One of the best things about dressage is that it builds upon itself and every step is based upon a training pyramid. When you understand all the “building blocks” in this pyramid, you increase your ability to achieve your goals.
The Dressage Training Pyramid is a wonderful guideline for the natural training of a horse. We must not forget that dressage is a French word that means “training.” The pyramid is the guideline to which we refer as we develop our horse’s body in order to advance his training through correct collection. The Dressage Pyramid is also our guideline for the physical conditioning of our horses through progressive development. Obedience is achieved with “increasing thoroughness” when using the pyramid. Thoroughness is simply riding the horse from “back to front,” thereby connecting the legs aids to the hand aids, or, in other words, the horse’s hind legs to his mouth.
Let’s take a look at each step of the Dressage Training Pyramid:
Rhythm describes the horse’s gait. Rhythm is the energy and tempo in each gait and the speed within the gait. You must achieve control of your horse’s rhythm because without it, you will lose the connection from the horse’s hind legs to his mouth.
Relaxation is the elasticity and suppleness throughout the body of the horse at work. When a horse is relaxed he is confident, accepts the aids, and is willing. Relaxation always tells me that my horse is supple in his muscles throughout the body, especially in his neck and back. When relaxed, the hind legs swing under the horse with power and allow him to show a natural self-carriage.
Connection is the acceptance of the bit through the acceptance of the aids. This is when the horse responds to the leg and rein aids when cues are given. The rider can control the horse’s body alignment and his frame. When horse and rider have a good connection, the horse will reach for the bit and round his spine correctly. The horse will bear more weight on the hind legs, bring the back up and break at the poll correctly.
Impulsion is the next step of development. Impulsion is when a horse will increase energy and thrust from the hindquarters and legs to propel himself forward. This development is necessary for the horse to bear more weight on the hind legs and lighten the forehand in order to collect his body. A horse that continues to be encouraged to bear more weight on the hind legs will engage his legs deeper under the body, thus having more energy and impulsion for self carriage, balance. He will also have more ability to do advanced movements, such as lengthening the trot and canter. More bend from the horse’s body, lateral training, and lead changes cannot be accomplished without impulsion.
Straightness is a necessity for the horse to be balanced. Correct balance from the horse cannot be achieved without straightness. Controlling your horse’s body alignment through your leg and rein aids is how you will accomplish ideal straightness and balance in your horse. To transition your horse’s frame from long and low in training level, to developing an uphill balance and self-carriage frame in first level, you must have straightness in order for the horse to collect his frame.
Collection is what we all want to achieve with our horses. Collection is accomplished by strengthening the horse’s muscles and uphill carriage. The formula of “rhythm, relaxation, connection, impulsion, and straightness” is the only way you can achieve correct collection. Collection is increased engagement, lightness on the forehand and correct self-carriage.
The most important formula to the pyramid of training is TIME. It takes time to develop the horse’s confidence and understanding. It is important that you take the time to become a correct rider for your horse. You should never blame the horse; only improve what you are doing to achieve positive results from your horse.
You need time to learn and teach your horse the training levels. Take the time to understand that your horse will tell you when he is ready to move to more advanced maneuvers by responding with positive results. Time is the only formula that can be used to develop the horse’s strength so he can carry himself correctly and with collection.