Monday, January 25, 2016

Chasing Bronze: Meet First Level!

I have goals this year, which is great and all. I've been working towards them since mid-last eyen, which is hopeful. In an attempt to only learn three dressage tests this year (instead of 6!!) and simplify the pre-show ritual, I printed out my first level tests the other day.

Gettin' crazy up in here

Training level is pretty basic, right? You walk, trot, and canter, plus free walk, stretchy trot, and direction changes in the trot. Basically it's like a couple circles and arena laps and off you go.

So first level. How hard can it be?

I read the scary box labeled "PURPOSE" first.

"To confirm that the horse demonstrates correct basics, and in addition to the requirements of training level, has developed the thrust to achieve improved balance and throughness and maintains a more consistent contact with the bit."

Hm, ok. Correct basics now with more forward. Not sure about this throughness thing, but Dressage Queens talk about it, so maybe we'll figure it out as we go along. And hey! Our contact is roughly 19.5x better now than it was last year.

From this:
training level
To this:
schooling first
I dig that. I think we're going to be ok. Right? We knew it was getting harder here. That's the point of moving up.

But then each test introduces new movements. Conveniently, there is another text box at the top of the test that tells you what to expect to be added to the previous set of movements it's assumed you can do.
you know what they say about assumptions
So USEF First Level Test 1:

10m half circles at trot
15m circle in canter
lengthening of stride in trot and canter

A couple deep breaths, right? Half circles are something we've worked on. I know we can do the 15m circle. The lengthenings aren't there, but Courage is getting stronger and more broke and we're going to need those canters to jump anyways, yeah? We can probably do this.

Then USEF First Level Test 2:

Leg Yield

I've been leg yielding horses since I was a kid. This seems pretty innocuous. OR WELL. IT DID, but then I was watching Marissa's youtube channel because I needed to see the tests (bear in mind, I haven't actually READ them yet) and I realized that the harmless lil' "leg yield" is actually LEG YIELD FROM THE WALL TO X AND THEN ALL THE WAY BACK ON ONE LONG SIDE LIKE SOME SORT OF LATERAL BEASTMODE CRAZY PERSON.


I don't really have the capacity to react more than that. Pretty freaking intense if you ask me. I was hoping that move was reserved for like "people who are actually good at this" and not just "people who are starting out but a little bit terrified right now".

So there's that. But maybe we can still figure this out, right? I mean. A year+ of prep, right? It's only first level, right? I want this, right?
back when we could ride outside
Buuuuut that brings us to USEF First Level Test 3:

10m circle at trot
Change of lead through the trot
Counter Canter


Uh yeah so for some reason I was laboring under the misconception that Counter Canter was like a 2nd level move? No. Apparently first level. And 10m is not very many meters on a 16+ hand Thoroughbred OH AND if you go watch Marissa do the 1-3 test, her change of lead through the trot is like one stride and perfect. ONE STRIDE.

I'm over here like "on our good days, he doesn't try to kill me when we canter" and OMG BRAIN OVERLOAD.
just because i like this picture
Ahhhhhhhhh this is a lot harder than I was expecting. When I first read this, I pretty much had a complete brain melt. Then I went and rode my horse and even with the winter crazies, we could do 10m trot circles and my canter transitions have VASTLY improved.

So maybe there's hope?

PS Many thanks to Marissa for letting me watch her videos to get a feel for the level. She and Tucker are BOSSES and our role models.


  1. I didn't realize counter canter was in 1st level! Watching videos of tests is so helpful.

  2. Counter canter. AW HELL NAW lol <3

  3. Haha. Dressage is so much harder than you would think!

  4. I saw a meme that said, "If flatwork is boring, you're doing it wrong."

    Brooklyn leg yields all over the place like a pro (well, to the right anyway... we just got our leg yield to the left). BUT, we can't even do training level because his canter is still so hit an miss. I was thinking that when I got to, "On the good days he doesn't try to kill me when we canter," and I lost it.

    This post is amazing, and I so relate.

    Thankfully, I have a client who showed 1st level all last year and is starting 2nd this month, so I'm very familiar with the first level tests.

    I still can't imagine doing it with my current OTTB!

    I love how far you and Courage have come, and I look forward to you conquering this next goal. His contact looks so much better and I love watching this journey.

  5. Don't think of it as scary counter canter! That one loop is just wishing it was counter canter. It's easy to build up to- ride your canter and then do the one loop from the rail to quarterline to rail and keep doing that until you can do it in your sleep, then slowly make the loop deeper until you hit X. Then keep riding it until it's smooth! If Penn can do it at this point (and he does it fairly well- it's great to improve the canter), then Courage can too!

  6. First level tests are hard, no lie.

  7. YOU GOT THIS! Just start chipping away.. you have all the pieces you need!

  8. We got our First Level scores last year, and this year I'm working on qualifying for regionals at 1st. The counter canter loop is a great intro to counter canter -my issue is that my jumper ready has his changes so he wants to swap. Every.Damn.Time. But we're getting there! The 10m circles are great yes-you-have-to-listen reminders. I find 1-3 tough because the flow isn't a little weird. 1-1 makes much more sense to me.

  9. But then you'll get to 2-1 and take a deep breath because it's easier than 1-3!

    For the loop- break it down into halves. Ride from the rail to X and then just ride straight a few times. Then switch and canter down centerline to X, then ride to the rail. Once as you're good at those two halves, just put them together! I've never had a problem putting it on in a day using that technique.

    You guys are going to be awesome! Just keep plugging away.

  10. For Bronze you need 2 tests at first level with scores over 60 with different judges/shows/etc. You could do 1-1 and 1-2. You don't actually need to do 1-3. Although you'll need to do even more difficult counter canter work at 2nd level so you might as well practice, but I wouldn't worry about it that much.

    1. I could skip 1-3, but then I'm still planning to do second and third level. Unless there's consensus that's it's just a bad test, it behooves me to do them all.

    2. Technically you can get your bronze without ever counter cantering (or leg yielding actually lol) because you could get two scores at 1-1 (no LY, no CC), two scores at 2-1 (no CC) and two scores at 3-1 (no CC). But like you say, it's good to go through each test because they all help to shape the horse's training. Except 4-3, that test is the devil!

    3. Your half ass method is tempting. Alas that I also what to be semi competent.

  11. The 2015 1-2 doesn't have the leg yield to X and back, it's a leg yield from D to the wall after a 10m half circle by A. So at least THAT is going to make 1-2 a little easier. Of course, 1-3 brings on both the X-CORE leg yield and the counter canter soooooo yeahhh

  12. It's just a shallow loop of CC right? You'll be fine! 2nd level is CC on a 3 loop serpentine but 1st is just a shallow loop from wall to X and back. The thing about 1st (and even 2nd really) is that you can pretty well still fake what your not great at yet. I mean, we didn't have solid leg yields OR lengthening a when we started 1st and still made it out just fine. Deep breaths!

  13. Here's something to help you manage things. Break it down and work on one thing at a time. When you get this one right, move on to the next on a different day. You can always go back and hit the highlights on each movement, but don't drill the tests into your brain or your horse.

    It's much the same with any other sport. Try to work on the stuff the next level up, while showing the level below. When you can nail the upper stuff, the lower stuff will be a piece of cake in the ring.

    And remember to look for the double points. The extended walk is almost always worth double points. Take them!

  14. I'm on the same page as you here as far as reactions to those movements - but I still think you've got this! Your nose is to the grindstone and you've figured out what works for both you and your horse. That's awesome. And also, your contact now is everything that I'm wishing for at the moment!

  15. Just to clarify on an above comment, 2-1 does have some counter canter, all of the 2nd level tests do so it is pretty much un-avoidable moving forward after 1-3. I was once leery of 1-3 but the following year it seemed so much easier, sometimes you just need some time to work up to it. (Just wait until
    2-3 there is an entire counter canter serpentine in the collected canter!) Have fun & good luck!

  16. I peed myself a little looking at those for you. But you got this! You can't pee yourself in white breeches.

  17. You and Courage can do it! On the other hand I'm crying in the corner about training level because walking is a struggle and stretching typically means his head drops even with his withers...

    I think if you start playing with the movements you will be surprised (in a good way) with what you can do.

  18. I KNOW you can do it! Marissa is BOSS, she's an inspiration! Just remember though a good horse takes time to train so keep plugging along and put the fancy buttons on one at a time in a manner that keeps C-rage enjoying his job. You got this!

  19. You totally got this!! I about freaked when I saw the movements too, but then actually riding the test together was reassuring bc the test itself helped keep the horse packaged and attentive rather than me having to fuss.

  20. If you are thinking of showing First, then you really should be starting to school some Second level, no? :) Squeee!

  21. Why do I feel like 1st is a HUGE step from training?

  22. It's not a counter canter, just a canter loop. If my Standardbred can do it and place above 60%, your OTTB can do it! LOL! ;-) Though, you might want to think about confirming all the movements THIS year and trying First level next year (at least 1-3). I was always taught to be schooling a level beyond where you show. That might be a more realistic and less heart attack inducing idea for you?

  23. For leg yielding, I suggest practicing your change over. So, once you have Courage all warmed up and moving along, leg yield a few steps off the wall, then ask for a few steps back. Add a few more steps every day. You'll be to the centerline before you know it. One thing that helps is to reevaluate your position and aids after three steps, to make sure you aren't leaning off the side or otherwise contorting yourself. If you are, just ask Courage to move straight while you fix yourself. Then try again (either on that side, or the next). I like the zig zags, because they help the horse stay straight and not lean on your aids, anticipate, or fall in.

    Counter canter isn't so scary. It's really just a drunken weave. Think about those times when your horse has wandered off the wall at the canter, and put him back. Then try to be a little more specific with where and how.

    One note: Judges will NAIL YOUR ASS for not going ALL THE WAY to X. They will also nail you for going too far past. That said. Too far past is usually going to get you better points than baaaaarely getting there.

    You got this. A little at a time.

  24. I am going back and reading your old posts cause I'm on a boring call right now... When you start working on the shallow serpentine at the canter and the zig-zag leg yield, I have tricks for you that my trainer taught me that will make them easier.


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