Laura Tidball-Balisky and her husband, Brent, operate Thunderbird Show Stables in Langley, BC. Together they have coached numerous top riders in the hunter, jumper, and equitation divisions, including many winning ride-off performances.
We really believe in preparation. In our training program we practice a lot of ride-off material, which is something you can do in any environment. We assimilate as much as we can into regular schooling and lessons so that our students gain confidence and skill. Practice and preparation really helps to take away the shock of what the riders may face in ride-off situations: for example, having to jump two jumps without a count, or having to canter in and trot out of a line. As a coach, you have to prepare them as best you can.
For us, the younger we get our students, the better. If they are only doing that kind of work when they are 16 or 17, there’s so much more you have to work on to get ready for a horse show before you even take into consideration the skills required to be successful in a ride-off. But if you begin developing those skills with a 12- or 13-year-old, they have a tremendous advantage. A lot of the times the younger kids at the lower levels don’t have the opportunity to practice those skills in the show ring, so we make those opportunities for them at home.
We also really believe in simply talking about these situations as well. We sit down with our students – in the stands or at home – and go over scenarios without being anywhere near a horse. This way, students can calmly be rehearsing ride-off situations in their mind.
At the horse shows, the kids are competitive, anxious, some of them are nervous, and some of them are too laid-back; the work has to be done at home. My teaching style involves a lot of patterning in my lessons, which teaches the kids to be sharp thinkers. They’ve got to figure out right from the get-go, no matter how old they are, that patterns are coming at them quickly and changing all the time.
At the horse shows, you take all those skills you’ve built, and you practice in the warm-up ring. Even if we’re not sure if we’re going to be in the top four, we’re going out to the schooling ring, counter-cantering, trotting a jump, and practicing those skills well before the judges tell us, ‘no more schooling,’ which they will do as soon as they have their top four. Preparation is key, and the more prepared you are, the less nervous you’re going to be. That’s reality in every sport.
- practice plenty of different “ride-off” situations when schooling at home
- hone your attention skills; learn how to tune out distractions when your coach is giving instructions
- create a vivid mental image of yourself navigating the ride-off perfectly
- ignore that which you can’t control (the weather, what the judge thinks of you) and instead focus on what you can control, such as pace and accuracy
- use slow, deep breathing to help you relax and focus
- practice positive self-talk; replace “I can’t maintain a counter-canter on that bending line” with “I will keep my horse balanced on that bending line”