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How to know when to move up a level

Updated: Aug 16, 2021

In this training article we will be talking all about the big question 'when is the right time to move up a level'. Its a question that i think a lot of us mull over in our heads and worry and so, in true De-Complicating fashion, were going to break it down, simplify it and make it super easy for you to know when you're ready to make that transition to the next level. Whether thats from intro to prelim or advanced medium to PSG.

Weve all got to a stage where weve felt confident and comfrotable at a level and then the time comes when the question gets asked ;'should i move up a level or should i start affiliating. it can seem daunting at first, you may question whether now is the right time or whether yuore good enough, and thats hwen we come in. ive put together 5 ways to know if you are ready to make thqt step up whether youre looking to start competing at the next level or deciding whether to affiliate or deciding whether to quality for a championship or area festival. This episode doesnt just apply to those wanting to go up a level in dressage competitions but for anyone looking to push themselves to the next level whether thats to start showjumping at a higher level or to affiliate in BE or BS or BD or if youre questioning whethger to try to qualify for that championship youve alwaysd wanted to go to. These 5 things im going to talk about can be like a checkbox list which will really help you to work out if you ar eready, if now is the right time or if

So lets get straight into the first one

  1. Have you achieved what you wanted to achieve at your current level?

I speak about it a lot but setting goals is really important. It helps to keep you motivated and gives you a direction both for your training and for competing. Everyone's goals are completely individual to them and the reason why one person competes will be very different to another person.

So its really important that firstly, you are very clear on why you are competing in the first place:

- Is it because you want to give your horse more experience in a competitive atmosphere?

- Is it because you want to win or be in the top 10 at a national championship or get your qualifying scores to go internationally ?

- Is it because you want to give your horse some positive experiences in a competitive environment after a few spooky or naughty sessions?

- Is it because you enjoy seeing your friends and its a fun social time for you?

- Is it because you want to qualify for an area festival ?

So, if you're competing for the social side, give your horse some positive experience after a few bad competitions or to give you or your horse more experience in a competitive atmosphere then the level you compete at isn't really relevant. Whether you are competing at Prelim or PSG the atmosphere or the social side would still be there either way. But then if you are wanting to be competitive and in the top 10 or even win at the national championships then you would probably be looking to stay at the level and work on becoming the best you can be at that level. But if your aim is to wear tails and go PSG and you aren’t fussed about the score then once you feel confident in the movements you’d get out and get going. The point is that what level you choose to ride at completely depends on your goals and what you are actually trying to get out of the competition as well as the competition season.

And the same applies for when you are deciding whether to move up a level. Think about why you compete and what your goals are at the moment both your competition goals and your training goals and see if going up a level aligns with those goals that you have set yourself. Its also a really good idea to set yourself a goal for the level you are competing at like, for example, a lot of peoples goals is to qualify for the area festival or regionals, then when you've qualified or you've ticked off your goal for that level you can then look to moving up to the next level.

2. Can you ride the movements for the next level confidently at home?

This brings us quite smoothly onto my next point: what level are you training at. Before you more up a level you want to make sure that you are confident riding the movements required for the level you want to compete at. So say youre thinking of moving up to Novice level; you need to make sure you are able to ride a counter canter and a medium trot and canter. And if you want to make the move up to Elementary you need to make sure you are confident with your leg yields and simple changes.

I always suggest training a level above the one you compete at. So if you have just started competing at Novice you should be training Elementary level at home. This means that whilst you are competing at Novice you are becoming confident with the Elementary moves. It has double the amount of advantage for you because it means that you should feel super confident competing because, in comparison to your training, the movements and requirements should be relatively easy; but also that whilst you are competing you will be consolidating and becoming confident in the work at the level above so by the time you come to compete at that level you should feel confident and ready to go.

Try looking at some tests for the level above and running through them at home to see how it is to link all the movements together. Sometimes it can seem really easy to do the movements alone but when you have to link them together it suddenly seems more difficult. If you are able to run through the test and feel confident in the movements then it sounds like you are on your way.

3. Are you happy with your current scores?

I'm not always a fan of just using your scores to determine when to move up a level because you get horses that really don't do well at the lower levels but are more suited for the higher levels and some that have that natural relaxation and rhythm that they love at the lower levels.

However, its always a good idea to think about how happy you are with your scores at the moment. Everyone's idea of a 'good' score is different: some would be happy to get over 65%, some wouldn't be happy unless they're in the 70's and for some, the score is irrelevant.

I think if you feel that both you and your horse find the level you are at easy and you are consistently getting a 'clear round' with minimal mistakes and no issues then you could definitely look at moving up a level. If you look at your test sheet and you can see loads of areas where you still feel you could improve then maybe its worth holding off for a bit and really confirming the work you're doing now before moving up. Generally i think if you are getting below 65% i would always say to keep plugging away and looking at the areas you could work on as, realistically, it only is going to get more difficult with the judges expecting more and a higher degree of those scales of training (rhythm suppleness, contact and so on) if you can get everything together and sorted now its only going to make the transition up a level so much easier. You can even chat to the judge after your test and ask them their opinion - every judge i've spoken to has always been more than happy for me to pick their brains and ask their advice.

4. How are you and your horse feeling at shows?

I think this is a really important one to talk about because there are some horses and people who really step up and feed off the atmosphere of a competition and there are some who feel nervous or anxious or pressured.

i think while we’re talking about this as well one thing that was a real light bulb moment was the realisation that sometimes a horse that is nervous or anxious might not be spooky or tense and they might actually just become lazy and behind the leg or feel like they get stuck or go in on themselves. And similarly nerves or anxiety in people doesn’t always present as that sick butterfly feeling we always associate with it I actually feel tired both physically as well as the yawning sleepy type tired.

But anyway, going back to what we were saying, if either you or your horse does get nervous or anxious or the other way and they get over excited it may be that you are working Elementary or Medium at home but the atmosphere gets to you at a show and you’re still not quite getting a clear round mistake free test at Prelim yet. In this case it’s totally okay for you to stay at Prelim until you feel that the confidence is there both for you and your horse and then you can move up once the mindset is there.

5. Ask your trainer

It may seem simple but people rarely do it. Ask your trainer out right if they thing you are ready. They will be the person most likely in the know about what you are capable of, where you're at currently and if you're ready or if it would be beneficial for you to make that transition up.

So now let’s say you’ve listened to this and you’ve made the decision to move up a level. What is the best way to do this and how do you go about it?

Tips for confidently moving up a level

1. Test Riding

Before you go out and compete practice running through a couple of different tests at the higher level at home. It will give you an idea of how it feels to link movements together, how you need to set up and prepare for different parts and if there’s anything else you need to do in your training before you go out.

There are loads of Test Riding Sessions all around the country where you can go out and run through a test in front of a judge and get feedback about your test and where you could improve. These are great introductions to a new level and can be really helpful to take the pressure off and practice but away from home.

2. Ride unaffiliated at the level above

If you feel you’re not quite ready to go up a level at affiliated level then you can always give it a go at unaffiliated shows.

A lot of my riders that I teach, compete at affiliated at say novice level and then at Elementary at unaffiliated shows. I think being able to run through tests in a competition environment that maybe isn’t as big an atmosphere and where there’s less pressure can be really helpful and then when you’re confident you can then move to affiliated.

3. Its not going to be perfect the first time

My last tip is arguably the most important and that’s, when you make that transition up a level, is not to worry about it feeling messy or not perfect the first time. I think it’s so important to recognise that there is such a huge variety of people in a class; there are people who have been doing that level for years, people who it’s their first time and everyone in between and so don’t put pressure on yourself to get the scores or the marks or have the same mistake free test as you had before in the level below.

4. Have fun!

Remind yourself this is a higher level it is more challenging and you are now on a whole new journey at a new level. Set your own goals for your new level and work your way towards achieving them.

Let yourself be proud of the fact that your hard work has paid off !

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