Some people are seemingly born with natural skill, perfect timing, and that elusive quality that dressage riders call “feel.”
But most regular riders have to work hard to develop those qualities and some never quite achieve them.
If you fall into the second group of riders, don’t despair! There are lots of things you can do to become a more professional equestrian.
How to become a more professional equestrian
Here are our 12 top tips to help you to become a more professional equestrian:
1. Clean up your act!
Make sure you keep your tack, your horse, and your other equipment such as girths and saddle pads spotlessly clean.
Although you don’t get any extra marks in dressage tests for your turn-out, first impressions do count. So, how you present yourself and your horse to the judge is very important.
Also, even if you’re not competing, presenting yourself and your horse well makes you feel like a pro. You’ll even find that you’re sitting up a little straighter, carrying yourself a little prouder, and generally feeling smarter.
2. Make your horse #1
Even if you only compete at the lowest level, your horse has to be number one!
Be attentive to your horse’s needs, ensuring that his health and happiness are foremost in your mind. You must treat your horse as though he were a world-beating, megabucks superstar!
3. Keep to time
Always be punctual.
All professional people are punctual. Tardiness is a sure sign of indifference. So, if you arrange for the farrier or vet to attend, make sure you allow plenty of time to get your horse ready so that you’re organized in good time.
The same applies to competition days. Professional riders always arrive at events with plenty of time in hand.
Planning is essential when you’re going to a competition. You should clean your tack, assemble everything you need, and pack your lorry the day before the event.
If you’re plaiting up, do it the night before, or allow yourself extra time for a fidgeting horse if you decide to plait before you go on the day of the competition.
4. Learn to manage stress
Competing is undoubtedly stressful, even for professional riders. However, most pros have developed a way of coping with anxiety and competition nerves. That’s what enables the top pros to appear ice-cool and totally nerveless when they’re riding down the centerline.
If your nerves get the better of you, check out meditation techniques and learn some breathing exercises to help you relax.
Who’s your most inspirational pro rider? Carry out some research to find out how they keep their nerves under control and try using the same technique.
5. Keeping up appearances
Look the pro by keeping your appearance neat and tidy, even when you’re just schooling at home or hacking out.
There’s no excuse for dirty boots, a grubby hat cover, or a faded, torn T-shirt!
If you look the part, you’ll feel the part too!
6. Listen to your trainer!
Follow the directions of your dressage trainer to the letter. There’s no point in paying for someone’s advice and guidance if you never follow it!
Just like a dressage judge, your trainer has a different view of you and your horse than you do. Your trainer is best-placed to see where things are going wrong that you may not necessarily be able to feel or see.
Even the very top professionals use eyes on the ground to help them to improve. And if that’s good enough for the very best, it’s good enough for you too!
7. Learn to take criticism
If you decide to compete in dressage classes, you must be prepared to be receptive to constructive criticism.
Dressage judges are trained to observe every nuance of your horse’s way of going and critique it constructively.
The judge is not there to destroy your confidence or to be ultra-picky. The judge’s job is to help you to see where elements of your horse’s way of going can be improved, relative to the level at which you’re riding.
Use your dressage score sheets to help you with your training and schooling at home. That’s what the top professional riders do.
8. Increase your knowledge of all things horsey
It’s true to say that, in life, you never stop learning. And that applies to horse management and dressage technique too.
Be curious and keen to increase your knowledge in both dressage technique and horse management. Sometimes, a problem under saddle can directly correlate to some small detail in your horse’s daily routine or overall health that you’ve overlooked.
Take advantage of any learning opportunities that present themselves, including reading blogs and articles, watching skilled riders and other dressage riders’ lessons, and attending clinics and seminars.
By becoming more proactive and keen to increase your knowledge, you will give yourself and your horse an edge over the competition, just like the pros do!
9. Keep your environment tidy
No-one can work efficiently in chaos, and the same applies to your stables!
Take a look at a professional competition yard, and you’ll notice how neat and tidy everything is. That’s a simple ethos that you can copy in your quest to become a more professional equestrian.
10. Be positive and friendly
Be positive and helpful in all your dealings with other people.
If you share a yard with other horse owners, always strive to be considerate to their feelings and needs. For example, if one of your yard-mates is schooling their horse, don’t turn out your boisterous equine in a field right next to the arena!
Be supportive of other riders, especially when they are experiencing challenges and difficulties. If someone is struggling with their horse, offer some friendly support. That costs nothing but can be worth a fortune to the recipient!
11. Keep fit!
Take a closer look at all the professional riders. The vast majority are very trim and elegant.
Make efforts to keep yourself fit out of the saddle. If you’re in good shape, you will be a better-balanced rider, and you’ll get a better tune out of your horse too.
12. Keep things in perspective
Always choose to prioritize your horse’s wellbeing over your ambition.
While there’s nothing wrong with having the drive to succeed, no amount of rosettes and prizes are worth jeopardizing your relationship with your horse or his health.
You will rarely see professional riders over-facing or abusing their horses, simply for the sake of a prize.
The 12 top tips we’ve highlighted in this article apply to every rider, whether they own an expensive warmblood or a hairy cob!
If you follow these suggestions, you’ll present an impression of professionalism that will set you apart from other run-of-the-mill riders. Your mindset will change too, making you more likely to scale dressage heights you never thought you could!
Do you have any tips for presenting a more professional image? Share your thoughts below in the comments section provided.
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