The scales looked at in this article is Straightness & Impulsion


The Scales Are:
1. Rhythm
2. Suppleness
3. Contact
4. Impulsion
5. Straightness
6. Collection
In parts one and two of this series I discussed the first four of ‘The Scales of Training’. Here I will discuss the final two scales, Straigtness and Collection.
It is essential that whenever you approach your training programme, you are aware of all of ‘The Scales of Training’ and the progressive order in which they run, with the relative influence of each scale. Rhythm is the foundation of the pyramid and each subsequent scale is supported by the previous one:
You should use the scales of training every time you ride your horse and develop them over the lifetime of your horse’s training. If you are struggling with your schooling sessions, remember the scales of training and return to the foundations of Rhythm and build from there.
Younger horses need to develop Rhythm through a balanced rider, I wrote about achieving Rhythm in the ‘The Scales of Training – An Introduction to Rhythm and Suppleness’. Essentially all horses have Rhythm but as we introduce a rider we affect their balance, which has an effect on their Rhythm. As the horse becomes stronger and better balanced his Rhythm improves and he is ready to move on to suppling exercises.
Rhythm can be described as the regularity of the beat, the beat being the footfalls of the pace. Once the young horse is more established in Rhythm you can work on his Suppleness, which is described as the ease of the range of movement. A supple horse is even in the reins and moves freely forward in balance throughout his schooling movements and transitions.
As Rhythm and Suppleness develops you will find that Contact naturally improves, once you have a horse that works in a good Rhythm, is supple throughout his body and is working into a forward thinking Contact you can move towards achieving Impulsion as described in ‘The Scales of Training Part 2 – Contact and Impulsion’.
Increasing Impulsion is described as achieving a greater degree of controlled ‘push’ from behind. The horse should bring his hind leg well under his body and take more weight on it for an increased period of time, leading to the impression he is taking a longer slower step; with a greater degree of ‘lift’ or cadence in each step. This is developing the horse’s longitudinal Suppleness, creating a ‘rainbow shape’ over his back.
Once the horse is working in a supple manner both laterally (side to side) and longitudinally (front to back over his topline) he can be ridden with an increasing demand for greater levels of Impulsion. He needs to be able to manage these demands without losing Rhythm, Suppleness and balance. The horse needs to develop greater strength in his hind quarters in order to achieve this greater degree of Impulsion.
When considering Straightness the rider should firstly ensure they themselves are straight and balanced in the saddle – the only way you can really check this is to either use mirrors in the arena or ask someone to watch you riding, preferably a qualified instructor. If the rider is straight they can sit in balance and have a positive influence over the horse’s Straightness.  It is essential that you approach Straightness after correctly training them through the earlier scales we have talked about. There are many ways an experienced rider is able to straighten a crooked horse, but that is fixing a problem, if you have truly followed the scales of training and have a supple horse working forward with Rhythm and Impulsion into a forward thinking and even Contact then the horse should be straight.
As mentioned earlier, a balanced rider sitting straight, using mirrors or ‘eyes on the ground’, should now be able to ensure the horse is travelling straight.
Straightness is simply described as the hind legs ‘following’ the forelegs which are ‘following’ the horse’s head. As a rider, if the neck of the horse you are riding is straight and the Contact is even in both hands and both of the horse’s hind legs are coming through from behind then you have a straight horse. I have used the word ‘through’ here, this is commonly used when describing a horse that is lifting in his back and stepping under himself with his hind legs with a ‘swing’ in his step through a supple back.
If you are retraining a horse that is crooked you should consider the earlier scales of training, is he in Rhythm? Is he supple? What is the Contact like? Can I achieve greater Impulsion whilst maintaining Rhythm, Suppleness and an even Contact? Working on the earlier scales of training will help develop a stronger and straighter horse as well as developing greater control of the hindquarters through lateral work to help to correct crookedness. To help a crooked horse achieve Straightness you can develop Suppleness and strength through various lateral movements such as Shoulder-in, Travers (quarters-in) and Renvers (quarters-out). These movements are all part of the training you should be doing to develop Suppleness and strength leading to greater Impulsion. A crooked horse can be straightened, but a well-trained horse should be straight and so always reflect on your training and make sure strength and Suppleness are in place before asking for Impulsion and then allowing Straightness to follow.
An easy exercise to ensure Straightness is maintained in a correctly trained horse is to use the medium paces. For example, ride the horse into counter-canter going large around the arena, make a transition to medium canter on the long-side and return to working canter before the corner. Ensure the neck is straight in front of you and use mirrors or eyes-on-the-ground to check for Straightness and repeat.
The key thing to remember here is that if you have correctly worked through ‘The Scales of Training’ then Straightness comes from the first four scales combining together to give you a more complete picture of a trained horse. Straightness comes with time as these first four scales are achieved and the horse is strong and confident in self-carriage.
Collection is described as the horse taking greater weight of both himself and his rider on to his hind leg resulting in a shorter and more energetic step. The poll becomes the highest point and the overall impression is of a shorter and more uphill frame with freedom in the shoulder achieving greater elegance and expression.
The horse in the image on the left (top) illustrates collection through a raised back and forehand, so that the horse carries more weight on his hindquarters. Compared to a trot that is simply shortened, but not collected (bottom).
Working on Collection can be divided into collecting exercises and collected exercises. Collecting exercises are generally executed with the horses head and neck in a slightly longer and lower position allowing him to use his back more to achieve greater weight carriage on his hind leg. Collection is the pinnacle of the horse’s training and, as with Straightness, it is achieved through perfecting the previous scales of training. It is only a rhythmical and supple horse that is moving forward into a good Contact with Impulsion and Straightness that can be ridden into Collection
Collected exercises, such as the collected gaits, Piaffe, Passage and Canter Pirouettes are generally ridden in a shorter frame and come as a result of the collecting exercises.
Essentially, Collection is achieved through working the horse into greater Impulsion within a shorter frame which is achieved through a lowering of the hindquarters and not a tightening of the hand and front-end. If you are working towards Collection and the horse stiffens in the poll, jaw or back and drops off the Contact then he is not ready for Collection and you would need to look back to improving the earlier stages of the scales of training to ensure they are well established and the horse has the strength to manage the demands of the work.
Exercises to develop Collection can be very simple, such as transitions within the paces, the key here is to ensure Straightness, Impulsion and Suppleness are maintained. For example, if you are working the horse within canter and moving between medium, working and collected canter than the transitions should be smooth, achieved with light responsive aids and with the horse remaining straight and in self-carriage.
A quick leg maintains the activity and a correct and straight rider position supports the horse and allows him to balance himself through self-carriage into a light Contact. The use of a correct half-halt through a virtually imperceptible simultaneous use of leg, seat and hand to make the horse wait and engage momentarily within a stride is essential in achieving greater Collection.
In conclusion, as you move towards Straightness and Collection you will discover the importance of the correct training of Rhythm, Suppleness, Contact and Impulsion. Straightness and Collection come as a result of this training process and are demonstrative of the horse’s overall way of going. The collected exercises in the higher level of dressage demonstrate the correct training of the horse and the training of the specific collected movements come as a result of natural progression through the training of the horse.
Article header photo credit: The horse Tom is riding in the header photos in this article is called ‘The Good Omen’ (stable name Nemo), he is owned by Jo Holmes-Cole BHSII from Oakham and is working well at Novice level dressage with good potential to work up the grades. He can be a bit cheeky and self-opinionated at times and has earned himself the social media tag #naughtynemo!
Article by - Tom Fray, BHS Stage 4 Senior Coach in Complete Horsemanship