In this training feature, our Ambassador, Dressage Rider Becky Moody shares the scales of training.
The scales of training are like the building blocks of dressage training, they are a really useful checklist to use, especially if you are training a lot on your own.
The scales are: rhythm, suppleness, contact, impulsion, straightness and collection, and throughout them all you also need balance. It's not as simple as working on one and then progressing to the next - they are often interlinked, but they do help to give you focus and direction in your training.
Rhythm is not only about having a 4-beat walk, 2 beat trot and 3 beat canter, it's about having control of that rhythm and being able to adjust it. When you go in to ride your test you want to be able to maintain a lovely consistent easy rhythm, but to do this you actually need to work on being able to alter it - you should be able to go quicker or slower, and make the pace bigger or smaller, that way if your horse tries to take over in the test, by either backing off or running away you will have the tools available to control it and maintain consistency.
Supple with Style
Suppleness in its simplest form is just bend - the horses body should follow the line or curve that it is on, and should be uniform throughout the whole horse. However, as with rhythm my key word is adjustability - you should be able to take more bend than you need, or take the bend to the outside, you should be able to place the horses body where you want it.
With slightly more experienced riders, I look not only at the lateral suppleness - the left/right adjustability, but also the longitudinal suppleness - front/back adjustability. For me this is an essential element when starting to work towards the higher levels.
Keep in Contact
Contact itself is the feeling you have in the rein, but again for me it's more about the 'connection’ - the energy that starts at the back of the horse being able to pass through the body to the rein.
I very strongly believe that there is no such thing as a 'correct' contact, different horses need different contacts at different points in their education: a horse that tends to try and drop behind the contact needs to be ridden forward into a nice positive connection, a horse that can get too strong might need to be ridden almost off the contact so that it learns to hold itself up!
Impulsion is energy, and it's also about being in the right 'gear' (of the motor kind, not the wardrobe kind). Suppleness and contact have to be good to have good impulsion, because the energy must be able to travel easily through the horse’s body to the rein, without meeting any blocks of tightness or resistance. One of the things we want when we are training is that things should look easy and effortless, and good amounts of energy are essential for this to happen (imagine trying to do a walk to canter transition with low revs, in 3rd gear) STALL. Or a medium canter in 2nd gear (going nowhere)
Straight to The Point:
Straightness is directly connected to suppleness - at its most simple, the horses back feet should follow the path of the front feet, so on a circle there must be enough suppleness through the horse’s body that the back feet don't swing out, and in a straight line the horse must have enough core strength that it can remain straight. Most horses struggle with straightness most obviously in canter (very often they are inclined to go slightly 1/4s in and onto their outside shoulder)
A Great Collection:
Collection is the continuing engagement of the horse’s energy. Throughout the horses training we are endeavouring to draw the hindquarters more under the body and lighten the shoulder, and by doing this to develop more lightness and ease in how the horse moves.
However the most important thing throughout all the scales of training is BALANCE - without balance it is so difficult to improve the rhythm, or develop suppleness or alter the contact. Balance is also what ultimately gives you self carriage, and it's only when your horse has self carriage that you can really begin to develop their way of moving.
The most useful exercises to help the balance are transitions - both between the paces and within the pace, but they most be well ridden transitions!
So, when you are training by yourself and you are maybe finding it a bit tricky to analyse how things are going, just have a walk for a minute and think through the scales of training. Either it will make you realise that things are going well and that you have everything where you want it, or it will help you to ascertain where your weak link is, and how you might go about improving it in a logical and systematic way.