Sunday, May 18, 2014

What Level Are You?

I hear this question asked quite a bit.  What Level are you?  It is an honestly asked question, but the answer is not so simple, in a lot of cases.

The implication is that you have a skill-set that is quantitative enough to put you into a category that is widely recognized in the Dressage World.  That is:

The United States Dressage Federation (USDF), and the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF...our national governing body, which rules over all the competitions in the United States) recognize 6 levels of competition (ergo, training).  They are:

Introductory Level
Jelle's canter one year ago
Training Level
First Level
Second Level
Third Level
Fourth Level

The Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI...the international horse sports' governing body, which rules over all the international competitions--the Olympics, the World Equestrian Games, Pan American Games, and all the CDI's held in each country throughout the world) recognizes 4 levels of competition.  They are:

Prix St. Georg
Intermediare I
Intermediare II
Grand Prix (including the Grand Prix Special)

So, the answer expected from the questioner falls in one of these descriptions.  But the interpretation of the answer can vary wildly.  If, for instance, my horse is 4 years old, I may be competing at Introductory or training level, and working on some leg yield, some lengthening of stride in trot and canter, and maybe even some counter canter to introduce the higher requirement of balance, one would think the answer would be, "I am showing Training Level, and working (or schooling) some First Level.  But even that answer is not really accurate.

Personally, as a rider, I have, in the past, ridden and trained horse(s) to much higher levels than where I am presently training the horse I have now. I have started and trained MANY horses to Training/First Level.  But because I am a trainer by profession, most were sold at that point to others who trained them further (or not).  I have trained several through competing Second Level, and trained one who was competitive at second level, but who didn't have the strength to be competitive beyond that, so she became my schoolmaster for students.  Her training didn't stop there, though, and I trained her to do single flying changes, all the lateral work in trot and canter, working canter pirouettes (she wasn't strong enough to "sit" for true pirouettes), and she even achieved some steps of Piaffe during her life.  That is my "trainer history" in a nutshell.  I have, however, RIDDEN many horses who were schooled through Grand Prix, so I could learn to feel, assess, correct, and train other horses to do it.  That experience should be part of any trainer's education.  I was lucky enough to be able to spend months (over the course of five years) in Europe at various trainers' facilities where I could ride their schoolmasters, and receive that education.

Jelle's canter today
So, how would I answer that question from above?  I, as a rider, have ridden through all the Grand Prix Movements (I even rode a Levade when I was in Slovenia at Kobilarna Lipica!). But currently, I am competing at First Level with my Friesian, who was a re-training project and didn't even start his competition career until last year (at 10 years old!).  So, am I First Level/Schooling Second? Yes. Or, more precisely, that is where the team is "proven" at right now, since we have received (good) USDF recorded scores at that level.

But, since Dressage training is a dynamic thing, we are progressing at a very good pace.  Jelle, my horse, is gaining strength and understanding of the the work being asked of him, and we are now almost ready to compete at Second Level, and are schooling most of the Third Level elements.

So, a better way to phrase the question, should you ever ask someone, would be "What is the highest level you, as a rider, have ridden (or trained) to?" or "What level are you competing (or working) at with this horse?"  You may receive a better answer than a blank stare, or a stuttered response that doesn't make sense.

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