The Difficulty Moving Up


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Have you been successful at the lower levels of dressage, or jumping, or how about barrel racing or eventing? The discipline doesn't matter; the difficulty moving up to the higher levels is the same. Time and time again we have all witnessed riders who seemed to be doing well in the lower divisions of their chosen discipline. Then they go out and purchase that advanced horse only to meet with disaster. Why is this you may ask? How could they do so well before and then have so much difficulty? Is it the rider or the horse? What's the problem? Is the horse sore somewhere you might ask? These are the types of questions I here over and over again.

The answer isn't simple. There could be any number or combination of reasons. Regardless of the reason, it still amounts to a huge disappointment for those who find themselves in this difficult situation. It certainly is not a comforting feeling to have gone out and spent a large amount of money for a horse that has a good success record, only to find that we are not placing nearly as much as before, if at all.

The reason for this, as I see it, probably won’t make a lot of people happy. In fact I know that there are many who may disagree. However, I am basing my opinion on years of experience training, competing, and teaching, rather than on one individual horse and rider combination. As I see it, one of the primary reasons for this dilemma is the fact that many riders have not progressed as much as they think they have. Now don't go getting all upset and think that I am blaming the rider for everything that's wrong. It is not my intent to imply that any of this is done with intent or malice. On the other hand, however, we must face the truth if we are ever going to be able to change the situation. If we can approach it with an open mind, willing to learn and progress, then both change and improvement are not only possible but almost assured.

Just because we have been able to have success at the lower levels is no guarantee that we will have the same results when we try to move up. This does not mean we should not even try. Quite the contrary, people in general are happiest when learning and progressing. We must recognize however, that most horses capable of doing higher-level work are usually more sensitive and require a different level of expertise from the rider. There in lies the root of the problem. As we start taking those steps up, many try all too often to do it on their own. Now is not the time to abandon the assistance of instructors, trainers, coaches, etc. In fact, for those who have reached this point on their own without the help of others, this may be just the time to seek out their input. We are embarking on a higher level of demands on both our horse and ourselves. What we may have been able to get away with before on our starter horse, we probably wont get away with on the higher caliber horse. Our sense of timing and accuracy are crucial.

These horses don't like it when we make mistakes. They are not as forgiving when our timing is off or we are late or early with the cues and aides. We now find ourselves with a horse that not only knows what to do but also has the real capability to deliver it in spades. The problem is that all too often the rider’s abilities are not up to the challenge.

The first thing we need to do is realistically analyze the situation as well as our own capabilities. It's not easy to critique ourselves, no matter who we are or what level of experience we have. That's why it is so important to have someone we can seek advice from who is knowledgeable, experienced working with others, and willing to be completely honest with us. That usually rules out family and close friends since they never really want to hurt our feelings.

The question here is do we really want to improve and learn or simply pretend and profile on a better horse. The choice is totally ours. If we truly want to be a more advanced rider, and by that I mean understand exactly what is going on with our horse, why things happen the way they do, and be capable of getting the best performance out of both our horse and ourselves, then it's up to us to take the necessary steps to get the help that can enable us to achieve it.

The top professionals didn't get to that level by deceiving themselves. True, they are on top caliber horses, but they didn't start out that way. They have reached their level of success by learning from others along the way and probably even more from each horse they have redden and worked with. One of the differences between them and others is that they remain in the learning and progressing mode. The minute we feel we know it all and there is nothing more to learn, we stop growing and progressing. The pros are always learning and trying new ideas. That does not mean that they throw out their tried and true solid principles and techniques, but that they are always open and receptive to new ideas.

Now we have that better horse. Do we go it alone or get the help that will enable us as riders to keep up with it before we make some serious mistakes that could ultimately prohibit us from ever realizing our goals. Top horses are not as forgiving as starter horses, and they don't forget our mistakes as quickly as we do. That's why we need those starter horses in the first place. I strongly recommend that anyone striving to advance with a better horse seek out the help of trainers, instructors, and professionals in their chosen discipline as soon as possible. That way the growth and progress can continue without interruption and the journey to the top will be both shorter and more enjoyable for both rider and horse alike.

You have permission to copy and reuse this article provided there are no changes made to the article and credit is given to the author and the link to his website remains in place. Please notify him by email if you are going to use this article. You may contact Bill Dunigan through his website:

Bill Dunigan has been teaching and competing in excess of 40 years, to include many riding disciplines. Over the years he has taught and competed in Barrel Racing, Hunter/Jumper, Eventing and Dressage and served as President of a local Dressage Association. Additionally, during this time, he Fox Hunted four days a week with two different Hunt clubs, one of which he served as Joint Master. Bill qualified six years in a row for the World Championships with the National Barrel Horse Association.

Most of his time is now spent teaching others to enjoy what they are doing with their horses, by understanding how and why the riding methods and skills they use work the way that they do, and specifically why their horses act and/or react the way they do.

When you have finished one of his clinics, you will have learned much more than you thought possible in just two days. You will also realize how important it is to keep your horse relaxed, along with the undeniable value of slow work.

You may contact him through his web site at:


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