During a dressage competition you will feel the judge’s eyes on you from the moment that you enter at A. You might be tempted to wonder about what is going on in the judges mind. However, before you let your mind wander to far, you need to instead focus on maintaining your harmonious partnership with your horse.
Many riders think that progressing from one level to the next is simply about mastering certain skills. Unfortunately this thought process will only get you so far. If you truly want to progress from level to level, then you must not only master certain skills, you must also understand and be able to answer the new questions that will be posed to you. Keep in mind, that answering these questions will also require you to have a complete understanding and positive working relationship with your chosen equine partner. After all, you can not make the journey from one level to the next without the support and consent of your horse.
Understanding Each Level Will Begin Your Journey To The Top
Progressing from one dressage level to the next begins when you understand what each level is trying to teach you.
The purpose of Training Level is to focus on the horse. The tests are designed to confirm that your horse’s muscles are supple and loose, that he moves freely, and that he can remain in a steady rhythm while accepting the bit. If your horse is to achieve the latter goals, then as a rider you must understand the basics of dressage and have the foundation for a classical seat. At its core, a classical seat will be steady, balanced, and effective. It should be the first tool that you use to help your horse perform to his maximum ability, while you remain in perfect balance with his movements.
The purpose of First Level is to demonstrate that the horse can remain in good balance while adding a higher level of pushing power from his hindquarters. As a rider, it is your job to help your horse make precise transitions, especially from the working gaits to the lengthening gaits. Once again, your classical seat will come into play as your aids must also become more independent. Your horse must be willing to accept both the bit and your seat as you work together to showcase his natural movements and willingness to compete.
The purpose of Second Level is to begin to challenge the horse. The tests offer opportunities for the rider to help her horse excel at harder movements. From halting to backing the appropriate number of steps, to relaxing into the bit and seamlessly stepping into the canter without a single walk step, the rider must be completely in-tune with her horse. This level is also a chance for your horse to standout by showing his natural athleticism and beauty. Stronger lengthenings, seamless transitions, and suppleness throughout all movements should be achieved. By the time a rider and horse reach second level, they should begin to seem as if they are one.
Progression Takes Time and Patience
Riders might be tempted to push themselves and their horses too hard in an effort to try and reach new levels. While this tactic might deliver some short term success, the result is usually bad habits that take twice as long for the rider or horse to break. Above all, one of the most important things to remember about progressing through the levels is that you and your horse must both be ready to take on a new challenge or skill. You both must be confident, trusting, and self-assured before you try to advance. In addition, accuracy, balance, strength, and supple movements should be learned at the most basic levels. Through these skills, you and your horse will have the foundational tools needed to learn more advanced movements as you continue to move up the levels.