A riding teacher's advice for entering your first competitions

After taking lessons at the riding school for a while, students often get curious about taking the next step: entering competitions. That's great! But for a novice, it can be difficult for both students and parents to know what's expected of them. We asked Jenny Lindh, a riding teacher, to give some tips and advice for beginners.

Right from the very start, all the lessons at the riding school follow a plan to develop students' skills, give them a good foundation and gradually prepare them to enter competitions – if the student wants.
- It's important to remember that there's no obligation to take part in competitions. Not everybody wants to. We look at each student's individual needs and preferences and then make a decision with the student and their parents. Some students feel anxious about competing, in which case it's important to start at the right level, says Jenny.
- Even a student who has walked the horse over a five centimetre pole has jumped. We should never underestimate the power of thought, and always try to make things fun, she says, smiling.
- Once they've tried it, most students enjoy competing and feel they improve every time. All riding is useful, and the more hours spent in the saddle the better.


Start with club competitions

Most Swedish riding clubs hold competitions for members. Jenny's riding school in Vimmerby in Sweden holds about one competition a month, mainly in jumping but also in dressage. These events provide an introduction to competitive riding. All students at the school can take part without meeting any specific criteria.
- They're all free to join in, provided they're accompanied by a parent. The youngest kids walk or sometimes trot over poles on the ground, says Jenny.
- And no-one has to jump at any specific height. Even if you jumped 60 centimetres in your lesson, in the competition you can choose 40 or whatever you want.
Jenny's riding school is currently trying out a course for children and parents called 'the art of competing' which covers all aspects of riding competitions, from what a course plan looks like to how to bring a horse in from the paddock. Many other riding schools offer the same or equivalent courses.
- When parents do the course with their children, it creates a sense of security for the parents, the students and us.


Small kids aren't embarrassed

Jenny says there are benefits of competing from an early age.
- Young kids don't have the mental blocks that can develop with age. For instance, they're not embarrassed when people watch them. They just find it fun. Older children have the advantage of being more mature and physically stronger, but other factors can cause problems instead. It's important to talk to the students if any mental blocks arise, such as feeling embarrassed, and we recommend talking about it at home too.

 Jenny's advice for beginners

 For parents whose children want to compete:

  • Find out what is required of parents during competitions and decide whether it will work for you. It could involve anything from giving your child moral support to driving a horse trailer.
  • Take your child to watch a few competitions.
  • Speak to your riding school about your child's needs. Is he or she ready? Are there things you need to practise more first? Should your child take extra lessons?
  • If a competition doesn't go as well as your child hoped, you might want to give him or her a little space. A few well-meaning words don't help much if someone is very upset. Having some time out to calm down can do the trick.


For students who want to start competing:

  • Don't focus on how well you perform. Expect to make a few mistakes in your first, second and third competition. Even things your usually find easy can seem difficult when you're nervous. See your first few competitions as practice.
  • Set realistic goals. Choose a lower jump height to get a feel for it.
  • There's a difference between riding your own pony or the riding school's pony in a competition. With a borrowed pony, you'll have less opportunity to practise together. You might need to practise a little extra to become a good team.
  • Eat properly. This might not be easy when you're nervous, but just try to eat whatever you can. Eat and drink properly during the whole day of the competition.


Meet Jenny Lindh

Jenny, 34, is a qualified hippologist. For ten years, she has been a riding teacher at Ryttargården riding school in Vimmerby, Sweden. She started riding at age five and got her first pony at age eleven. She has always loved animals. As a teenager she attended a high school course in hippology and rural studies. But horses remained her greatest passion. She worked at a racing stable while still at school, and later gained an additional qualification in training racehorses. After an injury prevented her from racing, she found a new passion as a teacher at the riding school.

- Watching my students develop from tiny tots to teenagers, both as riders and as people, is what motivates me. It's a wonderful thing to take part in, she says.

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