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BLOG: Mental preparation in dressage

Emma Booth and Zidane - © Roger Fitzhardinge

Emma Booth and Zidane competing at the Boneo Classic CDEPI3*.

© Roger Fitzhardinge


By Emma Booth

Dressage can be such a difficult sport mentally, with highs and lows that only other competitive riders can truly understand.

There are so many things that have to come together on competition day in order for it to be a success. Two of the most important things in my opinion, are the attitude of the rider and the attitude of the horse. Next comes the assistance from the coach on the ground, however without the first two things performing well, there is only so much a coach can assist with at the time.

I do believe having your coach warm you up at a competition can undoubtedly assist with your overall performance. One of the best things they can do is watch the test and give feedback immediately after - this is when the pressure is off the rider and the test is fresh in their mind. I believe this is when the feedback is going to have the biggest impact. Whether it was a good test or bad, having your coach go over what worked or didn’t soon after riding it, is one of the best ways to improve in the future. As a rider, we can then take on this information and process it after the show.

Going back to my first two points of horse and rider mindset, this is where it gets really tricky, particularly for amateur riders learning, but even for top level Grand Prix riders.

Often the riders’ mindset can be so influential on one’s performance, even if they may not realise it at the time. If you are not focused, or are perhaps nervous, your horse can easily feel this in your riding, which has probably changed slightly compared to at home. They will then think something isn’t quite normal, and being flight or fight animals, will react accordingly. This most often results in tension, which as we all know, can impact on even the nicest horses’ and riders’ tests. This is actually in fact where we lose some of the easiest marks.


Emma Booth, 2017 Sydney CDI. © Stephen Mowbray (for use in Emma's blog only)

Emma in action.

© Stephen Mowbray

On the other hand, it may be that you are feeling cool, calm and collected on competition morning and are mentally prepared to ride a super test, but the difficult thing with horses is that they are living creatures and also have a mind of their own. If they are not with you, the whole test can fall apart no matter how prepared you may have felt. Your preparation in the weeks leading up could be fantastic, but something might upset your horse on competition day and there goes the good test that you know you can both do.

So back to my initial statement that dressage is a mentally tough sport - in order to be a great rider, you have to have the ability to put bad days/rides behind you, and stay focused on moving forward. If this is something you are unable to do, you are never going to be a super competitive rider. So my advice would be this; if you want to be competitive, think about preparing strategies to cope with good and bad situations, specifically relating to your horse and competition results. As a dressage rider, or any competitive rider for that matter, you must come to accept that there is always going to be certain elements out of your control. It is how we manage these circumstances when they arise, that will determine how truly skilled at being a competitive rider we really are.


Emma Booth and Zidane in training. © Michelle Terlato Photography

Emma Booth and Zidane in training.

© Michelle Terlato Photography




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