How do you know it's time to move up a level in dressage?

brett parbery dressage performance dressage training Aug 10, 2022

Riders sometimes hang about needlessly and frustrated in the lower levels for years waiting for an elusive score that they think gives them permission to move up a level.

Is that you?

Although it would be wonderful to have external validation and a formal tick of approval to move up a level, in reality it’s up to you and your horse, and it actually doesn’t have a whole lot to do with achieving a certain score. 

Every horse is different, some may score well in the lower levels and some score better as they move up the levels. One of my World Equestrian Games horses scored better at Grand Prix than he did in Medium/Third Level! Often it’s the less flamboyant horses who score better as they move up the levels, as the training and collection come into play more and more, rather than the flash paces.

I strongly believe in the fact that dressage is a marathon not a sprint. I come across many scenarios of riders saying things like.. “I’m just going to skip elementary and go to medium, the tests are too hard and it’s just a waste of time.” I can guarantee you it isn’t a waste of time! In fact you would be missing out on vital steps that may very well come back to haunt you, and no one wants a dressage ghost coming to get them.

There is a lot to learn in every level of dressage. The levels are there for a reason, to guide you and to be your mapTrust me.. learn prelim, learn novice, learn elementary, learn all the levels. Know with confidence how to train each level, and how to ride it in a competition. It’s all about building the house, going through the processes one step at a time. Going through all the levels will come in handy later. Any shortcuts that you might think are beneficial or smarter will only leave you without tools that you will need later for the higher levels. I love this sport because of the journey it takes you on, so remember to enjoy the ride!

What I don’t want you to do is to hang around in a level until you score a really high percentage like 75 or so.


Why NOT to hang around in a level until you get a certain score:

  • You may never get there
  • You’re depriving yourself opportunities to progress with your horse
  • You’re needlessly waiting for ‘permission’ (there is no permission)
  • You’re forgetting that you’re on a fascinating and rewarding road to Grand Prix
  • You’re not entering the Novice level Olympics!

So how do you know when you’re ready to compete or move up a level? I often like to say, ‘the answers are in the tests’. Some people like to use the guide that they’re training at home a level above that at which they’re competing. That can be useful.


Here’s my checklist:

  • I can ride the test from beginning to end at home with no significant issues
  • I can do that at a different arena and/or with someone watching
  • I can do that at a Protocol Day (a judged ‘practice day’)


Then I feel like I’m definitely well-prepared to compete at that level. The higher up the levels you go, the more it becomes about the training. So don't muck around needlessly at the lower levels, get busy training, I know you can do it. Take your training into your own hands and use the resources at your fingertips and get going on the journey to Grand Prix!! 



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