“Harmony” is a term that is frequently used within the sport of dressage. It’s an elusive quality that is difficult to achieve and is often misunderstood.
In this article, we discuss what harmony means within dressage, how it impacts your dressage test scores, and share a few tips to help you create harmony with your own horse.
What is harmony in dressage?
Harmony is defined as the horse and rider working together as one in happy cooperation. It is built upon mutual trust and clear communication.
The horse displays harmony by remaining relaxed, supple, and willing, presenting the picture of a “happy athlete.”
When achieved correctly, the outcome is that both the horse and rider enjoy the ridden work.
Related Read: What Does the Term ‘Happy Athlete’ Mean in Dressage?
What harmony is not
Many riders confuse harmony with simply being a passenger on the horse.
Although you don’t want to antagonize the horse or create any tension, you must still have a positive influence over the horse’s way of going. Your aids must still be effective and the horse should still be attentive and responsive (i.e. not half asleep!).
Lastly, harmony is not achieved by bullying, forcing, or frightening a horse into submission. Harmony is about creating a willing partnership, not a subservient slave.
How is harmony judged?
During a dressage test, the judge is looking for a relaxed horse and rider. Both parties must be free from any signs of tension and the horse must be obedient, supple, confident, and responsive.
Everything in dressage is interlinked, and therefore, harmony is very influential over many aspects of the dressage performance.
Let’s take a look at how harmony affects the collective marks that you are awarded during a dressage test.
If the partnership is not harmonious, the horse will most likely be tense and the paces will lack suppleness, freedom, and elasticity.
In extreme cases, the rhythm might even be corrupted and irregular, resulting in a very poor mark.
Impulsion refers to the controlled and propulsive energy that is generated from the horse’s hindquarters.
If harmony is not achieved, then the correct impulsion (of the horse pushing himself both upwards and forwards from his hind legs in a balanced manner) will not be possible.
If the horse is not relaxed, he will be tight and hollow through his back and lack suppleness. That leaves the horse’s hocks trailing and he will lack the engagement and balance needed for correct impulsion.
Also, without harmony, the rider will be unable to use the half-halt to contain any of the energy created.
The word “harmony” appears in the definition of submission in the collective marks.
Within dressage, submission does not mean forcing the horse to be subservient but instead cultivating a confident and willing partnership.
We want the horse to be responsive to the lightest of aids and to work with the rider to show the correct bend, the correct positioning for movements, and to show full acceptance of the leg, seat, and rein aids.
The horse is only half of the partnership and although he may display a willingness to work with and respond to the rider’s aids, that’s no good if the rider is ineffective and unable to give the correct aids.
Although the rider might sit beautifully, they cannot create a true partnership if they are unable to communicate with the horse and have a positive influence over his overall way of going.
On the flip side, the rider can also destroy any otherwise harmonious partnership by becoming tense and nervous themselves. In these instances, the rider will be tight throughout their body and unable to follow the horse’s movement and give clear aids. Tension will transmit to the horse through the rider’s reins, seat, and legs. That, in turn, makes the horse tense, destroying harmony.
How to create harmony
Here are four tips to help you create a harmonious partnership with your horse.
Tip 1 – Always maintain relaxation
Relaxation is a crucial quality within dressage. You cannot perform any movement to a high standard if your horse is not first relaxed.
By keeping your horse relaxed and calm throughout his work, you can maintain his suppleness and his ‘permeability of the aids’.
Permeability of the aids means that the aids are passing through the horse and he is responding with his whole body willingly. There are no blockages or tension; it’s fluid.
On the flip side, because the horse is a prey animal, if he becomes tense and nervous, he will lose confidence and his attention can turn outward to his environment. This makes him less attentive to the rider’s aids and causes him to stiffen through his whole body.
Related read: How to Reduce Tension and Get Your Horse to Relax
Tip 2 – Balance
Balance is very important to the horse. This is because in his wild state if he falls over he could become lunch to a predator. Because of this, the horse will always be trying to balance himself under the weight of his rider and this is what allows us to create a harmonious partnership.
In essence, the horse will enjoy the feeling of being in perfect harmony with his rider. And when that feeling isn’t harmonious and balanced, the horse will try to find the feeling.
By being a balanced rider and preparing your horse diligently for transitions and school movements, you can keep your horse relaxed, confident, and in a harmonious state.
Tip 3 – Ensure your aids are clear and consistent
You and your horse need to work together as one, and in order for that to happen, you must be able to communicate with your horse clearly. This is the foundation for any good partnership.
If your horse doesn’t know what you what him to do or doesn’t understand the aids that you are giving him, then he will be unable to answer your questions.
When the communication channel between you two is not clear, then the horse can become confused and tense and you will be unable to form a harmonious partnership.
Tip 4 – Introduce movements in a systematic and logical manner
When you are schooling, make sure that you’re only asking your horse to perform movements that are appropriate for his level of training, and that the quality of work you require from him is within his capabilities.
If you introduce work to your horse in a systematic and logical way, one exercise building upon the next, then your horse will remain balanced, comfortable, happy, and confident in his work, promoting harmony between the two of you.
- The Structure of Your Training Sessions
- How to Use the Dressage Scales of Training Pyramid
- How to Introduce Lateral Work (And in What Order)
Harmony between the dressage horse and rider is crucial for good marks and a flawless performance in the test arena.
To create harmony, keep your horse relaxed and balanced, keep your aids clear and consistent, and only ask your horse to do work that is within his current level of training; introducing new movements in a systematic and logical manner so as to keep your horse confident and comfortable.
If you stay within those parameters, you’re likely to create a happy, cooperative partnership with your horse.