Not every dressage competition venue has an indoor arena, and many shows are held outside. Sometimes, you might have to warm up outside, but the tests are held indoors. And, of course, horse trials and most riding clubs hold their dressage classes on grass arenas.
So, how do you and your horse cope when the weather is less than perfect on competition day?
Keep reading for some top tips on how to compete in bad weather.
You can find yourself in trouble before you even get to the competition venue if you’re making the journey in bad weather.
If your horse has a pleasant, comfortable journey, he will arrive at the show feeling fresh and happy. However, if it’s blowing a force-10 gale and the trailer or lorry is buffeted around all over the place during your drive to the venue, your poor horse will be stressed and potentially even injured.
In extremely hot weather, conditions in a lorry or trailer can become very unpleasant very quickly, especially if you get stuck in traffic.
So, if the weather is extreme, it’s probably better not to make the journey and save your horse for another day.
Related Read: How to Safely Transport Your Horse
The best piece of advice we can give about competing in bad weather is to be prepared.
You don’t know what the environment is going to throw at you on the day (especially if you’re based here in the UK), so you need to be ready for all eventualities.
Check out the venue in advance
If you haven’t been to the competition venue before, you need to find out in advance what the setup is.
- Are you working-in outside or indoors?
- Is the competition held indoors or outside?
- What’s the weather forecast for the day of the competition?
The answers to those questions will enable you to get prepared so that you aren’t caught out by the weather.
Once you have the above information, you can decide what clothing to take with you for both you and for your horse.
So, if it’s going to be a hot day and there are likely to be swarms of flies buzzing around, equip your horse with a flysheet and fly visor. Also, take a good supply of fly repellant with you.
Related Read: How to Manage Flies Around Horses
If you’re working-in outside, you’ll need to take some sunblock so that you don’t get burned. Also, you’ll need lots of water for both of you if there’s none available at the showground.
Remember that horses can suffer from heatstroke just like people can. If it’s going to be extremely hot on competition day and you’re given a start time that’s later in the day when temperatures are soaring, it might be better to withdraw and save your horse for another day.
On wet days, you’ll need to take a suitable rain sheet to keep your horse from getting wet and chilled.
Likewise, you’ll need a waterproof coat for yourself that you can wear over your show jacket. We also recommend that you take a change of clothes, including underwear, and a couple of dry towels too. There’s nothing worse than getting soaked during your first test and then having to spend the rest of the day in damp clothes.
Do you have to wear a show jacket?
The rules on attire can vary depending on whether the competition you’re riding in is a championship or a lower-level event.
However, generally, it’s up to you whether you wear a jacket in hot weather. Provided that your shirt has short sleeves and is not brightly colored, you can usually ride without your jacket.
If it’s very wet, you’re generally permitted to wear a waterproof jacket. Again, the jacket should be dark in color and not adorned with a whole bunch of your sponsor’s logos.
Before you ride, ask the organizer about the policy regarding show jackets, and if necessary, ask the judge’s permission to ride without one.
You’ll need to be able to adjust your working-in times if necessary to suit the weather.
For example, if the weather is very warm, you don’t want to cook your horse! Conversely, if it’s pouring with rain, you don’t want to ride around for ages getting cold and soaking wet.
Always check that your class is running on time before tacking up. The last thing that you want is to be warmed up and ready to go, only to find that the class is running 15-minutes behind and you’re left walking your horse around in the rain.
Do dressage judges make allowances for bad weather?
That depends on the individual judge!
Clearly, if the test is ridden on a cold, windy day, in driving rain in the middle of an open field, the judge should make a few allowances when it comes to scoring the performance.
However, if the horse is tense because of the conditions, that cannot be overlooked, as tension will affect the horse’s overall way of going. And the conditions are the same for everyone, so the judging should be consistent throughout the class anyway.
Acclimating your horse to working in all weathers
If you want to compete outside, you need to get your horse accustomed to working in all weathers.
That can be a problem for riders who have the luxury of an indoor arena to ride in every day. The horse gets used to working in perfect conditions, and the wheel can fall off spectacularly if you’re working outside on a very windy day, for example.
So, make the effort to school your horse, regardless of the weather. Of course, if you don’t fancy the idea of getting wet and windswept, choose only indoor competition venues.
What about the surface?
It’s amazing how much difference a surface can make to your horse’s way of going.
If you always ride your horse on the same home arena, changing to a different surface can make a big difference to how your horse feels. If possible, hire the arena at the competition venue a few times before you compete there, so that you can practice.
Although arena surfaces can vary, riding on grass will always present you with a big challenge if you’re not used to it. Riding on the grass feels totally different from schooling on an all-weather riding surface. Depending on the weather, grass can be bone hard, perfect, or holding and sticky. Also, in the summertime, if you have an early start time, a grass arena will probably be covered in dew, making the surface slippery.
When you’re riding on grass, it’s sensible to use studs in your horse’s hind shoes to give you extra grip and confidence. Use different-sized studs, depending on how hard, holding, or slippery the grass is.
Sometimes, when the weather doesn’t play ball, all you can do is smile, or grimace, and make the best of things. There’s always next time!
Sometimes, the weather presents a challenge when you’re competing. Be prepared for anything the climate can throw at you by practicing in all weathers at home, riding on different surfaces, and taking plenty of suitable clothing, water, etc, with you on the day.
When the weather is extreme, remember that there’s always another day. Save your horse the stress of an unpleasant journey and a less-than-fun experience at the show, and withdraw.