At Corona HT a couple weekends ago I overheard a trainer telling one of his students that you shouldn’t move up to the next level until you’re consistently winning at your current level. I thought about that, chewed on it for a while, and decided I don’t really agree.
I think deciding when to move up is one of the hardest decisions we make, especially those with young and/or inexperienced horses. There’s always the worry that you’ll overface yourself, overface the horse, you’ll both die, and the world will explode. Oh wait, maybe that’s just me. But still, no one ever wants to feel like they’re in over their head.
In talking to other people and thinking about conversations I’ve had in the past, it seems like I’ve mostly heard three different approaches on the “when to move up” question:
1) when you’re winning at your current level
2) after X amount of time
3) when your current level feels easy
My issue with the “consistently winning at your current level” approach is that ribbons don’t really tell the whole story. In eventing, you could have a horse that just isn’t great at dressage so never finishes on a super low score, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t 100% capable of competing at the next level. In jumpers, if you’ve ever tried to show in the low children’s or low adult section you’ll understand that unless you have a really fast horse, you’ll rarely win. Again, that doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of the next level. The same can be said across pretty much all disciplines. This approach just doesn’t hold water with me.
Other people like to plan their move-ups based on a time schedule. One year at X level, the next year at Y level, etc etc. That can all be fine and good too, but sometimes things don’t go as planned (whether that’s for better or for worse). I think trying to hinge move-up decisions purely on time frame isn’t really the best way.
That brings us to – when the current level seems easy. This is the one I like. It’s that sweet spot where you’re rocking around at your current level thinking “these are so tiny!” “that was easy!” and your horse shares the sentiment. When your current level looks small and you’re looking at the next level, wishing you were doing that instead. At that point you’re probably in a good place to contemplate an upward progression. But then the next question is – how long do you stay in the “this is easy” phase before stepping up? That’s a harder one to answer.
Then again, maybe all my rambling doesn’t make any sense and I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. That could be true too.
It’s probably not hard to guess what spurred this topic for me… I switched our entry for Texas Rose from BN to Novice. My reasons, whether you agree with them or not, are as follows:
1) Henry is on a roll right now. We’ve had the benefit of doing 3 shows in a really short time frame, he’s been an absolute XC machine at all 3, and he’s felt like he really gets it. Even Corona, with a few Novice size fences, and Greenwood, with some Novice level technicality, were walks in the park. He ate them up without a second thought. We’re both pretty confident right now, and my gut says now is the time.
2) The dressage and stadium are no problem. He showed in the 3′ jumpers last year, was nonplussed in the 3′-3’3″ at his jumper show a couple weeks ago and he’s really been solid at 3’3″ at home for a while now, so 2’11” ain’t no thang for him at this point. And the N dressage is pretty much the same as BN.
3) The Texas Rose course isn’t easy per se, but it’s well designed. It asks legitimate questions for the level and has some big fences but there won’t be any unfair bogey fences waiting to eat you. Well… he’s never seen a Weldon’s Wall so we’ll see what he thinks about that, but a little bit of unknown is always part of the game in eventing. The XC is in big fields that invite a forward ride, so as long as I sit up and go forward (and isn’t that always the truth) I think it’ll be fine.
4) Nothing hinges on this. We’re already qualified for AEC at BN. I really only wanted to do this event at Texas Rose because it’s the AEC venue, and I thought getting him there once to see the sights before AEC would be an advantage. It’d be an even bigger advantage if he’d already run Novice when we show up for AEC at BN. So since we’re really only there to feel things out anyway, it’s a pretty low pressure situation. If he needs to circle, I’ll circle, if he feels like he’s losing confidence, I’ll retire. No biggie.
5) Trainer says do it. This is super important to some and less important to others, but if she says go for it I’m certainly more inclined to go for it.
That’s not to say that I’m not a tiny bit worried that it’s the wrong decision. That will always be a worry when you’re completely neurotic and overprotective about your horse’s mental state like I am. But I’m hoping that if I ride semi-well and Henry stays in his awesome groove that he’s been in all spring, it’ll be just as easy as everything else has been. Otherwise, I feel like I’ve overthought it quite enough by now, and it’s time to just put up or shut up.
So I’m curious – what are everyone else’s thoughts on knowing when to move up? How do you gauge things for yourself?