I want to talk about using dressage competition and the dressage tests themselves to help you decide when it’s time to move your horse up to a higher level.
One thing to consider is your scores. If you’re consistently getting scores in the mid 60% to 70% range in your dressage tests, you’re probably ready to move up.
If your scores are consistently in the 50% range or lower, then you know you still have homework to do at that level. I’m not talking about the occasional bad show or class. We all have those. But if your scores are consistently in the 50% range or lower, you need to get some outside help.
Another thing to consider is the differences between the levels. For example, let’s talk about moving up from the Training Level to First Level at dressage competitions.
For me, there are two big differences between Training Level and First Level. The first major difference is that you need to be able to ride your horse consistently on the bit.
At Training Level your horse just has to accept the bit. By that I mean he has to accept a contact from your hand to the bit, and you can direct, turn, and guide him with the reins. But he doesn’t have to be “on the bit”. That is, he doesn’t have to be “round”.
At First Level dressage, he must be on the bit. Ask yourself if you can use your connecting aids to put your horse on the bit. Also, does he stay on the bit consistently?
If you want your horse to stay on the bit consistently, you can’t just give one set of connecting aids and expect him to stay there. You need to layer those connecting aids one on top of another, like coats of paint.
Throughout your dressage test or ride, you’ll give many connecting aids. The first one puts your horse on the bit and the succeeding ones say to him, “Now stay there; stay on the bit.”
So give “connecting aids” by lightly closing your legs and outside hand for three seconds. (Your driving aids create power and your closed outside hand recycles that power back to the hind legs.) Then soften for a few strides. Then repeat.
Another big difference between Training and First Level dressage tests is that you need to be able to sit the trot. At Training Level, you have a choice. You can either sit the trot or post. In the First Level dressage tests, you must sit the trot except in some of the lengthenings.
Then start to look at some of the new movements and exercises you’re asked to do at First Level. Here are three new things you’ll need to show at First Level:
1. To begin, you’ll need to be able to show lengthenings in both trot and canter. As I said in a previous article, if you can maintain the rhythm and tempo of the gait, start incorporating rubber band exercises into your work. Go more forward for a few strides, and then come back for a few strides. Then gradually increase the number of strides so that you can eventually do a trot lengthening across a whole diagonal or a canter lengthening down the whole long side.
2. Also, in the First Level dressage tests, your horse needs to leg yield. One of the questions you should ask yourself is “Can my horse do a turn on the forehand?” In other words does he understand to move away from the leg that is placed behind the girth?
For leg yields, he needs to understand the difference between a leg that is placed on the girth that says, “go forward” as opposed to a leg that is placed behind the girth that says, “go sideways”.
3. You’ll also need to be able to show a few counter canter strides. Can your horse maintain the balance and the quality of his canter as he arcs off of and back onto the long side?
To sum up, use your scores at dressage competitions and the dressage tests themselves as guidelines to help you decide if it’s time to move up. If your scores are consistently good and your horse is adept and confident at doing the work at the next level, you’re probably ready. Give it a shot! For more free dressage tips, go to my blog at http://www.janesavoie.com