Moving Up To A Harder Level

Many riders find a comfortable niche and stay there. Probably the majority, if we read the statistics that show a huge base, and a tiny top. I can`t speak for other horse sports, but in eventing, this huge base comprises the two levels called Beginner Novice and Novice. There are levels below these not recognized by the USEA, and they are called, variously, “Grasshopper”, “Green As Grass”, “Minnow”, and the like.

By all means, if you are secure and happy and safe at one of these levels, and have no burning desire to get out of your comfort zone, just happily stay there. Read my blog called “It Only “Matters” if it Matters To You.”

But there are many riders with aspirations to climb the ladder, and who may be seeking some guidance about how to make the climb with a good chance of success. If so, here are a few ideas that you may find useful.

The building blocks that comprise any rider and horse will include physical strength and fitness, various skill sets, emotional readiness, the requisite knowledge, and the confidence that comes when these others are solidly in place. Conversely, if some of the building blocks are either missing, or deficient, then either horse, rider, or both are apt to lack the necessary confidence. I often quote a “mantra” I heard from Jack Le Goff almost forty years ago: “Boldness comes from confidence, confidence comes from success, so it`s the trainer`s job to create lots of success.”

Vince Lombardi said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” Fatigue can cause rider falls. It can lead to bowed tendons, torn suspensory ligaments, all sorts of horse injuries. So, if you are truly serious about moving from one eventing level to a higher and harder level, make sure that both you and your horse are both hard enough, tough enough, and fit enough to withstand the harder demands. No panting and flailing three quarters of the way around cross country by the rider, no “cooked” horse at the finish line. You owe this to your horse, even if you would forego it for yourself. So get out there and spend more hours in the saddle. Long walks help create base fitness, gradually add  trot sets, make them longer and longer, add hills if possible, carefully introduce faster work, monitor, monitor, monitor. 

What skills are necessary for the new level? In eventing, there is first basic horse care, feeding, worming, shoeing, dental care, all the prereqisite management skills. There are dressage skills. Show jumping skills. Most important, cross country skills. Why “most important?” Because bad dressage or show jumping is embarassing, but bad cross country riding is dangerous. So learn how to deal with the various new demands of speed, height, complexity AT HOME, before you take your new game on the road. “Be prepared” is more than a motto for Boy Scouts.

You have to know what you are doing. Knowledge can come from experience, lessons, observation, books, videos, clinics, conversations, but you need to have it. Good riders tend to simply know a lot more about all kinds of horse related matters than lesser riders, so go study harder.

If all these pieces are in place, if you and your horse are tough, fit athletes, if you`ve practiced and practiced to learn the appropriate skills, and if you know what you`re doing, then you will probably discover that your confidence level is high enough to take the next step, whether it`s the fairly baby step from Grasshopper to Beginner Novice, or the giant step fron Intermediate to Advanced.

And always remember that in all horse sports, it`s a partnership, rider and horse. So if either one of you is a weaker link, fix that first. Don`t think that one can make up too much for the other. A little bit, sure, but only a little. Real trouble is just waiting if an unready rider thinks a great horse will “fill in the missing pieces”, just as the great rider will need the great horse to gallop around Rolex next April.

So do your homework, be brave, and good luck!


1 Comment

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One response to “Moving Up To A Harder Level

  1. GREAT post. 99% of what you said here applies to endurance riding as well. While the majority of people seem to be content at the LD and 50 mile distances, there’s a section of us that are drawn to 100’s – and you have to have all your ducks in a row for 100’s with good foundation blocks. I’ll echo what you said about fatigue being your number one enemy. Why did I re-bow a tendon at 92 miles at my last 100? Because it was a cold, sandy, wet ride and she was fatigued – I chose to have her push through a level of fatigue I shouldn’t have. I learned a surprising fact in vet school (first year student) – tendons don’t condition – the integrity of the tendon is dependent on the level of bone and muscle strength/fitness. Assuming you don’t step into a hole and have an acute injury, then the best way to protect yourself from a tendon injury that means you are out of the competition for a year or longer is building strength in your foundation blocks. When I bowed the tendon I was mystified – yeah she was tired but she had almost 1000 miles with no incident on that leg, had shown no issues leading up to the ride and she had a number of 100’s under her belt……so I thought that it might have been just “one of those things”. Of course, like almost every situation out there, there IS a cause and likely in this case it was a classic case of high levels of fatigue. I cannot stress enough the difference between the “normal” level of “tiredness” you get as you condition for a new level – and fatigue, where you are asking for problems.

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