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Demystifying The Pyramid! What is the Training Scale ?

Demystifying The Pyramid

Pyramid of training"Training Scale?" Do you remember sitting in high school and not understanding the question that everyone else seemed to know the answer to?  Do you remember being so afraid to raise your hand that you pretended you already knew the answer and regretted it when the concept was expanded the following week?  Many riders new to Western Dressage are intimidated by this new concept. Even English riders that have been exposed to the training pyramid for years and years can cite the layers, but don't really understand how it applies to what they are doing in the arena.  If you have not heard of the term, it will not be long before you do, because it is the foundation of all Dressage sports.   You are not alone in feeling overwhelmed, it's a lot to get thrown at you at once. Let's break this concept down into simple bite size pieces and see if we can make it less intimidating:

 "The Training Scale ?"
Simply put, think of the Training Pyramid as a  "check off list"   that helps you evaluate your training.  Try this analogy. Just before a pilot departs from an airfield, he must run through a checklist. The checklist can consist of: checking weather, wings, rudders, tires, engine, etc. As he goes around the plane, he makes sure all of the parts are working properly before he can proceed to fly. Think of each element of the pyramid as one of those items on the pilot's checklist. Regardless of how many different types of Dressage (French, German, English, American, Classical, Competitive, or even Western) There is only one Training Scale! The "Training scale" can be used on/with:
  • any horse,
  • any movement,
  • any discipline,
  • any rider
  • any tack
  • any level
  • any age
  • any bridle

Is that simple enough? Now that you know the secret, let's see how we can use it.

How do we make "Practical Application"
Have you ever asked yourself: "Am I doing it right?, Am I ready to advance to the next level?"  Let's say that you have a young, green horse with low miles. Do you think this horse can do a simple 60ft circle at a trot? You may be able to get the horse around, but;

  • is the circle egg shaped?
  • did he change gait in the circle to a walk?
  • did he drop his inside shoulder?
  • were his haunches following his shoulders?
  • did he leak out the outside shoulder heading back to the door or gate?
  • was he soft and supple or stiff and resistant?
  • did he accept contact or was he flipping and tossing his head every time you touched his mouth?

donidajune3Remember, this was just a simple 60ft circle not a leg-yield or flying lead change. The Scale is a "check off list"  to help progress in a systematic way. It does not matter:

  • if you use a snaffle or a curb bit. 
  • if you ride one handed or two.
  • if you ride with Western or English tack.
  • if you are riding a circle or a half-pass.

As you ride your horse, you should be asking yourself, is he:

  • maintaining a consistent Tempo and rhythm or is he breaking gait or rushing?
  • Does he feel Relaxed or tense and worried about stuff?
  • Does he feel  Connected to all of your aids, (seat, legs, hands) or is he flipping his head and cow kicking at your leg?  
  • Does he feel mentally Connected, a little like he reads your mind before you apply your aid?
  • Does he feel like he is  Driving from behind with Impulsion or is he just loping around in a lazy manner?
  • Maintaining straightness and balance or is he crooked in his body or does he have his head bent to the outside?
  • Does he move with self-carriage (collection) with his  back and withers raised and rounded or is his top-line flat or his back hollow?
  • and finally, is he light to your aids or do you ride with white knuckles?

Application of the Scale The scale is a dynamic and systematic concept. What does that mean? When we put a leg over our horse, we should consider the whole pyramid, not just a portion of it. We can all agree that Rhythm, Relaxation, and Connection are vital beginning steps for all horses, but many folks seem to think that their horse is not ready for the other parts of the scale because they are at lower levels. For an example: Many people mistakenly believe that impulsion, straightness, and collection are only required of Grand Pix horses. The truth is that Impulsion, Straightness, and Collection are no less important and should not be overlooked by riders regardless of their level or their horses level.  As a young, green horse learns to carry and balance himself, he needs impulsion and straightness to use his body properly.  As he learns to carry more weight on his hindquarters and develops strength in his abdominal muscles that lift the top-line, he will begin to exhibit moments of collection.  When this happens, we can ask him to increase these moments to longer periods of time as he gets stronger.  So even at the lower levels we should be thinking about the top of the pyramid, much as an airline pilot keeps his eyes on the horizon to steer the plane in the right direction. (OK we are talking about a little Cessna here, not a big jet on autopilot)

One other thought on the Training Scale stuff. If we look at the scale, it is a made up of descriptive words.  It's not made of specific exercises. These descriptive words in the training scale can, and in my opinion, SHOULD apply to all movements in all disciplines.  Western Pleasure, Jumping, Gaming, Cattle Sorting, I don't care what you are trying to do with your horse; your horse will do it better if he is rhythmic, relaxed, connected, forward (impulsion), through (straight), and carrying his weight on his hind end (collection).   

And that, my friends, is why the world needs Western Dressage....practical application of the training pyramid for every horse, every rider, every discipline.

For more information on Western Dressage, visit www.northamericanwesterndressage.com


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