time will depend on how long the course is.If you are looking like receiving ‘too fast’ time penalties, you will get a penalty if you are seen to be pulling up before the finish line. 


Always clean your studs out at home. I like to put a flat stud in to travel as it is so much easier to take one stud out and put another in. The last thing you want to be doing when a little stressed is trying to tap out a stud hole on a horse that is dancing around.


Remember to go back over what went well as well as what you would want to improve on, good reflection allows goals to be realigned  and positive steps taken. 

Remember this quote:“I never lose. I either Win or Learn.”

This article was written by Sarah Gairdner. For training and clinics please see the website For training and clinics please see the website  or visit facebook @DanesmoorEventing