Janet Foy 2: The Levels

Janet Foy's two-day Through The Levels clinic was intense. I took pages of notes, video, and photos to share with you, and that doesn't even count the information I gleaned from my own ride with her. There is so much information, I am going to break down this clinic into three separate posts.
1. General information on rules, basics of showing, and general tips and tricks.
2. Specific tips and tricks broken down by level/test. (Training level through GP!)
3. My ride, feedback, and takeaways.

Fasten your seat belts...
 Training Level
  • "At Training Level, let's face it, if you have a half halt, it's like, 'Praise Jesus!' Amirite?"
  • At Training level, it's all about the accuracy. Janet explained that a fancy horse can go super far at Training, but the gait scores can't mask a multitude of piloting errors. An accurate test that demonstrates correct training will win over flashy movement and drunk steering every time.
  • Learn your 20 m circle points, especially when you are riding Training 3. It might be possible to mask your lopsided circles in the center of the ring from the judge at C, but when you get to a Championship class the judge at M is going to want to walk out of the box and shoot you for it.
  • Be aware that the horse will fall in on one side of the circle and fall out on the other. 
  • Bend is 100% necessary in a 20m circle. You probably need more than you think you do. Give it a try.
  • Be sure to ride the horse at the level. (Remember how you don't get extra points for harder movements?) Let the neck get longer/lower in the downward transition to the walk. Start the walk work in a training level frame. This is not a collected walk.
  • You can't push the horse for the forward and showy "auction horse trot" in your daily training. That trot is for shows only. You need to check and make sure that trot is in there and accessible, but that is it. In your regular riding, you should be riding slower and more deliberately. In a slower trot you an introduce things to the horse without stress and more easily encourage suppleness. That huge fancy trot is inviting the horse to become nervous and tense from loss of balance.
Dis is auction horse trot... ooooh... aaaahh...
  • Training level is not too soon to start introducing basic lateral work to the horse. You're going to need those skills very soon. Plus, they are helpful in basic riding. Examples:
    • Shoulder-in at the walk is a great way to get a horse looking away from something spooky and towards the inside of the ring where there is less likely to be a horse-eating demon.
    • The head to wall leg yield (or haunches-in without bend) is valuable to teach the horse outside leg means more than just "go." In this positioning you can start to teach the horse that the outside leg can mean "step over". That's the beginning of your leg yields, half passes, pirouettes.
  • Don't be afraid to take time. The basics of Training are important for the horse. If the horse is upset or frustrated, back off and take things slower. It's important the horse understands everything about your aids an directions.
  • The horse should have it's head between the shoulder and knee in the stretchy trot, but the release of the back and topline is more important than where the head is. (Or it should be. Janet pointed out that some "little r" and l graduates can get hung up on the head position, to the detriment of a the topline.) Don't lose your bend during the stretch, though. You'll need to practice this to be able to maintain both.
First Level
  • "First level is a lot like piloting a vw bus without power steering."
  • Your entrance and exit halts need to be still for a minimum of 3 seconds, per the rules. The halt in the middle of the test only needs to be still long enough to show the horse is settled, so you can move off faster. No halting through the walk at the level or above!
  • Just like at Training Level, the horse's head should be held between the point of shoulder and the knee in the stretchy circle. Pay attention that the head does not go below the knee. If the neck goes too low, you inhibit the horse's freedom of shoulder, and drive the movement onto the forehand. 
  • Place your 10 circles evenly on either side of letter. (V/R) Most often riders stick to the rail too long after the letter and try to make up by making the other side of the circle too shallow.
  • For the free walk, the horse needs to "look like he's moving like BeyoncĂ© from behind." If you hold the neck down, you create tension in back and inhibit the shoulder. The free walk can be ridden on contact or without. If horse is a tourist think about having contact to keep his attention.
  • In the shallow counter canter loop, the horse should maintain about as much bend as a 20 m circle in the direction of the true canter. Most people ride the counter canter too straight.
  • The transition across the diagonal through the trot should include only 3-4 steps in trot. Steps, not strides. 
  • Most people cruising right through the downward transition after the lengthenings. Instead, use the corner to improve the transition. Ride the horse right into the corner to help slow him down.
Horse in balance, but not collected.
  • For your overall balance, the horse doesn't need self carriage (per se) but he does need to move in balance. Not collection, but not dragging forward. Yes, this means your horse needs a half halt. 
  • Transitions up/down were one horses' sticking point. He was not pushing in upward transitions, and not balanced in downward. This goes back to the overall balance of the horse.
  • When you are riding on a circle. Look down at your hands. Make sure your outside hand is not behind your inside hand. This is a big no-no. Your hands should be even, at a minimum.
  • When you pick up the canter in 1-3, you have to pick up canter and turn at the same time. The circle starts immediately.
  • When riding the shallow surpentines, you should start your canter loop like you're turning across the diagonal and then smooth it out.

  • If your horse has a modest lengthening, then the horse needs to show more collection before and after the lengthening. Before you lengthen, bring horse back to smallest trot he has. Then show that same trot again at the end. If you still can't show a difference in the trot, try having your trainer chase you with a whip.
  • If you wait to the corner to flex opposite for your leg yield you are too late. Start flexing just after you pass A, and use that little bit of short side to test that your horse is reacting off your leg.
  • Leg yield zig zag: 
    • Must start off by coming deep into corner and staying straight on the rail to K.
    • Stay aware of your position between C and X so you get to X with room to go straight for a few steps before leg yielding back.
    • It's okay to flex outside slightly (straight/half pass bend) in leg yield if your horse uses the leg yield bend to lean on the outside shoulder and bulge through your aids.
  • For your 10m circle, get your bend before you get to circle. That's how you avoid getting it too big. "Prepare, prepare, prepare."
  • Think the same thing before coming across the diagonals. Think "shoulder in into the turns." Looking where you are going has a lot to do with getting your turns right.
  • Janet thinks there should be a level between First and Second, but USDF says they don't have enough money to put together awards for another level. "So, good luck. I tried."
  • "Second level is all about coming and going out of collection." 
  • In shoulder-in and traver you need to keep your shoulders perpendicular to wall. You are riding a 10m circle bend down the wall, so look down the wall. 
  • Don't collapse the inside of your torso when you do lateral work. Otherwise you're pushing your weight the wrong way.
  • Finish your lateral movements and straighten before your corners.
  • If your medium isn't so great, try to get good scores on the transitions. This is the first time you have separate scores on the transitions. You can nail the transition score without a good medium. The transition should be done before you finish the diagonal (by the time the horse's nose/shoulder is to the final letter of the diagonal), not in the corner. So start preparing before you get there. 
  • *corner, then turn, then straighten, then half halt, then goooooooo, then transition has to be done by the time the nose hits the end letter. *
Make sure to nail your transitions! They show the training better than the flashy movement.
  • The halt/back/walk should be a swing. Don't stop after going back, swing though the rein back right into walk. This movement is directly connected to 4th level.
  • Use the whole line in turns on the haunches. Use that space to get your bend and prepare.
  • Don't forget to keep your walk aids on in the turn on the haunches. Otherwise, your horse will stop and you'll get sticky steps. Your score goes down for every sticky step the horse takes.
  • A good marching walk pirouette is often a good indicator of a good piaffe.
  • If your turn on the haunches puts you off of your line of travel: You finish the movement, walk forward a few steps straight to show that you have ended appropriately, then walk diagonal back to line. Don't let horse just meander out. Clearly finish first. Don't leg yield back to your line. Be direct.
  • Again, the counter canter keeps the bend in direction of lead. Don't ride the counter canter too straight.
  • You can make up points in counter canter loops if the horse isn't extravagant. Ride them with the right bend and the right geometry.
  • If you struggle with the horse anticipating the canter/walk/canter over the diagonal: Ride across the diagonal, and do a 10m circle at canter when you are even with R, S, V, or P. Stay on the circle until the horse relaxes. Then return to the diagonal, walking at the same time, and keeping the original bend. Switch bend, shoulder in onto a 10m circle, and put the horse on bit. Now pick up the new lead of the canter. Do this every time you practice the test. Then take the circles out when you ride the test in the ring ONLY. You are still practicing the simple change, but you are practicing them relaxed and listening.


  • Third level is "Second Level Plus." The horse should be consistently on the bit, transitions within the gaits should be there, the horse needs clean changes, and lateral work must be more consistent than at 2nd. 
  • 3-2 is trot hell, avoid it at all costs, especially if your horse is on the lazy side. All that lateral work will keep him behind your leg.
  • The medium trot should show passage capability. The emphasis on the medium is suspension.
  • The extended trot should show overstep, it demonstrates the horse's lengthening ability. If you don't really have an extended, ride both trots the biggest and best you can. But be aware your extended will get a lower score than the medium. You can still nail the transitions, though.
  • The transition from the 3 track shoulder-in to the 4 track renver is very technical and hard.
    • You have to start with a good shoulder-in, then straighten the horse for a step, then bring the shoulders around into the new bend. Your legs hold the body and shape the bend. Your weight has to shift with the bend.
    • You can't pull for the bend, or you'll lose the forward engagement of the movement.
    • Be sure you don't come off the wall too much.
    • Renver requires a lot more bend than you might think when you first ride it. Without the bend it's just a leg yield along the wall.
    • The rider must pay attention to her body positioning in the movement transition in order to correctly guide the horse's shoulders and hips. (See the previous JF post for more on that.)
Shoulder-in to renver transition requires that the horse be athletic enough to move his big honking shoulders all the way around, while sitting enough to not lose his balance and have to bolt off to look for it. The rider has to change her shoulder positioning and weight. It's all very complicated.
  • Don't hold in the turns on haunches, or your horse will fall out. Keep thinking forward from inside leg to outside rein to keep control of the shoulders and the horse stepping around.
  • Set up the turn on the haunches with idea of half pass. Shoulder-in and bend. Guide the shoulders around the active and stepping walk. 
  • Think "piaffe" with the hind legs in the turn on the haunches to keep the forward engagement.
  • If your changes are butt high you are either asking at the wrong time, or, most likely, you didn't get the shoulders moved into the right direction.
  • The half pass needs as much bend as a 10m circle or the shoulder-in, otherwise it's just a leg yield. The bend is more important than the leg crossing and moving sideways. Use the corners to set up your bend in the tests. There's always a corner you can use to get your bend.
Ignore the title of this video. It's really all about moving the shoulders for the change. The horse is an older FEI horse.

  • Fourth Level is about clear transitions. The horse should have Third + it should be equal in both directions. You're no longer "allowed" to have a weaker direction. 
  • "That 4-3 test is possibly the worst test we've ever done. You're better off just going PSG."
  • Preparation and accuracy are the name of the game, especially when you get to the pirouettes and. These must start with shoulder in.
  • Think of riding a few steps of pirouette canter before your initial halt. That will help you avoid the dreaded trot steps while keeping the canter forward. Trot steps are not acceptable. Neither are walk steps on the way out. Be prompt.
  • Again, prep is super important, especially in the work on the centerline. You have to prepare first by finding the centerline. There's nothing worse than starting work on the centerline and being off. 
Many of the mid to upper level horses at this clinic were "off-breeds". Examples included a thoroughbred (third), a morgan (Int.), a paint (4th), and a pony (2nd).
  • Finish your shoulder in and straighten before you turn.
  • In half pass get the bend and ensure the horse is responsive off your leg. The sideways will be there. Don't rush sideways without the bend and forward.
  • In the super collected canter you want to see the haunches clearly get lower, not just that the horse goes forward.
  • The canter transition comes close to change of bend. Make sure to flex the right way to separate hind legs for canter depart. You don't want the hind legs to be tangled up and pushing at the same time.
  • Again, if your extended is not great: Take the 6 in the extended, accept that score. Don't try to make that better. You'll just make it worse. Make the transition amazing. Use a pirouette canter from corner to M. M-P do the extended. Start coming back at P. By F, have your pirouette canter again.
  • PSG is a very gentle intro to FEI. By the time you are riding Grand Prix, though, you are expected to be on your game. Do not show up to a clinic and call yourself a Grand Prix rider and not have your shit together.
  • In your tempi changes, place middle change over x. That takes planning.
  • Don't throw your body around in the tempi changes. The horse has to take cues from your legs only. You can't work very hard, or think very hard. In fact, "don't think". 
  • Try not to have too much contact in the pirouettes or you'll back off the horse.
This horse was super cool. His owner had him for 17 years, trained him to Grand Prix, backed him down to PSG, and brought him to this clinic so she could get some tips about starting her young horse. He was stiff and arthritic, but ultimately a huge trier with clearly correct training. Very neat to see.
  • For the zig zag, you want to make sure you can counter bend the horse in the canter without getting a change. Watch your diagonal aids. You will need to move the shoulders over so you can get the new bend before the change, as the change should also be the first step of the new half pass zag. 

I had a ton more notes for upper level tests, but somehow they got lost when they saved. I think there's still some good stuff in there, though! Next up? My ride. Spoilers: I didn't cry. Try not to be too disappointed. 


  1. Thank you! I will try to memorize the training level info for this year. :)

  2. So much info! This is amazing and worth the wait. ;)
    Can't wait to hear about your ride.

  3. So much great info, will definitely be utilizing for the show on the 7th!

  4. So many knowledges. Slurping up all the Training/First tidbits!

  5. The comment on the half-halt had me giggling madly!

  6. i think my brain turned to poop reading this, good thing I'm not dressage, but all great takeaways for the h-jer flatty work werk

  7. information overload!!!!! what i wouldn't do to sit in on another clinic tho!

  8. My brain couldn't comprehend anything past First lol


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