Updated: Jan 20
So in the first part I spoke about how the horses nervous system responds in situations of newness.
This one I'm going to bring your attention to how nerves at a competition can affect your horse in a different way, their energy level!
Competitions are full of things that can cause your horses nerves to be tested, from the different environment to the other horses, to the lorry park and even travelling there's a lot being thrown at your horse and if they are new to it all this is a huge amount of information they have to process and work out if it is ok or not.
Having their nervous system put on overdrive like that not only causes the metabolic response of stress hormones to be released, but also it saps a huge amount of energy.
When we think about getting our horses fitness ready for competition it can be easy to slip into the thought process of the horse only needing the energy to do the basic jump of the class and a little bit of warm up, it's easy to forget about things like traveling to the competition, and the extra energy they are using for the basics of staying as calm as possible, and if you have a horse that sweats up, gets over excited or hyper responsive this is a whole extra load of energy that is being used
Take race horses, it is known that if you are watching a race horse being walked in the ring before the race and they are jogging or sweating up, they are likely to be less affective in the race because they have already used half their energy before the race has started.
If you have a horse that is dealing with the nerves of a new competition then you have a horse using up more energy than they would at home.
So what might you find? Most commonly the horse runs out of steam by the second class, where when practicing at home they would normally have enough energy in the tank to do two classes once out at a competition you find they loose all go by the second time round.
If you've got an over excitable horse this may be a good thing, the edge has come off and now they are much more ridable. But if you have a horse that is more inclined to be backwards when nerves take over, or is not so fit this can leave you feeling like you're taking them for a ride rather than the other way around.
How do you cater for this?
Fitness is key, making sure your horse has stamina is key to giving them the best experience of competing and traveling, there is nothing worse for a horse than there legs being so exhausted by the time its time to travel home that they're slipping and falling all over the place, this doesn't give them a good experience and it won't make them keen to get back on next time.
Give them breaks, enough to really allow them to catch their breath and recharge their energy, topping up with water is also key.
If you have a backwards horse, don't get greedy, maybe one class is enough for them to start with, finish with some energy in the tank to get yourself and them home.
If the wheels did fall off, don't beat yourself up, just learn from it, maybe a bit extra fittening work for next time, building up the stamina so that they can cope with the extra requirements of competition.
Most basically, take in to account the whole day, take into account how you feel after a competition compared to how you feel after a schooling session at home and build that into your preparation.