Everything Else

Your First 3 Day – Top Tips, from me (and our readers hopefully!)

We’ve had a request for help from someone who is doing their first ever 3-day event, and wants a heads-up on things to know ahead of time. I’ve done my best, but please feel free to suggest any other ideas I haven’t thought of.

Screen shot 2015-06-07 at 12.48.10

Me and my stunning “Smooth Talker” in action at our first ever CCI event, back in 1992. I wish I’d known a lot of these things back then – I think I spent the week in a daze of confusion!

Additional things to take:
Extra bridle/headcollar numbers. Your horse MUST wear its number every moment it is out of the stable, including just grazing in hand. Taking extra ones with you means you don’t have to fiddle around with transferring them from bridle to headcollar.

A staple gun and spare thick plastic bags (HiFi bags or similar). These are invaluable if it turns very wet and the front of your temporary stable is letting in water. Someone helped me out with these at my first 3 Day, and I have never forgotten how useful they were!

For mucking out I take a HiFi bag and thick rubber gloves, and a small plastic hand shovel. Bear in mind that any mucking out stuff is quite likely to be ‘borrowed’ from outside your lorry or stable. (I spent a very annoyed 2 hours looking for my wheelbarrow once after the rider next door took it without asking and left it at his stable. Nice! Now I don’t take one!) A bag and gloves are small enough to fold up and shove behind your bale of forage, so much less likely to be ‘borrowed’. The walk to the muckheap is usually very short, so a trip or two with a bag of muck and shavings is not an effort.

Screen shot 2015-06-06 at 09.07.51Food and drink wise, take lots! It’s easy to get really exhausted at a 3-day, running on adrenalin and excitement, walking the course multiple times, and not sleeping as well as at home. Take foods you can grab and that you’ll fancy eating even if you are on the run. Extras for socialising are always a good idea obviously!

If you can, get people to take lots of photos, behind the scenes as well as of you in action… these will become something to treasure.

Check the weather forecast, and take lots of extra clothes if it is likely to be wet. Drying clothes is a nightmare at a 3 day and you can end up running out of dry clothes if you’re not prepared.
On Arrival.
Your horse will be compared against its passport when you unload, it’s not like a 1-day where passport checks are done randomly. They will keep the passport for the duration… remember to go and get it at the end of the event. (It’s easy to forget!)

Screen shot 2015-06-06 at 09.01.00The Trot Up.
Make sure you check what time you will be going at… there’s sometimes a misunderstanding if they are running different sections at a 3 day and doing the trot-ups simultaneously, not one after the other.
Wear shoes you can run in, and a lightweight waterproof jacket is a good idea to keep your nice outfit immaculate if you don’t have a groom to hand your horse to you at the last minute. Walk around a lot, keeping the horse limber, but away from everyone else’s possibly hyped-up horses.  It’s good to have practiced trotting-up in hand so you can get the horse to accelerate and decelerate as you do, without any pulling being required, and so that you know the speed of jog which shows off your horse at its best.

Screen shot 2015-06-06 at 09.06.34Before Your Dressage Test.
Try not to overdo it just because you are finally there. Don’t suddenly work the horse far harder or twice a day, or go crazy trying to turn him into Valegro in the last 2 days, or to get him fitter. What’s done is done, now is the time to enjoy it.  Go for hacks, do a bit of schooling here and there.

Don’t be overawed by who is around you, get into your bubble and concentrate on yourself and your horse; that is what they are all doing!

Schedule your final jump session (if you decide to do one at the event, after your test is done) with a time when the jumps are available (they are Stewarded at 3-days, you can’t just go and practice whenever you like.) You’ll be told the times at the Competitors’ Briefing. Be aware that trainers might be putting up mock-ups of some of the trickier xc combinations, but it is up to you whether you decide to do this (or take advantage of their fence-building efforts!) or not.

Course Walking.
Walk the course a few times, ideally at least once with someone much more experienced than you who knows your horse, and make sure your last course walk is not full of distractions. Lots of riders prefer to do their last one alone, concentrating solely on their plans and lines. Remember that YOU know your horse, strangers don’t, so their plans may not help you!
Usually people wheel the course at a 3 Day for their minute markers. The XC App can do this for you now, and is an invaluable aid, if you don’t have a measuring wheel or a friend with one. Usually people are very generous about sharing where the minute markers are. (fwiw I always learnt every 2 minute marker, I found that was enough to keep me on track.)

XC Day Warm Up.
This is very personal, obviously, but it needs planning ahead. A really good warm-up, with maybe a 20-30 minute hack first (mimicking the Phase C of Long Format) is a good idea, if there is a hacking route away from the XC. Then do the sort of work you normally do before the XC at any one day event, ensuring the horse is responsive, in front of the leg, focussed, and so on.

Post XC.
After the XC you need at least a couple of helpers to wash the horse off and do the usual aggressive cooling.  I don’t put anything on the legs at a 3 day apart from cold water and ice… I want to see exactly what is going on.
Remember that you must get on the vet’s permission to treat the horse if it needs anything additional. It’s always worth erring on the side of caution at a 3 Day.
Walk the horse until it has totally recovered, then let it rest in the stable. Take out again later for a leg stretch and appraisal, and some grass. If it is perhaps a bit stiff, then remember to factor in time to maybe hack out for a good leg stretch in the morning before the Trot Up.

Screen shot 2015-06-06 at 09.00.19SJ Day.
Hopefully you will have breezed through the second trot up. Loosen up and then it’s probably a good idea to keep your SJ warm up fairly short, just jump a few fences. Your horse already knows how to jump, but you might need to practice getting your eye back to SJ distances!

Remember that the top combinations (the top 20 or 25?) usually parade (under saddle, in the SJ arena), so if you have done well and are in that group, be sure you are ready, whatever your SJ time.

Be aware that the day after a strenuous XC a horse generally does not feel the same as usual, so you might need to work harder to keep him together and maintain the good punchy canter, to help him out a bit more than usual with that. At one 3 day my horse suddenly felt like a car with 4 flat tyres… he had fence 2 down before I realised the difference, then I woke up, worked harder, and he cleared the rest!

Most of all… try to do your best in all 3 phases, but also, try to remember to enjoy it. Getting a horse to a 3 day is a major accomplishment, so appreciate every moment if you can!

Any additional tips much appreciated, please comment below.




About the author


1 Comment

  • Thank you! I didn’t know they kept the passport and will pack more bridle numbers! Lots of great help. Thank you! I’ll be on my own with no helper (non horsey hubby going so I may get him to hold!) so will get all my wash down ready before xc. And the 2 min marker tip very useful. 🙂