If you’re a keen dressage diva, you should be familiar with the German Scales of Training.
But what’s so important about the Scales, and why should you bother to learn about them and use them in your horse’s training?
What are the German Scales of Training?
The six Scales of Training are what the riders in one of the world’s most successful dressage nations are taught throughout their early years of riding.
The Scales are designed, through systematic training, to create an equine athlete who works in a perfect balance and makes the most of the movement they naturally possess.
The Scales of Training are:
The Training Scales are meant to be approached in this order, although there are occasions when one can be skipped over in order to work on improving another, there are no shortcuts!
For your horse to achieve his maximum potential, it’s crucial that you work methodically through the Scales, making steady progress.
The Scales are designed to link one to another
Until your horse is working in Rhythm, he will not be able to become Supple.
Until he is Supple, the Contact will be inconsistent.
Until the Contact is established, Impulsion will not be true.
If the horse is not working through a Supple back, forwards with Impulsion to a consistent, elastic Contact, he will not be Straight.
In the early stages of the horse’s training, Collection refers to balance. Only when a horse is established in the preceding five Scales will he be able to become sufficiently Collected (through the half-halt) to perform the advanced work that is demanded by the highest level tests.
So, why do you need to know all this?
Dressage judges are trained to assess the horse’s performance and way of going against the Scales of Training.
The very first center line in every test gives a clear indication to the judge of how well the horse has been trained in accordance with the Scales.
Any signs of crookedness will immediately tell the judge that the horse is not supple through his back and is pushing his quarters out to compensate. The contact will most likely be unsteady and the horse will probably lose balance and rhythm through the turn or into the final halt.
So, before your next dressage competition, have a closer look at the test you will be riding. Every movement is designed to test how correctly the horse has been trained along the Scales.
Judges are also trained to assess horses’ way of going against the level of test they are performing. It is clearly not reasonable to expect a novice horse to be as balanced and supple as one that is working at an advanced level!
So, even though your novice horse may achieve scores in the high sixties at this level, if you move up a level, you might only score in the fifties.
This is not because the judge scoring your test is “tight”, it’s purely because the horse’s way of going has not yet progressed far enough to warrant a higher mark. For example, the horse may still be working in a slightly downhill balance, which is to be expected in a novice, but is not acceptable at the next level up.
Your horse’s physical wellbeing
Training your horse along the Scales will ensure that he gradually becomes physically supple and strong enough to be able to do the work required at each level without sustaining injury.
Trying to take shortcuts can cause serious problems for your horse. For example, pulling the horse’s head down into an “outline” will cause him to tighten and hollow his back, trail his hocks, and lose regularity in the rhythm. The horse will usually open his mouth against the contact, tilt his head, or drop behind the vertical to escape the rider’s nagging hands.
The end result of this scenario is a low mark for the test and a miserable horse with a sore mouth and back!
So, you can see from this example that a correctly trained horse is less likely to sustain long-term physical problems and will be much happier in his work. His dressage career is also likely to be longer than that of the horse whose rider has tried to take shortcuts and damaged their poor horse as a result!
Work your way methodically through the scales, take on board the judge’s comments, and you will ultimately be rewarded with a happy, healthy, and successful dressage horse!