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We are just about over the half way point in the eventing season, in fact, doing entries recently it seems to be speeding towards the end! This is usually the point where you have to start making some decisions on the levels that horses are running at. You hopefully started the season with a confidence boosting run at a level below the end of last season, and have been running along consistently improving and broadening your horses’ education. There comes a point though when it all starts to become a bit less challenging, and may even start to feel easy! It’s at this point that you need to sit and re-evaluate your plan. This article will hopefully give you a few pointers, and also build your confidence to make the jump! When starting a horse in its first season (may be as a 4 or 5 year old) it is all about just getting them to be able to do three different things well all on one day. It’s being out and about in different places with lots of distractions and coping with a bit of atmosphere.
The horses need to be educated enough before they go out that they listen to the rider and stay on the aids when they are not sure about the question or if they go a bit insecure. We often take the young horses out on the lorry and just ride them round at events if there is enough time and space on the lorry. This then makes being ridden away from home just another day at the office for them. First events are usually unaffiliated and we just aim to get round all three phases! Previously we will have done a few outings show jumping, dressage and been cross country schooling to at least two different courses. If we hit a problem in training, they won’t be asked to compete until it has been dealt with. Once they have done at least one unaffiliated, more if it is possible, they will then start out BE eventing. Most will start at 90, but the odd one may go straight out 100. When I first started eventing we went straight out at Novice, but would have done a lot of unaffiliated events prior. Most of our horses do two or three 90s – it totally depends on how confident they feel. (The 4yr olds only do 90s as qualifiers and are only allowed to do three). They will then move up to 100 and may stay at this for the rest of the season. 100 courses are getting better and now ask lots of mini questions so are great for education. If a horse suddenly meets a novel question that it doesn’t understand at Novice dimensions, it is more likely to go wrong! If we come across a problem, we deal with it in training. I would not consider moving a horse up a grade, until it was coping really well and almost making it feel easy at the level that it was at. Some good 5yr olds will go novice in their 5th year, but only if they feel ready. The 5 year old championships show jumping at Novice level. As well as doing our eventing training, we also go and jump BS. It is a really good idea to go and jump slightly bigger than you will be eventing at.

The BS courses tend to be more technical with tighter turns and more variable distances, so if you master these, eventing show jumping is easy! It is also great to be training and jumping on the big arenas with great surfaces that a lot of the show centres now have. This just saves miles on the horses’ legs. Fitness is another consideration before upgrading. You will be going faster and for longer so make sure that you and your horse are well prepared. Also make sure that you do your homework on the terrain of the courses that you are thinking of entering. Are they hilly or twisting, as this takes more out of the horse. There are a lot of great apps available now that can track speed and distance via GPS. I use skitracks and it helps track speed. Also start to wear your XC stopwatch to make sure you are doing enough! Making choices about where to go to upgrade – ask about as to what courses are like. Some are more up to height and straightforward, some are more technical. Bear in mind that you know your horse the best! If you can, have a walk of them at the Spring event, but beware as they will change the course! We always book a ‘safety run’ after upgrading, both to build confidence, but also if anything goes wrong! Some horses can jump amazingly, but think a bit too much and need a bit of an ego boost after trying really hard. The new 105cm classes are a great idea, but the first one overcooked the idea, and put a lot of horses off, so these classes need refining. It will be interesting to watch how these develop. Finally, remember that you are supposed to enjoy your day!! There are plenty of horse and rider combinations that stay at the level they are at and have a great time!

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