The following article was written by Kim Peterson, WE United “R” judge and active trainer, instructor, clinician, and competitor from New South Wales, Australia.
It is very disappointing to travel a long way to compete and be disqualified. I speak from experience! After a twenty-hour flight and numerous lessons with top coaches, I once managed to make the simple mistake of not entering the single slalom through the entry markers. I won’t make that mistake again!
When walking the course, I picked a line from one obstacle to the next but under the pressure of competition I failed to stick to my plan. Whilst judging and competing, I have observed a number of incidences where competitors have come unstuck, I have learned from my own and others’ mistakes.
First, read the rulebook.
Give yourself the best chance to succeed by being in the best mindset possible. I love to listen to my favourite music on the way to the comp, and I visualize myself riding fabulous rounds. I leave myself plenty of time for travel, arrive early, and allow my horse to settle in.
Avoid putting yourself in a stressful situation before you compete. If I am late, my stress abounds, and I will not be the best leader for my equine partner. To have an effective warm up, I must focus fully on becoming in sync with my horse and have open lines of communication with my partner. My team know to give me this time and not chat to me (I have been told that I have “resting bitch face” when I am warming up). I certainly am not cranky, just focused. As soon as I enter the arena, my game face will be on. It is good to let your helpers know what you need to produce a good round. If you are a good listener, your horse will let you know what they need from you to enable them to perform at their full potential.
If the judge is giving a course walk, be sure to listen carefully to what they are looking for and ask questions. The judge or course builder should be available during the course walk to answer your questions.
When walking the course, it is wise to walk the exact lines you are going to ride. I walk through each obstacle, planning an entry, good lines for the obstacle, and where as well as how to exit the obstacles. Lines between obstacles are scored; it is important to ride effective lines. I tend to look for live obstacles that are close to my path and make sure I avoid them. I always have a plan A and a plan B if things aren’t flowing quite the way I expected. Walking the course at least twice is a must for me.
Make good use of the arena before presenting to the judge. When waiting for my turn I keep an eye on the rider before me. Once they pass through the exit markers, I enter. Having a horse still on course helps your horse stay confident when entering. I work around the obstacles, especially those that my horse might find scary (do not present your horse to an obstacle, as this will incur disqualification).
Keep an eye on the judge. Once the judge has finished the previous rider’s score sheet, present to the judge. This also helps the day keep flowing and run on time.
Remember, you must salute at both the start and end of your phase. After presenting to the judge, I salute immediately. After saluting, try to make good use of the sixty seconds you have to proceed through the entry markers. I use this opportunity to have my horse in front of the leg and flowing, and I may pass by a spooky obstacle one more time.
On course, remember to only pass through the start pegs once and on exiting pass through the finish pegs. Passing through either start or finish line more than once will incur disqualification.
When collecting the garrocha, look down the line, not at the middle of the drum. If you miss spearing the ring, smile, maintain tempo and rhythm and continue riding a good line to the garrocha deposit. I see many people stopping and trying to spear the ring even when it has been knocked to the ground; this will lower your score.
Remember: do not change hands mid course. Once you have rung the bell or picked up the pole, etc., with a hand, you must continue to use that same hand throughout the course. I see many competitors disqualified for changing hands mid course.
Riding through a live obstacle will incur disqualification (a live obstacle is one that has not yet been completed).
When executing the sidepass pole, if the horse knocks the pole down you should continue sidepassing to the end of the pole . If the horse steps forward and off the pole, do not try to rein back onto the pole. Instead, walk forward and continue to the start of the pole and start the sidepass again. If your horse steps off the sidepass pole and you continue to the next obstacle, you will be disqualified as you have failed to execute the full sidepass.
I have noticed many competitors coming to a halt when approaching the gate. There should be no halt on the approach to the gate. On approach, the judge is looking for a smooth downward transition to the walk and fluid movements throughout the obstacle.
In the switch cup rein back obstacle, the horse must be immobile when picking up and replacing the cup.
When executing the two or three barrels, make sure your circles are appropriate to your horse’s stage of training. Smaller circles well executed will score highly, but small circles poorly executed will not.
More people seem to get disqualified on the three barrels than any other obstacle. Be sure to walk the whole obstacle when you do the course walk. Many forget to complete a full circle around the last barrel.
I will always pick up the garrocha on the course walk and get a feel for it. The first time I rode the line of the bull in America, we cantered down, and I picked up the garrocha “holy dooley” that sucker was heavy, and I nearly missed spearing the ring trying to get it balanced.
Remember any trot strides on the bridge will give you a poor score in EOH. If your horse steps off the side of the bridge, you should go back and enter the obstacle again.
Take the time to learn when your horse is traveling comfortably. If the horse is traveling hollow with his head high and back dropped, he is not comfortable. If he is consistently gaping his mouth when pressure is applied to the reins, he is uncomfortable and may be misinterpreting the rider’s aids. Try not to overuse the whip or spurs.
The judges are looking for a combination that are working harmoniously and confidently.
A win for me is not necessarily bringing that champion ribbon home, it is about schooling through the levels and doing a little better each time we compete.
A win for me is dancing through the course with my partner!
Having my horse open his back when needed and sit and collect when asked. If my horse can wait and listen to me and keep processing when we get in a sticky situation then that is a win.
I hope this helps!