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.
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.
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.
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?