The eventing season is getting started and, before you know it, you will be driving to your first competition. Without proper preparation, that first run can make the nerves jangle for both rider and horse, but put in your homework and you will arrive full of confidence, safe in the knowledge that you are as ready as you will ever be.
So what should you bear in mind before you load your horse into the lorry and hit the road?
• At least a month before your first event, draw up a list that includes elements such as fitness, feeding, bitting and tack checks. When it comes to bitting, bear in mind that at an atmospheric competition you may need more ‘brakes’ than you do at home.
• Book the horse dentist and the physio well in advance to ensure that there are no last-minute health hitches. Also work in a visit from the farrier. Keep an eye on your horse’s condition as you work him regularly. Check his legs daily, as well as his body for any small cuts and bruises that could become worse if left untreated.
• Ensure that your horse’s passport and injections are up to date. He needs to have had his first two flu injections before he can compete. You need to leave seven clear days between a flu injection and the event.
• Take him to unaffiliated dressage and show jumping shows to get him used to a competition atmosphere, and also to hone his skills in the arena if one of these disciplines is his weakest phase. Additionally go cross-country schooling or even to your local hunter trials for practice over the solid fences.
• Avoid the temptation to over fitten your horse. As your first event will be at the lower levels — maybe a BE80(T) — a regime of regular schooling and hacking will see most horses fit enough for such a challenge. He isn’t likely to need to go to the gallops every week. If you make this mistake, his high fitness levels could make him hard to handle on the day.
• The same goes for feeding. Filling him full of concentrates will only make him fizz. Speak to one of the leading feed manufacturers’ free helplines if you are unsure what to feed him in the lead up to an event.
• Don’t forget your own fitness, as well as your nutritional needs. The build up to an event is the time to kick the sugary snacks and start loving the slow-release carbs that will see you fighting fit at the end of three phases. Also pack some healthy food for yourself as well as your horse on the day itself.
• Take advice on which event would be suitable for your first outing. If you feel that a few runs at unaffiliated level, where the competitions tend to be more low-key and laid-back, would be best for you, ask your trainer or an experienced friend to recommend the perfect venue.
• Pack the lorry the night before, checking off items from a list as you put them in. There is nothing more stressful than forgetting something vital.
• Set your alarm early on the day so that you have plenty of time for working in and walking the cross-country course.
• Don’t feel pressured to do well. You may have spent hours practising, but by expecting too much of yourself and your horse, the nerves will kick in and may undermine your performance.
• It’s easy to forget that your horse may be as nervous as you are. You will need to discuss this issue with your trainer beforehand and have a plan in place should he be ‘hot’ to handle. Don’t lose your cool with him. The more relaxed you are the more quickly he is likely to calm down.
• Remember the fun factor. Eventing is supposed to be enjoyable, so relish both the journey and the goal itself.
Image by Maloq, public domain