ver the past few months, we've taken a deep dive into the benefits - as well as the downsides - of riding to win versus chasing a technically 'perfect' round (if you haven’t read the previous installments, start from the beginning). Now, it’s time to bring everything together and figure out the best strategy for your own riding. Let's start with a quick recap of what we have learned so far, just to warm up your memory, then jump right into how to prepare to lay down productive, winning rounds - and know when to apply different strategies to different rides.
What we have learned so far
Aiming to ride a technically 'perfect' round where horse and rider become one, where every obstacle is taken effortlessly and where the same rhythm flows from start to finish, comes down to great detail and practice. Training and aiming for this harmony is what makes us better riders and should always be our goal. Similarly, when going for the win – thinking, turning, and reacting faster should also be skills that we train. This way, when we are able to go all in, we know what we can and cannot do and we have more confidence in our quick thinking and jump-off abilities. So preparation and training are the key takeaways here.
(Ready to ride for the win? Here's an in-depth look at the strategy you need to take)
Preparing for success
What I have learned from interviewing some of the most successful riders in showjumping is that they do exactly that – they always prepare for success. Chasing the podium is something they have been preparing for long in advance. The more prepared you are, the more you can focus on execution when at the show. So let’s set you up for success.
Step 1. Know why you want what you want
First of all, make sure you know why you are aiming for either a technically 'perfect' round or victory (even if it's messy), especially if you tend to always go for one of these approaches and not the other. If you, for example, always chase that beautiful, smooth round and avoid taking risks, this might be a sign you are too focused on perfection and not allowing yourself to make mistakes and, with that, becoming a better rider. Riding to win is part of competing too, so instead of riding to avoid mistakes, ride to ride great!
Step 2. Make a clear plan
Now that you are aware of your options and have a clear idea of your 'why,' take the time to prepare for your next show season in-depth. Perhaps there is a specific event or show you want to perform well at? First consider, with your trainer or coach if necessary, whether your goal is achievable and reasonable. If your goal is realistic yet challenging for you and your horse, then go for it! If you prefer to focus on a more consistent season instead of aiming for one event, that’s fine too. It's all dependent on your long-term goals, where you are as a rider, and where your horses are in their training. If you have a young horse, your goal might be to build confidence and train adjustability. If you have reached a place in your partnership where results are attainable and important, then you might be aiming for a top three spot at several key events.
[Have you hit a plateau in your riding? Here's what to do to fix it.]
One rider who clearly embodies planning and working towards specific goals and shows is Cian O’ Conner. He explains: “I think with a goal, you shouldn’t be afraid to aim high. However, you have to be realistic too. There’s no point in someone with no experience saying, ‘I am going to the Olympics next year.’ Instead, aim to go there in eight years. You pick your target and don’t be afraid to aim high, then work back from it.”
Step 3. Work backward from the goal
Once you have decided what you’re aiming for, start planning backward from there. What do you need to train and work on to be able to achieve your goal?
Make sure that along the way, you keep listening to your horse. Keep checking in to see if your horse is still up for the challenge and improving or performing according to plan.
Step 4. Stay flexible on your journey
With horses, it’s always tricky to plan, so stay flexible along the way. If your horse is giving you feedback that he or she is not ready yet for the next step, then wait! Give your horse the time it needs. Another great example from Cian: “Imagine you want to jump the world championships and one of the mini goals is a particular show six weeks before, but you arrive there and the ground is diabolical – then you don’t risk the bigger goal [for the smaller one]. You scrap that one. Don’t be afraid to be strong. You have to always keep the bigger picture in mind.”
Photos by Sportfot.