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Posted on Apr 29, 2015 in Articles, Top tips, Training

Dressage competition tips From Jess Wilson rider of Santo Hit

Dressage competition tips From Jess Wilson rider of Santo Hit


The date is set, the entry is in and your dressage competition is fast approaching, so how should you ensure both you and your horse are correctly prepared for a successful and enjoyable day? As Benjamin Franklin famously said: “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”


Most riders would be lost without a list. There is a lot to pack for competitions, especially if you are staying away and having a list you can check off as you pack will make life a whole lot easier. It goes without saying – never tick off anything that is not packed or take it back out of the trailer or lorry when it has been checked off. It is also worth listing items individually, i.e. saddle, stirrups, girth, just in case something has been taken off for cleaning or falls off when walking to lorry to put in the locker. If you are competing regularly it is worth considering having some essentials (see table 1) that are left in the lorry or in a ‘competition box’ which is purely for show days.

Additional items
Grooming kit


Number disk

Test sheets

Baby wipes and baler twine

Spare head collar – incase of breakages or needing to help catch a loose horse!

Spare plaiting bands – incase of stray hairs or plaits being rubbed out

Water and bucket for horse to drink from and rinse off

Electrolyte syringe and fly spray in the event of hot weather

Dry saddle cloth incase first one gets sweaty

Massage pad – some people like to use these to relax muscles from traveling before riding

Steps to get on

Rescue remedy

Watch – a lot easier and safer than keep asking the time or checking a phone

Music CD – if riding in a freestyle to music class, have a spare copy incase of technical problems and remember to have it clearly labeled and with your music license labels on


It is important to check your tack in advance, as should you need to replace anything you will have time to do so. Ensure you check stitching on leathers and girth straps thoroughly as these can be particularly dangerous if they break. It is also best to make sure your tack is clean prior to the day to reduce unnecessary stress the night before or on the day of competition.

Adequate rest

When looking at your own personal preparation remember to give yourself a fair chance to do your best, get an early night and make sure you have adequate time to prepare your horse and yourself before setting off. Always do as much preparation as you can before competition day and drink plenty of water to reduce the chance of dehydration.  Learn your test inside out even if you plan to have it called, then you will be familiar and comfortable with exactly where you need to go. If you require a caller, enquire prior to the show as many venues offer a calling service for a small fee usually donated to charity.

Consider your horse

For your horses preparation consider their personal health and fit of tack, their hydration and their comfort in transit. In earlier preparation consider fitness and training level – are they able to perform the movements required? Are they familiar with the process of shows, warming up with others, standing on the lorry and staying away?

Leave enough time

Plan your journey and allow enough time for delays. It is better to get there early and have time to watch a couple of tests over a cup of tea than be pulling into the car park, throwing tack on and trotting down the centre line! Make sure you know exactly where you are going, print off directions or the address for the satnav if you are unfamiliar with the route. Make sure you have charge on your phone should you need to use it in an emergency.

The trainers role

For big competitions I try to make sure my trainer is with me to help me warm up, I find it helps to improve focus and have everything finely tuned which in turn makes me feel really relaxed, prepared and focussed. We have usually discussed a warm up plan in advance so I know how long before my test I need to get on and of course allowing five minutes extra to put my jacket on, have a drink of water and take boots and bandages off. It also means that your trainer’s knowledge and experience can be called on should you get an unexpected feeling from your horse, perhaps because of the atmosphere or something that may be going on in the warm-up along side you.

Rules of the warm up

When warming up remember to pass left to left and if walking, walk on the inside track. Be aware of what is going on around you in the warm up for your safety and the safety of others, if you can see someone is having difficulties, allow them a little space, for example cantering past another horse who is having a moment is not only inconsiderate but potentially dangerous.

The young horse

All of these aspects are things that can make the experience all the more relaxed and enjoyable for all. If taking out a young or inexperienced horse it may be worth hiring an arena at the venue you are going to in order to familiarise the horse with the environment and be able to take your time to build their confidence without having to ride a test.

Enjoy your day

Like many, when I started competing I got nervous, but very quickly I realised with the correct preparation competing can be a lot of fun. I am on a beautiful horse whom I have trained and put a lot of time and effort into and I am fortunate enough to be in a position to have this horse and the pertinacity to compete why ruin it being nervous?! Enjoy it, you never know what is around the corner, particularly with horses, so make the most of it! Somebody once said to me: “will worrying change the outcome?” these five words have been some of the most helpful ever said to me, if worrying will not change the outcome, why worry?! Makes perfect sense really and a worrying rider certainly will not help themselves or their horse.

You may be dipping your toe into dressage waters, taking out a young or inexperienced horse for experience or be a more experienced combination already working your way up the levels but whatever the reason for your outing it is so important to see it for what it is … a trip out, if this one doesn’t go quite to plan there will be others.

Preparing for the next outing

Reflection! This must not be forgotten when looking at competition tips and preparation as this is your preparation for the next and often one of the most important as it affects the state of mind to which with you enter your next competition. I quote Joep Bartles (Imke Bartles father) who said: “There are no real problems, there are no real mistakes – there are just learning experiences”, this is so true. Be sure to look at your outing objectively, what is done is done, there is no point in having regrets, just the opportunity to learn and go into your next competition better prepared or with a new strategy to try, this is learning, this is progress, mileage can never be underestimated. And when it goes well, enjoy it, reward you horse and the experience of success you have gained together!

So in summary, prepare, relax and enjoy!

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