Moving Up

When I was younger, the decision to move up was solely based on whether or not I could get around a course at that level. Our dressage was crap wasn’t pretty, our skills not confirmed, but I could get around a Training level cross country course without any faults, and that was the measure of success we held to.

Merry at the Ark Horse Trials

Merry at the Ark Horse Trials

Upon my return to the realm of competition as an adult amateur, I decided I was fed up with the days of just ‘getting around’, and redefined success as a competitor. To me, success is putting in a dressage test I can be proud of, jumping around a show-jumping course in a non-scary and tactful way, and giving my horse a confident ride over cross country. That is not to say that mistakes cannot be made, but that at the end of the day I am not embarrassed of the way I rode my horse and that he is better for the experience.

Cross country is supposed to be fun! Photo by High Times Photography

Cross country is supposed to be fun!
Photo by High Times Photography

Since I bought Foster as a just-turned 4 year old, I have had the reins for his entire career. No one else makes decisions about what he does or when he moves up, though certainly I try to be open minded to advice when knowledgable advice is given. Our first event was at the maiden level (video below), and we trotted almost the entire course, and racked up time faults galore, but I could have cared less. We campaigned at the Beginner Novice level for over a year and a half, as we struggled to find confidence and rhythm on a cross country course. When he cantered around a Beginner Novice track with ears pricked the whole way, and came in over 30 seconds under time, I knew we were ready to move up.

And now as I consider moving him up again, I pause. Foster has now completed 3 Novice level events, and proved he can rock around a harder Novice course and still come in with confidence and spunk. He has schooled Training height fences, and training combinations. His dressage is rocking along, and with some tweaks to my warmup, I hope to break into the 20s soon.

Training Jump, yay!


I know that part of me wants to move up to Training so badly, because I’ve always sort of put it on a pedestal. I hated that I didn’t get to compete more at Training with Merry, and in my mind it is the first real test of a non-green horse. Training level demands bravery, fitness, and finesse in a way that Novice only occasionally hints at. And I am more than eager to prove my horse can answer those demands.

There are still elements of Training that he hasn’t mastered. He hasn’t seen corners, or chevrons. He hasn’t got confirmed lengthenings (granted, two separate trainers have commented that he may never have great lengthenings). So do I trust that when asked, Foster will answer the new fence-type questions?

I’ve been hoping and planning to move up to Training in the spring, but I feel at war with myself, trying to judge if he is ready versus trying to judge whether it’s my ambition just saying he’s ready. But if all goes well, we will conquer lengthenings this winter, and I will find a facility to expose him to more training cross country questions. The latter is tough, because I can’t think of any schooling facilities have corners and chevrons available to practice over. We’ll just have to do our best to prepare, and I will have to trust Foster to continue to be confident in his abilities and my riding. And if it doesn’t go well, we’ll come back to Novice without regret. Because at the end of the day, success is still about him, and not me.

How do you measure success? When do you decide to move up?

11 thoughts on “Moving Up

  1. I decide to move up when I feel secure throughout the entire course and my horse is bored with the fence height. Right now, we have 1/2 of that equation but not the other!

  2. I think your main answer is just to school until you feel confident, school corners, school chevrons. Carlos did a lot of shows at 2’3″ to 2’9″ before I moved him up to 3′ at the end of his first season. I really want to move Ramone up to 3’6″ next season, our first proposed show is in March and that gives me 6 months to school and feel confident that he can do it happily. Schooling is the thing that helps you be confident.

    • Realistically our move up will also be in March. 6 months feels like a good amount of time to fill in the last gaps and as you said, get more schoolings under our belt.

  3. I feel like I’m in the same boat, only stadium is holding us back. The dressage is completely confirmed (when not, you know, distracted by cross country going on beside us), and cross country at Novice is getting pretty boring, but stadium is so horrendous right now at shows that we wouldn’t make it.

    Super frustrating, but I’m starting to feel okay that Training might have to be put off for another year yet again.

    • That is so frustrating. Luckily that’s something you can absolutely practice at home! I think it’s even tougher when it’s just one thing that’s holding you back and everything else is in place. But I’m positive you and Bobby will conquer the sticks and be there soon!

  4. Interestingly I’m holding back because of dressage. My horse is an XC machine but we’ve yet to break 40 in the sandbox so…
    Have you worked on corners at home with stadium jumps? Might be a good introduction and then half your list is checked off! =)

  5. I totally get where you’re coming from and I think it’s something most competitors struggle with occasionally. I personally am doing hunters right now (I refuse to rule out eventing though…some day!) in the 2’3″ division. I am dying to move up to 2’6″ next year and it looks like that’s the plan – but you never know what’s going to happen when you work with horses! Really what bugs me about it is when non-horse people ask how high you jump and then say in a tone that implies it’s not very impressive, “Oh. Is that high?” (I always want to tell them to give it a go and let me know what they think.) But this was a nice reminder that it’s not about other people, and it’s not really even about me – it’s about the horse. Good on ya.

    • So right, it’s terribly hard to make plans when horses are what they are. Case in point- I thought my move up to Novice would happen 6 months before it actually did! But it’s so worth taking the time to get the skills in place and have a positive experience, rather than rushing things and then dealing with the consequences.

  6. The old saying of “show the level below what you’re schooling at home” is a good starting point when looking to move up. Right now you’re comfortably schooling training level with Mr Cutie Pants and when you start adding some Prelim to that you will be ready for Training 🙂 Now this doesn’t mean you should be jumping 3’6″ courses with roll backs and triples and such, but if you can point Foster to a 3’6 jump and feel fairly confident about it you’ll be fine. I do think you guys are on the right track- especially after rocking around a solid Novice course at FENCE 🙂 You’ve got a great coach that I’m totally jealous that you get to ride with (the good kind of jealous- I’m so excited for you!) AND can school at CHP during their XC days 🙂 In high school Susan usually had our “move up” be FENCE or Farewell b/c we had so many opportunities to school there that we already had the confidence to go clean XC b/c we’d jumped those jumps a million times already!

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