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?

The Weeks Ahead

Where has the time gone? I’d been comfortably thinking of the Recognized event as being way off, and all of the sudden, I’m staring it in the face and trying to come up with a solid plan for our preparation, so as to not repeat the disastrous effects of last-minute-schooling at the Hunter/Jumper show.

Somewhat legit plan in place for next week.

Somewhat legit plan in place for next week.

Between lessons and more traveling for wedding/engagement/photography related stuff, it’s going to be very important that I stick to a schedule and not be left scrambling days before the show. I’m not sure that I’ll be able to manage any hill work or uber conditioning rides, since it seems unfair to do that either right before or after back-to-back lessons, but I believe the intensity and repetition of rides will keep him fit enough to compete. The terrain at FENCE is somewhat rolling, but part of the cross country course is on a giant hill- something new for Foster after having competed mostly in the rather flat lands of Southern Pines.

My last event at FENCE with Merry.. Dear Lord, I'm so thankful I don't dress like that anymore.

My last event at FENCE with Merry.. Dear Lord, I’m so thankful I don’t dress like that anymore.

This show will mark my return to Recognized competition, after 10 years away. To date, Foster has only competed at schooling shows. They’re cheaper, they’re local, and they don’t make me feel bad when we seriously goof. But with my pondering the decision to move up to Training level, it’s time to up the ante and see if Foster can handle a bigger atmosphere and tougher course. Also, prize money! Though I expect the competition to be stiff, I am confident in Foster’s abilities at this level and hope he puts in a pretty good performance.

Another photo from FENCE, Ivan at a dressage show

Another photo from FENCE, Ivan at a dressage show

Because this event is a pretty big investment in time and money, I’ve been somewhat aggressive with our lesson schedule. Last night’s training ride will be followed by a lesson next week, as well as another session with Doug over fences. So expect an unusual amount of lesson recaps in the next couple weeks as I try to keep all of this newfound knowledge and skillz in my brain! Yay busy horsey schedule!