Advice needed for competition dressage horse

Liz is a Recommended Associate of the Intelligent Horsemanship Association, and can help with behavioural issues
Big Brown Horses
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Joined: Fri Oct 23, 2009 12:02 pm

Advice needed for competition dressage horse

Postby Big Brown Horses » Tue Mar 20, 2012 11:36 am

Hi Liz

I have a 12 year old Dutch gelding that is working at medium level and competes at elementary level dressage. At home and in the collecting ring he is fine, but as soon as we enter the arena to do our test he shuts down and drops behind the leg, although he will do all the movements everything is in slow motion. At the last show he did this in the first test, so for the second I rode with bigger spurs, a longer whip and rode every stride. We had a good result coming 3rd in a big class, but I hate riding him like this.

Any suggestions welcome

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Joined: Wed Apr 21, 2010 10:44 am

Re: Advice needed for competition dressage horse

Postby Expert_LizPitman » Thu Mar 22, 2012 8:16 am

Hi, and thanks for an interesting question. I'll do my best but should say up front that I'm not a riding instructor so can't advise on leg position, etc. It sounds, though, that's not what you need though.

In any situation where a horse is happy doing a) but unhappy doing b), the key has to be in the difference between the two from his point of view. I'm assuming you are practicing your tests at home so are riding the same movements in the same order, so let's eliminate the actual movements.

The things that spring to mind are a) different environment, b) tension and c) tack (?). Starting at the end, do you use the same tack for schooling and competing? If not, then that is something to check. If you school in your show tack, does he block still?

An immediate difference between schooling and competing is the level of tension. This may be from the audience and it may also be from you. Even if you don't realise it, you may be riding slightly differently because you feel the pressure to do well. Adding stronger aids and riding more strongly is, in my opinion, more likely to get him to block you more as he gets used to it, so instead of increasing aid, I'd see if you can decrease them. This is difficult to talk about here as I don't know how he's schooled, and I don't want to offend buy advising something you already know about and have done. Working on asking him to be forwards to the lightest of aids, though, is good practice and will serve better than having to increase those aids.

The impact of a different environment may also be affecting him. Again, making an assumption for a moment, I'd guess you school in a quiet home environment, without much in the way of visual distractions or noise. A competition environment is the opposite. No matter how quiet a crowd is, there will always be noise and movement from people, fluttering flags, PA systems, etc. He may will be finding concentration harder in that environment.

I've just thought of a 4th possibility, and that is low grade ulcers. This is very common, especially in competition horses, and it exacerbated by stress (travel, etc.) and by an empty stomach. It might be worth looking at putting him on a mix of green clay and coconut oil, 2tbls and 1tbl daily respectively for a week or so before a competition, and on the morning of, to see if it makes any difference by soothing and lining the stomach.

Other things to try in your detective hunt are finding different, busier places to school, asking your instructor to assess you during competions to see if s/he can see a difference, and getting someone to video you during your last home practice session and during the test to see if you can spot any tiny differences. Look at what he is looking at and reacting to, at the first point he starts to react, etc. Is he ok in the practice ring? Is he ok for a short while but then gets worse, etc.

If none of that helps, or maybe anyway, it might be worth getting in touch with a collegue of mine, Carrie Adams, who is a behaviour trainer but also a dressage trainer. Here website is

Good luck, and I hope you get to the bottom of it.


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