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To Climb or To Balance? Applying the training pyramid.

Updated: Jun 1, 2020

Dressage Training Pyramid Upside Down
Is your pyramid upside down, unbalanced, or maybe resemble a tornado?

How do you interpret the training pyramid? Although the USDF changes some wording, the newly released version of the training pyramid is still based on the German “Skala der Ausbildung” or scale of education. The scale has often been taught as a progressive system, with collection being the culmination of mastering all the levels, but are we understanding it correctly? The word scale has many definitions. One is an instrument used for weighing and early scales were simple balances. With this definition in mind, couldn’t we just as easily call the scale of education, the balance of education?

If we think of climbing the scale, or pyramid, then we think of reaching collection and leaving the rest behind. Living in collection causes you to force straightness, demand impulsion, take the contact, lose suppleness and sacrifice rhythm. Then, you have an unbalanced, unhappy, disconnected, crooked horse, who lacks impulsion. Balance is the key to healthy life, and a pyramid standing on its end is nowhere near balanced.

Live in rhythm and suppleness(relaxation). They are the foundation for the pyramid; they carry the heaviest weight. Make sure wherever you are on the scale today, you can always return to the rhythm and suppleness. Don’t push the horse into contact or impulsion, sacrificing rhythm and suppleness. Take care not to force or hold onto straightness. The horse should be able to find straightness through suppleness. If a bit of collection takes away the horse’s rhythm, leave the collection, and ask again once the horse has found his rhythm and becomes supple again. How easily can you return to relaxation?

Visit contact, impulsion, and straightness. These elements of the training pyramid will show you if the horse is ready for collection. Don’t overextend your welcome here. Make sure you return often, and easily to the relaxation. Contact should not happen in lieu of suppleness. Impulsion should not compromise rhythm. Straightness is not forced and can not exist without suppleness. With contact, does your horse keep the impulsion and straightness while remaining rhythmic and supple?

Touch on collection. This is the apex of the pyramid and shouldn’t happen unless all of the other blocks are in place. Collection is also physically demanding. Ask for small bouts in the beginning, always returning to the relaxation. You can ask for longer moments of collection as your horse gains strength and coordination. In collection, did you lose any blocks of the pyramid?

If so, return to rhythm and suppleness first. Then, evaluate the contact, impulsion, and straightness. When all of the blocks are in balance, touch on collection again. Repeat as many times as necessary to create a horse that is rhythmic and supple in the contact, with impulsion traveling straight through his body into collection. Then allow him to relax again. Each time this cycle is repeated, the horse becomes more confident and can sustain the collection longer.

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