By JP Giacomini

What is the Best Way to Organize Training Elements?

The newly revised “Pyramid of Training,” aka the Training Scale, announced by the United States Dressage Federation prompts this trainer to examine its effectiveness.

The Issues of a Scale The newly revised USDF Training Scale sets a list of im- portant training goals all successful dressage horses must achieve eventually. These goals—and their or- der—deserve serious consideration from every (dres- sage) rider and trainer. They are useful to riders with a common-sense eques-

trian experience riding well-started horses who are safe to ride, first and foremost. They also pose challenges, as rid- ers must be able to address prob- lems as they arise and decide what is most important to work on right away. My friend and Portuguese

coach Francisco Cancella d’Abreu said, “Do what is hard and do it now.” This fundamental notion contradicts the training scale as a set order that tries to impose a particular progression which be- lievers feel compelled to follow, regardless of the reality of each horse’s needs at a given time. For some breeds, or individu- als, it might be the perfect order, for others not so much. As riders gain experience, they learn the rules as well as when to transgress them. “Some will argue minor variations in the naming

Does calmness come first? An undisciplined horse will need to be taught manners: stand, lead, back, be patient when tied, then he can be asked to go forward on the lunge and work on symmetry by working in each direction. Calm, Forward, Straight. Does forwardness comes first? A very nervous horse will need to use himself in a forward lunging session and redirect his anxious energy into symmetrical ses- sions to gain balance. Forward, Straight, Calm. Does straightness comes

first? A resistant horse may ap- pear calm, but will not go for- ward because he stands crooked and uses one of his front legs to brace himself and resists impul- sion requests. Until that braced leg is unlocked and he becomes convinced to move it as much as the other, he will not go forward. Straight, Forward, Calm. The new training scale sets

The newly revised pyramid of training.

valuable goals, but they will hap- pen at different training points, according to the horse’s confor- mation, temperament and breed:

and order of these elements. That’s most likely because each element of the training scale works in conjunc- tion with one or more of the other parts,” explains U.S. show jumping coach Bert de Nemethy, as quoted on “One element is never used in isolation. Furthermore, while often illustrated as a pyra- mid or ‘building blocks,’ they should not be considered as steps where one can only be followed only upon the completion of the previous element.” General L’Hotte’s French scale was: “Calm, Forward

and Straight.” He insisted that its order must always be respected, but is it practical?

a flat-footed horse that lacks natural suspension (many Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses and Andalusians, for example) will take longer to achieve elasticity, while most Warmbloods are born with it, yet may find collect- ed gaits difficult.

Step by Step Let’s examine the elements of the training scale pyra- mid and what questions arise regarding their order. It is difficult to achieve step 1, rhythm (regularity and

tempo), without impulsion (step 4) or straightness (step 5), because a regular tempo implies symmetry of diago- nal strides that cannot be achieved if the horse is not made straight by the suppling of lateral gymnastics. Step 2’s suppleness, presented as “elasticity” and

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