Mental Preparation for Western Dressage Competition

This brief outline will give you some insights and suggestions on how to better prepare yourself mentally for a western dressage competition. I am going to assume that you and your horse are ready to compete at the level entered and that you already know what is involved in attending a recognized western dressage show.

  1. Discuss well in advance with your instructor long-term and short-term goals for the upcoming show season. Write down your goals and refer to them often. They may need to be modified from time to time.
  2. Read the WDAA Western Dressage Rules. All gaits, paces, and movements are described in detail and are judged accordingly. The purpose of each of the levels is described and all legal equipment, saddlery, and clothing is listed.
  3. You can never be too organized. Have all equipment, tack, clothing, feed, etc. organized before arriving at show. This will save time and especially, energy, so that you can relax and focus on the job at hand: competing.
  4. If possible, have a groom and a ground person/coach. You are the RIDER, you don't want to use up all of your energy cleaning stalls, bathing your horse, etc. Your ground person will keep you on track and focused as well as being able to hand you your coat, etc. A well-rested and focused competitor will always do better than a tired competitor.
  5. Nutrition plays a big part in being able to sustain high energy and clear mental focus. Eat protein at breakfast, eat protein and complex carbohydrates throughout the day. Eat many small, healthy meals often. Avoid refined sugar and alcohol (wait until you are finished!). If you are showing over several days, too much alcohol consumption will impair your energy level and performance- try to take it easy.
  6. Develop a warm up strategy for each horse. Some horses do well with being worked then put away, then taken out right before a class. Others do better with a warm-up right before the test. Bottom line: Every horse is different-find what works.
  7. It is often helpful to find a quiet place before your class where you can focus on your ride. This needs to be a place where you are not distracted and can positively focus on your ride.
  8. THE TEST: It is your responsibility to know your test. Try to select tests that complement your strengths, if possible. Know which movements contain coefficients and where they start and finish (they are worth twice as many points). When riding your test, take some risks. To get a really high score, you need to show some brilliance, GO FOR IT! Try to read your previously ridden and scored test before your next ride, if possible. Some things are easily fixed, such as incorrect geometry or early/late transitions.
  9. If you have a disastrous test-LET IT GO (It's not the end of the world)! It is simply a moment in time that didn't go so well. Do not let it define who you are and how you ride. Pick up and move on. Guess what? It happens to everyone sooner or later, even the judge!
  10. After the competition, assess your performance and compare score sheets from other judges/tests. Look for strengths and weaknesses. Compare and look for an underlying theme in your training. Maybe your down transitions are not scoring well from all judges. This gives you something to work on and improve before the next show. Discuss this with your instructor and be willing to modify your training goals and program accordingly.


I am going to spend a little time to discuss your most powerful training tool: YOUR MIND, especially your sub-conscious mind.

  1. The subconscious mind does not filter positive and negative input. It stores ALL thoughts and images. Feed your subconscious mind only the images and thoughts you want to create.
  2. Try to surround yourself with and observe only really good horses and riders. Do not watch poor riding, it can only harm you.
  3. Surround yourself with only positive and supportive people. Ask the "doubters" to go away.
  4. Monitor your thoughts and try to only think positive things about you, your horse, and your experience. It really does make a difference, but like anything, it takes practice.
  5. Visualize, when you are alone and quiet, the perfect test. Do this as often as possible. If you are having trouble visualizing a particular movement, you are usually experiencing difficulty with it when you are riding. Fix it in your mind first, then it will be resolved when you are riding. If you can dream it, you can do it. Dreams are especially powerful, so if you can dream the "perfect half pass" in your sleep, you have fully integrated it into your sub-conscious and you will be able to ride it.
  6. The nature of western dressage can be somewhat negative as rarely does one achieve perfection or even come close.



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