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Grand Prix riders - What did your path to grand prix look like?

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  • Grand Prix riders - What did your path to grand prix look like?

    I'm sure everyone here has vastly different backgrounds, I'm curious to know when and how anyone who has reached the coveted grand prix got there.

    My dream is to be a grand prix rider, not necessarily a trainer because I am working on a masters degree in a vastly unrelated field, but I would love to own and ride FEI horses. I was a working student from high school through college for a trainer that specialized in young horses and while I got to ride lots of different horses at lots of different levels (highest was PSG), I've never shown FEI. These days I'm working a full time job while working on my masters degree simultaneously and I have a wonderful 3rd level horse that I board at a wonderful barn. However, because of finances I can't afford to board at a proper dressage facility. Rather, I'm at a great barn with a close-knit barn family and a humble showing team. My horse is the highest trained horse at the barn at only 3rd level. My goals for the future include taking lessons on a schoolmaster lesson horse at another barn and eventually being able to buy my own schoolmaster to take me through the FEI levels. Financially I recognize that will be very hard to do for a very long time since I'm making a sweet entry level salary as of now, so I'm hoping to get inspired by some of your stories!

    Which is why I'm so curious as to everyone else's path to grand prix, hoping to hear some inspiring stories!

  • #2
    Lots of well off ammies just buy a Grand Prix horss, from what I read on COTH.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Scribbler View Post
      Lots of well off ammies just buy a Grand Prix horss, from what I read on COTH.
      A few “trainers” also get their gold medals on borrowed/leased GP horses

      Comment


      • #4
        I think that everyone has their own path to the GP, but it is an entirely different experience if you train it yourself vs. buying it trained or paying someone else to train it (and I know plenty of local trainers who had someone ELSE train their horse, but claim the training themselves because um, well they showed the horse).

        My path is as follows: When I was a child, I was a prodigy hunter/jumper rider and had a mentor who was so classical old school that we had rules: one day course work, one day gymnastics (usually bounce chutes on the longe, no stirrups or reins), three days on the track (we had a race track on the property) trotting for an hour to build strength and endurance, and one day of dressage (figures, lengthen and collect, etc.). Life interrupted my life with horses and I had a (with the off ride here or there) 18 year hiatus. When I got back into horses, I decided to try dressage, at age 40. SUCH A DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE! The dressage trainers I encountered all wanted me to buy a trained horse and keep it in full training to keep it tuned. I did not meet any like my mentor in h/j, who wanted to teach me to train a horse. So I bought a GP schoolmaster and went into full training. Actually what happened is that the trainer got to ride my GP horse while I took longe lessons with a British certified instructor three times a week....and very soon I wised up and took my horse and left. I bought a foal the same year that I bought the GP horse. I showed the GP horse up to PSG (not very well, but largely self training with clinics as my horse was only intermittently sound due to turnout accidents), and brought my foal from Europe. I trained her from about 90-120 days under saddle (not sure--paid for training, but she was definitely totally feral when she was imported at age 5).

        I hired a natural horsemanship expert to help me with my young horse because she was so feral, especially on the ground, and I started sponsoring clinics with a former Olympian on a regular basis. I couldn't show my mare until she was 7 because she was too feral before that. But at 7, we did training and first level, at 8 second and third level, at 9 third and fourth level, at 10 fourth and PSG, at 11 PSG and I1, at 12 I1 and I1 Freestyle (this was the year that we struggled with teaching passage), at 13 I2 (and had some medical problems this year) at 14, one show at GP (not very good) at 15, GP and got my first gold medal score but was struggling with consistent high 50s due to mistakes. We won regional and national awards at every level. At regional championships in 2015, my horse and I had a terrible injury (both of us fracturing bones) and had surgeries and about 2 years off. In 2017, I earned my gold medal with this horse, but we both were still healing. In 2018, we were still not on full form and I struggled with determining whether it was fair to continue. I decided to retire her from showing because I met my goals with her and I didn't think it was fair to keep pushing the GP. I had a freestyle made and that would have been fun, but we had scores only to 62.6, so I couldn't do a freestyle this year. I bought some foals. I am currently, deconstructing all of the movements to learn how to train them better (my horse is still sound) while I raise foals and I am doing a lot of early foal handling. I will do this all over again multiple times. I enjoy the training way more than showing or lessons for showing. I don't get any satisfaction out of riding a trained horse or letting someone else train and/or show my horse. I delight in the horse learning new things and I like have the buttons put on the way that is familiar to me. I recently bought my own farm, so I can totally do my own thing. I did full training the year I was making the leap from I2 to GP and absolutely hated it so I will never ever do that again. The rest of the time, I trained my horse on 2-4 lessons per month from various local trainers and about 4 clinics a year.

        It is really hard, where I live, for an amateur to find top level clinic opportunities, so I believe that I will go pro when I start my oldest young horse under saddle, even though I am doing all this with a high level, full-time corporate job.

        I do think almost anyone can get to grand prix--it is not magic--it just depends on what you are willing to invest to get there. For myself, I made a lot of sacrifice of time and I went to the barn almost every single day. I did lose a lot doing that.

        The ideal dressage horse can push AND carry AND is very very submissive. Those horses are rare and usually very expensive. Most of us are dealing with a horse that can push and not carry or who can carry and not push and have varying degrees of submission (my horse has a tendency to take over at shows and will open her mouth and lean if she feels any tension from the rider (shows). But each horse will teach you very important things.
        Last edited by Cowgirl; Jun. 22, 2019, 03:55 AM.

        Comment


        • #5
          OP: I know a 2 people who have spent $$$ trying to buy a grand prix horses and show it. One person did not get there - threw in the showing towel at Intermediare. The other never showed the first horse GP because she couldn't get him together and keep him there. The second one she got in the GP ring, but never got her gold medal - though the horse was capable, she couldn't get scores out of the 50's.

          I think Cowgirl's last two paragraphs are spot on for us amateurs, particularly with respect to time and commitment, and often money. If you are training the horse up it takes time. If you are learning how to truly ride correctly and undo years of bad habits, it takes time. You cant get there with three rides/week. it takes show ring miles, not just learning to ride movements at home. it takes a horse that stays sound and healthy whether you are bringing along a younger one or buying an upper level horse.
          It also takes a relationship. You and the horse have to fit together. Above example couldn't really ride a big WB. Second horse, different breeding, hot and sensitive created different problems.

          Lastly it takes a fair amount of luck - horses break, they get sick, something goes awry. I know a woman, very acccomplished rider and trainer of horses. She gave up on her last horse - Had done very well thru Intermediare, got the piaffe and passage figured out, but horse just could not get past about 5-7 1 tempe's . she tried lots of things, got some help but she said it just wasn't going to happen.

          Comment


          • #6
            I also think it's important to realize that while some ammies certainly do get to Grand Prix, it's a very small percentage, and that most ammies top out at First or Second Level. On the other hand, the pro riders that are headed for the international level have a different training and competition sequence. They train the horses up and start in the FEI sequence, they don't go through Training to Fourth Level on the local circuit. That's how you can have a Grand Prix horse that is only ten years old.

            Also, I do personally believe that there are shortcuts or errors commonly made at the lower levels that unfit a horse to continue on to correct collection, piaffe, passage, etc., or blunt the impulsion.

            In other words while it is certainly possible for an ammie to take a horse with a modicum of talent from Training Level to PSG and then Grand Prix on the local circuit, in practice it does not happen very often.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by dressagefjord807 View Post
              I'm sure everyone here has vastly different backgrounds, I'm curious to know when and how anyone who has reached the coveted grand prix got there.

              My dream is to be a grand prix rider, not necessarily a trainer because I am working on a masters degree in a vastly unrelated field, but I would love to own and ride FEI horses. I was a working student from high school through college for a trainer that specialized in young horses and while I got to ride lots of different horses at lots of different levels (highest was PSG), I've never shown FEI. These days I'm working a full time job while working on my masters degree simultaneously and I have a wonderful 3rd level horse that I board at a wonderful barn. However, because of finances I can't afford to board at a proper dressage facility. Rather, I'm at a great barn with a close-knit barn family and a humble showing team. My horse is the highest trained horse at the barn at only 3rd level. My goals for the future include taking lessons on a schoolmaster lesson horse at another barn and eventually being able to buy my own schoolmaster to take me through the FEI levels. Financially I recognize that will be very hard to do for a very long time since I'm making a sweet entry level salary as of now, so I'm hoping to get inspired by some of your stories!

              Which is why I'm so curious as to everyone else's path to grand prix, hoping to hear some inspiring stories!
              Actually, when I read this post again, I see that OP is not asking about how to move the current Third Level horse up to Grand Prix, but is asking about buying a finished horse to go up the FEI levels. That is probably achievable if you get the right coaching help in your riding, and have deep pockets to buy the horse.

              Comment

              • Original Poster

                #8
                Originally posted by Scribbler View Post

                Actually, when I read this post again, I see that OP is not asking about how to move the current Third Level horse up to Grand Prix, but is asking about buying a finished horse to go up the FEI levels. That is probably achievable if you get the right coaching help in your riding, and have deep pockets to buy the horse.
                Yes, sorry if I worded my question a bit confusingly! I was just hoping to hear stories outside the norm of an amateur rider who happens to have a spare $80k burning a hole in their pocket who is then able to buy a Grand Prix finished schoolmaster. I've noticed a lot at local shows you'll see people who's centerline scores indicate they rode one or two horses at Training through 2nd level for years and years and then get a new schoolmaster and bounce up to FEI in 18 months. Obviously as an amateur rider I have no idea how to achieve that without the funds unless a Grand Prix horse falls out of the sky in front of me but still hoping to hear some inspiration. That being said, I did start an mutual fund called "horse money" hahahahaha

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by dressagefjord807 View Post

                  Yes, sorry if I worded my question a bit confusingly! I was just hoping to hear stories outside the norm of an amateur rider who happens to have a spare $80k burning a hole in their pocket who is then able to buy a Grand Prix finished schoolmaster. I've noticed a lot at local shows you'll see people who's centerline scores indicate they rode one or two horses at Training through 2nd level for years and years and then get a new schoolmaster and bounce up to FEI in 18 months. Obviously as an amateur rider I have no idea how to achieve that without the funds unless a Grand Prix horse falls out of the sky in front of me but still hoping to hear some inspiration. That being said, I did start an mutual fund called "horse money" hahahahaha
                  You don't achieve buying your way up the level without spending a load of money, unless you get lucky and get a temporary ride on a horse belonging to a coach or friend. Maybe a part lease or short term lease.

                  Thats why so many ammies buy a young green horse with potential and then struggle to get past first level. They can maybe afford $20,000 for a prospect, but not $100,000 for the finished horse or $100_000 for 5 years full time training.

                  Same conundrum in all disciplines. How does the average ammie get a 4 foot hunter? They don't.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Laura Graves did it on her own. She is one in a million though. There are probably some young ones out there like her on their way. (I hope so! I love her story.) I saw an ad for a thoroughbred for sale once who was trained at least PSG by a high schooler before she went to college... so they said in the ad. Even if her PSG scores weren't high, it was an outstanding achievement for a teen. It still takes money and dedication no matter what... and luck finding the right horse with the mind and body it takes... lots of luck and perseverance, bonding etc.

                    When I first started looking for a horse I rode a very old Friesian who I was told was trained to Grand Prix and was even trained to do the silly Spanish Walk but hadn't been doing much with his elderly owner who had passed. His price was very reasonable, mid-low 4 figures. However, he had scar tissue in his throat (had to have carrots cut into bits for him and special grain to keep him from choking) and most Friesians live to 15 or 16 and he was 24 so his lifespan was questionable. I decided to pass on him.. Hubs talked me out of him a little too. My animals are my only kids. It's very distressing when my dogs have passed... when my last horse passed I couldn't even think of getting another for years... to get that horse and have him die on me would have been the worst. He was beautiful, but had that rearing sort of canter that many Friesians have. That felt so weird to sit. He was the first horse I'd sat on since my last horse died too, so there was that. My muscles weren't in good enough shape to really ride him even half-way decently at the time so all we did was WTC. Although he did two whirly spooks I managed to stay on with - I credit the nice saddle with thigh rolls he had for that though.

                    Instead, I opted for a younger (but not too young) horse without bad habits, a pleasant temperament, very little riding training and modest to good potential (some of which I have been learning more about as we go.) I like training though... but in retrospect, it would have been fun to learn how to ride movements on a schoolmaster. Although, I have that option with a local trainer anyway if I choose and can pay the big bucks for the lessons... so I guess it doesn't matter. (I realize it's lucky to have that option, so many don't. It wasn't a brag.) I have no regrets. I can only afford one horse and only have time for one. I would rather train him than me... although I have my upper body straightness issues to work on as well as learning how to ask for stuff the right way that works.

                    It would be supremely fun to have constant access to a schoolmaster, even the mishaps sound utterly wonderful when I read the stories of the spontaneous movements and fun things they do for their riders. I really enjoy reading about it. Thanks for the stories to those of you who share.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by dressagefjord807 View Post

                      Yes, sorry if I worded my question a bit confusingly! I was just hoping to hear stories outside the norm of an amateur rider who happens to have a spare $80k burning a hole in their pocket who is then able to buy a Grand Prix finished schoolmaster. I've noticed a lot at local shows you'll see people who's centerline scores indicate they rode one or two horses at Training through 2nd level for years and years and then get a new schoolmaster and bounce up to FEI in 18 months. Obviously as an amateur rider I have no idea how to achieve that without the funds unless a Grand Prix horse falls out of the sky in front of me but still hoping to hear some inspiration. That being said, I did start an mutual fund called "horse money" hahahahaha
                      There's a huge gulf between FEI level and GP, though. And odds are you'll have to add another zero to your $80k to get a made horse that is solidly GP level and has the physical and mental attributes left to stay there for a couple more years AND tote an amateur around with him. I live in an area with an unusually high concentration of upper level horses (cough, cough, Middleburg) and I can only think of a few folks in a 50 mile radius that *might* have an honest-to-Goodness, ring ready GP horse floating around their place at this precise moment. (Felicitas Von-Neuman Cosel, Allison Spreiser, Sara Spofford?) And it likely won't be amateur friendly. You could probably find an older horse that competed at GP to lease that can still has the physical ability to put in a respectable performance at PSG. Might even get one on a care lease. Don't forget that he's as much an elite level athlete as an NFL player and it will cost a lot (I'm guessing several $1000 a month) to keep him humming along.

                      I imagine it's doable with the right amount of money to throw at it. I'd think what would happen is you have two horses - an older schoolmaster to learn on that can show you the moves at home, and a younger horse that has just started PSG or I1 that you can continue to take up the ranks.



                      Comment

                      • Original Poster

                        #12
                        Originally posted by Tyrus' Mom View Post
                        I saw an ad for a thoroughbred for sale once who was trained at least PSG by a high schooler before she went to college... so they said in the ad. Even if her PSG scores weren't high, it was an outstanding achievement for a teen. It still takes money and dedication no matter what... and luck finding the right horse with the mind and body it takes... lots of luck and perseverance, bonding etc.
                        Hmmm, I'd be very nervous about a horse who's owner claimed something like that. I wonder if the horse was truly trained to PSG or if it was trained to just mimick some movements that might appear correct to the very untrained eye.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by dressagefjord807 View Post

                          Hmmm, I'd be very nervous about a horse who's owner claimed something like that. I wonder if the horse was truly trained to PSG or if it was trained to just mimick some movements that might appear correct to the very untrained eye.
                          Well, if they competed in recognized shows and got scores of some sort, that's the best proof you could have that the horse was doing the moves OK to a highly trained eye (that would be the judge). In this case, anything over 50 would be pretty impressive. Of course if there were no verifiable scores, then I would take any claims with a whole giant bag of salt.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Scribbler View Post

                            Well, if they competed in recognized shows and got scores of some sort, that's the best proof you could have that the horse was doing the moves OK to a highly trained eye (that would be the judge). In this case, anything over 50 would be pretty impressive. Of course if there were no verifiable scores, then I would take any claims with a whole giant bag of salt.
                            All I did was mention an ad I saw. I wasn't shopping at that time, just looking at ads, (don't we all do that from time to time?) but anytime anyone is legitimately horse shopping, I think we can all agree that proof of any claim would be a necessity.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              I rode hunters as a kid. The only dressage I ever saw was Migi Serrell who lived in our town, gave a dressage demonstration. I remember thinking: where are the jumps? What do those letters around the arena mean? (Migi Serrell went on to be one of the founders of the American Dressage Institute). After college I got into eventing. I hated dressage then, all those circles...and as much as I loved to gallop and jump once I got to Prelim I started loosing my nerve and could not see myself going further to Intermediate or Advanced.

                              Then a friend of mine invited me to go with her to look at some newly imported warmblood dressage horses in Pennsylvania. I was cajoled into getting on one, a bay gelding who had some tricks: tempiis to 2, and a little p and p. Of course I had no idea what I was doing, and the trainer had to help with the p and p with a whip, but I got the first feelings of that and I went wow.

                              Everyone told me to buy a school master...so what did I buy? A four year old Oldenburg mare, just imported for an auction in the US. She was hot, opinionated, and willful. I remember one time she refused to go into the dressage arena at home. She reared, she spun, she ran backwards and it took me an hour of just staying on her and waiting the tantrum out. She took me up through the levels until GP. We did three winter seasons in Florida. But she could not get more than 7 one-tempiis. I took a lot of clinics with some good teachers and some not so good teachers. I rode six days a week, didn't have an indoor, rode in rain, snow, you name it.

                              Bought a four year old just imported Hanoverian gelding who could push and carry but...was afraid of his own shadow. Highly sensitive, overly reactive. Could not get a clean flying change on the horse. Had a opportunity to go to Europe and train, and that's what I did. Training there was both extreme humiliation and more ah-ha's than I can count. I not only rode my horse every day, but 2 others: one a schoolmaster, one a sales horse around fourth level. Once we got the single change on my horse (by riding him in a cornfield in a big medium canter, where he willingly learned to change), the tempiis came easily.

                              Came back to the US, moved my horse to a training facility,did the small tour for a couple of years (PSG, Int 1). He turned out to be a one-tempi savant. Moved up to Int 2, then he fractured his coffin bone, then developed bursa inflammation, but we finally started competing at GP. Got one score for my gold medal (already had bronze and silver) and he started missing his one tempiis. I thought it was neurological, but it turned out to be kissing spine, and very advanced. And that was it. I rode him lightly for fun, a little hacking, but his training/competition days were over. He is now 33 and living out his retirement at my farm.


                              In retrospect I can say with surety that the destination is less important than the journey. It's good to have goals, but more importantly to recognize the roses when they bloom along the path.


                              Comment


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by Scribbler View Post
                                I also think it's important to realize that while some ammies certainly do get to Grand Prix, it's a very small percentage, and that most ammies top out at First or Second Level. On the other hand, the pro riders that are headed for the international level have a different training and competition sequence. They train the horses up and start in the FEI sequence, they don't go through Training to Fourth Level on the local circuit. That's how you can have a Grand Prix horse that is only ten years old.

                                Also, I do personally believe that there are shortcuts or errors commonly made at the lower levels that unfit a horse to continue on to correct collection, piaffe, passage, etc., or blunt the impulsion.

                                In other words while it is certainly possible for an ammie to take a horse with a modicum of talent from Training Level to PSG and then Grand Prix on the local circuit, in practice it does not happen very often.
                                My trainer trains them up and shows through the levels.
                                even every pro has a different journey.
                                on her previous GP she rode and showed every level on him I believe.
                                her current FEI same thing.
                                Getting to GP and riding a good GP and keeping your horse sound and them not getting too old is all very hard.
                                i think it’s quite an achievement to get there and I respect the heck out of every rider that takes their horse up the levels. It’s my goal but we’ll see

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  While I haven't shown my mare at Grand Prix, at home we were only 3 more tempis off being established. Then I got sick, she got hurt, Right now, we're on walking work due to her being silly in turnout and reinjuring the leg she had surgery on last year. Nothing major, but another bump in the road.

                                  My story was that I rode a lot of crap, polished it up and sold them for good prices. After selling an investment property I was able to have money to go horse shopping in Europe and I wanted something competitive at FEI. The biggest problems was, I didn't have the serious cash to go to Germany or anywhere like that. So, I went to southern Spain instead and brought a nearly established Grand Prix horse for 1/4 of the price of what a Warmblood would have cost. A lot of the horses I rode there hadn't competed, but I was really surprised at the level of training with the majority of them for the price they were.

                                  It's still a long journey. But my mare is SO much fun. Soundness issues aside right now, I wouldn't trade her for the world.
                                  Not my circus, not my monkeys!

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                                  • #18
                                    I paid 15000 for a w-t-c 5 yo Danish horse that I trained up the levels through I-1. He had piaffe, but not the ones or passage. I took 2 lessons a week from BNTs but boarded at my own barn. When he was beginning to show his age, I had saved enough (and the rest was on cash advances from ccs) to buy another better quality horse. He was beginning third level work in the Netherlands (Z level ish) and I finished his training through GP.
                                    Buy the best quality gaits you can afford. Both horses stayed sound into their 20s.
                                    My education and their training (we learned together) was well into 6 figures.
                                    I was lucky enough to have both a good income and a supportive husband.
                                    www.settlementfarm.us

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                                    • #19
                                      When I was a teenager my parents bought me a 4-year-old WB, half-brother to Anky van Grunsven's Bonfire. This was in the fall of 2000 so naturally I was watching Bonfire in the Olympics and sincerely thinking that would be us some day!

                                      We did finally compete GP for the first time in 2013, and I earned my USDF gold medal on a horse I had brought up through the levels "myself." Of course I could never ever have done it without my wonderful longtime trainer, with whom I've been riding for 23 years now! Still, I was the one doing the vast majority of the riding and competing, and I was the one who had brought the horse back from several injuries and surgeries that were expected to be career-ending.

                                      Looking back on our journey, I know that I got incredibly lucky in many ways and kind of muddled my way up through the levels. I did Part 1 of the L Program a few years ago and learned so much that would have helped me along the way. (Since I started dressage lessons as a kid, I understood the feel but not the theory.) My horse was really best-suited for PSG/I-1 and wasn't built for the highest levels of collection. He also wasn't a big fancy mover, and was pretty outclassed when we went to US Finals at GP. However, he had some compensating talents (fantastic changes/tempis) plus the heart to try whatever I asked of him. I don't know if I'll ever get that lucky again!

                                      I wonder now if I'll ever get back up to GP or if I can even consider myself a GP rider anymore. My fancy young Hanoverian who was supposed to be my next GP horse had to be euthanized last fall due to DSLD. When I started him under saddle, I found that while I still value dressage, I really enjoyed doing a variety of other things with him, like trail riding, obstacle courses, and jumping. That helped me decide to focus on eventing for a while, while I'm still relatively young and bouncy (ha). I bought an OTTB this year and am looking forward to bringing him along as an eventer. Dressage will always be there! Maybe someday I'll buy another talented young horse. Hopefully I'll be more educated as a rider and not have to rely on luck so much the next time around.
                                      Building and Managing the Small Horse Farm: http://thesmallhorsefarm.blogspot.com

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                                      • #20
                                        I did it in a situation very like yours. I bought a yearling warmblood/TB right after high school (the highest I had ridden at the time was second). He and I have been schooling all the GP for over 2 years on and off and had signed up for a show but due to several injuries, we've not been able to get to a show. I put all of the training on him other than first backing him and I've only ridden one or 2 schoolmasters in my life.

                                        I'm at a basic boarding barn with all different disciplines. Other than when he was first started, I've done all of the riding on him with the coaching of several great clinicians and trainers who come teach lessons. I'm a very analytical person and plan my rides, overall training, and goals. I think that helps keep me on track between lessons, which can be over 2 months apart during the winter.

                                        I have it a lot easier than other AAs since I'm not in a relationship, don't have children, and only answer to myself for how I spend my time and money, a lot of which goes to the horse. I'm also in the midwest, which is much cheaper for horsekeeping than other areas.

                                        I'm curious why you don't see yourself training your third level horse any higher? I think once they've got a 90% clean change, you should be able to get to PSG/I1, maybe not the highest quality but you should be able to do it. The big question for GP is if the horse can do the 1s, piaffe, and passage. If your horse is at third, I'd start building toward piaffe and passage now since you'll both be figuring it out.

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