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Monday, 25 February 2019

How To Understand The Horse Training Scale

Ahhhh, the horse training scale.  It is a vital part of training your horse for any discipline.  But have you ever looked at one and thought, what the heck does that mean?  I need to know what exercises to do, not what my horse SHOULD be?  Yeah, that was me.  

I was trying my hardest to train my horse and had no idea how to understand what the training scale meant.  Yes, I know the transformation that my horse should be making but how do I do that?  Well, unless you've been training horses for a while, you aren't expected to know.  I decided to go on a journey to find out what exercises go with each step of the training scale.  




1.  Rhythm


This may be hard for you to get through, but working on the first step means forgetting about a certain frame.  Just ride your horse in a good rhythm.  

What to Expect - 

At this point, your horse should only need to know basic aids such as going forward, slowing down and starting to learn to back up.  

Exercises -


  • Starting on a circle, practice in the walk, then trot, then canter.  You are focusing on counting each step that your horse takes and trying to keep those steps in a rhythm.  



  • If you or your horse is finding this very difficult you can start using poles on the ground to make a rhythm for you.  


You need to find a balance in each gait which means some horses will need to slow down and some will need to speed up.  It is best to use your seat to influence the speed instead of using your legs or hands.  You do this by speeding up or slowing down the movement of your seat.  This is a lot more difficult than it sounds, just practice counting the movements (like rising trot or the movement your seat makes at the walk).



2.  Suppleness & Relaxation


Once your horse has the rhythm, it will be very easy to move on to this step.  


What to expect - 

After doing regular work with a good rhythm, relaxation should come naturally.

The suppleness comes from the horse being able to relax muscles and stretch both laterally and longitudinally.  

Exercises - 


  • It is at this step I work my horse's in a long and low frame to allow the back to come up.  We couldn't do this before the horse was relaxed.  Encourage your horse to stretch down by giving him the reins while keeping your rhythm with your seat.  He should eventually start to reach for contact, which should be on a very long rein. 



  • It is at this time I start to flex my horse (at the halt) right round to my foot.  Some horses won't be able to do this but keep working on it a few times every ride.  



  • I also introduce the horse to moving away from the leg.  I don't yet focus on leg yields but I start to teach him a turn on the forehand but only a few steps.  This just helps me to get him to move away from the leg early on.  



  • This is also the stage that you need to be working on getting a quicker response to your aids and a smoother transition.  



3.  Connection

This is a big stage so get ready!

Exercises - 


  • I begin by picking up a small amount of contact at a time.  We don't do this quickly as horses need time to build muscle.  As you are slowly allowing your horse to build muscle, we can start training in other areas.  



  • This is where I start to train leg yield, shoulder in, flying changes and more.  I don't expect much from the horse but I like to train the horse to do things in a more simple step so that when we move up to the next, he is ready to improve.  



  • Train your horse to bend at this stage, starting on a tight circle in the walk.  When he understands what to do when you give him the aids, start bending and flexing all around the school then, progress to trot and canter.  

  • I train the half halt at this stage.  You will increase your weight in your seat and use your reins to 'pretend' to stop your horse but as soon as he starts to react you use your legs to move him on.  This will then be shortened so you can use your seat, reins and legs together.  

  • Practice (a lot) transitions, bending and different speeds of each gait.  



What to except - 

You are looking for your horse to starting to reaching underneath himself with his hind legs.  The horse will be engaged, rounding his back and looking for contact (whether it is high or low).  He accepts the aids.  

We want the horse to be soft and reactive to our aids.  The horse should be giving us soft transitions and be looking for contact.  


4.  Impulsion

What to expect - 

This is where we take the connection that we have and add a spark to it!  Impulsion is when the horse thrusts off the ground with each step.  This really takes time to perfect really impulsion, it's not going to happen in a few rides.  

Exercises - 
  • The way you do this is to sit deeper into the back of your seat (NOT to sit further back in the saddle).  This will push your horse forward.  You will then 'catch' that energy in your contact, by giving more half halts (not restricting by pulling back) to contain the energy.  



  • This is also the point where your horse has gained the muscle needed to hold a higher headset.  It is important that he doesn't go behind the bit at this stage.  Even though he has the muscles, it is very important to change the headset to long and low to give him a break a few times every ride AND to cool down.  Never hold onto your horse, only take as much contact as he gives you.   

  • Working on transitions it very important in this step.  You will be looking for the same impulsion within your transitions so you can really feel your horse 'spring' into the gait.  

  • I perfect the shoulder-in, leg yield and flying changes in this step.  I also teach the half pass and haunches out.  

  • Another great exercise is to practice lengthening and shortening your horse's stride around the school.  Lengthen up the long sides of the school and shorten on the short sides of the school.  


5.  Straightness


Straightness is so high up on the training scale because your horse NEEDS to have rhythm, suppleness, connection and impulsion to be straight. 

First, you need to make sure that YOU are straight.  If you are sitting to one side or have uneven contact, you will not allow your horse to be straight.  This requires a very good rider who has a great independent seat.  

What to expect -  

You are looking for an engaged, balanced and straight horse.  Your horse will be able to do transitions in complete balance on a straight line.  

Exercises - 

  • Once you are straight, you will be ready to help your horse.  It is all about feeling where your horse's hooves are with every step and adjusting to every step.  If you feel a slight bulge of the shoulder, correct it.  You will be training your horse to be straight with every step he takes.  


  • Doing zigzags of leg yields, shoulder-in at the canter and other lateral training can really help the horse's straightness.



  • Training your horse to do turns on the forehand and turns on the haunches (to help you to adjust him when he is not straight.  eg, move the shoulders or the haunches a certain way) will really help you to make corrections to straighten the horse.  

6.  Collection 


Collection is more than collecting the horse's stride.  This is when the horse is fully engaged, working completely uphill with a lightness in the forehand and has self-carriage.  He can now load the weight onto his hind end in order to do complex exercises.  

Exercises - 


  • Practice doing leg yield on a circle.  This can then slowly be turned into a  full turn on the forehand.  This will soften the horse at the poll and cause him to lift his head up a little to find his self-carriage.  

  • Another great exercise to do is the pirouette.  This exercise really helps to get the horse used to load his weight to his hind end.  You are to do a haunches-in on a 10m circle.  This means the horse's hind end is inside of the track and he is bending in the direction he is going.   

  • You will want to ride a little differently when riding for an uphill horse.  You will tighten your back, sit up very straight and backwards a little.  This is only until your horse learns what you would like and then you can ride normally again.  



Sources - 

https://dressagetoday.com/instruction/achieve-real-uphill-balance-25165 


https://www.horseandhound.co.uk/features/how-to-ride-pirouettes-523291


*disclaimer* 

I am not a horse trainer or any other equestrian professional.  I only give advice on horsey topics that I have experience as a horse owner in.  Please don't follow my advice without contacting a relevant equestrian professional.  

TheRider'sReins 

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