First, I’m making the assumption that you have heard of the scales of training.
I’ve been astonished to discover how many people during even quite long careers in competition dressage, have managed to miss out on this aspect of their education.
SO in case you come into that category, or even if you know of the scales, but aren’t quite sure in which order they are arranged, here they are:
- RHYTHM (and relaxation)
I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that I wrote a book called THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF TRAINING, so-called because it details how to build your horse’s training in a progressive, logical manner, explaining the order in which movements should be taught (as well as how to teach them).
Well the SCALES OF TRAINING are the underpinning guide to how your horse’s way of going should be built, and in which order to tackle any issues.
They are also the order of priorities used by dressage judges to determine what part of your horse’s training their comments will focus upon.
I use the word ‘underpinning’ not only to remain with the same building analogy, but also because this describes very clearly what I have demonstrated in the above picture: that each scale is dependent upon the ones beneath to hold it up.
To quote from the FEI handbook:
‘The training scale is a program of systematic physical education of a horse, a gymnasticising program to develop the horse’s natural physical and mental aptitudes. By following these principles, the rider obtains an obedient, supple and comfortable horse with a good basic training.’
So that’s what it’s about: basic training. And the order of the scales helps you to understand in which order you must tackle your training to be effective.
It is true that none of the scales can be addressed totally in isolation – there is some interdependency between them all – but as a means of prioritising, they have an absolute order.
To put this into practical terms, when you begin with a new horse, or even with your own horse that you ride every day, always run through the list in each training session. Start with scale no.1
- Is the horse in a good rhythm? If not, tackle that first. Remember that relaxation promotes rhythm, and vice versa. Concentrate of establishing the rhythm. If you don’t have a good rhythm, nothing else matters. This might sound melodramatic, but it’s the truth. Worrying about further scales when you don’t have a good rhythm is a pointless waste of time, as nothing will work without a clear rhythm to underlie it.
- If your horse has a good rhythm, consider scale no. 2 – how supple is he? This is the scale most often commented upon in the earlier levels of dressage competition, so take a look at your score sheets and see how often it is mentioned. There are also several types of suppleness, so for more information on that, keep coming back to subsequent posts in this new series.
- When you feel suppleness is at least reasonable, then consider scale no. 3 – contact (which can also be called connection). If you don’t have a fair degree of suppleness, you will never have a good contact. Conversely, out of good rhythm and suppleness, a correct contact becomes possible, and will enable your horse to offer a pleasing connection.
- When, and only when, you have rhythm, suppleness and contact established, should you even start to think about impulsion. If you go after impulsion before you have the earlier scales established, you will only cause problems. Pushing for impulsion before the earlier scales are in place will cause the horse to hurry, and as a result he will stiffen his frame and come against your hand.
By now, you should be starting to get a clear picture of how the scales of training should be applied.
Remember that whilst, as already mentioned, none of the scales can be worked on totally in isolation, the order of priorities must be adhered to if you want to train effectively and with harmonious cooperation.
How a judge uses the scales
Just like the rider/trainer, judges use the scales to order their priorities.
When watching a horse perform a movement – any movement, be it a 20m circle in working trot, or a piaffe – the judge mentally measures the horse’s way of going against the scales.
Always first, the judge will first consider, is the horse in a good rhythm?
If the horse displays a fairly established rhythm, then the judge will consider how supple he appears.
If scales 1 & 2 appear quite well established, then, and only then, will the judge look at the contact, and so on up the scales.
Putting this more clearly in relation to competition levels, a judge will be hoping to see:
- At Preliminary, a nice rhythm, a supple horse, and the beginnings of a steady, soft contact.
- At Novice, all the above, plus some impulsion.
- At Elementary, the first four scales fairly well established, plus a fair degree of straightness developing
- At Medium, all the scales should be present, with collection only sufficient to allow the horse to perform the test movements with ease.
- At Advanced Medium and upward, a continuing development of all the scales to a higher degree of competence.
Hopefully now you can see the importance of using the scales to guide your training/judging. If one of the lower scales in inadequately developed, the higher scales will not be present, and your training will not be able to progress.
In my next series of posts I will delve deeper into each of the scales individually, to offer you more insight and practical means of improving each.
See you next time!