“I am ready to move-up to the next level” is a phrase that can strike fear into the hearts of trainers and parents alike. “Moving-up” as we call it in the competition world has to do with moving up to the next level in difficulty. Some people are ready while others think they are ready, but not so much. Do you think you’re ready to “move up?” What about your horse? Is your trainer ready for that big move? What are some determining factors on why and when you should move up?
It all starts with success. How strong are you and the horse at the level you are competing? If you are strong and your horse is still a bit green the decision can be just as hard as if you are green and your horse has experience. Just because you or the horse is super experienced does not mean the other party is ready. And sometimes even if you are both physically ready, you might not be mentally. It is a big hurdle for some to move-up. People and animals take something as small as 3 inches (for jumping) or one movement (for dressage) and turn it into a huge bear in their heads.
So, how do you know when you are ready?
For each rider and/or horse it is different. A really confident horse can make a rider confident as well and vice-versa. A lot of times, upper level riders will move a horse up faster than an amateur. This is because as a professional they know what it takes for their horse to compete at each level and their experience sometimes outweighs the inexperience of the horse. When the horse is the more experienced of the two it will make the rider braver, however the animal cannot always compensate for his masters mistakes. A good horse will try to take care of his rider in a lot of situations, even when his rider makes a green mistake. The problem in this is that the rider doesn’t always know if they have done something wrong, much less what it was. If an inexperienced horse makes a mistake and they have a professional on their back they can use the mistake as a learning experience for both parties. Ultimately, while the rider is the guide the horse is still the half that has to perform the movement.
So, seriously when do you know you are ready?
Here are some things to ask yourself:
Are you finishing well at the level you are currently competing?
This doesn’t mean you have to win. It means in each phase you compete that you are performing to the highest ability as a pair (not just you or just the horse). This means your dressage test is steady and accurate for the level. Your cross-country ride (if you are Eventing) is well ridden and safe within good time. And if you are show jumping, your course is balanced, safe and mostly clean.
Is this level slightly boring to you?
If you have mastered all of the movements or jumped the same type of course many a time and both parties come away almost cocky they are so confident.
Are you still being challenged at this level?
This question can be a bit misleading because you should always be challenged, no matter what level you are riding. But, if you both know the test or course by heart it gets downright easy.
Have you been successfully schooling the next level?
If you have been doing your homework the next level should be completely rideable. At home if those movements or height are now providing you a challenge, but don’t make you feel as if you are drowning. Now it’s time to move up.
There is not necessarily an exact amount of time you should spend at each level. It varies between rider and horse. It is never a bad thing to stay at a level for an extended period of time. To some people Novice Eventing or First Level Dressage are their Mount Everest. They may aspire to only ever compete at that level. Research has proven it takes over 10,000 hours to become proficient at anything. Think about how many days in the tack or horses you need to ride to achieve this feat!