Sofie Butchart is an International Grand-Prix dressage rider and coach.
As an avid supporter of StreamZ technology we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask Sofie to share some tips with us for any riders aiming to follow in her footsteps.
Sofie's journey to Grand-Prix level
Sofie was not from an equine background, her parents had never had a horse or pony. When Sofie was four years old her parents purchased a derelict farmhouse in Hertfordshire which had land and a big lawn. They soon realised they needed help with keeping the lawn cut so Sofie and her sisters were offered a pony or a goat. They chose a pony!
Along came Jessica - Sofie and her sisters first ever pony.
Ever since that day, before she can remember, she has been horsey mad!
After a few weeks following Jessica around the garden she asked her mum for riding lessons and was enrolled at a local riding centre, Contessa Riding Centre. She was introduced to a cheeky little Shetland pony called Sophie - it was this wonderful experience on Sophie which led her to achieve what she has.
Although Sofie doesn't remember firsthand when she had her first fall, she knows the story from her parents - being bucked off by the little Shetland! Sofie (the rider!) jumped straight back on the saddle.
“I think it is a part of learning and I swear I spent most of my time at the beginning on the floor than on the saddle - falling off in all different types of ways!”
Sofie has had many horses who she looks back on as important in her life, but two in particular, Laddie and Ginger (aka ‘Hot Ginger’) have a special place in her heart.
Sofie began competing at local events alongside her two sisters and initially focussed on showjumping. As she was quite tall she rode her first horse at just 14 years old and soon competed at international level at just 15 years old at the Under 18 Young Riders Teams.
Her showjumping career however didn’t go as she had hoped for with a series of injuries to her shoulders ultimately leading to a major operation and the end of her jumping ambitions.
"After several shoulder injuries my shoulders would dislocate whilst I was riding! The last time this happened I was actually five strides away from a jump when my right shoulder gave way forcing the horse to scramble into the fence. From that moment on my confidence level was shot. How was I going to get the horse over a jump with my shoulders like this?
I had major surgery on my right shoulder and that’s when I turned my attention from showjumping to dressage. I sold my showjumping horses and kept just one, Laddie. He was showjumping bred but as a 6 year old I sensed he could learn the art of dressage with me and we got to work. In 2011 we competed in our first ever dressage show."
Dressage really suited Sofie’s technique and style-of-riding and as a self-proclaimed perfectionist the move into the world of dressage was simply “meant to happen”.
“I remember my first ever dressage competition was a British Dressage event with Laddie. We put in little preparation to the actual event but I entered us both into a prelim and we got a score of 65%.”
In 2019 Sofie suffered an injury which had the potential to prevent her from being able to ride again. She was determined for that not to be the case!
Two years of recuperation, rest and recovery has helped Sofie to return to riding, something she acknowledges as one of her greatest achievements.
“I’m really proud of myself in properly getting 'back-on-the-saddle' and my motivation to achieve more within the sport of dressage is as strong as ever. My next goal is to compete with my horse Royalty at Grand-Prix level as she's a special horse and we’ve risen from intermediate level together. I have high hopes for her so let's see where we can get to together!"
Commitment and dedication to her own recovery and rehabilitation have been key to Sofie’s return to riding at a competitive level.
We were keen to ask Sofie to share some tips to our readers, particularly any advice which may help them on their journey to the top!
Tip 1: Prepare, stay calm and remain focussed before a competition.
"Give yourself time, don’t be rushed. Make sure you are well prepared and have plenty of time to get the horse ready whilst being in a relaxed atmosphere.
I would find that at a big show I would get quite nervous so I put into practice a technique called the EFT technique (Emotional Freedom Technique) which involves tapping specific meridian points around my face helping me to relax and focus. It must have looked pretty crazy but I swear by it and if you get pretty nervous before a competition give it a go!"
Tip 2: Have routines that you stick to before the morning of every competition.
"Everyone has their own methods to prepare but my routine involves every horse who is competing being bathed the night before along with the preparation of all their tack, the lorry and all equipment.
On the morning of the competition each horse has their breakfast and then I plat them up. I like them to have a routine too and it’s important to me that they are sparkling clean for any competition so the morning of every competition is all about getting them ready."
Tip 3: Do what works for you.
"Even if someone is there helping me it is important to me that I am involved in the tacking of the horse so I know it is exactly how I like it.
I have to do everything myself, so even if my groom fits the bridle I will take it off and put it back on myself. I get my horse ready first and then I get myself together."
Tip 4: Get snacks and stay hydrated.
"On busy competition days I often find myself craving sugars. My mum used to prepare fruits for me to nibble on throughout the day so I still do that today.
I don’t like to eat much breakfast the morning of a competition as I don’t like too much in my stomach so I normally graze on a cereal bar and some fruit to keep my sugar levels up. I also swear by multi-vitamin tablets which I add to my water which help me stay dehydrated through the day whilst replenishing my electrolytes.
If you can eat a good healthy breakfast beforehand then try to eat slow burning foods such as porridge or muesli."
Tip 5: Have a high carbohydrate based meal the night before a competition.
"Although I don’t eat breakfast the morning before a competition I certainly make up for it the night before. I like to have a high carbohydrate meal the night before to fuel me up for the day ahead. I also try and get a good night sleep so i'm mentally on the ball."
Tip 6: The most important part of any athletes fitness preparation is their stretching.
"Riding a horse safely and to the best of your ability requires considerable muscle energy, yet rarely do I see riders stretching before riding or competing. Remember to look after yourself and carry out a series of stretches to help you be as flexible and supple as possible. You see other athletes 'stretch' as a golden rule and I apply that same logic to riding."
Tip 7: Always keep your tests on a piece of paper and close to you.
"You never know, when the pressure is on or you’re concentrating on something else you can forget things. Keeping your test close to hand is a top-tip for reducing anxiety levels on the day."
Tip 8: Stay relaxed and focussed.
"Stay in your bubble and don’t think about anyone else who is there. It’s all about you and your horse so stay focussed on you and what makes you and your horse happy and relaxed. Tell yourself you’re just riding your horse as if you were at home."
Tip 9: Prepare and then practice your test weeks ahead.
"Practice the horses walk-to-trot transitions as if you were competing in the arena with a view to perfecting your test riding, which doesn't have to be going through your whole test but focussing on specific aspects of it that you may not be as comfortable with. It's muscle memory for both of you! "
Tip 10: Even if your day has started not as planned, take 5 minutes out to relax.
"In a competitive environment it doesn't always go to plan and this naturally can lead to you being stressed about the start you have had. Your horse will recognise your anxiety levels. Be aware that this is the case and if you do become stressed or anxious about the start you have had simply take five minutes out. Sit down, try and relax and focus on starting the day again. Just have fun with your horse."
Tip 11: Never reign yourself in and always dream big.
"There is nothing stopping you from being 'Charlotte and Valegro'. Never hold yourself back. Stay positive and always focus on the positive. Learn from what the judges may have said to you but don't get hung up on any negative comments. Learn to support your fellow riders and you'll soon be a part of a huge family!"
Tip 12: Keep your horses in tip-top shape.
"It is vital to keep your horses in as best condition as possible.
Make sure everything from their diet to their supplement levels are right for them and have a clear health and fitness programme for each horse.
Recovery and recuperation are also key. All my horses use EQU StreamZ magnetic bands which they live in 24/7 for their recovery and wellbeing. In colder months they have infra-red rugs which help keep them warm and toasty.
They consistently see a physiotherapist and have regular vet checks and as a result of all of this they are extremely happy horses who are in tip-top shape."
Final Tip: Treat yourself with a big meal and a warm bath when you get home.
"For me, nothing can beat a MacDonalds after a long day at a horse show! It’s a part of my 'horse show routine' and has been since my first ever showjumping competition. I realise it’s not the most of healthy tips but we all have our vices and MacDonalds chicken nuggets and chips do it for me after a long day!
Once I am home and the horses are tucked up nothing beats a warm soapy bubble-bath before a cozy night sleep! "
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TikTok: Sofie Butchart Tik Tok