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Level Journey Timeline

I try not to start changes on any horse who is going to NEED to show 2nd. There’s too much in the test that says to the horse “okay now changes next time” if you’ve been working on them.

I don’t need scores so I skip 2nd entirely now, usually just take young ones along as noncompetes to larger shows or over to school at Global and then come out at 3rd. Takes the pressure off for the 2nd level hump.


Totally. My first show at Second (I did 2-3 because I wanted to qualify for Regionals) it took me 3 days to get through the canter loops without a gorgeous change from my overachiever. If I don’t ride every step, he is like “well this would be easier, let’s just change!” But he did that even before we started the changes when I was doing the 1-3 canter serpentine. It’s less work for them, and you can’t blame them for trying the easier thing.

I don’t doubt I will get nervous and screw it up at Regionals, but I am trying to learn to stay focused. If I am clear, he listens.

I have one show horse and I’ve been doing dressage for 3 years only (jumper convert) so skipping levels isn’t a good idea for me or my horse. Sometimes I think the training pyramid is as much for riders as horses! I enjoy the process, and showing up the levels as they learn.

I find that continuing to do First Level skills is really good for me and my horse. The trot-canter and canter-trot transitions, along with Walk-canter-walk keep us honest about what we are really asking for/doing. Especially with the simple changes. Continuing to ride the walk and trot versions keeps my horse listening.

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This is what I’m doing with my current boy (lesson learned lol). I only need my gold scores so I’ve got a ways to go with my 8yo. No plans to show until those changes are confirmed. I unfortunately came off 3 weeks ago bc he can’t seem to figure out that tempis are not required or asked for yet. Lol.

How long do they anticipate and take over? Lol


Don’t underestimate your own need to have show experience also.

I’ve been showing again this year after 4 years off. I also moved up to an unfamiliar level for me. We can do all the things, but putting them together in the show ring has been much more challenging than I thought it would be.

I’m telling myself that I’m going to consciously seek out schooling shows this winter and go even if I’m not particularly excited by the judges, just to get some ring craft practice in for me.

Now, whether I’m going to be excited about doing that once the snow flies remains to be seen…


I’ve decided trying to put emphasis on a timeline ends up causing you more pain than it’s worth.

My older mare started under saddle at 3, started showing training at 5. By 8, she was schooling movements within the GP, but only showing 2nd. She needed the upper level movements to develop her gaits into something which would score higher than a 5, and the upper level movements were easier for her than loft in her gaits.
My younger mare has the gaits, but seriously took about 4 years to learn to control her canter (she also started later after being a mom first.) At 9, she’s showing 1st level and we rarely score below 7 on canter movements, much to my surprise compared to where we started! Yesterday we were doing medium canter to votes, and since she has been working on moments of extreme collection in canter she put the pieces together and offered me a full canter pirouette instead of just a circle :flushed:
My philosophy is get the basics, use the movements needed to help your horse understand the thrust you want, the bend you want, the correct folding of the hind legs, and the levels appear on their own. Different parts come at different speeds for every horse depending on their strengths.
That said, 1 level per year is totally reasonable. If you want good scores at 2nd, your desired timeline seems unlikely.


With the right horse, the right rider, and the right trainer, getting your 1st & 2nd level scores next year is absolutely doable.

The caveat: the gap between first and second level can feel like an impassable chasm in some circumstances. If second level is new to you, and new to your horse, it can be quite a learning curve. What is doable is really contingent on you, your horse, and the training.

One thing to keep in mind is that it can be difficult for a rider who doesn’t know second level movements, to learn second level movements, on a horse who is also just being trained on those movements. It’s a bit like the blind leading the blind. What a horse may learn/understand with a trainer may not always be carried over to what they understand with an owner/rider who is as green to the movements as they are. (And as someone who found themselves in this situation once upon a time, I can say that one of the things I really benefitted from was being able to lesson on my trainer’s schoolmaster: I could understand the aids and the mechanics in a hands-on way which I could then carry over to helping my horse understand what was being asked of him.)

Don’t lock yourself into a timeline. You cannot fake the strength necessary for collection and mediums. Take your time, don’t rush things, do things right, and if the strength, knowledge, and aptitude is all there, things will fall into place. A trainer working with you and your horse can probably give you the most accurate picture of what is feasible for you as a team, since so much of it is horse/rider specific.


When I was a working student I was incredibly fortunate to compete a schoolmaster (well competed through 4th level).

I moved up a level a year, First-Third, and earned my bronze. We were often schooling a level above what I was competing. For second level, we knocked off working on flying changes about 2 weeks before the show to remind him simple change simple change simple change.

My trainer felt that it was important to stick to a level a year. As her assistant, I needed the skills to bring her clients horses along, work through problems, fill training gaps, teach lessons, etc.

I have immense respect for second level. I think it requires a little more finesse than third. YMMV


Do you and your horse both have at least SOME show experience, even if only schooling shows? If you know your horse won’t have a complete meltdown away from home and you can put a test together (not just ride all the pieces separately in a schooling environment) then I would go ahead and show 1st level test 1 now. As it sounds like you already know, there are many kinds of things that can create a setback (like an injury or illness to either horse or rider with recovery time) so if you can do it now why wait until next year? Then next year you can start out at 1st level maybe do test 3 a few times and qualify for regionals (if you would like to do that) and then move up to second later in the year and try for your 2nd level medal scores. It is a reasonable timeline if you have good coaching and you and your horse are both reasonably fit and there are no setbacks. A lot of “ifs” but not crazy.

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