Gain an understanding of the dressage pyramid of training is and where it originated from. Plus insight on how to train each level of the scale of training.
The Dressage Pyramid Of Training or Scale Of Training is a term you will hear a lot within the world of dressage. It was developed from the German cavalry, “Heeresdienstvorschrift H.Dv. 1912,1937,” and the term “Skala der Ausbildung” (literally translated “Training Scale”) started being used in the 1950s.
The manual outlined the principles and goals for the training of a horse. It provided a detailed training plan as guiding rules for the training of a military horse that is still used today around the world by riders, coaches and as part of the judging foundation of dressage competitions we know today and commonly referred to as the German Training Scale.
Dressage Pyramid Of Training
The H.Dv. defined the training steps as follows:
• accustoming the horse to the rider’s weight
• rhythm, relaxation
• development of thrust and development of the gaits, contact
• throughness, keeping the horse on the bit and in a frame
• development of carrying power, collection
• origination of elevation
• working frame (standard rule)
• dressage frame (may be asked only for a brief time).
How To Use The Dressage Pyramid Of Training
Today these classic principles are applied to present-day training of the dressage horse and used as a platform to illustrate the different steps that are crucial ingredients to the correct training for the horse and rider from young horse through to grand prix and international levels.
Each of these steps can be developed at different stages depending on the horse, however, the scale is to be used as a reference for understanding the general progression and interactive development from the beginning of the training through to assessment of how the training is progressing.
The Dressage Pyramid Of Training
• Takt (Rhythm)
• Losgelassenheit (Relaxation)
• Anlehnung (Contact)
• Schwung (Impulsion)
• Geraderichten (Straightness)
• Versammlung (Collection).
How The Dressage Training Scale Works
None of the six elements of the training scale stands by itself. They all work together and interact and depend on one another. Each quality of training is systematically incorporated into the training of the horse.
There is a flow between the elements, and you have to be open to listening to your horse as to what needs to be considered next. The goal of training a horse is to reach the best possible level of throughness and obedience by teaching them to carry more weight in hind legs as they move through the different levels of training.
Rhythm, relaxation and contact form the initial phase. In this part of the training, the horse is getting accustomed to the rider and his aids. This phase is used for the warm-up in daily work.
Relaxation, contact, impulsion and straightness serve in the development of driving power (thrust) of the hind legs. In this phase, the horse is asked to work more from behind and step diligently forward to the bit. This phase focuses on versatile gymnastic work to build horses flexibility and strength. When the horse is straight it can then use its back correctly and move with more freedom.
Impulsion, straightness and collection aim to develop the carrying power of the hind legs. The horse is supposed to bear more weight over his hindquarters, which is mandatory for true collection and elevation. Of which are necessary to reach higher goals in dressage training.
The United States Dressage Federation (USDF) explains each of these areas as per the following:
Rhythm (With energy and tempo)
“Rhythm is the term used for the characteristic sequence of footfalls and timing of a pure walk, pure trot and pure canter. The rhythm should be expressed with energy and in a suitable and consistent tempo, with the horse remaining in the balance and self-carriage appropriate to its level of training.”
Relaxation (with elasticity and suppleness)
“Relaxation refers to the horse’s mental state (calmness without anxiety or nervousness), as well as his physical state (the absence of negative muscular tension). Usually, the mental and physical states go hand in hand. The horse learns to accept the influence of the rider without becoming tense. He acquires positive muscle tone so that he moves with elasticity and a supple, swinging back, allowing the rider to bend him laterally as well as lengthen and shorten his frame. A horse showing the correct responses when allowed to chew the reins out of the hands is relaxed.”
Connection (with acceptance of the bit through acceptance of the aids)
“The energy generated in the hindquarters by the driving aids must flow through the whole body of the horse and is received in the rider’s hands. The contact to the bit must be elastic and adjustable, creating fluent interaction between horse and rider with appropriate changes in the horse’s outline. Acceptance of the bit is identified by the horse quietly chewing the bit. This activates the salivary glands so that the mouth becomes moist and production of saliva is evident. The softly moving tongue should remain under the bit. The quality of the connection and balance can be evaluated by ‘üeberstreichen’, releasing the reins (to demonstrate self carriage) or by allowing the horse to chew the reins out of the hands (to demonstrate relaxation).”
Impulsion (Increased energy and thrust)
“Impulsion is the term used to describe the transmission of an eager and energetic, yet controlled, propulsive thrust generated from the hindquarters into the athletic movement of the horse. Impulsion is associated with a phase of suspension such as exists in trot and canter, but not in walk. It is measured by the horse’s desire to carry himself forward, the elasticity of his steps, suppleness of his back, and engagement of his hindquarters. Impulsion is necessary to develop medium paces, and later on, with the added ingredient of collection, extended paces.”
Straightness (Improved alignment and balance)
“A horse is said to be straight when the footfalls of the forehand and the hindquarters are appropriately aligned on straight and curved lines and when his longitudinal axis is in line with the straight or curved track on which he is ridden. By nature every horse is crooked, hollow on one side and stiff on his other side, thereby using one side of his body somewhat differently from the other. This also causes uneven contact in the reins. Appropriate gymnastic exercises develop the horse’s symmetry. This allows him to engage both hind legs evenly and prepares him for collection. This process improves the lateral as well as the longitudinal balance of the horse.”
Collection (Increased engagement, lightness of forehand, self carriage)
“The horse shows collection when he lowers and engages his hindquarters– shortening and narrowing his base of support, resulting in lightness and mobility of the forehand. Because the center of mass is shifted backward, the forehand is lightened and elevated; the horse feels more ‘uphill’. The horse’s neck is raised and arched and the whole top line is stretched. He shows shorter, but powerful, cadenced, steps and strides. Elevation must be the result of, and relative to, the lowering of the hindquarters. This is called ‘Relative Elevation’. It indicates a training problem if the horse raises his neck without displacement of his center of mass to the rear. This is called ‘Absolute Elevation’ and can, if pervasive, adversely affect the horse’s health and his way of going. Collection with Relative Elevation will enhance the horse’s selfcarriage, so that he can be ridden almost entirely off the seat, and the aids of the legs and especially those of the hands can become very light.”
The Purpose Of Dressage Tests
As the horse builds on its strength and balance the purpose of each dressage test develops. For example according to the Dressage New Zealand Official 2013 test book, the Purpose of the Level 1 test is to “to confirm the horse has developed and maintains a rounded natural outline without restriction, moves freely forward without collection but with active hindquarters whilst maintaining a steady rhythm and contact with the bit without tension or resistance.”
For Level 2 the Dressage New Zealand Official 2013 test book states “to confirm that the horse has developed an established rounded outline without restriction, moves freely forward without collection but with active hindquarter and achieved a degree of balance, straightness and throughness. The horse should be in steady light contact with the bit without tension or resistance.”
For competitive dressage the more you move up the levels the more the purpose of each dressage test builds on itself in accordance to the dressage training scale. With impulsion and straightness becoming more important within the dressage tests at the higher levels. Our goal as a dressage rider to try and achieve this when performing the movements within each level test and with our dressage training at home.
When the horse is then schooled successfully through the foundations using the pyramid of training as a guide. The horse is then said to have throughness and obdience to the aids while maintaining rhythm and relaxation which is the whole aim of the Dressage Pyramid of training.
Dressage Rider Training System
Dressage is all about you the rider and the horse. It is a team sport and this is why we developed a training system for you as a rider. It is designed to help you work on your own symmetry, balance, coordination and suppleness while you are off the horse. With the aim that when you are riding you can sit in good posture and control and be able to focus on your horse during that time when you are in the saddle. To get yourself started, take a look at our free guide here.