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The Secret to Training Like a Pro

Have you ever left a schooling session feeling guilty for your bad riding? Disappointed at your performance when things were falling apart? Discover the formula that all the professionals use to train horse after horse to the top.

Everyone runs into problems training their horse. Sometimes it feels like we’re riding circle after circle and making no progress. They’re tense, unresponsive to the leg and heavy on your hands. Rather than working with your horse, you’re working against each other.

Training a horse is a partnership built on trust and communication to enable the horse to willingly do the job you’re asking of them. It’s about utilizing the horse’s natural athleticism to work with you in a compassionate and kind way. The Training Scale is the formula that all the top riders use to build this partnership with horse after horse. It’s a consistent, actionable training plan that works because it focuses on what the horse can already do naturally. Learning how to plan your ride based on the Training Scale provides you with clarity and focus! It’s a reliable formula for you to evaluate any issue and make progress fixing it!

Photo credit: Caine Meyer

Hi! Iʼm Amelia Newcomb, a Grand Prix rider and trainer. I love sharing my knowledge of training, horses, and riding. I want you to “learn to love your ride,” and this article can help provide you the education you need to improve regardless of your level or discipline.

How to use the Training Scale

The Training Scale informs your ride day to day and in the overall development of your horse up the levels. You start at the bottom of the Training Scale and work your way towards the top. The majority of your time in each ride should be spent on the base of the Training Scale – rhythm, suppleness and connection. The more solid the base of the Training Scale, the easier it will be to develop your horse, perform the exercises and progress up the levels.

As you go through your ride, whenever you have an issue with your horse or you get stuck in an exercise, use the Training Scale to troubleshoot and help you find the root cause of your problem. The Training Scale is your guide to every single ride.

WARNING! The biggest mistake I see — riders using the Training Scale upside down! They spend WAY too much time at the top of the Training Scale – focusing on collection and straightness. This causes stiff, tense and unhappy horses! Focus on rhythm, suppleness, and connection!

Rhythm

Start every ride by focusing on the rhythm. Choose a tempo at each gait that is forward and enhances your horse’s natural gait without rushing or losing balance. Feel each footfall in your seat. Focus on your breathing. As you go through your ride – always return to feeling the rhythm of the gait.

Suppleness

Suppleness is mental and physical relaxation. It is essential that your horse is mentally relaxed so they focus on you and are physically relaxed so that their muscles are soft and pliable.

Connection

Connection starts from the rider’s leg to create energy in the horse. The energy travels from your leg, to the horse’s hind leg, through the top line and into a steady contact. Always start working on connection by getting the desired response to your leg so that you’re working from back to front. Then establishing a steady rein contact.

Impulsion

Impulsion is often a misunderstood element of the training scale. It is important to know that impulsion is about energy, NOT speed – it is about the willingness and power to go forward with suspension and cadence. There are four main elements to impulsion:

  1. Desire to move forward
  2. Elasticity of the steps
  3. Suppleness of the back
  4. Engagement of the hind end

Straightness

Every horse has a hollow side and a stiff side. As the rider, you must work to improve your horse’s symmetry. Getting yourself and your horse straight is a process – it will not happen overnight. Straightness is an evenness in your horse’s body when they move straight and perfecting evenness on a circle line or in lateral work both directions.

Collection

Collection is NOT slowing down. Rather, collection is rebalancing your horse’s center of gravity towards the hind end and getting shorter, quicker steps with more activity. True collection is the ultimate aim of dressage and is very dependent on the fundamental levels of the training scale. Collection makes the horse more adjustable and allows you to perform higher level movements.

Putting it together

When you have all six elements, your horse will feel amazing, and the exercises will be easy. If you’re missing any level of the Training Scale, especially one of the lower levels, you will get stuck and unable to make progress! I cannot stress how important it is to focus on the base of the training scale – rhythm, suppleness, and connection.

Troubleshooting with the Training Scale

Whenever you are trying to do something difficult and you encounter an issue, start at the base of the Training Scale and evaluate your horse at each level.

Here’s an example. I ride a flying change that isn’t clean. I go through the Training Scale starting from the bottom to trouble shoot my problems. Did they speed up (rhythm)? Is my horse stiff (suppleness)? Above the bit (connection)? Do they have enough air time to change leads (impulsion)? Did they stay straight during the change? Did they go on the forehand (collection)?

Instead of riding another bad flying change, I ride a more basic exercise to fix the element I am missing. If I lost connection, for example, I go back to simple walk-canter transitions to address the issue. Then once that is fixed, I try a flying change again.

This really is the KEY to training – when you’re having a problem, go back to something more basic and simple to break down the steps for your horse to easily understand. Focusing on the basics and making it simple is the only way to train a horse.

So what now? Apply it!

Photo credit: Caine Meyer

After your warm-up, pick an exercise that is slightly out of your comfort zone. Ride the exercise. When things get difficult, go back to the Training Scale and assess each level to see what you are missing. Ride a simpler exercise to help you develop what you’re missing. Return to your challenging exercise. You might find that fixes your problem, or that you have another level of the training scale that you need to address.

One article just brushes the surface of the Training Scale. Come to my upcoming FREE Webinar on the Training Scale for further education. I’ll be going over the Training Scale in more depth and answering questions from riders just like you! Get all the details and RSVP here. 

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