1. Make some training plans…. Work with your coach and develop some exercises, and work to improve little weak areas for the oncoming season. Keep the work varied but structured, with small, achievable goals and make sure that you keep an account of all the work in a training journal.
2. Try to attend at least two u18 training days or even a camp, eg, Central Region are running an u18 camp at Lyneham in Oxfordshire (12/13th Feb) which will cover dressage, show jumping and cross country and ideal just before the season starts.
3. Give your horse a thorough health check including teeth, check vaccinations (within 6 months for an FEI competition), physio session if necessary, book the farrier around your events and make sure you order stud holes, make sure that you have checked all your supplements, feed and anything else that you are administering that it is not a prohibited substance well before the season starts (on the Junior Downloads you will find “FEI Competitors Guide to Doping and Medication Control”) and finally check that your veterinary cabinet is well stocked and up to date.
4. Check all the equipment that you are going to need for the event season. If you have a new hat make sure that you get it tagged at your first event with the secretary at the beginning of the day. Make sure that your saddle has been checked and is a good fit and your girth is in good order.
5. Get your stud kit out from last year and give it a clean out, de-rusting all the studs with a wire brush then re-oiling and checking the threads. Re-stock now to save irritation at not having enough studs at your first event.
6. Work out a competition plan, working back from your main goal whether it be a CIC, a junior trial or Weston Park at the end of the season. Plan your early competitions as confidence and fitness runs then have a Plan A and Plan B depending on weather and how the season pans out.
7. Start to build some fitness work into your training on the last 3 weeks leading up to your first event. Try to find some nice grassland, preferably with a hill (or when you are cross country schooling) and build up some canter work sessions every 4th or 5th day. Build it up gradually until you are cantering for about 5 minutes with some speed differences built in. This should lead you nicely into your first event without your horse being too fit and bucking you off in the dressage warmup…..!!!!
8. Improving your dressage marks should be high on your training list. Root out some old test sheets, video clips and work with your coach at analysing weak areas that need addressing. Use poles to help improve your flatwork either with helping the straightness, improving the rhythm, developing more step and cadence (especially with raised poles) and the horse will really enjoy it. Remember to develop your accuracy by using boards and markers regularly and monitor your improvement by going to do some tests at a comfortable level.
9. During January and February try to jump a few show jump tracks to get your eye in for lines, distances, speeds and controlling ring nerves. JAS is a great way to get you into a competitive spirit and will test your accuracy with the narrow fences and different lines.
10. Try to get out on grass as early as possible in case we lose the opportunity if the weather turns. Regular xc schooling sessions are advisable to build confidence within the partnership. Keep everything small and simple initially and build up with a coach for more technical lines later on. Practice working the horse through gear changes within the canter making sure that you practice good body aids rather than getting the horse strong against the hand. Now is the ideal time to get yourself fit in a forward seat so do plenty of work out of the saddle to strengthen up your position and lower leg.
11. Most importantly don’t forget to get yourself and your horse registered with BE and the FEI (if your intending to do any international competitions).