7 steps to using the Scales of Training – how it all fits together

If you go right back to the introductory post of this series, “Do you know how to USE the Scales of Training?” you will find an outline of the reasons why it is so important to understand the scales, and how to apply them.

To quote the FEI handbook, ‘the training scale is the most important guideline for trainers, riders and judges.

‘By following these classical principles the object and general principles of dressage can be achieved. In addition, the training scale is the measure of the quality of a performance and the guideline for the judges while judging a competition.’

How do the Scales relate to the Stages of Training?

I described in that previous post the way to use the scales in your everyday schooling sessions, but a clearer understanding of the bigger picture can help you to understand their application and relevance relative to your horse’s stage of training.

When you train a young horse from scratch, consideration must be given to your horse’s

  • understanding of your aids
  • physical ability to respond to those aids
  • strength

As discussed before, whilst the scales cannot be tackled totally in isolation from each other, they must be developed in the prescribed order:

  1. RHYTHM (and relaxation)

Each scale is more or less related to the Stages of Training:

  1. STAGE 1 – the familiarisation, or preliminary riding stage
  2. STAGE 2 – development of pushing power
  3. STAGE 3 – development of carrying power

Understanding the Stages of Training

Stage 1: the development of understanding and confidence.

As soon as you put a rider’s weight on the horse’s back, you compromise his balance, which, to a horse, is the scariest thing. At a survival level, the unbalanced horse is the one in danger of falling over and getting eaten! Your first priority as the rider of a just started horse, is to reassure him by helping him to find a rhythm, which he will find relaxing, and to reduce tension and stiffness in his muscles i.e. develop suppleness. Once you have these two in place, you can work him forward into a contact.

In terms of BD tests, these three scales relate to Preliminary and early Novice.

Stage 2: development of pushing power.

As his balance becomes more established under the weight of a rider, and he begins to develop some strength, you need to work on his pushing power. This is done by activating his hind legs so they swing forward during the moment of suspension in trot and canter. Provided he has suppleness over the back, this thrust will go through his frame to arrive in the bit (contact).

To direct this impulsion, he will need to be relatively straight.

This phase relates to Novice to Medium levels.

Stage 3: development of carrying power.

Carrying power requires your horse to have a fair degree of strength, and to understand and be able to respond to the half halt – in other words collection.

This stage begins in earnest at Medium/Advanced Medium, and is continually developed as the horse progresses up the levels, with the proviso that all the earlier scales are maintained and further refined.

Examples of Progression through the Stages

The following photographs provide images of the main visual cues of progression.

(Please excuse the quality – these are scanned in hard copy photographs from long ago of my Danish Warmblood, Claylands Rossini.)

Stage 1: the recently started horse

Baby stages – Ross as a 4-year-old in his first competition – note the relatively straight hind legs, slightly out behind the body, and the balance towards the forehand.

Stage 2: learning to push

At 7 years old in Medium level. Although Ross is slightly above the bit in this picture, you can clearly see the increased bend in the hind legs and better engagement under the body, with the lighter forehand of the more developed horse.

Stage 3: developing carrying power

Ross at 9-years-old and in Prix St George. The increased activity and engagement, with resultant lowering of the hind quarters is very apparent, as is the increased uphill balance

Train the basics to develop THROUGHNESS

Once the basics are in place, your horse will be able to work ‘through‘.

This is described by the FEI as:

‘The supple, elastic, unblocked, connected state of the horse’s musculature that permits an unrestricted flow of energy from back to front and front to back, which allows the aids/influences to freely go through to all parts of the horse.’

Throughness‘ is the end goal of the training scale, but always remember it is not something you can develop in isolation, but a state that comes about as a result of establishing the scales.

The degree of ‘throughness’ will increase throughout your horse’s career by further development of the Scales. You will often hear about ‘working on the basics’, even with an advanced horse, and this is because while such a horse will be sufficiently established in all the scales to perform the higher levels of work, ALL the scales can still be further improved.

The higher the training level of the horse, the easier it is to jump around with your focus on individual scales within your training sessions, because they already have all the scales established, and you are simply developing them further. Even a Grand Prix horse may need to work on the lower scales, so one day will work on suppleness, to facilitate the next day, working on collection.

Whenever anything goes wrong, ALWAYS go back to the basics.


So in summary:

  • you should not only KNOW what the Scales of Training ARE, but also be able to recite them IN THE CORRECT ORDER without having to think about it!
  • you should know HOW to apply them, by assessing, and then addressing them in the correct order each time you school your horse.
  • you should know without question WHICH are the most relevant to your horse’s STAGE OF TRAINING.

Using a very tired but appropriate cliché: ‘don’t run before you can walk’. Or in this case, don’t try to push the next scale until the previous one is established.

Author: Deborah Jay

Deborah Jay writes fantasy and urban fantasy featuring complex, quirky characters and multi-layered plots – just what she likes to read. Living mostly on the UK South coast, she has already invested in her ultimate retirement plan – a farmhouse in the majestic, mystery-filled Scottish Highlands where she retreats to write when she can find the time. She has a dream of a day job, riding, training and judging competition dressage horses and riders, and also writes books and magazine features on the subject under the name Debby Lush. Her taste for the good things in life is kept in check by the expense of keeping too many horses, and her complete inability to cook. A lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy, she started writing her first novel aged eight, and has never stopped. Her debut novel, epic fantasy THE PRINCE’S MAN, first in a trilogy and winner of a UK Arts Board award, is available from most ebook retailers, and her Urban Fantasy (first in a series), DESPRITE MEASURES, a tale of a Scottish water sprite trying to live as a human, is currently available on Amazon. Find out more about Deborah at www.deborahjay.wordpress.com or follow Deborah on twitter https://twitter.com/DeborahJay2 and facebook https://www.facebook.com/DeborahJay

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