So you’ve decoded the entries system, you’ve picked your first event, and you’re wondering whether or not to hit the button which commits you to doing your first BE event. STOP! Before you spend all that money, have a quick glance through our checklist of things you need to be able to do, and do confidently every time, before you go eventing.
1. Ride for at least 6 minutes in a 2-point position. The XC for a BE80 and BE90 event lasts approximately 5 minutes (depending on the length of the course and how fast you’re going). You need to be able to ride in a 2-point position, out of the saddle, without balancing on the neck or reins. And you need to be able to do it as well between the last fence and the finish as you can from the start box to the first fence. Tired riders make mistakes, and tired riders make the job more difficult for the horse. So when you’re out hacking, start doing your trot-work in a 2-point position, and test out your fitness by cantering for 5 minutes in the arena in your 2-point position. If you can do it for 6 minutes, then the XC at your first event will feel short in comparison, and you’ll know you’re fit enough.
2. Warm up in a field and ride a dressage test on grass. It’s very easy to warm your horse up in an arena, when there’s no tannoy, and there aren’t what feels like hundreds of other horses all milling about. But have you practiced warming up in a busy field? If you haven’t, then book in to a suitable test or class at a local show. It doesn’t matter what it is, the aim of the day is to have warmed your horse up in a large field, with all the associated difficulties such as an uneven surface, or a slope, in their dressage tack. It’s helpful to ride a test on grass too, if you can find one.
3. Do your preparation for the XC phase. This could, and possibly should, be a checklist all of its own. Even unaffiliated eventing is expensive, but BE is eyewatering, so why spend the money if you know there is a hole in your training? Go XC schooling, and make sure you’ve got answers to all the questions – make sure you won’t have heart failure if you get there on the day and discover the course builder has put a ditch under what feels like every other fence. Remember that you need to be confident jumping brush fences 20cm higher than the class height (so in a BE80 a brush fence can be up to 1m high including the brush!) Jump tables and benches and roll tops because I can pretty much guarantee there will be at least one of each of those. Have a session where you concentrate on how to jump trakheners and skinny fences and corners. Prepare yourself for success. Make sure that when you go and walk the course, you know you’ve done enough preparation to be sure you and your horse can confidently answer all the questions out on the XC. Have lessons with someone who can explain to you how to approach each fence – do you know what the appropriate gear for a steeplechase fence is in comparison to a set of upright rails, or what your body position should be over a drop, or how to ride a ditch? And do all of this on a real XC course – simulated arena XC is very useful, but it’s no substitute for the real thing. This is the exciting phase, but it’s the most dangerous one too, and it’s worth putting off your eventing debut and having a few more lessons or schooling sessions to make sure you have all the pieces in place before you get into the start box.
4. Make sure you’re happy round a course of show jumps at least 5cm higher than the height you’re competing at. BE80 tracks are allowed to have two fences at the maximum height of 85cm. Everyone knows that when you’re nervous at a competition, things always look enormous, so make sure you’re training at home round 90cm courses and everything will look small when you get to the event. That leaves you with brain-space to concentrate on how you plan to ride in an unfamilar arena.
5. Practice dressage tests without a whip or a caller. At BE events you are not allowed to carry a whip or have a caller in the dressage phase of the event. So make sure you’ve been out and done a handful of tests without either – then you’ll know if there is an issue with your horse falling behind the leg if you don’t have a whip, and you’ll be confident you can remember a test without a caller.
6. Go to an event without a horse. Preferably at a venue you plan to compete at eventually. Go and walk the course, check out how it all works, find out where everything is (not just the warm ups; coffee trucks and loos figure prominently in a day’s planning), talk to the fence judges about whether or not their fence is riding well and if not, what people seem to be doing wrong. If you’re ready for your first event, you should come away feeling excited and thinking there was nothing there which would have posed a problem for you or your horse.
7. Walk lots of courses. Here in the UK we’re incredibly lucky – most of us have several events nearby. So go and walk lots of courses at the level you want to do. Then you’ll know what to expect, what you need to train for, and you’ll get a feel for which courses look good for first timers, and which ones you want to leave until you’ve got some more experience.
8. Groom for a friend. This gives you valuable insider info on all the things you didn’t know you needed to know. Like start fees and hat tags. Or how organised you might need to be between phases. Or how early you need to arrive to have time to walk the XC and get tacked up and ready to start your dressage warmup on time. If you don’t have friends who event ask your trainer if you can go with him/her or another student. If you’re really stuck you might even try asking on a horsey forum! Don’t make the event the first time you meet your prospective “boss” for the day, but this can also be a great way to meet new eventing friends in your area.
9. Practice your warm-ups. You need to go into the warmup for each phase with a plan. The warmup isn’t about schooling your horse, it’s about making sure you go into the arena totally ready to perform well. So have a few lessons with your trainer where you work on warming up for flatwork and jumping. This will mean you are confident in what you are doing even if everyone else looks like they are doing something different – or if you are running late!
10. Compete at each phase individually. It’s easy to do, so reduce the stress on yourself and have a go at each phase individually. Whatever happened in the last phase, good or bad, put it out of your mind and concentrate on the next bit. It’s all part of doing the preparation to make the actual event as stress-free for you as possible.