People in the horse world love dishing out advice, don’t they? Especially unsolicited, and usually at a horrendous time – like when you’ve just been eliminated in a competition and are doing the walk of shame out of the arena, or you’re close to tears after a disaster schooling session, or you’re hopping around after your ill-mannered horse has just squashed your foot under his.
As an equestrian journalist, I’ve given out loads of advice in the form of articles – but only after careful consideration, a healthy dose of research, and always after seeking out the opinions of those far more qualified than me. I’ve written training features with dozens of the world’s best riders and trainers, I’ve spoken to vets, farriers, physios, nutritionists, you name it. And recently I’ve come to the conclusion that I am useless at following my own advice.
Take these competition gems, for example, which I’ve happily shared with other people while successfully ignoring myself.
Proper Planning & Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance
What I say you should do: Be organised. Keep lists of everything you need. Focus your training and fitness towards a certain goal and ensure you are prepared as possible for that event. Allow plenty of time to get ready, travel to the show, get your bearings and perform an adequate warm up.
What I actually do: Enter a show online about three minutes before the entries close. Organise an emergency lesson the day before said show, ride terribly, then tell myself a ‘bad rehearsal means a good performance’. Plan how long it will take me to get to the show, then leave 15 minutes later than I should. Throw all my tack and kit into the horsebox in a rush, invariably forgetting something. Get tacked up and dressed in my competition gear (minus forgotten item) in a blind panic, wondering if nine-and-a-half minutes is long enough to warm up. News flash: it isn’t.
You Can’t Fix Things in the Warm-Up
What I tell people: Your homework should be done at home, not in the warm-up arena. The warm-up is for relaxation, supplying, confidence-building and reassurance. It is NOT the time to teach your horse something new.
What I do: Recall that time we nailed a perfect flying change and try to emulate it during my 9.5 minute warm-up. Horse goes disunited, sticks her head in the air and shoots off. Chaos ensues.
Walk the Course Twice
What I advise: When show jumping, allow yourself plenty of time to walk the course so you can stride out all your distances, plan your lines and have the course firmly set in your mind before you go in.
What I usually do: Leave myself enough time to watch one person jump before my number is called. Trot in cautiously, trying to work out where I’m going after fence number one. Feel so surprised that I’ve gone clear by fence seven that I totally lose count of how many jumps I’ve done and start craning my neck like something out of the Exorcist to work out where on Earth I’m meant to go next. Remember there was no point striding out any distances anyway as that involves being able to spot a stride instead of just pointing towards a fence and hoping.
What I tell others: Don’t forget to breathe! When jumping round a course, keep your breathing in a regular pattern and make sure you think clearly about the approach and get away of each fence or line.
What I’ll be doing: Hold my breath for the entire duration. Turn purple by the end of the course. Wonder why I can’t remember jumping anything at all since the bell rang.
Those are just a few examples, but there are countless more. I am that stereotypical person who can dish out advice but not take it – even from myself. If they handed out rosettes for doing the opposite of what I should be, I’d be an out and out champion.