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  Equestrian Coaching

  Hilary French on Elvis

Scales of Training (Part 1) 

The Scales of Training are now a staple part of the British Dressage training system having been translated from the German system that has been so successful over many years-for an in depth understanding of the system the best place to research this is through the German handbooks (see links).

Whilst there are six separate scales, they all mesh together and have to be repeated and improved throughout the training of the horse. The scales are; Rhythm; Looseness and suppleness; Contact; Impulsion; Straightness; and Collection.

A horse cannot truly be said to have rhythm if it is not loose and supple, both mentally and physically and none of these scales can be achieved unless the horse has an acceptance of the contact and remains in front of the rider's leg. In Preliminary training we are looking for a clear correct rhythm with relaxation, suppleness and looseness and lack of negative tension with the horse accepting a supple and even contact. Once this is achieved we start to look for development of impulsion and pushing power which should not be developed before the horse is physically or mentally ready to accept this in an easy balance.

Straightness is a prerequisite to develop true impulsion and, from there, collection, but there is an acceptance that a young horse is unlikely to be straight early in his training and the development of the other scales produces straightness. However this is not an excuse for the horse to be very crooked in his basic work, more an allowance that by balancing on his shoulders a little in the early stages, this will produce a slight lack of straightness as horses are wider behind than in front and so naturally lose straightness when they are allowed to balance on the fence or outside wall. Collection also develops over the various levels and need only be enough that the horse retains balance and rhythm in each of the movements he is required to do at each level in his path to the ultimate collection - the Grand Prix.

We will consider each of the scales in turn over future articles.

Kim On Late O'Leary - Winter Championships  

Understanding the movements-Shoulder In

Improving your test riding- Understanding the Directives 

The purpose of the shoulder in is to improve the degree of collection of the horse and also the Durchlassigkeit (the degree of responsiveness and throughness). The exercise should always be ridden on 3 tracks by bringing the forehand to the inside of the track so that the outside shoulder is directly in front of the inside hind leg. The horse is flexed and slightly bent laterally away from the direction in which he is moving. The inside hind leg joints carries more weight and increases the engagement and collection which itself increases lightness and balance.

The rider should always maintain his inside leg close to the girth and never take the leg back as this could cause the horse to swing the quarters out changing the movement from shoulder in to leg yield. The outside leg stays a little behind the girth in a passive position but that, if the quarters try to push out to avoid the engagement then the leg becomes active. The rider should always be riding the horse forwards and sideways and be aware of where each corner of the horse is so that the true bend is maintained.

To ensure that the horse is ready to start the shoulder in, the rider should ride 10 metre circles ensuring that the horse maintains the bend and does not swing the quarters out or lose any of the activity, energy or rhythm. Secondly ride the leg yielding exercise to ensure that the horse moves away from the inside leg (inside always means the side of the bend and is not relative to the inside or outside of the arena). The shoulder in is an amalgam of these two exercises.

Start by riding a 10 metre circle immediately after coming out of the corner from the short side, then as you finish the circle, use the inside leg to continue in the shoulder in down the long side, making sure that the angle is just enough for the outside shoulder to be in alignment with the inside hind leg and no steeper. Always make sure that the inside rein is not dominant as this can cause too much bend and then the horse will fall through the outside shoulder. Your body should turn slightly so that your shoulders remain in alignment with the horse’s shoulders (as always), keeping soft eyes (utilising the peripheral vision techniques from previous articles) so that you can be aware of the line you are taking but also so that you can see the shoulders and the bend of the horse. Finish the exercise by riding a 10 metre circle at the end of the shoulder in so that you can help the horse to re-energise the trot. 

(by kind permission of Ian Barr Images- see links)

 Understanding the horse’s musculature and movement (2)


If you are interested in understanding more about the muscles that work then there is a simple guide at In addition, Gillian Higgins of Horses inside out ( gives regular lecture demonstrations and has DVDs available to show a horse’s muscles in action.

There are simple rules to follow when working your horse. Always warm up adequately, 10-15 minutes in walk followed by the same in trot and canter are an average guide. The warm up and cool down should be in the longest frame that is safe for the horse but with the horse accepting the contact throughout (ideally like work on a long rein). Remember to do the same (in the same time frame but in reverse) to warm down the muscles to prevent a build up of lactic acid. Do not bring the horse up into a competition outline until the neck muscles are fully stretched (you should see clearly the movement of the muscles in the neck and veins should start to become evident).

A horse that wants to carry it’s head low should be worked regularly in a higher head carriage and vice versa. The position of the neck and head should be varied through the session with changes between stretching and more connection and flexion. Vary the degree of bend regularly without swinging the horse’s head from side to side, encouraging the bend will stretch the muscles on the outside of the bend both in the neck and shoulder. Always ensure that the bending results in more stretching of the frame not in shortening the neck. Alternate between forwards thrusting work and more collected work and ensure that you collect with activity. Be aware of the condition of the horse and always stop work before the muscles become fatigued.

Following these guidelines should help to ensure that your horse remains free from injuries caused during work

If there are specific articles that you are interested in then please send me a contact form

Rona Willicott of Sound Schooling with Flynn

Goal of the Month: Getting the rein balance right



Getting the rein balance right

This exercise will help you to consider how well you maintain a steady contact with the horse depending on your own balance. It requires a Swiss (exercise) ball, a set of reins and a wodden kitchen/dining chair and is advanced and updated version of an exercise many pony clubbers were encouraged to try back in the day.

Firstly attach each rein to the outer top points of the chair, take a contact on the reins, as you normally would with the horse, then take a little more contact until the chair is balanced on the back two legs alone. Next, taking a little more contact on each rein alternatively, make the chair “walk” backwards step by step without it falling backwards or back onto its front legs.

Once you have mastered that, then sit on the Ball with the chair around a metre in front of you. Again take up the balance on the reins so that chair is balanced on its two back legs. Once you established the balance to maintain the chair steadily on its legs then start some basic ball exercises whilst maintaining the position of the chair. The exercises can include, lifting the right heel then the whole foot from the floor, replace and then repeat with the other foot. Eventually you should be able to lift both feet from the ground whilst maintaining your balance and not allowing the chair to move. With your feet on the floor, move your seat on the ball, round in circles, figures of eight, side to side and up and down- can you still maintain the steady contact on the rein so that the chair remains in balance?

This exercise will show you how much you both drop the contact and also how much you rely on the reins for your balance. Also remember that the chair weighs considerably less than the horse and is not dynamic so expect your actual riding contact to be much stronger because the horse takes more contact from you than the chair will.