cardoon-psg-debutI get asked some form of this question 50 times a year, in lessons, at clinics, via email or Facebook: how do I rise up the levels? What’s the best plan to get from being a lower-level rider to FEI? What path should I follow?

There are, for all intents and purposes, two options: to find a schoolmaster, a horse trained to the upper levels, from whom to learn; or to bring along a green horse, to teach him and yourself together along the way.

There’s some variety in those two paths, and neither option is perfect. Here’s a look at what I feel are the pros and cons to both situations.

If you go the schoolmaster route, you’ve got yourself a horse that knows the work, and can teach you. This is very cool, and certainly on the right schoolmaster, I’ve seen riders make tremendous progress in a short period of time, not just in learning how to execute the upper level movements, but also in riding with an honest connection from hind legs to bridle, truly sitting the trot instead of trying to figure out how on a horse who’s not always through, and so on, and so on. A horse that’s trained to do not just the things but to do the things right is an incredible teacher.

However, they have their challenges. In any horse purchase, but particularly purchasing an older horse who’s been managed in one fashion, chemistry is a crucial factor, and sometimes hard to gauge in just a few trial rides. More than once have I gone shopping with clients, tried a horse several times, brought it home and had it be a mess because the chemistry just isn’t there. Trying horses for sale is like speed dating, but with a wedding at the end, for better or worse.

Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!