The scales of training — rhythm, suppleness, contact, impulsion, straightness and collection — are the stepping stones we use to train our horses. They help us evaluate where our horses are in their education, and form the basis of how judges assess dressage tests.
But progression though these scales is rarely linear, and it can be frustrating trying to work out all these attributes can apply to your particular horse. At last month’s fascinating British Dressage National Convention, held at Addington Equestrian Centre, British team medallist Michael Eilberg captivated the audience with his explanation of how the scales of training work — and sometimes don’t work — in tandem with each other.
“There are four basic things relating to the first phase of the scales of training: rhythm, balance, suppleness and relaxation,” explained Michael. “These are four core qualities that you never want to lose throughout any work that you do with your horse.”
Michael laid out four poles in a square shape with open corners, each pole representing one of these things.
“When I get on my horse I control speed, direction and outline, and if I can start to take an influence over those three things I start getting close to linking these four qualities together,” he continues, moving the poles one by one so they end up touching, in a closed square (pictured below), demonstrating how rhyhm, balance, suppleness and relaxation all feed into each other.
When this is established in the early stages of training, Michael explains that a rider can start to work the horse forward into a stronger contact, as well as introducing impulsion. He sets up two boxes outside the square to represent each of these things, but explains that most of the time, when you start to bring contact or impulsion into the mix, it is initially at the expense of one of the four original “pillars”.
“For example, I can bring in impulsion, but initially only at the expense of good rhythm,” he says, placing one of the boxes in the middle of square and rolling away one pole to demonstrate this.
“So when that is the case, I have to take a step back and reintroduce contact or impulsion to a lesser extent, only up to the point at which one of the four pillars breaks away.
“Eventually, a horse should be able to accept contact and impulsion while also maintaining rhythm, balance, suppleness and relaxation, and then it is the same process with straightness and collection.”
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Adding that this is a process that takes years, Michael also reminds the audience that once you have all these qualities securely in place and working together within your horse’s training, it doesn’t always stay that way.
“As years go by however, and your horse gains strength, these things do become more and more set in stone,” he concludes.
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