The day has come for our Rider Level 8 Test! This is the first practical test leading towards the Competition Coach Evaluation…ahhhh!

To re-cap this (should-be Netflix) series, I am on a journey to become a Nationally Certified Equestrian Canada Competition Coach. Friends of mine, and fellow uncertified coaches have joined me on this quest, where we are pushing each other (literally) to go through all the steps to become certified. We have all completed the following prerequisites in order to take the Rider Level 8 test:

  • Making Ethical Decisions training (in-classroom)
  • Current First Aid Training (in-classroom)
  • Marking Ethical Decisions training (online)
  • Making Headway Concussion and Return to Play training (online)
  • Criminal Background Check
  • 1-day mentoring preparation clinic for the final coach evaluation (in-classroom)
  • Signed coaching code of conduct form
  • Written ALL Rider Level tests (1-8)

Having passed all of the above, we were now ready to be tested on the following:

1. Flat Test

  • Individual movements
  • Flat/Dressage-styled pattern (see pattern below – provided by Equestrian Canada)

2. Jumping Test

  • Gymnastic/Gridwork (see gymnastic below – provided by Equestrian Canada)
  • Jump course (see jump course below – provided by Equestrian Canada)

3. Lunging a horse with side-reins

4. Stable Management

Emily’s jumper, “El Rapido.” Since it was Pride month, she put in rainbow braids.

Emily’s jumper, “El Rapido.” Since it was Pride month, she put in rainbow braids.

There are six of us in our crazy group, but only three of us were required to do our Rider Level 8 test:

  • Myself
  • Emily Yaghdjian | Trainer, Pickering Horse Centre
  • Cameron Edwards | Trainer, Blue Star Farm

The others had either already completed their Rider Levels in previous years, or are going for their Competition Coach Specialist certification which doesn’t require you to have your Rider Levels as a prerequisite (well played, ladies.)

Since all three of us riders come from different farms, we decided to do the test at Stonewood Equestrian, where I ride and coach out of. The test requires a full course of jumps, a gymnastic/grid and another area to ride your flat test. Having multiple rings isn’t necessary, but allows you to get through the day faster if you’re not having to tear-down and build for the other tests.

The night before wasn’t much different than preparing for a horse show. Your horses get bathed, ears, legs and muzzles trimmed, mane and tail braided, tack cleaned and pads, polos washed and riding boots polished. The expectation at this level is to present yourself and your horse as if you were going to a show (after all, this is leading toward our competition coach certification.) The only difference is that a full course had to be built, and dressage letters placed around the arena for the flat test. It was a very long night, with Cameron, Emily and I constantly texting back and forth with questions and comments like:

“Can I use a flash noseband in a flat test?”
“Wait, what?! That’s not the flat test for rider level 8?!”
“Do you have black horse polos I can borrow? I only ride medium ponies!”
“If I fail this, I’ll die”
“It’s 9pm and I’m just starting to build the course! What the hell is a 56’ line?”
“Who’s picking up Starbucks in the morning?”
“Someone find out what our evaluator likes to drink. #Bribery”

Yes, sadly as I read over the texts, this is exactly what we discussed.

Cameron riding Emily’s horse, Sander “Against All Odds” for her flat test.

Cameron riding Emily’s horse, Sander “Against All Odds” for her flat test.

For me, it ended up being a pretty sleepless night. I thought about 100 ways I was going to fail, or being embarrassed about not knowing a basic question or even worse, somehow just dying in the middle of the test – because you know, that happens often. By the time I had come to my senses, the sun had started to come up and the testing was soon to begin.

Emily shipped her two horses to Stonewood that morning, and Cameron was going to ride the same horses Emily brought over. Emily brought two horses as one horse was for her flat test and the other for the grid and jump course. I had been practicing on a horse at Stonewood, who conveniently got leased last minute to the US, so I was offered a 17.3h warmblood who I had never ridden before. The horses were beautifully turned out, the rings harrowed, staged and ready for us to fall off into (foreshadowing). Our evaluator had shown up at 10am on the dot, and the need for an adult diaper was real.

Our evaluator walked us through the day’s events and expectations for the testing. We were notified that no video could be taken during this time, but were made to feel quite relaxed right from the beginning. As a group, we were professional and organized, but were able to make jokes (especially about adult diapers and dying) with the evaluator laughing alongside us. We decided we would start with the flat test (and were reminded several times that it was a FLAT test, NOT a dressage test). We were all allowed to warm-up and get familiar with the new size of the ring (20mx40m) and when we were ready, we were asked to demonstrate certain transitions and movements. We were asked to explain how we executed them and if we felt we could have done them better, and how. From there, Emily started us off with the flat test, followed by myself and then Cameron.

We all walked away from the first test feeling great, each with one to two movements we regretted and wished we could re-do. When we were down in the barn, our evaluator notified us that we had all passed the flat portion, and to meet outside with one horse to demonstrate lunging with side reins.

Emily graciously donated her jumper, who needed a lunge prior to jumping anyways. All three of us showed our abilities to lunge the horse at the walk, trot and canter, each using the side reins to achieve a different head-set and way of going. We were asked to explain why we used certain lunging equipment and how it affected the horse. Also, why we wear certain apparel when we lunge a horse. Our confidence was starting to grow, and our appreciation for our supportive, kind and humorous evaluator grew with it.

Jumping Course Map

Brandon and Stevie “Another Souvenir,” Emily and “El Rapido”, before the jump test.

Brandon and Stevie “Another Souvenir,” Emily and “El Rapido”, before the jump test.

After a quick lunch break, kindly sponsored by Stonewood Equestrian, and a rest break for all the horses, we went back outside for our jump test. The test calls for the jumps to be set between .85-.90M, but we pushed the limits and went to 1.0M, as all of our horses jump better with a larger fence. As a course designer, the course map provided by Equestrian Canada (EC) was a challenge to build and as a rider, had three questions:

1. Why are the lines based on large pony strides? Yes, a 2’9” course is the height of the large pony division, but I’d assume most Rider Level 8 tests aren’t being ridden using ponies … albeit a personal dream of mine.

2. Where’s the in/out gate?

3. At a show, when you trot into a line, you add a stride. This isn’t articulated in the course map. Are all riders (competitive or not) supposed to just know this?

All of these questions were brought forward to our evaluator, with us being granted permission to set the strides that will best suit the horses we were riding. Once again, we were allowed to warm-up, jump a few fences and start when we were ready. Emily started us off with a great round, with one minor chip through line 3-4. My big horse had a big look at jump #4, and jumped me so hard through the 5-6 2-step, that my field boot zipper split (proof I land with weight in my stirrups?). Cameron, also having never ridden Emily’s horses, finished us off with big effort over jump 11 and a minor rein slip through her fingers. Again, we all nit-picked our courses and communicated to the evaluator as to how we’d improve the problem areas. To our surprise (and relief), the evaluator allowed us to go back to the one jump or line to show how we’d improve the ride. Each of us were instantly satisfied with our redemption ride and were passed based not only on our riding ability, but how we identified ways we could improve and then showing that our second attempt actually was better than our first. I believe it was at this very moment, we took off our diapers, lifted our chins and proudly walked into our last riding test – gridwork!

Having all successfully competed in the 1.10M jumpers before, and used grids to develop ourselves and horses, this just seemed like fun. The three of us worked together to set the grid, jumped back on our horses and rode through it once with success.

The final test was the one we were all dreading and probably the biggest gap in our sport – stable management. Our evaluator went around to each of us as we were untacking our horses and asked us to demonstrate the following:

  • Demonstrate how to apply polos, stable bandages and one type of first aid bandage (immediately puts diaper back on)
  • Discuss (three) methods of restraint and be able to demonstrate (I work with all young horses, so piece of cake)
  • Discuss and show signs of aging teeth – differences between yearling to senior horse (not going to lie, the struggle was a bit real with this topic)
  • Name and locate five sites of unsoundness (I literally looked at the oldest lesson horse in the barn of 30+ years and instantly saw three of them on her legs)


Cameron and Emily’s “El Rapido” through the gymnastic.

Cameron and Emily’s “El Rapido” through the gymnastic.

And may I just add, as I was being tested, a vet from McKee Pownall was in the grooming stall beside working on a horse – so no pressure whatsoever …

Since we were separated from each other during this test, I can’t say how well Emily did, but since Cameron is going to school for her Master’s in Equine Science at Hartpury College, I’m going to say it was a walk in the park for her.

Once the horses were put back in their stalls and we all had a minute to come down from the day’s events, our evaluator congratulated us all on passing the lucrative Rider Level 8 test. We felt silly for making such a big deal out of what it actually was, but realized how important this testing and the outcome meant to us. For me, the experience was really enjoyable. It was the first time outside of a show that my skills over the years were tested, and once the anxiety had passed, the testing was quite refreshing and the feedback from the evaluator made me want to learn more. I know that Cameron and Emily were incredibly relieved and we all had a (very) slight boost of confidence heading into our up-coming, 12-hour Competition Coach Evaluation.