There is one piece of good advice you will hear from any and every coach of every sport anywhere in the world, regardless of the level, regardless of if you’re a pro or an ammie: “Practice like you play!”
In other words, if you expect to play like a person possessed on Saturday, you had better be practicing that hard all week long. If you drag ass through practice (speaking from experience here), you are not going to shine when your big moment comes in the big game.
Show season is coming – or in some cases has already started for those who don’t live in the god forsaken freakin’ frozen tundra (Yes, I am bitter). Make up your mind NOW that you are going to go at it hardcore each and every time you ride from here on out. When you step on to that mounting block and put your foot into the stirrup, think, “It’s show time.” I played provincial level rugby through high school, university and beyond and know well the meaning of ‘you are only as strong as your weakest link.’ Nine times out of 10, in riding, that weakest link is usually the rider. Definitely 100% true in my case as it is extremely apparent when I am on vs. when I am off. Mind you, there are certain days when I don’t even bother to try because I would be dealing with a fire breathing she-demon delivered straight from hell, and, anyone who has a feisty red headed OTTB mare can relate.
See that mirror at C? Pretend the big bad dressage judge sits there, watching your every move. Convince yourself that it is for real. Make it count. Sit a little taller. Shove those heels down a little deeper. Ask for a little more. Be strict with yourself. Nail your transitions. Every. Single. Time. Didn’t nail it? Do it again. And again – until it feels like all you need to do is think about it to get a reaction. Don’t stop until you get it.
See those poles on the ground? Nail your distance. Every. Single. Time. Why do you need to jump 3’ in the middle of winter? News flash; you don’t. Get that magical canter and it won’t matter if you are jumping 2’6 or 3’6. Someone who is way way more versed and knowledgeable than I will ever dream to be – Emerson maybe? Fox-Pitt? Morris? doesn’t matter – said, “There is no bad distance, only a bad canter.” I have just recently learned what the right canter feels like and am embarrassed to say that I really didn’t have a clue until about a month ago. Truly. While I felt like I was going mach 10, I was very pointedly told that I was “FINALLY going proper Novice speed you dumb-ass who thinks you know what you are doing”. Talk about a reality check. Knowing what it is supposed to feel like and thinking you know what it feels like are two very different things.
Another reality check: only you will be able to determine just how much you put in to every ride and how focused you decide to be. Why go through it if you don’t really want it? Fact is, regardless of how good your horse is, or, how good you think you are, riding in competition is a completely different animal than riding at home and schooling. Pressure yourself, because regardless of how calm cool and collected you think you are in a competition environment, your blood pressure will rise and your nerves will kick in, simply because people are watching and you want to do well.
If you want to go at it half-assed, look sloppy, not have crisp transitions and miss a distance here and there, by all means go at it like that, I encourage you even. It simply means I will have one less person to worry about come show day. It is the time of year when we all need to start to put a little more pressure on ourselves, practice a little bit harder, expect more of yourself and from your horse, regardless of what your goals are, and do your very best. Every. Single. Time.
Only you can make the decision to do that every time you put your foot in the stirrup. Make it a point to be proud, sit a little taller, and ask for a little more. Practice as if it is Go Time, with precision, power, total concentration and confidence. Yes, it takes more discipline, but you know what? You’ll feel a hell of a lot more satisfied. And then, when it is Go Time for real? You’ll be ready.
Ride it like you mean it. Every. Single. Time.