Preparing for First Level

Earlier this week, I chatted with my trainer about next week’s schooling show. I wanted her opinion on what tests I should ride. She suggested I enter Madigan in First Level tests 1 and 2. When I expressed some skepticism about our ability to demonstrate canter lengthening, she asked, “What’s the reason you’re going to this show? To win? Or to get experience on your horse and push yourself a little?” This was a genuine question, not meant in a snarky or mean way. And when I thought about it, I decided I would rather test our limits than compete well within them with the express goal of winning. Of course, I don’t want to go and be terrible! “Terrible” seems unlikely, although who knows with a young horse. (Or any horse, really.)

I had to dig out the ancient dry erase practice arena to remember where R, S, V and P were.

That decided, the first order of business was to review the new tests. Test 1 introduces 10 meter half circles at the trot and 15 meter circles in the canter, as well as trot lengthening. For such a large horse, Madigan is surprisingly nimble. He’s also accustomed to working on small circles, as our trainer’s indoor arena is only about 50 feet wide. Circles shouldn’t be a problem. Test 2 introduces leg yield and canter lengthening. Madigan is a lateral movement machine: he can leg yield, shoulder-in, haunches-in, and is developing a respectable half pass. So leg yields shouldn’t be a problem. And truthfully, he does have a trot and canter lengthening in there-he does them with his trainer- it’s just not something I have practiced with him much. All of the First Level components are present. He knows how to perform these movements. I know how to perform these movements. We just need to perform them together.

It’s been five years since I did a First Level test. In 2018, I did a full season at that level with Moe. We were reasonably successful, consistently scoring in the mid-60s. I think our success was largely due to our long partnership and Moe’s irrepressible enthusiasm for horse shows. I knew exactly how to ride Moe because I’d been riding him for fifteen years.

I’ve been taking lessons on Madigan for less than a year, and I spent a few years before that exclusively trail riding and foxhunting, which demands a totally different skill set than dressage. So while First Level shouldn’t feel like a stretch, it does! I’m out of practice, I’m still getting to know my horse, and the horse himself is still growing and learning.

The warmup ring is never a problem, as baby school can be very busy!

My trainer suggested I have a private lesson yesterday instead of a training ride so we could run through both tests. I’m so glad I took her suggestion, because it was really helpful. Both tests had bobbles. During the left lead canter lengthening, Madigan did his best impression of a llama. Some of my 15 meter circles were too big. The leg yield to the left didn’t get underway quick enough. But overall, the tests were fine! Our second trot and canter lengthenings in test 2 were very good. Our 10 meter half circles were accurate. Our transitions between gaits felt great. I felt like Madigan was with me most of the time, and I felt like I knew what to do when he wasn’t.

I’m really looking forward to kicking off the show season next weekend. Whether we earn a good score or not, I think it’ll be good for us to get experience together. I hope it’s the beginning of a long and enjoyable partnership!

6 thoughts on “Preparing for First Level”

  1. Your trainer and I have totally different showing philosophies ðŸĪŠ! I find that there are plenty of challenges for me on show day (staying present, being on time, actually *riding the horse*) and I don’t want movements to be any part of how I challenge myself. Plus now that I’ve started going to shows and winning ribbons…. I kinda like doing that. 😅

    It is going to be so fun to get out there and show off your fancy bay warmblood cross!!!

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