As you reflect on the past year, and look forward to the next defining your goals in your training and competition schedule with your horse, Erin Alberda has given us a clear and concise outline of of how to develop a plan. Erin Alberda has competed locally, nationally, and internationally in para dressage since 2005. Prior to the onset of her disability in 2000, she rode and competed hunters, including as a member of her IHSA team at Sweet Briar College. She currently volunteers her time as a member of the USEF Para Equestrian Technical Committee, and as the Director of Dressage for Equestrians Institute. Erin lives in Woodinville, WA with her fiance, dogs, and chickens, and in her "free" time is an Acupuncturist. "With the right goals, a good plan, a well-thought out budget, and a great team backing you, nothing will stop you from succeeding in the show ring! Success is in the details, so here is a quick guide to tackling a lot of those details before you find yourself and X, Halt, Salute."
Identify your Goals
First off, I suggest identifying both big-picture (“macro”) and nitty-gritty (“micro”) goals. Your “macro” goal might be to qualify for regional championships at first level, but perhaps your “micro” goals would be to keep breathing in the ring, or to ride your halts well 100% of the time. Remember, it is perfectly Ok for your goal to be “Have a safe, fun, outing with my horse”!
Second, it’s time to get real about that goal. One of the most overlooked aspects in preparation is to do a brutal, honest assessment of where you are at right now, today. A lot of riders make show plans based on where they think they should/could/might be, but this ultimately places undue pressure on training and learning, which invariably takes it’s own sweet time. Let’s be honest, if you want to succeed at 3rd level, but are still struggling with the flying change, this might not be your year. If you work with a coach, schedule a meeting outside of a lesson time to talk about goals. If you don’t work with a coach/trainer, here are some ideas on how to get a handle on where you’re at:
- Look at where you finished last season. Did you achieve your goals? What were your strengths? Weaknesses? Have you been training regularly through the winter?
- Consider hauling out to a local trainer for a one-time evaluation. Impartial eyes are often well worth the investment.
- Take a good, solid look at the tests and the directives at the levels, and on each movement in the test. Understanding what is truly expected may help guide you as to whether you are truly ready to “move up”.
Make a Plan
So, now that you hopefully have put pen to paper on your “macro” and a few “micro” goals, it’s time to turn those goals into an action plan. Identify strengths and weaknesses in you and your horse, so you know where you will need to spend additional time and focus.
Break down your goal into pieces that can then be placed into a timeline. For example, if your goal for this year is a 62% at second level, and you have identified that your horse is still a little weak in the collection think about what you need to do to develop your horse’s strength for the collection, and perhaps identify some benchmarks to test your progress.
Think about when you want to get out to your first show, and how that fits into your training plan. Do you want to start with a schooling show? How many shows do you plan to do over the season? If you aren’t working with a trainer regularly, do you plan to schedule in a few lessons along the way to help “put the polish on”? There are now websites that offer professional judging if you submit a video of your test – what a great starting point for the green horse or rider to get a benchmark!
Make a Budget
This is the not always fun part, but it’s crucial, and absolutely ties into your Plan. Horse shows are expensive, there’s no way around it. Take a good hard look at the shows on your plan, and crunch the numbers. Don’t cut corners here! Remember all the costs – beyond show fees and memberships, think of hard costs for feed and bedding, any new show tack, vetting costs, coaching and hauling fees, stabling, your gas, hotel and food, and any other thing you can come up with.
If the budget for your plan is shocking (and it might be), don’t panic.; It just means you might need to cut out one less show, or think of ways to bridge the gap. Are there ways to share costs with riding buddies? Do you have friends that might offer up some help at the shows in exchange for your help around the barn, or at a show you aren’t competing at?
Having a Budget allows you to plan your finances appropriately, will reduce your stress, and allow you to focus on your Plan.
Identify your Team
I firmly believe that “it takes a village” to succeed in the show ring. The first members of your Team should be your veterinarian and farrier. Have your vet out for a “once over” before the season starts (you might just schedule a little extra time during spring vaccinations). Talk with your vet about your plans for show season, any concerns about soundness, health, medications, or travel. Remember to schedule your Coggins and Health Certificate well in advance of any planned competition or travel. Talk to your farrier about shoeing schedule if you have travel planned, and whether you need to change shoeing schedules around any big competitions. Talk to your farrier about any concerns you have about footing at the show grounds, your horses hoof health, and whether any changes would be beneficial.
So who else belongs on your Team? Consider whether you would benefit from working with a trainer once a week or once a month to help stay on target. Hauling out to lessons can be good practice for both you and your horse for trailering, and riding in different environments. A good trainer can also help you work on your show warm-up routine.
One of the most important, indispensable members of your Team is the “Horse Show Buddy”. Horse people are tough and seem to have an innate need to prove that they can “go it alone”. One of the best ways to achieve your goals is to stay focused on them, and that means staying focused on your horse and your riding. Having a “Horse Show Buddy” to help you with chores, run to the office, make sure the rings are running on time, and ensure you are spit-shined before you enter the ring can be a huge boost. While the professionals often have grooms to help keep them on task, every rider benefits from having support. Do you have a friend who isn’t showing this year? Would they enjoy getting out to the shows with you? Do you have a new junior rider at your barn who would benefit from learning the ropes? Think about how much more fun your showing experience could be if you share it with a friend, and pay your education and experience forward!
With the right goals, a good plan, a well-thought out budget, and a great team backing you, nothing will stop you from succeeding this year in the show ring! Go put pen to paper, and get ready to head down centerline this spring!