As a dressage rider, I live and breathe The Training Scale. You know, Rhythm – Suppleness – Contact – Straightening – Impulsion – Collection. It is commonly known that Straightening and Impulsion can be interchanged and perhaps should sit on the same line rather than separated since they are so directly linked into collection, the final phase.
In my youth, I thought you went through the training scale once and arrived at the collection for Grand Prix. That seems so funny now since in reality you go thru the scale over and over and over again gleaning a little collection here and there along the way. Sometimes you stop at suppleness for a while or straightening or one of the other details. Having spent a lot of time with an old school German coach, he drilled The Training Scale into my brain and also talked a lot about the theory behind it and that some of the words are not quite exact due to translation. For example, a Training Level horse has no collection but does have a level of straightness and impulsion. That contact, in the most basic sense of holding onto the reins and not letting them go slack, is present before suppleness. And lastly, that there is a basic level of forward, on the contact and going fairly round before you even get to The Training Scale.
So after reading George Morris’ idea of The Training Scale (see article here) of Impulsion, Rhythm, Contact, Straightness, and Collection it got me thinking that if I was to rewrite The Training Scale what would I put first. (Sorry George, but I disagree with Impulsion first.) I do not presume to be amazing enough to challenge 100+ years of German Dressage Training to rewrite The System, but with my students who are on regular horses this is what I put first and THEN we can think about THE Training Scale. So I will call this The Pre-K Training Scale, that is what we need to do before we Go To School.
First – Rhythm. As I always say, Rhythm is number one. It is your number one priority for you to get the horse’s brain and body to work together and so that you, the rider, don’t have to think about it anymore.
Second – Contact – Rhythm and Contact go together really. That you can go around the ring with a feel of the bit in your fingers – not pulling back and not breaking away all the while keeping the same rhythm. During this phase it doesnt matter if the horses head is straight up in the air or off to one side, but that the rider gets the idea to just have a steady contact and steady rhythm. Once the horse drops its head, most of the way onto the bit, then you can start to think of other things.
Third – Straightness – Straightness and Straightening are slightly different. Straightness is riding down centre line, Straightening is bringing the hind legs together and under without them slipping out to the left or right to avoid carrying. So for our Pre-K purpose we just need to have straight. A horse that is in rhythm, into BOTH reins and travels in a straight line with the shoulders in front of the hind legs. Sound easy?! Yes it sounds easy, but those wiggle worms who make us accustomed to having more contact in one rein will challenge you! You need to maintain your resolve of having both reins and keeping the horse straight. It is not about more contact but taking away pressure from the heavy rein and adding consistency to the light rein. Even if their head is off to one side, it will straighten out.
Fourth – Suppleness – once the horse is into both reins with contact, with a steady rhythm and fairly straight then we can add a little suppleness. A little leg yield and flexion to the inside to add the concept of inside leg to outside rein. You also will be working on longitudinal suppleness at the same time as you start to add in a little impulsion as well.
Fifth – Impulsion – once the rhythm, contact, straightness with a little suppleness is there you can add some impulsion (some lengthenings) without too much problem.
The Pre-K Training Scale: RHYTHM – CONTACT – STRAIGHTNESS – SUPPLENESS- IMPULSION
Now you have graduated Pre-K and ready to get into THE Training Scale!