Monday, February 13, 2017

Alternative Training Scales for Dressage


All kidding aside, who wouldn't love this alternative dressage training scale?  Anything that has hard liquor at the top of the pyramid has got to be at least a little fun, right?


The traditional dressage training scale looks more like this.  A logical progression that develops the dressage horse physically and mentally with the crowning achievement of engagement, lightness of forehand, and self carriage.  Nirvana.  The only problem is that you see an awful lot of dressage horses that are trained using the pyramid and they look miserable, tight in the necks and backs, wringing their tails, and with clamped shut mouths.  If the training scale is so great, what gives?


If we look at some alternative training scales we see a different base to the pyramid including things like partnership/groundwork, or readiness, implying you might need a different base to your pyramid other than just rhythm.  The Cowboy Dressage pyramid is especially different with a lot more emphasis on lightness and soft feel and starting with developing a partnership.


My own personal favorite dressage training scale comes from Karen Rohlf of Dressage Naturally.  Instead of dressage and a variety of techniques leading to the "summit" of collection with lightness, self carriage, engagement, and eventual happiness, Karen's pyramid is BASED on a happy partnership.  This happy partnership leads to harmony, which facilitates communication, which THEN leads to techniques and dressage.  Think about it.  If your pyramid is based on dressage, which when well done, using good techniques, will lead to communication, harmony, and eventually a happy horse, you might be waiting a really long time for that happy horse.  If instead, you build a good partnership through always emphasizing having a happy horse, in harmony, with good lines of communication, usually using some form of ground training or natural horsemanship, the techniques and dressage training should never veer into more forceful or ugly methods.  I think the very best dressage trainers always have a foundation of a happy harmonious horse, but it is implied, not explicit, and many a budding dressage rider starts off in the wrong frame of mind by looking at the traditional training scale as a starting point.


  1. Its amazing how all the rest follows so nicely when you start with a good base of a happy horse and partnership. :)

    1. Wendy, I think a lot of people are so focused on dressage and techniques they forget to base everything on partnership and a happy horse...