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10 Most Common Mistakes IHSA Riders Make

Photo Credit: Molly Lumsden, 2015 Virginia Tech IHSA Team

Going to your first IHSA show? Check out these 10 most common mistakes made by IHSA riders. Avoiding these just may help you win the blue at your next show!

1. Rushing

In the over fences and the flat classes, it is important to remember this isn’t a race. It doesn’t matter if you are the first or last to pick up the canter. Do it right, not first. Take a deep breath and ride through the test one step at a time.

2. Not enough pace

In the over fences classes, the number one mistake riders make is not having enough pace when they start the course. You always want to make sure the horse is in front of your leg. You can do this by sending them forward a few steps before establishing your desired pace.

3. Wrong leads

In the over fences classes, simple changes are not deductions, but poorly performed changes are. Make sure to practice smooth and correct simple changes during your lessons. If your horse attempts a lead change but doesn’t get the back half, FIX IT ASAP! And take your time when picking up your canter. It is better to take your time and pick up the correct lead then to hurry and pick up the incorrect lead.

4. No plan

It is important in both the flat and fences class to have a plan. Watch schooling and take notes so that after you draw your horse you can properly prepare for your class. Does your horse have trouble picking up the left lead? Does he spook at the exhibitors on the rail? Is he missing the back half of the lead change? These are all things to consider before entering the ring. Make a plan for the numbers, track, quarter lines, and leads.

Kayleigh Burke

5. Not putting enough emphasis on turnout

The moment you walk into the ring you are being judged, and sometimes people don’t place as well as they should because they don’t look the part. Boots should be spotless, shirts should be tucked in, and your hair should be neatly done in a hairnet. Turnout is important, make sure you look your best. Dress well, test well.

6. Not riding the horse you drew

Everyone has their favorite type of horse. Some people like forward horses, others like the kick ride. But no matter what you draw, ride the horse you’re on, not the horse you wish you drew. If you have a difficult horse, don’t make a hard situation worse by overreacting. Ride the horse the best you can, and allow the judge to see you ride through it.

7. Forgetting it is a mental sport

Many people forget to take care of themselves mentally before they go into the ring. They let their nerves ruin their experience. Take a minute to mentally visualize and walk through the entire process of the show. Visualize yourself having a perfect flat class or jumping round. Imagine all aspects of the show, like how you will go down the quarter line. Take a deep breath at each corner of the ring. Figure out how to mentally prepare yourself. And if the show doesn’t go, use it as a learning experience and shake it off. Don’t let it bring you down.

8. Confidence is key

Enter the ring with confidence. Think to yourself: “I am going to win this class.” Having a positive attitude and showing the judge you are confident will help you stand out to the judge.

9. Sportsmanship

No matter what happens, never speak negatively about the horses or the show. The teams and schools put a lot of effort organizing the show and preparing the horses. It will go a long way if you say thank you to the horse holder and the school.

10. This is fun

Remember, this is a fun learning experience. Get close to your team, and put in the effort. Your team will become your best friends, and the memories will last you a lifetime.

Virginia Tech IHSA Equestrian Team

Did you know IHSA, IEA, and USPC riders and coaches qualify for a 67% off annual memberships on through our EDU program? That’s just $99 per year! Learn more at:

We also offer a turnkey instructor kit. This kit is designed for coaches and offers a complete training tool: DVDs and Test Booklets to provide instruction for the novice to advanced rider. Learn more about the Instructor Kit at:

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Kayleigh Burke

Kayleigh is a 22-year-old equestrian raised in Northern Virginia. She began riding at the age of 5 and competed in the local equitation and hunter circuit as well as ‘A’ shows until college. Kayleigh graduated from Virginia Tech in May 2015 with her B.A. in Public Relations. While in college she competed with the Virginia Tech IHSA Hunt Seat team for 4 years. During those four years, she served as team manager her Junior year and Team Captain her Senior year. She is currently working on her M.A. in Communication and has continued on as the assistant coach for the VT IHSA equestrian team.

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