Years ago the conventional wisdom was “If the judge is giving you seventies, she means you should be able to move up to the next level.” Turns out that isn’t really very good advice anymore. There are horses who can be presented nicely enough to get a good score in Training or even First Level but who haven’t mastered the skills required on the next rung of the ladder.
But let’s turn this question around for a moment. If your horse is scoring badly, that’s definitely NOT a time to move up. I only mention this because I have run into riders who have promoted themselves to the next level simply because they were bored, not because they’ve done anything to actually be prepared for the harder tests.
I like to think that a typical amateur ought to be comfortable enough schooling the First Level tests that, barring disaster, a score of at least 60 percent would be a likely outcome and that no movement is going to be attempted where the rider expects to get a 4. That doesn’t preclude one popping up here and there, but basically the rider ought to have a reasonable chance to succeed before tackling the next level at a competition.
Some riders are particularly interested in points and year end standings. In that case, if the horse has potential, it’s wise to wait until he’s schooling First Level really solidly. In other words, iron out all those little things that might make the judge think 6 instead of the 7 or 8 at home before you go showing those tests.
In general, these are the specific questions I’d have most riders ask themselves when they’re deciding to make the First Level plunge:
1. Are my transitions between gaits prompt, smooth, and without resistance?
2. Do I have lengthenings?
3. Can I get back from them without detriment to the rest of the test?
4. Are my leg yields fairly straight, active, and compliant?
5. Can I show the judge a frame and balance that “goes with” First Level?
If you can answer “yes” to those questions, absolutely Have At It !