I regularly see people asking when they should move up to the next dressage level, and there are a wide range of answers people give including; once you’re regularly scoring a certain percentage, once you’ve won, once you’ve been to a championships and when you feel like it. It’s a hard one to answer because everyone has different aims for their horses, but like most of my posts, I’m going to give you my opinion on this matter!
Firstly, I think it really depends on what level you are currently at, why you are at that level and what your aim is for the horse. For example, if you are competing at intro because your canter is rubbish and your aims for the horse is to just have fun and maybe get up to novice one day, you can afford to spend more time having fun at each level. Whereas, if you’re aiming for the higher levels with a horse, you’re not actually gaining anything from staying at the same level.
I think the main reason people don’t move up to the next level is because they don’t think they will do as well as they are now and aren’t sure they are ready for this. And I’m sorry to say this to anyone currently in between levels, but you are probably right. When you move up a level, it is quite likely that you won’t get as high percentage or place as highly. And to be honest, if you do manage to score the same or better when you move up, then you should have moved up a while ago. But don’t let this put you off. You will get there.
Why do you need to move up?
Well this really depends on what your aims are. But most people want to improve and do better and there is only so much you will improve riding the same tests over and over again and eventually, you will probably place and win everything near you… so what left do you have to aim for at this level? You’ve already done it all!
It’s also important to bear in mind that more and more shows now have restrictions on who can enter a class at each level. Local shows near me, if you have won at that level or placed in the top 3 at the next level up, you can’t compete in these classes. Similarly, E-Dressage now have an open and restricted section for each level where once you have scored 70% 3 times you have to compete in the open section at that level. So it might not be easy for you to continue to compete at that level if you are good at it!
So how should you decide when to move up?
I personally wouldn’t go off how many times you place/win. This doesn’t always represent how well you are doing, especially at local level. You can win a class with a much lower score than you usually get if the other competitors have a bad day. Similarly, you cannot place after riding your best test to date because the competition is really tough! So although we all like to get a rosette, they shouldn’t determine when you are ready to move up to the next level.
This goes the same for qualifying or winning a championship. Yes it would be fantastic to get there. But all it can take is for you to have a bad day at a qualifier and miss out for that year and do you really think you should sit at that level for another whole year just to try and qualify again? Instead you could spend that time improving and progressing and possibly qualifying for the next level up!
What level are you schooling to at home? If you are schooling movements from elementary, you shouldn’t be jogging around a prelim. Even if you have a particularly green or nervous horse, you might find that asking a bit more of them in a novice test might just help them concentrate and relax a bit more. I’ve heard of several people riding at higher levels because their horse behaves better!
Similarly, what does your instructor say? (Although this can sometimes be where a problem comes from if the instructor is a rosette hunter!) Most instructors will give you an honest opinion on what level you should be competing at and I hate to break it to you, but most of the time it is a higher level than where you are! In my most recent lesson I was told I should really be aiming at novice now… Only just made it to prelim!
My opinion is that percentage is probably the best way to judge when you should be moving up and I personally feel consistently scoring high 60s or more is when you should move up. And just because you decide to move up a level, doesn’t mean you can’t do both for a little while! I decided to take the plunge at prelim around the same time I was consistently scoring bout 67% at intro. I am still competing at both levels and will probably continue to do so for a little while yet. I am still scoring a consistent 67%ish at intro and around 62% for prelim. But I think once my prelim starts consistently hitting the 65% mark we will stop with the intro and start schooling towards novice. (Although probably not competing at novice for a while yet!)
But even saying that, if you aren’t competing regularly and are just going out for a bit of fun, I don’t really see a problem with you competing at whatever level you fancy. But don’t be surprised if people get annoyed if you consistently score high and place. As much as we all like winning, no one likes a trophy hunter!