Choose the level most suited to you and your horse's ability. It is not wise to place yourself and your horse under pressure on the day of the competition.
Start practicing early. Do not wait until a couple of days before the competition to practice. Early practice pinpoints areas that will need more focusing.
Know your test! Do not depend on having someone read it out for you at the competition. Grab a pencil and paper and graph the test out by drawing as many rectangles (to represent the arena) as it takes you to graph out the whole test.
Do not repeat the test over and over during practice since your horse may begin to anticipate the movements.
If your horse is young and inexperienced, take him to a few show grounds to get him used to the atmosphere.
Get well accustomed to the dressage arena if you're going for elementary or second level dressage, which is performed at the 20m x 60m arena.
You may want to try to walk the test on foot, much like walking a jumping course, to help you memorize it. You can walk the test in the dressage arena, in your backyard, or even in your room. Tip submitted by orbit Jen.
When you have thoroughly memorized your test, start visualizing the sequence in your mind. Psychological preparation is as important as physical preparation. Visualize the whole test and let your mind see you and your horse perform perfectly on the day of the competition.
A couple of days before the competition, start planning the day. Write down what time you will have to get up, when you will load the horse into the trailer, when you will arrive at the show, etc. Get even to the smallest details such as the time you will begin plaiting the mane. Make an additional list of the items you will be carrying with you to the show, i.e. clothing, tack, plaiting set, etc.
If you're planning on using brand new equipment, make sure you test them thoroughly. Example, ride in your new saddle to get familiar with it, soften the leather, and check if it properly fits your horse.
Give the horse a
scrub a day before to ensure that he will shine!
It's Show time!
Arrive early--approximately 2 1/2 hours before your scheduled entry. Nothing is more damaging to the nerves than running behind schedule!
If you're new to the grounds, explore the area with your horse in-hand to familiarize yourself with the atmosphere.
Make sure you dress according to your affiliation. Check to see that your bridle and bits, whether snaffle or double, meet the criteria specified by your dressage association.
Plan to have your meals at least a couple of hours before you mount to allow your stomach time to digest. An upset stomach is best avoided!
If you're no good at plaiting, plan to have someone do it for your horse. A good plait goes a long way.
Give yourself 30 to 40 minutes warm up period.
Walk on a loose rein during for 5 or 10 minutes before you begin your warm-up as this will help calm your nerves and relax the horse.
To help your horse get on the bit, give him an apple half way through your warm-up. This will induce salivating and will easily get him on the bit.
Lunging the horse for 10 or 15 minutes before your warm-up will quieten him down if he's fresh.
Do not over-work your horse to avoid exhaustion. The horse must be in good shape when he enters the arena.
If you're nervous,
take a moment to close your eyes and take a few, deep breaths, exhaling
slowly each time.
Before the Judge
When riding around the arena, stay on the rein that you will follow once you enter. For example, if the test asks you to turn right at A, maintain the right rein until the judge signals your entrance. This will keep the horse thinking 'right' and will make him less likely to wander off the centerline.
Ride with more impulsion than usual when trotting down the centerline as this prevents the horse from wandering and wobbling.
Smile and look confidently in the judge's eyes. It enhances your image if you appear happy against all odds.
When riding circles, think that you're trying to make 'diamond shape'. This is to ensure that you meet all the right points on the arena while maintaining the correct bend.
Make a clear difference between riding loops or circles and riding the corners. Ride the corner as deep as you can.
Be accurate! Perform your movements exactly at the letter. Keep circles as circles and not as squares or ovals. The judges are impressed by accuracy and won't mark you down too much if the horse's paces are not as good.
Plan your transitions. Half halt to balance the horse two or three strides before the transition. Try to keep him balanced and on the bit for a smooth transition.
Where lengthened strides are required, extend your horse's strides rather than rush them. You will not be able to fool the judge if you run instead of extend. A slow and well-balanced pace is better than a clumsy, rushed extension.
Where the test says 'walk on a long rein' do not drop your contact completely. It does not say 'walk on a loose rein', so keep the contact and encourage the horse to stretch down by secretly sponging the reins.
It may help you keep an image of your favorite rider in your mind as you ride your test. You will be surprised how close you will come to imitating him or her!
End the test with a hearty salute and a wide smile even if you feel you have messed up. Again, this small gesture will gain you the judge's respect.
And last but not least, stay positive! Good Luck!