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Dressage can seem like a complicated and nuanced sport from the outside, and it certainly has those elements, but anyone with an interest and desire to learn absolutely can. Before diving into anything too specific, it’s important to first understand the basics of dressage, as well as what trainers and students around the world refer to as the “Training Scale.”

In dressage, the rider uses his/her weight, legs, and seat to guide the horse. These means of influence are known as the riders “aids”. In order to use the aids correctly, the rider’s body must be aligned with the horse correctly and they must be properly balanced.

From the side, an observer should be able to see the ear, shoulder, hip and heel of the rider in a straight line at the halt. From the back, the rider should sit evenly on both seat bones and an observer should be able to see that the length of the stirrups are the same.

By shifting the riders hips and weight, the rider “ask’s” the horse to move in the direction he/she desires, and step using their gaits of choice. When imagining how to guide the horse, riders should imagine that the horses hips will do what the riders hips do, and the horses shoulders will mimic what the riders shoulders do. Rider and horse move in practically synchronized ways.

Most trainers use what we call the Training Scale.

Training-Scale

The German Training Scale is as follows:

Rhythm
Relaxation (sometimes called Suppleness or Looseness)
Connection
Impulsion
Straightness
Collection

Though the pyramidal shape leads many to believe that each step it meant to be following progressively, building off the one before it, there is actually lack of unity in Germany regarding how the scale is applied. Some trainers utilize it as a series that they gradually walk their students through one by one, while others see each piece of the pyramid simply as part of the bigger picture of what makes up a great rider, without regards to order or placement on the pyramid.

It is difficult to find the origin of the Training Scale, but the most popular theory is that it originated over a century ago in the Spanish Riding School, whose training is based on the work of the Frenchman, de Ia Gueriniere. Some believe it was derived from the works of Caprilli, others from Sigmund von Haugk. Olympic judge, Nick Williams, researched the scale and determined it’s approximate age to be 100 years old in 2012, with its first mention in the 1912 revised edition of the German Cavalry Manual, the “Heeresdienstvorschrift” (or HDV as it is abbreviated.)

Currently, the FEI is actually reviewing the dressage training methods that are currently in place, and are expected to present a formal revision in the coming months once it is approved by the FEI Bureau.

 To learn more about Dr. Cesar Parra’s dressage training experience, please visit his personal website.