When is it the right time to move up a level?
How do you decide when you and your horse are ready to step up?
This is a question that comes up frequently no matter what discipline you compete in. I’ve heard this question answered by two professional, Olympic level event riders who both had slightly different, although equally relevant, views on the matter. One view is "wait until your horse jumps itself out", the other "go up when you're bored". Read on to find out more...
Go up when your horse "jumps itself out"
One said you should wait until your horse ‘jumps itself out’ of a level i.e. when the horse has won too many points to continue competing at that level. For example, in British Eventing (BE) competitions a horse can compete at Novice level with a maximum of 20 points, but once the horse has 21 points or more it will no longer be eligible for Novice and will therefore have to compete in the Open section (against other over-qualified horses) or move up to Intermediate level. A horse earns points by being placed in an event or jumping a double clear – at Novice level a win earns the horse 6 points and a double clear earns 1, whereas at Intermediate level a win would give 12 points and a double clear 2. So the logic behind this idea is that once the horse has accrued sufficient points to exclude it from one level, both horse and rider should be suitably prepared and capable of progressing to the next step on the ladder.
You may not think your horse is ready, but...
I agree with this to a certain extent; it’s important to achieve good results at the previous level before stepping up to the next and if this isn’t the case then any underlying issues should be addressed. However, there are many horses out there who are exceptional eventers because they’re out and out cross-country horses, but they lack ability in the other 2 phases. A poor start in the dressage or a few rolled poles will often leave horses out of the prizes despite the ability they display when tackling the solid obstacles. The absence of rosettes doesn’t necessarily mean they’re incapable of competing at a higher level though, and indeed some will actually perform better overall at a higher level when the jumping ability comes to the fore even more so than at the lower levels. Knowing yours and your horse’s limitations is vital but it’s also important to trust in your horse’s ability and have the confidence to believe in the partnership you share with your horse.
Move up a level when you're bored!
The other rider’s opinion is the one that I have based my own judgement on: you should move up a level when you find yourself getting bored with the one you’re at! This actually makes a lot of sense. Eventing is all about the challenge it poses to horse and rider and whilst that challenge needs to be feasible, it also needs to feel exciting and provide a real sense of achievement. I recently made the decision to upgrade Molly, my ride, to BE Advanced level having achieved consistent clear rounds at Intermediate and 2* level over the past 2 ½ seasons. By this point we were also qualified to enter a CIC*** competition, but I felt it’d be wise to complete a couple of one day Advanced classes first rather than flinging ourselves straight in at the deep end, even though the FEI rules meant we could have done this had we wanted. It had got to the stage where the Intermediate cross-country tracks were presenting questions that I knew Molly and I could answer and I was looking for something that would be more of a test than we’d ever faced before. Molly had demonstrated over and over that she was brave enough and scopey enough to take on more so I knew it was the right time to push ourselves out of our comfort zone…
Luckily, your horse doesn't see the entry forms!
I started eventing Molly at BE100 level so I have made the decision at each stage of her journey when to move her up, but the difference this time was that I’d never done an Advanced before either. With my previous horse I had competed at Intermediate and CCI** level, so although it was new to Molly I had the confidence that I had done it before and I could use my experience to guide Molly. But competing at Advanced level was a brand new experience for both of us. Luckily Molly doesn’t see the entry form when I submit it to the secretary so she has no idea that she is moving up a level (until she sets out on the cross-country and the jumps seem somewhat bigger, wider and more technical than last time!). For me, I knew we weren’t necessarily going to be competitive as our dressage and show jumping wasn’t yet established at this level, but I wanted to get a couple of runs under our belt mainly to check we were both up to the challenge of the cross-country – the rest can be worked on over Winter! The result was as I expected – we were off the pace after the first 2 phases but Molly proved her ability in the cross-country section and helped me achieve a lifelong ambition of completing an Advanced class (two Advanced classes actually!). Now I can’t wait to improve our performance over the ‘off-season’ and come out next year to hopefully progress to 3* level. It’s been a long road to reach this point, and there are many steps on the ladder still to climb but I like to go by the mantra “Never give up on something because of the time it will take to get there, the time will pass anyway”.
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