If riding is the sport of kings then horse shows could be construed as their kingdom, and the show levels a class system designed to keep order within the kingdom. As riders work their way up or down the show levels, it helps if they know which shows best suit their time, budget and yes, riding ability.
Here’s a quick breakdown of “All the Kings Horses and All the Kings Men”.
First there’s the top circuit – FEI – which I think should really stand for “Fantastic Equestrian Individuals” and is populated by riding royalty. Names like Millar, Lamaze, Madden and Morris, inspire and motivate the rest of us to keep dreaming. If Diana and Kate can infiltrate the real Royals then it’s not so surprising that a small kid from a disadvantaged home in Quebec can rise to the top of our riding royalty.
Moving down a level brings us to the national Gold level commonly referred to as the “A” circuit. Competing at this level requires talent, ability and it doesn’t hurt if you’ve got and abundance of time and money. This is where the national level riders, the dukes and duchesses come to play. They often have connections with the royals, but aren’t there just yet. Their hope is that with the right horse and a little luck they can move up the riding ladder of success, especially if the riding nobility are in attendance and happen to be watching.
If you’re not quite ready for the rigours of the “A” circuit then perhaps you should consider the Silver level or Trillium circuit. These provincial shows generally cater to those riders who are looking for excellent venues, hosting quality shows which are slightly more accessible and arguably more affordable than the “A” shows. I like to think of these riders as the ladies and gentlemen in waiting. They are usually from more modest means, but don’t be fooled, they have talent, ability and motivation. When opportunity knocks they’ll happily open the door to raid the castle or slay the dragon whichever gets them next in line for the throne.
And that brings us to the Bronze level and schooling shows. These are the grassroots of the showing world. They cater to those hard working people aspiring to gain access to the castle through innovation and ingenuity or as we like to say, hard work and perseverance. At this level money may not fall from the trees, but there’s enough there to bribe the guards into opening the castle gates. At the grassroots level the horse you ride is either a been there done that type, a trusted and well loved “schoolie” or something wet behind the ears that’s learning a new job or simply remembering how to play nice with others. Schooling shows are a great way to gain knowledge and knowledge is power and if there’s one thing the people in the kingdom love, it’s power. Get it right at this level and you may rule the kingdom someday.
Moving up or down the levels can, depending on your circumstances, benefit either you or your horses training, but knowing which levels are appropriate for your skills is important. It’s super embarrassing if the nobility start swooping down to the lower levels to collect up all the cash or prizes. Just because the nobility are allowed to bed the bride on her wedding day doesn’t mean they should.