MATT MCLAUGH­LIN

Is the Train­ing Scale fit for Ibe­rian horses?

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Do you ap­ply the Train­ing Scale when work­ing with An­dalu­sians? As far as I know, the Train­ing Scale was in­vented for warm­bloods, who seem to be more stretchy in their gaits and frames. I find that few An­dalu­sians are trained to show cor­rect rhythm, con­tact and im­pul­sion. Are these qual­i­ties nec­es­sary at all when work­ing with this type of breed? If so, how do you teach your An­dalu­sian rhythm, con­tact and im­pul­sion?

Name with­held by re­quest

MATT MCLAUGH­LIN

In my work, the Train­ing Scale is al­ways fluc­tu­at­ing. I work on each el­e­ment every day, and the lines be­tween the el­e­ments may get blurred. I con­stantly ask my­self which qual­ity needs to be stronger, e.g., if I need more straight­ness or a bet­ter con­nec­tion. The Train­ing Scale is an im­por­tant guide­line re­gard­less of the breed of the horse. How­ever, when work­ing with An­dalu­sians or any baroque-horse breed, there are two big points you need to fo­cus on: First, it is es­sen­tial to watch the tempo and how it af­fects rhythm. Re­mem­ber, tempo is sim­ply the foot­falls or beats per minute, whereas rhythm is the over­all qual­ity of the gait, in­clud­ing en­gage­ment, reg­u­lar­ity and clar­ity of the gait as they are de­fined in the rules. Se­cond, it is cru­cial to con­trol the base of the horse’s neck. If you ne­glect these two points, chances are great that your baroque horse will never live up to his true po­ten­tial.

The rea­son for the im­por­tance of neck con­trol and con­trol of the tempo and rhythm lies in the con­for­ma­tion of the baroque-horse breeds. Most have a neck where the base comes higher out of the with­ers than in the typ­i­cal warm­blood. This high-set neck makes it harder for the horse to en­gage and lift his back. While An­dalu­sians have great ta­lent for col­lect­ing—they are ex­tremely ath­letic horses—they of­ten work too quick and short. This saved their lives and their rid­ers’ lives in the bull­fight­ing arena, for which they were orig­i­nally bred (the more phleg­matic warm­bloods would not have done well in this dis­ci­pline). But if your goal is to achieve cor­rect col­lec­tion as re­quired in mod­ern dres­sage com­pe­ti­tions, you must fo­cus on slow­ing down your horse’s hind legs so that you can start

work­ing on in­creas­ing the length of stride, all the while main­tain­ing your horse’s im­pul­sion. Warm­bloods usu­ally re­quire the op­po­site; you must quicken their hind legs to ob­tain this.

To achieve a slow­ing down of the hind legs, which ul­ti­mately will give you more en­gage­ment/ sus­pen­sion/ air­time, you must make sure you have a good con­trol of the base of the neck. Here I don’t mean round­ness in the jaw. I never fo­cus on the se­cond and third ver­te­brae. I also don’t mean to ap­ply rol­lkur nor do I mean to ride the horse long and low for ex­tended pe­ri­ods of time, but rather I mean to slightly lower the first 12 inches in front of the with­ers.

Once you are able to lower the base of the neck, you can start to en­cour­age your horse to bring up not just the neck, but the neck in­clud­ing the shoul­ders. Then, the back of the horse will come up, his pelvis ro­tates more eas­ily, the half halts will come through bet­ter and you’ll achieve a slow­ing of tempo pro­duc­ing a bet­ter over­all rhythm. When the horse learns to reach out of his shoul­ders and has cor­rect for­ward in­tent, his gaits will show more ex­pres­sion, not just knee ac­tion, which the An­dalu­sians are fa­mous for.

Rid­ing on a cir­cle is a won­der­ful ex­er­cise that makes it eas­ier for the horse to lower the base of his neck. Horses tend to lower the neck when be­ing bent cor­rectly. I be­lieve this is be­cause the bend of the neck is com­ing from the base of the neck in front of the shoul­der in­stead of just bend­ing out closer to the jaw. When the neck bends this way, it makes it eas­ier for rider and horse to lower the base of the neck. Also, the lift of the rib cage achieved by the bend will lower the neck. Adding a shoul­der-fore, shoul­der-in or leg yield helps with this as you are try­ing to de­velop the same con­trol off the cir­cle. How­ever, you must make sure to con­trol the tempo. Keep the tempo steady and slower with­out los­ing im­pul­sion and main­tain clear rhythm when go­ing from one ex­er­cise to the next or from one school fig­ure to the next. When your horse is younger or still green and you still mostly post the trot, you can dic­tate the tempo by slow­ing your post­ing. Don’t fol­low the horse’s quicker tempo. The same ap­plies to the sit­ting trot if you and your horse are more ad­vanced. Cir­cles can de­velop into shoul­der-fore and shoul­der-in to help slow the horse’s tempo and de­velop bet­ter straight­ness as a pos­i­tive side ef­fect.

Re­lax­ation is more of a byprod­uct of cor­rect work. I usu­ally don’t fo­cus on re­lax­ation alone. The ac­tual Ger­man trans­la­tion of re­lax­ation ( Los­ge­lassen­heit) im­plies more of a loose, swing­ing back, the qual­ity of which then trav­els to the rest of the body, in­clud­ing the mind. If the horse’s back is tense, there is no re­lax­ation. If the neck is held up in­stead of slightly dropped at the base, there is no re­lax­ation. Re­lax­ation is an all-in­clu­sive state. When the con­tact or con­nec­tion is based on im­pul­sion and straight­ness, the horse has re­lax­ation in his body and mind as well as a con­struc­tive tempo and rhythm. They all tie into each other. How­ever, as men­tioned above, when work­ing with horses who have a high-set neck, con­trol­ling the base of the neck and work­ing the horse in a slow tempo are key to open­ing all the other doors to the Train­ing Scale.

An­dalu­sians are fa­mous for their smooth trot. This is be­cause they tend to hold their backs and move only their legs (knee ac­tion). How­ever, once you are able to con­trol your horse’s tempo and get the right con­nec­tion, he will lit­er­ally de­velop more bounce and swing in his back. Then you will feel more move­ment through your horse’s back.

I’d like to em­pha­size how in­ter­twined the el­e­ments of the Train­ing Scale are. One leads to the next but also de­pends on it. Work­ing with your An­dalu­sian is like a give-and-take game. For ex­am­ple, en­gage­ment is tied to im­pul­sion. If you slow the tempo to get more en­gage­ment or air time with the legs, but you feel you lose im­pul­sion by do­ing this, you might have to ask your horse to go more for­ward. If he is go­ing too much for­ward, go­ing too quickly, you’ll need to ad­dress the tempo again by us­ing straight­en­ing ex­er­cises such as shoul­der-in. If you feel your horse is go­ing more for­ward au­to­mat­i­cally, with­out you hav­ing to drive him while keep­ing his im­pul­sion and tempo, you will get real en­gage­ment and hence real col­lec­tion as the ul­ti­mate byprod­uct of this give-and­take game.

The Train­ing Scale is an im­por­tant guide­line re­gard­less of the breed of the horse.

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