Partner a horse that is safe and suitable for your level of ability. There is no point riding something that frightens you as confidence can easily be dented, plus there are many nice, well-mannered horses out there. Also be realistic about what you want to do together in the future.
Preparation is the key to success, not least by ensuring that your horse is fit enough for the level you are competing at. To achieve optimum fitness, consistency is essential. Don’t do random bouts of work, but do something every day, whether you go for a 40min hack one day, school for 40min the next, then practice gridwork, jump a course or go up the gallops. If you are competing at the lower levels, however, make sure that you don’t take your horse to the gallops more than once a week.
Good preparation also includes organising things well in advance if you are going to a competition. Getting to an event and finding that you have left equipment at home is a nightmare. I always use a checklist which you can either keep in the tackroom or have on your phone. Then spend five minutes ensuring that you tick off everything when pacing up the lorry. And always leave enough time if you are off to a competition. Eventing is an expensive sport and you need to enjoy your day — but being in a rush will spoil the experience.
If you are uncomfortable in any way it can jeopardise your performance and make you feel uneasy. Therefore buy a good-fitting saddle for you and your horse, make sure his bridle is fitted correctly and he has the right boots for each phase.
It’s a good idea to receive professional help on the subject. The most common mistakes I see are badly fitting bits, so ensure that whatever bit you use is correctly fitted and make sure that it isn’t too high or too low in the horse’s mouth.
Whether you are aiming for your first BE80 or are trying to get to the Olympics, invest in some lessons. There are no short cuts — everyone should have training as regularly as they can with someone well-respected who understands them and their horse.
In the show jumping practice ring, I invariably see riders jumping far too many fences. Remember that your horse only has so many jumps in him, so try and keep these for the ring. I jump a maximum of eight practice fences and never canter manically round. The whole process should be done in a way to conserve your horse’s energy — so jump the fence, walk, pat the horse and wait for your assistant to raise the pole before carrying on again.
Ride in a steady rhythm across country and remember to rebalance your horse before a fence — sit up and put him on his hocks rather than galloping towards it.
Let your horse travel at his own speed. If you push him too hard out of his comfort zone, this is when horses make mistakes, fall or get injured.
Earlier in my career I worked for Pippa Funnell, who told me that if a horse was being difficult it was fine to be firm and lay down the rules, but if at any point the rider’s heart rate became raised then the horse had won. This means keep calm at all times and never lose your temper with any horse.