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Warming to the task

This article has appeared previously with Equestrian Life. To see what's in the current issue, please click here.

Show your horse the arenas and the atmosphere when ever you get the chance. © Roger Fitzhardinge

Show your horse the arenas and the atmosphere when ever you get the chance.

© Roger Fitzhardinge


By Roger Fitzhardinge

If the warm-up is where a class is won or lost, you are halfway there if you can keep the competition warm-up routine the same as you do at home.

With years of training successfully completed, it now comes down to replicating the best work that you do at home in the competition arena. The variables for each horse and rider combination are infinite, and every rider’s mental state on the day, and how competition stress affects them, must be taken into account. The horse is the No.1 priority here, because a calm and logical horse that presents as it does at home will make every rider react in a more positive way. To get your horse to be as it is at home takes careful consideration.


Remember to keep your horse happy and not overloaded with new work leading up to the competition.

© Roger Fitzhardinge

The most important thing about any warm-up for a competition is that it begins at least a week out. Every day for a week before should be your warm-up. Here are a few things to consider – and this is for your horse’s first competition.

•    Keep the work normal and avoid pre-competition anxiety where you think you suddenly need to make the work so much better because you must win! It’s good to keep it simple, as easy exercises won’t pressure him in the week before a big competition.

•    Do not increase feed just because because you think he needs to be fatter. With some horses it’s better to taper the energy food and give ample hay towards the competition. On the other hand, if it’s a very seasoned horse and you know the show will be taxing, then it may be necessary to increase the energy food a little.

•    Try to have a basic daily warm-up routine before you start serious work so your horse is very familiar with it, and at the competition it’s the same: normal and familiar.

•    Make certain you have travelled your horse to venues before and are familiar with his reaction to travelling. Does he get hot and won’t need rugs? What side of the float is better for him? Does he tie up to the float? Is he easily spooked? (in which case, arrive with plenty of time to familiarise, whether by leading him around the arenas, lunging or riding him).

•    Arrive with plenty of time and park in a quiet area with good footing and shade. If stables are available and that appeals, take them; or is he calmer left on the float with water and feed and regular walks? These factors need to be known before competition day. If the option of being there a day ahead is there to familiarise yourselves, you will be better equipped for the competition.

•    Try not to change the routine leading in to the show and always make sure that you as the rider are well prepared and there’s nothing to organise at the last minute.

•    The day before, if you have a familiarisation session, keep the work appropriate to your horse’s attitude. Spooky and worried? Take time to show him and let him sort it out in his own time. Too much energy needs addressing with perhaps a couple of rides and a wash and a break in between. A walk in-hand and a pick of grass always help. It is knowing your horse and what works best for him. If you are at home keep the work normal. Do not give him an easy day but make sure you end the session in a relaxed and well-worked way.


To lead your horse around to show him the areas is a good way to familiarise stress free.

© Roger Fitzhardinge

•    Be prepared for competition day. Know the tests and the arena you are in, your times and your warm-up area. As a habit, carry your registration papers, whether needed or not, your height certificate and membership card. And remember there may be swabbing and you need to be confident you haven't ignored withholding times for additives and the like.


Make certain you know the tests and the arena and you have all the paperwork required!

© Roger Fitzhardinge

Being so well prepared will give you confidence because you have all areas covered. The more you compete and train, and the more familiarisation and protocol days you get under your belt, the better, as competence leads to confidence.

At the competition it is really helpful to have a good friend or mentor to help you get ready and travel with you. It must be someone you have confidence in and who will pay attention solely to you and your horse’s needs; someone who is calm and methodical and not one to go off chatting when there is work to be done. If you are calm and happy, and have a friend and helper on your side, it is amazing the difference it makes.