Competition Planning

The competition season has finally started, at least in part anyway. 

Athletes in sports like Triathlon have fitness programmes that build them up to peak fitness just before the event and then they may have a taper leading up to it so they are fit but well rested for competition day.

Of course sports like football, rugby etc similar to equestrian sports run across a season with one or two events per week. This means tapering isn’t an option-nor is it necessary. However their training may be scheduled and planned according to the competitions. 

For example a heavy training session wouldn’t happen the day before a game. You wouldn’t have a heavy x country schooling session the day before your ODE because your horse would be tired.

The same should apply to you.

Leading up to a weekend competition you may do a mid week heavier workout then the day before some mobilising, activation and general preparation. 

Then post event some stretching and relaxation before training harder a day or so later.

This enables your body to “peak” on the day so all your hard work pays off.

You’re aiming for your body to feel strong and limber on the day, then recover well ready to get back to training a day or so later.

If you plan your own training as well as you plan your horses training you will both be ready to perform at your best on competition day.

Seriously, you can learn it on a Space Hopper

Last week you may have seen my clients hopping around and even over poles on a Space Hopper.

Of course this looked like lots of fun and like we were just messing about. It’s actually a tougher cardio workout than you realise!

However there were some serious lessons being learnt here. Most notably in relation to your internal spring.

When an advanced rider asks for more collection, extension, impulsion even a half halt it can be almost invisible to the rest of us. If asked they might say something like they used their seat, maybe their core ……..but your brain still asks “but how?”

Now the answer is via a serious of muscle contractions and relaxations both from your abdominals, your back, your glutes…….yeh I know “how?”

The thing is its quite a big combination of things going on that unless you can actually narrow all those finite movements down it’s not really a learnable thing by directing muscle contractions.

Enter the Space Hopper!

Bouncing on a Space Hopper gives you feedback on your internal spring system. If you bounce from your middle rather than your legs you can feel how much higher you can go with less effort.

You can feel what it takes to absorb the movement of the hopper (or your horse) underneath you whilst remaining balanced and without tension.

You can play around with height (Collection), distance and speed (extension) and then when you’ve got the hang of it try upwards and downwards transitions and half halts. It sounds really silly and kind of wishy washy to say to just think it, try playing around with taking a breath using more or less tension in your middle and glutes. See what a different feel it gives you. Which is exactly why it works! You can play around with it and the space hopper will give you a different feeling.

You can do most of this with a regular gym ball you just might struggle to move forward -it’s not impossible just tricky without the handles!

I’d love to know if you give this a try and see what you can discover about how your body can affect your horse.


I bet your horse eats better than you ……..

Most riders will give lots of thought into their horses diet, researching different products perhaps even seeking advice from a nutritionist. 

Yet when I speak to the riders about their own diet, they are usually running on caffeine and chocolate! 

This leaves them:

  • Lacking Energy 
  • Constantly tired
  • Feeling weak
  • Aching muscles 
  • Not getting enough nutrition to enable their bodies repair and recover
  • Struggling to focus

Riding and looking after horses is physical work.

if you have a desk job, one horse on full livery so it’s just the riding element you’re doing, that takes less fuel than someone who mucks out a couple of stables, carries buckets and feed etc. Then there’s the professional who possibly rides for several hours a day and still will do some yard work. 

Whichever situation is yours it’s still up to you to fuel yourself properly to keep up your end of the partnership with your horse. If you lack the energy to use your body effectively and to think clearly your horse isn’t going to be able to perform at his best.

I get that we can be super busy people and it’s just easy to grab bars of chocolate or packets of crisp, drink another coffee for some energy but it’s not helping your performance and it’s definitely not helping your health. 

So instead of viewing eating well as an all encompassing thing taking hours of your time preparing absolutely everything from scratch; make it easy for yourself. Do a little cheating and just aim to make better choices rather than perfect choices.

Think about including a protein source in every meal-lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, legumes or beans.

Then add either fruit (most commonly at breakfast) or vegetables at every meal and that’s a really solid foundation. 

Then you can add your starchy carbs -oats, rice, pasta, potatoes, bread as necessary. 

Yes you can still have a little treat just not at all meals all day. 

I promise you will feel and perform heaps better with proper fuel.

Here’s some of the stuff I do to make healthy eating a little easier.


  • I buy pre prepared soup for lunch so I just have to heat it up.
  • I have a fortnightly fruit box delivery on subscription so I always have healthy snacks. 
  • I pour oats and milk into a microwaveable tub and take breakfast with me to eat mid morning as I don’t tend to fancy it or have time first thing. You could do this with granola and yoghurt or make a smoothie or protein shake…… it pre made if you want to!
  • Pre prepare- make breakfast and lunch the night before. You could batch cook mid week meals and make all your lunches etc in one go. Tupperware is your friend! 
  • Scrambled eggs on toast is an excellent fast meal. Packet rice, cooked chicken, whatever it takes to save time and still eat healthy meals.
  • Drink more water.
  • Swap some of your caffeine for herbal tea. There are zillions of flavours so just experiment to find some you like.
  • Plan when you’re going to eat if you have packed days. I have to do this to fit it in around clients, making sure I know I may have to eat lunch earlier or later, or if I’m recording online workouts to do them earlier so I can eat breakfast afterwards otherwise I’d be too full! 


My very wise friend said something the other day that really resonated with me.

“In order to change the horses body language we need to change the riders body language.”

If you’re stiff, tight and full of tension when you ride how do you think that transfers to your horse? It’s probably also tense and stiff. 

If you’re weak, a bit wishy washy and lacking some oomph what do you think that says to your horse? It probably means he’s meandering along not really moving with purpose. 

I completely accept and understand that a substantial element of this can be related to our mental state. If you’re feeling tense, stressed or lethargic it can be hard to hide that within your riding.

That is certainly something we need to deal with before we get on if we don’t want it to affect our ride.

  • Have a pre ride routine. A physical warm up is good to prepare both body and mind to ride well.


  • Pack away all your other thoughts into an imaginary box-you can unpack them and deal with them after your ride. 


  • Have a plan for your ride so you really focus on what you want to achieve. Often the simplest thing can be just focusing on accuracy-I said simple not easy! Ride the straightest lines you can, make transitions or movements right on the letters. This will help to focus your brain on the task in hand.


However it is not just the mental state that affects how your body reacts and feels when you ride. 

If you aren’t balanced you will either be wobbling all over the place or tense and clinging on. 

If you aren’t fit enough to sustain your effort for the full duration of your ride, you won’t be giving clear, intentional aids. You will perhaps feel like a heavier weight to your horse which means he will have to work harder to carry you.

This is why it’s important to be fit and strong enough to ride. 

If you ride light, well balanced and with enough muscle tension to have control of your body this will transfer to your horse. If you can also get your head in the game you’re going to be a winning combination.