What Is The Dressage Pyramid of Training

Gain an understanding of the Dressage Pyramid of Training and where it originated. Plus, insight on how to train each level of the training scale.

The Dressage Pyramid of Training or Scale of Training is a term you will often hear in the dressage world. It was developed from the German cavalry’s “Heeresdienstvorschrift H.Dv. 1912, 1937,” and the term “Skala der Ausbildung” (literally translated as “Training Scale”) started being used in the 1950s.

The manual outlined the principles and goals for the training of a horse. It provided a detailed training plan as guiding rules for training a military horse that is still used worldwide by riders and coaches. Also, as part of the judging foundation of dressage competitions, we know today and commonly referred to as the German Training Scale.

What Is The Dressage Pyramid of Training


Dressage Pyramid Of Training

The H.Dv. defined the training steps as follows:

• accustoming the horse to the rider’s weight

• rhythm, relaxation

• development of thrust and development of the gaits, contact

• straightness

• throughness, keeping the horse on the bit and in a frame

• development of carrying power, collection

• origination of elevation

• working frame (standard rule)

• dressage frame (may be asked only for a brief time).


How To Use The Dressage Pyramid Of Training

Today, these classic principles are applied to the present-day training of the dressage horse and used as a platform to illustrate the steps that are crucial to the correct training for the horse and rider from the young horse through to Grand Prix and international levels.

Each step can be developed at different stages depending on the horse. However, the scale is to be used as a reference for understanding the general progression and interactive development from the beginning of the training to assessing how the training is progressing.


The Dressage Pyramid Of Training

• Takt (Rhythm)

• Losgelassenheit (Relaxation)

• Anlehnung (Contact)

• Schwung (Impulsion)

• Geraderichten (Straightness)

• Versammlung (Collection).

Dressage Pyramid of Training

How The Dressage Training Scale Pyramid Works

None of the six elements of the training scale stands by itself. They all work together and interact and depend on one another. Each quality of training is systematically incorporated into the training of the horse.

There is a flow between the elements, and you have to be open to listening to your horse as to what needs to be considered next. The goal of training a horse is to reach the best possible level of throughness and obedience by teaching them to carry more weight in their hind legs as they move through the different levels of training.

Phase 1

Rhythm, relaxation and contact form the initial phase. In this part of the training, the horse is accustomed to the rider and his aids. This phase is used for the warm-up in daily work.

Phase 2

Relaxation, contact, impulsion and straightness serve in the development of driving power (thrust) of the hind legs. In this phase, the horse is asked to work more from behind and step diligently forward to the bit. This phase focuses on versatile gymnastic work to build horses’ flexibility and strength. When the horse is straight, it can use its back correctly and move more freely.

Phase 3

Impulsion, straightness and collection aim to develop the carrying power of the hind legs. The horse is supposed to bear more weight over his hindquarters, which is mandatory for true collection and elevation. Of which are necessary to reach higher goals in dressage training.


The United States Dressage Federation (USDF) explains each of these areas as the following:


Rhythm (With energy and tempo)

“Rhythm is the term used for the characteristic sequence of footfalls and timing of a pure walk, pure trot and pure canter. The rhythm should be expressed with energy and in a suitable and consistent tempo, with the horse remaining in the balance and self-carriage appropriate to its level of training.”


Relaxation (with elasticity and suppleness)

“Relaxation refers to the horse’s mental state (calmness without anxiety or nervousness), as well as his physical state (the absence of negative muscular tension). Usually, the mental and physical states go hand in hand. The horse learns to accept the influence of the rider without becoming tense. He acquires positive muscle tone so that he moves with elasticity and a supple, swinging back, allowing the rider to bend him laterally as well as lengthen and shorten his frame. A horse showing the correct responses when allowed to chew the reins out of the hands is relaxed.”


Connection (with acceptance of the bit through acceptance of the aids)

“The energy generated in the hindquarters by the driving aids must flow through the whole body of the horse and is received in the rider’s hands. The contact to the bit must be elastic and adjustable, creating fluent interaction between horse and rider with appropriate changes in the horse’s outline. Acceptance of the bit is identified by the horse quietly chewing the bit. This activates the salivary glands so that the mouth becomes moist and production of saliva is evident. The softly moving tongue should remain under the bit. The quality of the connection and balance can be evaluated by ‘üeberstreichen’, releasing the reins (to demonstrate self carriage) or by allowing the horse to chew the reins out of the hands (to demonstrate relaxation).”


Impulsion (Increased energy and thrust)

“Impulsion is the term used to describe the transmission of an eager and energetic, yet controlled, propulsive thrust generated from the hindquarters into the athletic movement of the horse. Impulsion is associated with a phase of suspension such as exists in trot and canter, but not in walk. It is measured by the horse’s desire to carry himself forward, the elasticity of his steps, suppleness of his back, and engagement of his hindquarters. Impulsion is necessary to develop medium paces, and later on, with the added ingredient of collection, extended paces.”


Straightness (Improved alignment and balance)

“A horse is said to be straight when the footfalls of the forehand and the hindquarters are appropriately aligned on straight and curved lines and when his longitudinal axis is in line with the straight or curved track on which he is ridden. By nature every horse is crooked, hollow on one side and stiff on his other side, thereby using one side of his body somewhat differently from the other. This also causes uneven contact in the reins. Appropriate gymnastic exercises develop the horse’s symmetry. This allows him to engage both hind legs evenly and prepares him for collection. This process improves the lateral as well as the longitudinal balance of the horse.”


Collection (Increased engagement, lightness of forehand, self carriage)

“The horse shows collection when he lowers and engages his hindquarters– shortening and narrowing his base of support, resulting in lightness and mobility of the forehand. Because the center of mass is shifted backward, the forehand is lightened and elevated; the horse feels more ‘uphill’. The horse’s neck is raised and arched and the whole top line is stretched. He shows shorter, but powerful, cadenced, steps and strides. Elevation must be the result of, and relative to, the lowering of the hindquarters. This is called ‘Relative Elevation’. It indicates a training problem if the horse raises his neck without displacement of his center of mass to the rear. This is called ‘Absolute Elevation’ and can, if pervasive, adversely affect the horse’s health and his way of going. Collection with Relative Elevation will enhance the horse’s selfcarriage, so that he can be ridden almost entirely off the seat, and the aids of the legs and especially those of the hands can become very light.”


How to Remember the Scales Of Training

Everyone learns differently, and the key first is to know your learning style and then develop a way to remember the scales of training from there. One way is to take the first letters of each level and create a sentence you will remember. So the letters are RRCISC, a sentence could be ‘Roger rabbit could instinctively source carrots’….or something like that.

Even if you don’t learn all six levels, remembering the ones you are working on will give you a fabulous place to start and eventually, you will move up the levels and remember the rest. Like most things, sticking to a system with dedication and consistency allows you time to develop and learn from your skills. So the more you use the pyramid of training and constantly refer to the scales of training, the easier it will become to remember.


The Purpose Of Dressage Tests

As the horse builds on its strength and balance, the purpose of each dressage test develops. For example, according to the Dressage New Zealand Official 2013 test book, the Purpose of the Level 1 test is “to confirm the horse has developed and maintains a rounded natural outline without restriction, moves freely forward without collection but with active hindquarters whilst maintaining a steady rhythm and contact with the bit without tension or resistance.”

For Level 2, the Dressage New Zealand Official 2013 test book states, “to confirm that the horse has developed an established rounded outline without restriction, moves freely forward without collection but with active hindquarter and achieved a degree of balance, straightness and throughness. The horse should be in steady light contact with the bit without tension or resistance.”

For competitive dressage, the more you move up the levels, the more the purpose of each dressage test builds on itself according to the dressage training scale. Impulsion and straightness are becoming more important within the dressage tests at the higher levels. Our goal as dressage riders is to try and achieve this when performing the movements within each level test and with our dressage training at home.

The horse is then schooled successfully through the foundations using the pyramid of training as a guide. The horse is then said to have throughness and obedience to the aids while maintaining rhythm and relaxation, which is the whole aim of the Dressage Pyramid of training.



Dressage Rider Training System

Dressage is all about you, the rider and the horse. It is a team sport, so we developed a training system for you as a rider. It is designed to help you work on symmetry, balance, coordination and suppleness while OFF the horse. With the aim that when you are riding, you can sit in good posture and control and be able to focus on your horse during that time when you are in the saddle and not hold your horse back from achieving its potential.

To get started on your journey, take a look at our FREE Rider Fitness guide here and discover our system of training. Learn the four elements that go into you as a dressage rider and how you can begin to develop them today.

Dressage Rider Training is for you as a rider and to help you develop into the best rider you can be.


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Scales of Training Exercises

To progress through the training scale and help your horse develop each of the levels of training, you need to build structure into your weekly training and use exercises to help develop your horse. We have created this training system with our sister site Dressage Horse Training.

Learn how to build each of your schooling sessions down to how to structure your weekly training. Get the exercises and guidance from a proven training system professional riders use. Learn how to overcome training errors, teach your horse new movements and develop yourself into a confident dressage rider.

The secret to success is following a simple and proven system. So whether you are figuring out how to get started with dressage or a more advanced competitive rider, we cover everything from the young horse to competitive Grand Prix.

To help you navigate the dressage world and provide a proven system to improve your dressage at home and in the competition arena.

Dressage Horse Training is to help you develop into the best rider you can be ON the horse, giving you the tools and skills to develop your horse training at home.

Learn how to master the art of dressage horse training, improve your dressage scores and make dressage easier to master.

To get started, check out these articles

How to get started with dressage

How to structure your dressage training for your horse

Dressage for beginners

How to do basic dressage

What is a dressage competition





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