The Rat Race – Higher and Higher

The Rat Race – Higher and Higher

Last time on the Rat Race series, we talked about how easy it is to get caught in the trend of buying tack for trends instead of function.  I loved reading and responding to so many comments on how people feel about this subject, and hope today’s blog post can insight just as much discussion.

I very well may eat my words here in a year or so if/when I move up divisions, but the rat race aspect I’d like to tackle today is the need to continually feel like you should move up a division.


I’m a very competitive person, which is why I love to show and need showing as part of my equestrian happy place.  On top of this, I’m a giant chicken.  I honestly think that when I find my horse’s happy place division and ring wise, I may never want to move up.  Even typing that though… I can tell you it’s probably a lie.

Years ago I just said, “All I want to do is show 2’6″ and I’ll be happy!”  What am I thinking now?  “Hmm, Take 2 Jumpers are only 1.0m… 1.0m can’t be that big right?”  In theory, I should be completely happy sticking in 2’6″ land for the rest of my days with Simon… but I doubt that’ll be the case.


I also know I’m not the only equestrian that feels this way.  Most showers I know have higher aspirations than what they’re currently doing.  Is it because we’re all a competitive bunch?  Is it because showing brings out the “more more more more” mentality and we always want to be doing more?

I can assure you, it’s not because I’m bored at 2’6″.  I am far from bored.  I can mess up a course at almost any height – it’s a talent.


Why is it then?  Could I possibly be happy showing 2’6″ the rest of my equestrian life?  Could you?

If you show, I’d be curious if you feel as I do. Are you satisfied doing the division you’re currently doing… or are the aspirations much higher?


Another interesting aspect of this topic, is that maybe there’s nothing wrong with always wanting to show a division up.  We all seemed to agree that buying tack for fads and fads alone wasn’t a great idea… but is this aspect of the rat race actually a positive thing?  To me, I wish I could be 100% satisfied at my little 2’6″ divisions at my little local shows… but maybe there’s nothing wrong with aiming higher.

50 thoughts on “The Rat Race – Higher and Higher

  1. I think it boils down to- why do you show? If you show in order to mark the progress of your/your horse’s abilities, then moving up makes complete sense. If you show for a change in atmosphere, and nothing else, then maybe you wouldn’t feel compelled to move up. Both are probably fine.

    Personally, moving up for me is about seeing where we are in our training, and taking on new challenges. As long as he stays confident, and we’re safe, I see nothing wrong with it!

    1. That’s true. The reason I love to show is that I set goals for me and my horse so we’re doing the same old same old… which makes perfect sense for wanting to move up as much as we can.

  2. They call us smurfs in eventingland – people that are delighted to stay at the lower levels their entire lives. I am one of those people – though, BN (2’7) seemed insurmountable to me for the longest time, but now that we’re cruising around at BN, Novice doesn’t look so bad (2’11). I can see continuing the move up game for a while, but slowly, and on my own time and Connor’s time. I move up when I get bored.

  3. I analyze… like a lot. And one that comes up frequently is why do I want the things I want so badly. It was just fairly recently, within the past few years, I realized I am competitive. I try not to let it show, but inside, I am. But my competitiveness, I can only really speak for me, stems from the desire to be acknowledged that I am good in the sport I love. I spend most of my time and money, energy, etc, and I want to be the best. I internalize a lot, and see people who do less get more, and try not to let it effect me…but well, it can.

    But I think moving up divisions, or always wanting more is a challenge we give ourselves. We either know or believe we can do more, so we work harder, longer, smarter. The hard part is taking ourselves and feelings out of the situation to know whether our goals are realistic. I think I am fairly terrible at this part. I am stubborn and sacrifice many things in my life, the least I can do is still want what I want!!

    But the horse must always come first. I can’t say or express this enough. They are generous and gracious, and what cuts through my own desires is my horses’ health and well being.

    1. Completely agree that the horse comes first. You never really know the situation unless you’re the rider/trainer, but it makes me upset when I see people moving up very quickly when it *appears* to be at the expense of their mount.

  4. I enjoy new challenges, and working to conquer those challenges is one aspect I love about riding. Showing is a way for me to showcase what I’ve learned and display my “skills.”

    Personally, I want to keep moving up divisions and jumping higher because it’s a challenge and I’ve not yet found a height I DON’T want to do again [that said, the highest I’ve ever jumped is 2’9″, so it’s not like I’ve tried 5′ and said “No way”]. I do agree with others though that it’s really important for me to move up in my own time, when I feel ready, as well as keeping my horse’s best interests and safety first and foremost.

  5. I like moving up because for me it validates all the hard work I put in. I don’t want to stay at Novice for the rest of my life when I work my bum off at 3’+ every time I jump. I want to feel like it’s worth it.

  6. I don’t feel the need to move up, I want to move up. That’s been the goal as my horse progresses. The only pressure I feel is from myself to improve and reach a goal. We might move up and it not go well and we might need to move down. I always try to school at home for the division I am aiming for.

    1. You know, that’s an important distinction that I don’t think I articulated well in this post. Feeling pressured to move up… maybe not great. Wanting to move up because you’re ready and your horse is ready… makes perfect sense.

  7. I’ve definitely felt the pressure to move up, even though right now it’s not the right thing for my own confidence and where Dino and I are as a team. When my friends are all schooling 3’+ on a weekly basis, riders I know who aren’t even ‘into’ eventing are going BN just for giggles, and I feel like everyone else is doing ‘better’ than me, I absolutely feel the pressure to do more and compete at a higher level. But at the end of the day, I don’t make my money based on how many ribbons I win. I’m not a pro rider, and while I do have competitive goals and want to move up eventually, I’m not going to do it until I’m bored at the level we’re at now, and totally comfortable with the next level up. Good topic!

  8. Above all, I want what is best for my horse. Otherwise I love the challenge of whatever is next for us! Stepping up a division is just another chance for us to learn together! Plus it keeps things exciting and fresh for both of us.

  9. For me, it has to do with wanting to be challenged. Right now, I am currently sticking to the 2′ because of my horse’s lack of lead changes right now. I’m bored with it and I am ready move up to the 2’6″ divisions. Basically, I think it’s only natural to want to move up once your division is no longer challenging to you. That’s not to say that there aren’t riders out there who want to move up for the wrong reasons but I think that moving up is generally a part of showing competitively 🙂

  10. I think certainly there can be a good and bad to feeling pressure to move up. If i didn’t I’d waste my pony on 2′ forever. I was just getting comfortable at 2’6″ schooling and never really got to showing before getting prego.

    Watching my horse (and everyone else) go 3′-3’3″ makes it look so much more plausible for me. But really I bought my horse to be a 2’6″- 3′ horse She’s lazy under 2’3″ and struggles (fights) over 3′ a bit so I kinda know my place to stay.

  11. I think I’m one who will always be driven to move up, show bigger, and win more. It’s how I started out riding (in a very competitive environment) so I think it’s just ingrained in me that riding is a highly competitive sport where you’re always striving to be better and eventually, be the best. My personal long-term goals are pretty much the highest they could be – to win at the APHA and/or AQHA world. The unfortunate part about riding is finding the $$$ to back those up.

  12. I think it depends on the person. The past year or so I’ve been all about moving up – mainly because I felt stuck in the 2″ hunters and that is not where I want to be. I hadn’t made it past showing that level in the 8 years I’ve been riding. Not okay with me – but I’m the one that’s really pushing it. I think once I find my sweet spot, I’ll probably be more content to go show and not worry about division. I’ve always said that I want to make it to 3′ and then evaluate when I get there. Or move to jumpers and start at 2′ again. 😉

    1. Building on that…when currently considering my horse and I, I am the limit on what we can do. If someday, he becomes the limit, then there is no question – we do what he can do. Or find a new discipline to play in and start small again. It’s one of my riding goals to try different disciplines anyway. So long as we’re together. 🙂

      1. I’m on the exact same page with you at this point. I really like my horse, so wherever he finds his happy place competition wise that’s likely where I will stay for quite some time.

  13. love this topic! I am much like you in the competitive department 🙂 I honestly don’t understand how people can have horses and not show. It gives me goals and things to work towards. Obviously moving up in levels is the goal but at a certain point you will Max your horse out. Some horses will Max out sooner rather than later but it happens at some point. Even when I am my horse out I still will continue to show him. You can always improve and get experience! Plus more blue ribbons never hurt anyone 🙂

  14. Good question. My “pressure” to move up definitely comes mostly from myself. Riding is my life and I want to reach the highest level that I possibly can. Currently, I am showing in the modified AOs/ high adults. Right now, my short term goal is to do the low AO’s by next year. Long term, I want to show in the high AO’s / eventually Grand Prix. However, I am learning not to rush the process. I started showing my jumper in the low adults a year ago. So, we moved from the low adults to the high adults to the modifieds in a year. I think it’s now time to be happy with my progress and perfect things at this level. I think pressure to move up can come from many sources. One “pressure” I have felt is that because I am very blessed to have two jumpers that have both shown 1.30m+, that I should be moving up the ladder quickly. Obviously, having the horses can greatly expedite the process, but you have to be ready as a rider on order to safely move up.

  15. Great post topic! Personally I feel that training progress and moving up a division go hand in hand. One should only move up when they and their horse are ready. Some people cap out (fear, talent), some horses cap out (same reasons), and there’s nothing wrong with competing at that level for as long as you can. But if you can improve and can move up, I think one should – to keep learning, keep improving, keep trying. PACE of moving up is a separate issue, and that is where I think a lot of people struggle – feeling the need to move up too soon.

    1. Totally agree on PACE being the issue. The beauty of riding is that our careers can be so much longer than other sports. Why rush?

      1. Exactly! Most of us at this point are all adults… there are no more junior trophies or pressures to win something before a certain age. In my opinion, we all have nothing but time.

  16. Interesting post. I think this is very individual specific. I have always wanted to do the hunters/ eq – ideally with the end goal being around 3’6 height wise. As I moved toward eventing my goal would have been prelim max but I realized eventually it wasn’t for me. Not right now anyways. Right now I would like to get back to jumping 3′ easily with progress towards 3’6 but in my current situation we will probably focus more of our efforts on the flat this winter. With small course work. Next year I will hopefully be able to get out more and set some goals as I do get pretty listless with nothing to work towards.

  17. Love everyone’s comments for this! I show because I like having goals to work toward – otherwise I’m just not as motivated. Plus for me, it marks progress in training. I’m not super competitive except with myself, and I love getting feedback from the judge. Plus, it’s just fun to go to shows, see people you know, and cheer each other on!

  18. nice post! i’ve definitely gotten pressure to move up – esp since my horse makes it painfully obvious that she can handle (and maybe wants?) a little more height… but i’m just not ready yet.

    that said tho, i’m finally feeling more comfortable with jumping than i have in a long time, and am enjoying cruising around at shows at this level. so i do believe we’ll get to BN eventually…

  19. I think there are two types- possibly more. The type to progress up the levels through time – then those who solely focus on moving up. I had a friend like this. The minute things went good she pushed you and herself to move up. It was all about moving up. You could see as she moved up her scores went down…it was interesting.

    I aim to move up when I get bored at the level I am at. For eventing, it is really hard to be competitive at the lower levels if you do not have a horse that can win the dressage. As you move up, the better jumper you have the better you place – and then it reverses again at the Upper Levels. For me it is about seeing how far I can go as an amateur. That being said, I want to be safe.

    1. That’s a really good point. The “move move move” mentality is NOT me and I have a hard time understanding people that ride that way. As you said, typically the faster they move up the lower the results although I’m sure that’s not always the case.

  20. I show for fun, and at least as an adult that’s been my primary motivation for showing. I will happily compete at low and high Adult jumper heights being the maximum for me, and I have very little desire to move up out of those divisions. I don’t care about ribbons that much (but yes, satin is very pretty). Even when I had a jumper that I easily could have moved up on to bigger divisions, I declined to do them and my trainer at the time rode the horse over the larger fences. I enjoy the social aspect of horse showing more than anything else.

    1. I would be oh so happy to park in the low adults, and would probably never move up either if I make it there. I’m like you and enjoy showing for many reasons like social, atmosphere, and just time spent with my horse!

  21. I am a competitive person by nature and really like showing. I think moving up a level is great for goal setting. What moving up a level means to me is getting good enough at your current level that you’re placing well consistently and that you’re bored and need something more challenging. I think it’s just essentially just an effect of becoming a better rider. At least, that how it should happen.

  22. As a kid, I think I internalized being in a program that only did local shows mostly with horses that washed out of a barn that only did big A shows as “not being good enough” for rated stuff. I won all kinds of stuff at 2ft/2ft6/2ft9 locally and so of course now all I want is to show at 3ft and be competitive at rated shows. For me, the 3ft classes are were I stopped being successful. MUST CONQUER.

  23. I think it’s partly me, and partly where my horse is at, but I really don’t feel the need yo worry about advancing. That said, I’m not a terribly competitive person, and I don’t have that thing that I love yet. I have the horse that I love, but not necessarily the discipline. I have lots of fun with what I’m doing, but its more about training my baby horse to be a good well rounded horse at this point. I also really haven’t tried enough different events to know what I like. So, competing is pretty far from the front of my mind, much less advancing.

  24. I think the satisfaction of ‘moving up’ in levels is the validation of progress in general.
    That moment when your trainer/judge/self says ‘you’re ready to move up’ is AWESOME! It puts all your hard work into perspective, and you can look back and say ‘wow- look how far I’ve come!”.

    I don’t think winning is that important for me (although it IS nice), it’s the progress that is important. And the whole journey of training and development for horse and rider.

  25. I love the idea of moving up – in theory.
    In reality I’ve moved around so much leasing so many different (and green) horses that at this point a 2’3 course intimidates me and can be a challenge to get around, mentally. (Skill wise, I am more than capable of this!).
    I’ve recently decided to switch focus to just having fun. I don’t care if I jump 2 foot for the next three years, if I’m having fun on safe horses. I was stressing myself out trying to ‘be better’ and move up so that I was riding my last horse at the height HE wanted.

  26. I’ve kind of thought about this with eventing. I love jumping bigger jumps and I feel like Jetta has it in her to do “bigger” things. I’m not afraid of the stadium height, but I’ve gotten to the point where I’m not sure if I want/can move up in cross country. I’ve been trying to figure out why I feel like I’m failing if I don’t move up. Why can’t I be happy just being at beginner novice forever?

  27. My barn is competitive, and while there is pressure to move up, it’s also really dependent on what you personally want. There’s the odd person who doesn’t want to go higher but most peoples’ goals are to move up divisions as much as they can.

    For myself, I’m ultra competitive, I like to challenge and terrify myself, and I also LOVE the feeling of jumping a bigger jump. I want to move up from the 1m/1.10m and eventually do Grand Prix one day. Right now that’s going a little slower than I had hoped, in part to a horse that needs to sell, and the lovely and kind horse that I have now maxing out at those heights. I don’t put my competitive goals above my horse’s well being ever, but I am definitely committed to moving up the levels and unfortunately that means new horses from time to time.

    As for why? I don’t really know, I guess acknowledgment for working my butt off, being successful at something not everyone can do, and getting accolades for being a good sportswoman in the sport I have basically dedicated my life to. Plus, it’s fun. 🙂 There’s no feeling quite like successfully clearing a true big, wide jump!

  28. Good post – I think this one is a big “it depends”… I have started showing AQHA at the rookie level. My goal is to point out of that level – should be doable, but might take me a couple of years – time and money are a factor… I can show up a level now, but would get my ass handed to me….

    The only problem with moving up a level is that my horse won’t be competitive – the novice ams (level 1 now) have $15K+++++ horses and most have trainers. I have to decide what to do when I get there, as I don’t have the deep pockets to keep up. Time will tell, I guess. I think if you show, there is no problem having aspirations to move up, but only if you and your horse are ready.

  29. When it comes to eventing, I always aspired to show into the starred levels. I was fearless and would jump my horses 5 ft on the reg. Then I fell off at a show on XC and my confidence was shattered…. now I look and 3’6 and go OMG LOL BAI. I think its all about bettering yourself and your horse and challenging yourself-to an extent.
    I loved moving up in the dressage levels and beating my own pervious scores. it was part of the fun and challenge. I’m super competitive and I ride better with goals in mind.
    Now, with jumping, its just getting my confidence back for right now. Sure, I’m a bit bored at 2’9- 3ft, but I also want to close my eyes and scream when faced with a 3’6 jump or higher. . Luckily, I have a baby who can’t go very high yet, so we will crawl together back to the top.

  30. I don’t know, I really think it’s simpler than that in a lot of ways.

    Sure, there are some people who move up because they feel the need to be better than others, or because they’re feeling pressured… but at the end of the day, I think most people want to move up because that’s what we DO. Typically, we try to improve the things we do – increase our skill, be more efficient, etc. Everything from using a heavier weight at the gym to going through the ranks to try for a black belt. When you pour this much time, effort, money, and heart into a hobby/sport, why wouldn’t you want to improve? Raising the fences just happens to be a natural way to test those skills. 😉

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