Before we begin, I'd like to say a huge thank you to the judges who contributed to this article for sharing their insight. (also, fyi, I told them their responses would remain anonymous so I haven't included any names).
But enough from me. Here are their responses:
1. Relax and do what you know how to do!
2. Allow me to pin you. If you get a difficult horse, don't make a hard situation worse by overreacting or making a big production. Instead, show me that you are educated and can ride through. I will reward you for it.
3. For over fences: take your time upon entering the ring. Walk. Don't rush picking up the canter, you don't want to make the simple mistake of missing the lead.
4. Turnout is so important. Sometimes riders don't place as high as they could have because of their turnout: hairnets, clean clothes, shirttails tucked in, etc. First impressions are very important!
5. Keep riding and working with that horse, no matter what difficulties you might encounter. Sometimes I don't make up my mind between first and second or some other placings until the very end of the class. A rider keeping her/his cool and riding things out can make the final decision for me.
6. Do your homework. Practice as much as possible. Remember first impressions are critical so have your show clothes and helmet clean and boots so shined I could see my face in them. Read sports psychology books. Have a plan with your coach and sleep enough and eat like an athlete. Most important have fun and ENJOY the ride. You earned it!
7. Taking into account that each rider has qualified for the competition based on prior results - it's a little late to try to change too much in the way a rider will perform INSIDE the arena. I recommend riders plan a strategy and make a game plan starting at the present moment and leading up through to the entire competition weekend for everything OUTSIDE the arena - I believe many riders miss out on achieving their maximum performance because they let distractions keep them from focusing and getting into "the Zone" - take a minute to mentally visualize and walk through the entire process.
8. Ask yourself questions about the following:
- Am I in shape mentally and physically?
- Do my show clothes / boots fit and are they clean and ready?
- Do I know who the judges are and what is their overall riding / equitation philosophy?
- What is my schedule for lessons and riding time leading up to the competition?
- Do I have my entire schedule figured out for each day at the competition?
- Practice breathing techniques during every lesson and carry it over to your classes!