Scales of Training
The scales of training are the stepping stones that riders live by when training horses. Over the years and across a number of nations, all who produce and ride horses use these as their 'mantra'. They also form the basis of what judges look for in horses during the test.
Rhythm should be both:
1. Regular and correct for each pace.
- In the walk there should be four hoof beats – in a marching time.
- In the trot, two hoof beats – the legs move in diagonal pairs and in between beats there is a moment of suspension when all the legs are off the ground.
- In the canter, three hoof beats – only one diagonal pair move together and there is a moment of suspension.
2. The same tempo (speed of the rhythm) and this should have a pronounced beat to it. The horse should not speed up or slow down whether he is going around a corner or on a straight line, whether he is lengthening his strides or shortening them.
The aim is that the horse’s muscles have tone and are free from resistance, his joints are loose and he does not tighten against the rider’s aids. The muscles that are really important are those over his top line from his hind legs over the quarters, loins, in front of the wither and up to the poll.
The test of whether a horse is supple and working ‘through’ the back and neck is that when the rein contact is eased (as in a free walk) he will want to stretch forward and down and not try to hollow and lift his head.
The ideal contact is a light, even and elastic feel in both reins which is achieved by aids from the legs and seat, not the hands. The legs are applied as a driving aid, causing the horse to step under more and work ‘through’ those muscles along his top line – over the back, neck, through the poll, and the rider feels the energy thus created in the reins. When the contact is established in this way his outline and steps will be ‘round’, not hollow and in the trot and canter, springy and not flat. The horse’s hindquarters and forehand are connected by that band of muscles over the top line and the rider can feel this in his hands as there will be a lively forward tendency in the reins. The horse is then said to be ‘connected’.
This is the contained power of the horse. It is created in the hindquarters by getting him to take more energetic steps, to place his hind legs further under his body and it is contained by the rein contact that stops him from using up this extra energy to simply go faster. Any resistance and tightening of muscles, ligaments and joints will block this energy getting through, so he must be supple and connected to be able to build up real impulsion.
Riders aim to create enough impulsion to develop the horse’s ability and to show off his athleticism, but not so much that it cannot be controlled. The skill of the rider is to create as much energy as can be contained without the horse starting to pull and speed up.
Horses, like humans, are born one sided and will tend to move forward with their bodies slightly curved. This crookedness can get worse if a rider sits to one side and/or keeps a stronger contact in one rein than the other.
When a horse is crooked, it will be more difficult for him to stay balanced and develop impulsion.
The aim is that the hind legs step into the tracks of the forelegs, both on a straight line and on a circle, and that the rider has an even feel in his reins.
Dressage makes the horse a better ride, more manoeuvrable, more powerful and easier to control. To achieve this, his balance has to be changed as he has to adjust to carry the weight of the rider in the most efficient way. When he is first ridden, he will carry most of the rider’s weight on his forehand. This is cumbersome, he will tend to run faster when asked to lengthen his strides, he will find it difficult to stop quickly and will often lean on the rider’s hands to keep his balance.
Through training, the necessary muscles are built up and he is taught how to carry more and more weight on his hindquarters. This lightens his forehand, giving him more freedom to move his shoulders and becoming an easier and more athletic ride.
Over time the horse is asked for more and more collection so his hind legs step further forward under his body and, as he does this, the weight is transferred backwards and he will be developing the carrying power of the hindquarters.
In Grand Prix, this collection is such a high level that the horse can trot on the spot in piaffe or turn around practically on the spot in canter pirouette. In Pony Club and novice tests no collection is asked for but there are movements that start to develop the collection. These include when the horse comes into a halt or changes from lengthened strides to a working trot. As he stops or shortens his steps, he should step more under his body with his hind legs and transfer a little more of his weight onto his hindquarters – this is the beginning of collection.
As a rule, the Scales of Training are approached in order but there are times when one is skipped over to work on another. However, until the horse works with rhythm, it will be difficult to make him supple and until supple, contact will be spasmodic and until contact is true, impulsion will be illusive.
Also, the scales should improve and be of a higher standard the more advanced the training. Therefore, the suppleness accepted in a young novice horse as being good enough to start working more on the contact and impulsion will be much less than that expected in a horse that is advanced enough to learn flying changes.