The “How?” or “When?” on Moving Up

Like many of you, I’m an ambitious rider.  I want to get better; I want to grow as a rider and as a horsewoman.  So the big question is–how do you all decide when to move up?  Is it when you win the blue ribbon or score your ideal score?  Or when you feel like you need more of a challenge?  Perhaps you find more value in asking your trainer when you should be taking on more?   Since there is such a broad range of writers and readers out there I’d love to see what you all consider when moving up.


Cute pony text break.

Cute pony text break.

As for me–my trainer is fantastic.  Among a thousand other things, I trust her to help me ride better, and to help me properly gauge my progress with O.  So yes, I trust her to help me move up the levels.  I’ve never felt pushed to climb the levels by anyone other than myself.  At my barn we attempt to be as transparent as possible.  Your big goal could be doing ground poles for the rest of your life, jumping in a grand prix, or just enjoying your weekly rides.

That said, I’ve always been pretty open about my desire to be competitive.  Do I need to win everything?  HECK NO.  (also note-I wouldn’t anyway)  But I love the feeling of showing, and striving towards something with my horse.  I want to have fun, and I want my horse to be happy as well.  Together, my trainer and I seem to have a pretty good game plan, and I’m excited for the next years of showing and trying to “earn” my way up the levels.


24 thoughts on “The “How?” or “When?” on Moving Up

  1. I was wondering the same thing! I’m still preparing for my first show in a while, but we already have plans for me to move up very quickly. My trainer and I made that call when we realized that I was comfortably schooling a level higher than my current division (I wrote a little post about it here: My philosophy has always been to show a level lower than you school at home, so you’re prepared for anything. I’ll be interested to see what everyone says!

  2. I count on my trainer a lot for moving up, but I also gauge my own confidence and Murray’s confidence too. I want to move up when I’m competitive at the new level, not when I’m struggling to complete any part of it — whether that is cross country, stadium, or dressage. I want Murray to feel a little bored at the lower level before we move up, because I think that by having him constantly DESTROY stadium and cross country courses is a huge confidence builder, and works in my favor in the long run. This weekend Hawley Bennett said that you should only move up when you’re ready to win at the next level, and that’s not quite my philosophy, but I do agree with it in general that people move up too soon. (That’s one of the reasons I found the rule changes to eventing such a non-issue, because I really don’t think that if you need to trot part of your course you should be out on a BN cross country course anyway.)

  3. I concur with the rest of the group – my rule of thumb is to start moving up at the local shows when my pony is confidently schooling the next level, and to move up at recognized when he’s done well at the locals in the new level. (Or pretty asleep at the current level, even with the added pressure of a recognized event).

  4. Sounds like you have a good plan! I think that “feel,” along with a good trainer who knows what your goals are, is the way to go. And I definitely think it is most important to remember the fun part! When you get too goal oriented, sometimes fun isn’t there anymore and then you end up making less progress. So sounds like you’re on a great track! 🙂

  5. I rely pretty much on my trainer for when I should move up, but I also consider what I’d be happiest doing, what I can afford, and how well I can ride at any given level, and how well my horse performs at that level. But like other commenters, I do like to school a level higher at home than what I’ll be showing in!

  6. If my trainer thinks its time for my horse or I to step up then we step up. If we think its time to stay put, we stay put, now and again I’ll argue for a slower trajectory (like last year when she wanted me to move up to 3’3″ immediately after showing 3′ once, could we have done it, yes but I felt hey, lets just hang at 3′ for another week and it was all good)

  7. I think when you’re comfortably schooling a level higher than you’re showing, it’s time to move up. Or to at least test the waters. I like to give horses a full season at a comfortable, confidence-inspiring level, and if they’re happy and not stressed, then move them up. If I move them up and they totally freak out, we go back to the comfortable level until we feel good enough to try again. Sometimes, I’ll spend years at a level before moving up (I spent 3 years competing Moe @ Novice before trying Training), but sometimes it goes quicker (I spent half a season competing Moe @ Beginner Novice before moving to Novice). You just have to do what feels right!

  8. I have to evaluate my objective for a given show. Am I going for the experience, or am I going for qualification?
    At the Holiday show, I took the opportunity to push the Fancy Pony’s boundaries by entering 2’6″ and took advantage of ringside coaching for riding my horse in the “new” element. I wasn’t going for ribbons. However, I’m going to St. Louis to compete at Training Level dressage for qualifications toward Arabian Sport Horse Nationals (omg, I just put that out there in this public forum and now I feel all naked!!! – so we won’t be playing at First level there…
    I’m going to take advantage of schooling shows to push my boundaries and recognized shows to enjoy my comfort zone and qualify for something….
    I also second what Stephanie said.
    BTW, Stephanie, I recognize your picture from the Athletic Rider groups!! 😛

  9. I rely a lot on my trainer to help me decide when to move up. I’ve always been very open and honest about my goals at any given time, but I trust her to tell me when I have the skills to succeed in a new division.

  10. As a nervous rider, I need a full season at a comfortable level (not too challenging) before I will consider moving up. I also usually move up mid-season, after I’ve got a few lower level shows under my belt. It messes with my points, but that’s not why I’m there!

  11. I want to move up when
    a) I feel SUPER comfortable with my current height and am having good ribbon success
    b) There is a better division for me at a bigger height

    However, b has gotten me into trouble (see last year end show) haha

  12. I believe it should be a mix of these. So far my horse has told when we’re ready to move up. We spent a year at 2′ and one day he decided it was boring and knocked everything over and didn’t try anymore. So I brought the rails up and just went for it. He had excitement back in his step and so we went to 2’6. Again the same thing happened recently so we will focus on more challenging stuff at that height while also jumping single jumps at 2’9. (He has proven he can jump 3’3 but I am not ready for that) Plus with a combo of our most recent show and rocking it, I know we are ready for the next level. But I also feel like the rider has to be completely comfortable (so at home I might jump a little higher to get a new comfort zone but our next show would be at 2’6 until we do well there) but mostly to me it is a mix of horse and rider comfort because I do most riding by myself now.

  13. Everyone has already said great things, so thought I would add- its great to stay hungry and continually challenge yourself. I think when you move up too fast, it can quickly make itself apparent. Horse and/or rider feels overfaced. But a good trainer will likely know before you when you’re ready and know when to push and when not to. Good luck!

  14. Love this post! I always put so much pressure on myself when I don’t move up or learn as quickly as others and it always makes me feel discouraged, like I need to move up faster. My favorite quote is, “No matter how many mistakes you make or how slow you progress, you’re still ahead of everyone who isn’t trying.” and I have to keep telling myself. Along with evaluating skill level, I think a lot of riding involves your mentality, so that also needs to be taken into consideration. If you tell yourself you are not ready for something then it might effect your performance in the end.

  15. great post – and i’m glad to be late the party bc reading everyone’s comments has been super useful!! my mare is quite obviously ready for the next level … but i worry about myself. so the game plan is to start the season (we almost exclusively do schooling type stuff) at our current level and see how it goes. if it goes well, i might move up by mid-summer..

    but there’s really no rush – for me it’s all about confidence and having fun! i’ll check in with my trainer too – bc there’s nothing quite like the boost that comes from a trainer telling you you’re ready 🙂

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