The Dressage Training Scale
The dressage training scale is a way of regulating the training of the horse. Each level in the training scale builds on the previous one, giving a horse and rider team a logical way to work up and improve their performances. Obviously, this means the scale, in a triangular shape, starts with the basic skills which have to be mastered to attempt dressage and moves up. The levels are all connected too, meaning a fully rounded rider needs a good grasp of each level on the scale to be able to perform to the highest levels.
Rhythm and RegularityRhythm and regularity is the first item on the training scale, forming the bottom of the triangle and is as straightforward as it sounds. It looks at the gaits and the way they are performed. It makes sure that the basics of good riding are there before the rider and horse try anything more tricky. Until the gaits have the correct rhythm and regularity, the horse cannot begin learning the complicated manoeuvres. It is the foundation of dressage and all other things stem from here – a horse with a poorly regulated trot, cannot, for example, learn an extended trot.
RelaxationMoving up the scale, relaxation is the next aspect. Relaxation is so important in dressage. Although the sport is about control and precision, none of this will matter if the horse and rider look stiff. Relaxation is needed to make the partnership look elegant and flowing – the beautiful movements for which dressage is renowned are nothing without a sense of freedom and relaxation.
ContactContact refers to the way the rider controls the horse. The contact needs to be equal between both reins so that one side of the horse is not more controlled than the other. The horse should look natural and not forced so the contact must not be excessive. If a rider needs to pull hard on the reins, they must go back to basics because the horse is not responding as he should.
ImpulsionThe impulsion is the thrust of the horse. It refers to the momentum the horse has going forward and moving into whatever he is being asked to do. Impulsion does not occur in the walk as there is no moment of suspension, but in the other gaits, on-lookers should get a sense of the horse thrusting forward.
StraightnessStraightness, as the name suggest is all about parallel lines. This is particularly important in gaits such as the half pass, where the horse must be lined up with the arena. But it does not only refer to the body of the horse but his legs as well. The horse’s legs should always be level with whichever ones are working together at that moment.
CollectionAt the very top of the scale is collection. Only the more advanced horses tackle collection. Collection allows more freedom of movement, and is the mark of a truly well trained horse and rider. The difference is almost imperceptible and the untrained eye would not be able to tell why one horse looked better than another but collection makes a huge difference to the overall performance of a horse and rider.
Once a horse has mastered the training scale, it should be able to do all manoeuvres. The progress up the training scale should never be rushed. The trainer needs to build on each level and this can only be done if there is a proper base, so make sure the horse knows each one before moving, even if this means going over it time and time again.