Thoughts on First Level

My dressage GMO is hosting a schooling show this weekend; I mailed in my entry yesterday after hemming and hawing over what tests I should ride. Gina’s lesson kid isn’t competing, so I have my horse to myself. She’s been schooling really well lately, and I know my riding is coming along. So I signed us up for First Level Test 1 and Test 2. I figured that Gina and I can do all of the things required in a First Level test, so why not challenge ourselves? (As opposed to last year’s plan, which was to win a neck ribbon for basically demonstrating our ability to canter on the correct lead and stay in the arena.)

Aww, yeah, Gina, you the Intro level champion.

Megan at A Enter Spooking had a great post last week about Second Level and why it’s so much more difficult than First Level; it prompted me to take a hard look at First Level before I committed to it.

The purpose of First Level, as outlined by the USEF: To confirm that the horse demonstrates correct basics, and in addition to the requirements of Training Level, has developed the thrust to achieve improved balanced and throughness and maintains a more consistent contact with the bit.

Well, that doesn’t sound so bad. Gina has excellent basics, moves freely forward in a steady tempo, and is pretty well balanced. She maintains a very consistent contact with the bit, especially in the baucher. (I imagine she prefers the fixed cheek to the loose ring because my hands move around too much.) So far, so good.

Gina, dressage machine.
Gina at least sort of looks like a dressage horse, unlike a certain other Thoroughbred I own…

Test 1 introduces:

  • 10 m half circle at trot
  • 15 m circle in canter
  • Lengthening of stride in trot and canter

Test 2 includes those things, plus leg yield.

I am not worried about 10 meter half circles at the trot; the indoor arena is tiny, so most of our circles are 10-15 meters anyway. We do lots of serpentines at the trot while we’re warming up, so I know Gina is capable of flexing and bending through a movement that size. I’m also unfazed by leg yields, because that’s one thing Gina does pretty well.

The 15 meter canter circle shouldn’t be a problem; I’m certain Gina can do it, but I’m a little worried about my geometry. Both tests have the circles at P and V, which seems weird to me. Without a full-size arena to practice in, I’m concerned the circles will be either a) too small b) too big c) a shape that is not a circle.

The trot lengthening will be pretty easy, I think. I’m a little concerned the canter lengthening will be difficult because they seem to occur in such a small space (S to V and R to P in 1-1 and V to H and P to M in 1-2). We’ve been working hard at transitions within the gait, though, so hopefully it won’t be a problem.

Stray observations:

  • These tests seem so long! I’ll have to persuade someone to read for me, because I’m not confident I can remember both tests and ride them back to back.
  • What am I going to wear, y’all? I have a pair of black full seats that are totally unflattering, a pair of navy full seats with a hole I may or may not be able to fix by Saturday, and a pair of burgundy full seats I don’t like that much. So, unflattering, possibly inappropriate, or uncomfortable?
  • Hanging out with dressage queens and going to dressage shows doesn’t make me a dressage queen…right?
We'll definitely be wearing this!
We’ll definitely be wearing this!

Author: Stephanie

Equestrian, amateur cook, people person.

13 thoughts on “Thoughts on First Level”

  1. very exciting – you guys are gonna rock first level!! re: the circle geometry, my trainer recommended thinking of the circle in quadrants, and aiming to ride the same number of strides in each quadrant. based on circle circumference and the typical 12′ horse stride, a 15m circle would have 4 strides in each quadrant. neat trick, right? and idk about which pants – maybe the black?

  2. I can’t wait to hear how it goes! My goal for next year is to do some dressage with my ponies, so I’m paying close attention to these dressage posts now! 🙂 We’ll probably be doing the western dressage though.

    1. We have a ton of western dressage people in our GMO! It’s not unusual for us to have more western dressage riders than traditional dressage riders at our shows. I’m glad to see it!

  3. Good luck. Could you maybe order a cheap pair of white breeches and get them before the weekend? Riding Warehouse does 2 day shipping. I know this because I have ordered like 20 million things in prep for this coming weekend.

  4. Okay so here’s what I’ve learned doing First Level this year, for what it’s worth. They want to see definite transitions (upward and downward) between working and lengthening at the trot and canter. So don’t just let the horse coast back to working canter, show a transition downward (I’m still working on this). The 15 meter circles are easier to shape if you think about the distances between letters. There’s 12m between F and P, so when you turn off the rail at V, for example, tracking left, you want to aim for a meter and a half past the midpoint (closer to F), then the quarter line, then just past the midpoint between E and V (closer to E). This will make more sense if you look at a diagram, sorry if I am confusing the heck out of you but it helped me. Make sure you count three seconds in your halts – I got dinged for this my first time out. At first level you’re supposed to hold the halt immobile for three seconds, so salute and then count before you move off in trot. Some little things I picked up, by trial and error, I can assure you! You will be great. I can’t wait to read about it and see what you thought since I ride these tests a lot.

    (p.s. glad I can comment again!)

    1. Oh, that’s very helpful, thank you! I’ve been diligently studying the diagrams in the Whinny Widgets books at work (that’s job-related, right?), and the canter circles definitely make more sense when you see them on paper.

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