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Advice for first horse trial without coach?

Hi! We are headed to our first horse trial this weekend without a coach. I tried, no one wanted to go to this show, so I’m putting my big girl pants on. This will be our first show in two years, first ever without coach hand-holding, and our big step up to beginner novice (ha ha) so I’m a little nervous. Any tips? Do you prefer to course walk before dressage or between dressage and SJ? I know to give myself extra time and to bring along a helping hand but otherwise any words of encouragement or advice is welcome! Thanks

I go to shows alone all the time. When to walk XC ultimately comes down to your ride times. Give yourself enough time to walk it twice. (Nothing looks as big the second time around :D) Trust your horse and and have fun!


I went to my first one alone last summer and it was fine. I suggest walking XC before dressage to be sure that you aren’t rushed. Then if you have a lot of time between dressage and SJ or there’s a particular part of the course you want to look at again, you can go again. Other than that, just take a few deep breaths, and remind yourself that you can handle this and that you’re going to have fun.

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Great advice above. My kids did 3 day with and without a coach. While I was the perpetual groom, I would not presume to coach my own kids. My only advice was on which studs to use --and I made that my particular area of expertise. My suggestion would be what you have already stated: bring a useful friend --but choose wisely. A few times (I think it was only once each) the kids brought “a friend from the barn to help” who was not suitable for the task at hand --once the “helper” insisted on being taken back to the motel because it was “too hot” —others would wander off to watch and not be where she was needed. One was constantly misplacing the buckets and sponges, or leaving items on the ground. The best helper was a girl who had been long-time pony club!! However, we had a time crunch between dressage and CC --kid was showing two horses — I was to change tack --grabbed the dressage bridle only to find it had been correctly hung in Pony Club method that involved a lot of wrapping and buckling --nearly took the bridle apart to put it on the horse! Advice? bring a really helpful friend and allow lots of extra time for everything. Two course walks, definitely.

Ask your Coach(s) to send you a text of what you should do in your warm up and during your rides. My dressage coach does this, I re-read the text prior to getting on and remind myself of it during my ride, the little things we tend to forget at times.

The best part about eventing, ask anyone for help or questions about any lines. Everyone will help or tell you what they think on how to ride it or how it rode. I remember my last show, in warm up, one of the pro’s happily told me how it was riding and how some of the lines were riding, this is why I love this community, everyone is so helpful.

Walk your course twice, like stated above it always helps. Have fun, report back!


I’ve gone to events with and without my coach. The times when I’m alone, I pretend she is there and follow our familiar routine. It gives me focus and a plan while I listen to an “in my head” recording of her instructions.


Course walks depend on your schedule. Sometimes it involves arriving there earlier than you’d like. Keep track of your times. Be neat. There’s nothing worse than wasting time looking for something not placed where it belongs.

Make sure they are quality big girl pants. :lol:

True about bringing a useful friend. I had a friend who I asked to help at a trial, she was horse savvy, and she readily agreed. I even followed up with her to make sure she was going to be there and she said she would and ready to help out. She arrived at least 2 hours late, with her 3 year old in tow. Did nothing but watch me run around like a chicken with her head cut off trying to get ready. I was so pissed off. She must have mistaken “help” for “stand around and be useless.”


I used to show a lot on my own without my coach present. While it can be done, just make sure you are more than ready at the level and mentally prepared to handle the pressure. I am fine at the lower levels but my coach is indispensable as I move up. Just have a plan, know your horse, don’t look at scores until the show is over and remember that you are competing against yourself and no one else!

Take an upbeat, relaxed friend. If you need help, ask anyone around you. While grooming for my daughter, I have been handed horses of riders who needed a last minute trip to the Porta potty. Bring extras of everything that might break, such as your bridle. Bring lots of good drinks and snacks, extra clothes, and a rain coat. Write down your ride times and ring locations on a piece of paper that is posted where you can easily see them. Bring a comfortable chair or two. If anyone next to you is Eventing without a helper, offer whatever help you can. Helping others will make you happy and relaxed.

Have fun! Eventing is supposed to be fun and low stress. Finishing with a numerical score instead of a letter score indicates success!


Living in New Zealand I often evented by myself with not even a helper. Never been to a show with a coach and am oh so curious why Americans always have coaches with them? When I course walk depends on my ride times. My last event (which was my first in 10 years), I had an early dressage time (had to wake at 4am) so I walked my course in between dressage and cross country (show jumping was last).

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If possible, I prefer to course walk AFTER dressage…but that depends on if ride times allow. I like to walk my cross country course at least 3 times and my show jump course twice. Definitely bring a helper, even if you don’t have your coach! You can always video certain questions on your cross country course (explain the terrain, the question before and after, etc.) and forward to your coach if you are unsure how to ride something.

I like to set alarms on my phone for 40 minutes before my ride times (I usually want to be on 30 minutes prior…so adjust that alarm time according to your routine).

Good luck!

Lots of good advice so far.

Walk the xc course carefully, with concentration: not on a phone call, not chatting with friends as you shamble around together. It is not so much about having the time available but about using your time well.

Two xc walks is a good idea. First to get the flow of the course and identify jumps with the right colour numbers (taking sequential photos on your phone can help with memorizing what the fences look like). That can be quick. The second is to study how to ride the course. Look at terraine and the approach just as much as the jump itself. Up hill, down hill, light, shadow, change in surface? Rythmn and balance are the key to good xc. Plan your lines, find good navigation markers - ones that won’t move or drive away. Plan your alternative line for when Plan A goes pear shaped. Look for any alternatives and know your line. Look BACKWARDS at every fence, especially in combinations, because that is often the best way to see a good line. Once you have your plan, try to stick with it. Don’t be put off by what happens to other competitors. You know your horse: have confidence in it and in yourself.

Establish a good, rhythmical pace right from the start of the xc and keep your horse in front of your leg. It can’t jump well if it has no ooomph. Switch off ‘worry’ and turn on ‘enjoy’. Nothing more to be done except have fun!

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I just audited a clinic DD rode in and the instructor is well known for teaching. He repeatedly stressed that he did not/could not know you or your horse as well as you yourself do, as he exampled people who approach him at HTs and ask him how to ride a question. So this should build to be your strength, to learn how to ride more independently.

BN is straight forward. Have your horse in hand, forward thinking and straight. Maintain a balanced canter. See your line to the center of the fence and start counting (quietly?) the strides to the fence. It will relax you and keep your focus. Try a few jumps at home, or even a ground pole in the grass in a field, doing this so it will be more natural for you. It’s okay start counting 6-10 strides back. Edit to add: count up from 1. you don’t have to ‘see the # of strides’ and count down. Even if there’s a 1/2. But counting from far back you will mentally see that coming and make an adjustment for that - just count to steady your emotions and mind. It’s for you to keep your focus and commitment to the fence. The horse feels that.

At risk of repeating here. I volunteer alot. One time fence judging a starter division I saw a GOOD example. A very smart rider (pro ride or just smart) riding a young inexperienced horse - came along doing a very big road trot thru the entire course. That horse was in hand, forward and straight, going like on an RR track, never saw a fence judge and was justa stringing those fences together. Not coming in canter spurts, left hip out, right hip out then prop and smack the rider’s lost their seat. (Volunteer more)

Be green bean proud!

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Well good for you to do this and I’m quite sure you’ll have a blast. Great advice above. My small contribution is to work out with your coach what your warmup will be for each phase. It’ll be your mantra and prep you while warming up your horse’s mind and muscles for the job to come.

At the risk of TMI, I almost never had a coach there to help me. Sometimes there would be a group hike around XC or stadium, but that was it. My OTTB mare was a stick of TNT waiting to explode, but I found that doing trot serpentines before dressage settled her. (I made a point of incorporating them at home too.). Warm up before jumping phase always started with a couple of large trot circles with me in two point. That would get the weeble wobbles out of my knees, and we’d quietly jump a fence or two an then be off.

Just have fun and let us know how it went.

Thanks,all! Some very helpful advice.

Well… how did the first horse trial go???

OP, I hope your first horse trial went well!

For those who might be looking for this for advice later, one thing I did at my first horse trial was write my ride times down on the inside of my arm and wore a watch. I was worried I would step away for a restroom break or something and miss my time so I made sure I had them with me at all times and did not have to check a phone for them or rely on my friend who had come with to help.

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