E Equine asked our followers on social media for some subjects for our blogs and a really popular one was the scales of training so that is our subject for this month’s blog.
The scales comprise of:
The scales of training a horse have been developed to use in the above order. There is a degree of flexibility in this as all horses are individual and it may be necessary to temporarily skip a scale in order to work on another. However, it is so important to remember that these scales are the building blocks of training and each needs to be in place to help develop the following scale. Until a horse develops a good rhythm it will be difficult to obtain suppleness. Without suppleness, contact will not be correct. True impulsion cannot be achieved without a good contact and without impulsion the horse will not be straight. All the scales must be in place to achieve the end result of true collection.
Rhythm should be regular and the correct sequence of footfalls maintained. In walk the horse moves to 4 even and distinct beats, in trot the horse should move its legs in diagonals pairs with a moment of suspension when all of the legs are off the ground, canter should be a distinctive 3 beats with a clear moment of suspension.
The tempo which is often mistaken for rhythm is the speed of the rhythm and should be evenly timed.
The horse should be supple both laterally (side to side) and longitudinally (over his back). The horse’s joints should be relaxed and there should be no bracing against the riders aids or swinging of his head from side to side. A supple horse will develop good topline from his haunches over his back all the way to the base of his neck and then up to the poll.
One of the most common problems we see in training is a horse not working with impulsion; often being branded as ‘lazy’. Far from lazy the horse is lacking rhythm and suppleness so finds going forwards impossible. These types of horses are often subjected to a life of kicking and pulling because sadly the scales of training have not been followed or have been misunderstood. Many young horses have started with no willingness to go forward but as training progresses have become super forwards without the need for chasing.
Contact should be an elastic, soft but connected feel down the rein. The horse should feel as if he is willingly taking the contact forward without pulling or leaning on the riders hands. The horse will round his back and neck and the whole of his body feels energised and ‘connected’. The contact should aim to be developed in a totally symmetrical way with even reins and even suppleness.
Mentioned already impulsion can only be achieved when the other scales are in place. The preceding scales allow the horse to develop impulsion which should not be confused with speed. Impulsion is an energy and willingness to perform with grace and power. Any tightness in the body will prevent true impulsion so suppleness and contact must be maintained to train impulsion.
Just as we are either left or right handed, so is the horse. They will naturally favour one side and be stiffer on the other. It is our job through the preceding scales to correct this to achieve straightness. The test of straightness is the hind feet following the same line as the forefeet with a uniform bend in the body when working on a curve. The contact must be ideally even with identical weight in both reins.
When carrying a rider a horses centre of balance is naturally around the wither area, putting the horse on his forehand. This makes it difficult to perform even the simplest of movements and makes for an uncomfortable situation for both horse and rider. Over the course of training the scales the horse can start to achieve collection which has the effect of lowering the horse’s haunches and lifting the shoulder, changing the centre of balance to the optimum which is the where the rider sits. As more collection is achieved and the centre of balance moves further back the horse is capable of moving with greater power and more expression. The ultimate of course is a horse reaching the level of Grand Prix where he will perform a range of movements in near perfect balance, in harmony with the rider and with the greatest athleticism. Even thought Grand Prix level may not be possible for every horse and rider; following the scales can improve and develop any horse to perform to the best of his ability.