When should I move up?
This must be the eternal eventing dilemma. Every time big name/upper level riders open themselves up to questions from the lesser-eventers of the world... someone will ask this question. Because it's really important to a heck of a lot of people. And every time any one of those big name/upper level riders answers it - its the exact same answer - "it depends". But what the heck does it depend on? A lot of things. Sheesh. Okay, so back to square one - when should I move up?
Katchi is back to work - 3 days of "walking" now. Walking is relative. Thoroughbreds who are super fit, don't loose a ton of fitness in 3 weeks of vacation time. They are, however, so happy to go back to work - well, they make life interesting! Cold wind makes it even more interesting!
At Full Moon Farm a couple of weeks ago, I ran into a friend who I ride in Jim Wofford clinics with a lot - she asked if I have a plan for moving up to Prelim in the spring. I stumbled all over my tongue, and finally spat out, "I have several plans - but I'm not telling any of them!" Apparently I was very funny because several people standing around laughed very hard. Ha ha.
Almost a year ago, my friend Abby posted an excellent blog about the practical questions we should ask ourselves about picking a move-up event - I just re-read it, and found it as well-said as I did a year ago! Here's to Abby (and me!) making good use of all this planning in 2011!
As Katchi is coming back into work and we're about 4 months away from our first planned horse trial of the season - the inevitable, when (and where!) should I move up keeps popping into my head. Because it's on my mind, I thought I'd share some comments I've gotten from some of those big name/upper level riders when pushed a little further than "it depends".
Jim Wofford -
When I was thinking about moving Katchi up to Training level, Jimmy and I were discussing when I would know it was time. He already knew what we'd been schooling at home, so his comments were about making a decision using competitions as a guide - Jim said, "you know you're ready when you have a really good competition, and then a couple weeks later at your next show, when you finish walking XC, you feel a tinge of disappointment and think that's all?"
Phillip Dutton -
Just last month, someone asked Phillip the eternal question during the clinic Q&A. After he said, "it depends" - he said he really encourages people not to skimp on their dressage preparation when moving up. It's the one part of the show where you know, with 100% certainty, what you will be faced with. Your horse is going to be a bit unsure of himself in the jumping phases, so don't start your day by rattling him up and losing his confidence in the dressage. Make sure the first phase doesn't knock the wind out of him before you even start jumping! Notice he didn't say you should expect to win the dressage at your move-up event, but it's pretty good advice not to scare your horse in the one phase that should not be a surprise to him! (I already know which prelim dressage test is running at the not-to-be-mentioned possible move-up plan event and Katchi, unknowingly, has been walking the test pattern for 3 days now!)
Boyd Martin -
Boyd told the Eventing Radio Show that taking time to develop your partnership is very important; don't rush it, because the best ones are worth taking your time - "it's not a cheap hooker that you're hiring for the night, it's a long-term partner that you want to be eventing for a long time." (If you haven't met Boyd - you must! I really do want to know - how do people get to be so funny??). More seriously, Boyd went on to describe the move from Training to Prelim as "a bloody big jump" - the biggest change of all the levels. Great. "To be honest, your first prelim, there's no way around it, you're going to feel a little bit out of your depth and you're probably going to be terrified and horrified and have a sleepless night the night before cross country. But it's one of those things that once you get through the first one, the second is a little bit easier. And by the time you do the third and fourth ones you start really enjoying yourself and cruising around. ... You've just gotta try to brave through it without too many complications. ... My basic rule is that you've got to do something badly first. Then once you do it badly, then you get a bit better at it the second time. And by the third or fourth or fifth - or two hundredth time - you start to get the hang of it." No worries, mate. Maybe I should rethink my lessons with Boyd. He might actually be insane. I think I'll go vomit now. (P.S. his interview goes on to include a description of Silva competing Neville at his first horse trial which ended with 200-some XC time penalties which will make you laugh until you cry! Go get a glass of wine and click on the link above!)
Right... focus... back to the eternal dilemma...
Mike Huber -
Now the head of the US team selection committee, I had the good fortune of being under Mike's tutelage for several years as a young rider - bringing 2 horses up through Preliminary level and one to our first One-Star long-format three day under his careful eye. I remember Mike saying many times that moving up isn't about the scoreboard. It's not about winning X number of events. It's not even about time penalties or rails (XC stops - yea, it might be about that!). Mike said some of the very best upper level horses are some of the worst lower level horses. They're bored, or have no respect for the little fences, or can't find a rhythm at the slower paces, or... It's something to keep in mind both ways - 10 blue ribbons does not mean you're ready for the next level. Nor does 10 x 10th place finishes mean you're not ready either. Remember, it depends!
Okay, so there's some input from some big names. Recently, the USEA has also put in place "qualifying ride" requirements before moving up to Prelim and above. I understand why they have created this rule, but Katchi and I have been "qualified" for quite some time, but that was definitely no measure of our readiness to move up. Without a doubt, when a horse and rider are moving up the levels for the first time together, things go slower. When one or the other has some experience under their belt, they can carry their partner along the way until the one's experience catches up to the other. And when your horse is stuck with a rider who spent 10 years away from competition, be aware it may affect your heart more than your head. And, the bottom line is, some partnerships simply take longer to form. It has taken Katchi until this year to really trust me (and Katchi still makes me say grrrr Katchi grrrr sometimes).
By way of "stats" my horses tend to move up pretty quick... once they get to their first horse trial! It takes me freaking ages to get to that first event! I'm sort of a low-risk kinda gal when it comes to this high-risk sport. I want to KNOW our first event will go well - not hope it will go well! Not perfect - but well. As Jim Wofford says, your best defense against nerves (and disaster!) is preparation. And I need a lot of preparation! But as there is so much talk about people moving up too quick, or parking at a level to win ribbons, just remember the reality might be very different than it appears on the scoreboard. Lets take a look at Katchi's stats...
November 2006 - purchased as 5 year old baby, OTTB, with a year in a field as his list of recent accomplishments!
Dressage dressage dressage. Banks; oh, the stories I could tell. Then ditches. Yea, more stories.
Fall 2008 - FINALLY - after 2 years of bumps and bruises - made it to a horse trial! Completed 1 BN & 4 Novices.
Spring 2009 - 3 novices (finished 7th, 17th, & 4th - not exactly a winning streak!)
Summer 2009 - moved up to Training level (completed 3 T events that year; finishing 1st & 4th in the last two - ah, finally finding our niche, I thought!).
2010 - mileage, mileage, mileage at Training level (Big bumps in the road in the spring; trust issues sorted, pick up some real pretty ribbons in the fall!)
2011 - Prelim??
By the numbers, Katchi went pretty quick from BN to T. But after so much time getting to our first event, he needed to get up to Training level before he was at the right level (for him) for meaningful mileage. In another year, we might be accused of camping at the level for ribbons - oh, such pretty ribbons! :) And if we never go Prelim - so what?! Why can't we enjoy eventing at any level we want?? Ribbons included?? My point is - with so much online debate about whether people move up too fast or too slow, I wanted to put out there how much can go into training an event horse before he even makes his competitive debut! Before "anyone who is anyone" knows the horse exists - countless hours go into developing the horse and the partnership. Some horses/riders develop their solid foundation at BN or N - others need to get to T or P before that need for mileage at the level kicks in. And still others, maybe a 4-star rider and a future 4-star horse, might make it all the way to I or A before the challenges are right for them. So, be careful about assessing yourself against the progress of others and about what you assume is going on based only on the scoreboard. Go talk to the horse if you really want to know whether he's ready to move up - Katchi already whispered something about that in my ear, but I won't tell you what he said... not just yet!
So, back to thinking about "the decision" to the "the eternal dilemma" - 4 more months of planning, over-analyzing, and worrying. Excellent.
The cartoons are by Hope Holland - I purchased her greeting cards at Waredaca some time ago, but I've never found any info about her online. If anyone knows more about her cards - I'd love if you'd share! I think they're fabulous!