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The Scales of Training

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to be part of the team for the filming of part 3 of Gillian Higgins, Horses Inside Out Autumn Webinar series. This part was to be called ‘Dressage Dissected’ and you can find out more about the filming day in my previous blog post.

I have been waiting patiently for the webinar to be presented live and finally it’s here and it’s even better than I ever could have expected.

gillian higgins horses inside out cover photograph online lecture demonstration episode 3 dressage dissected

During the filming of this day I was busy taking care of Gillian’s horse Arty, who was painted up ready for parts of the demo, so I was unable to watch and listen to all of the filming and demo of dressage rider Lili Brooksby-Dalby and her PSG dressage horse Hans.

Therefore watching this particular lecture demonstration live was like watching an all new demo. Very exciting and I even made 3 pages of notes!

I thought in this blog I would share some of the points that really resonated with me and might tempt you to take a look at the demo yourself, which is now available to purchase in the Horses Inside Out Academy.

gillian higgins horses inside out online academy logo

Although I am a professional in the equine industry my profession is as an Equine Therapist. I do have my own horses. A 24 year old retired mare and my up coming 4 year old that I started under saddle myself just this year.

My mare just hacks leisurely these days, and my 4 year old is far from working his way up the levels in British Dressage, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take lots away from this demo.

Whether dressage is your thing or not, flatwork should be part of every horse’s basic training so this demo really is for everyone.

I really like the way Gillian explains the Scales of Training in the demo and gives useful demonstrations, hints and tips relating to each one.

Just because you are not ‘doing dressage’ doesn’t mean you should dismiss the Scales of Training as these can be adapted to any horse at any level.

Equally for those of you working at higher levels of dressage, its great to see how the Scales of Training can be used at all levels to help you test and assess your horse, adapting your training to suit the horse you are working with and acting as a useful tool should you run in to resistance or trouble with a horse as a scale you can work up and down as you need to.

So let’s look at the Scales of Training and the notes that I found useful from Gillian’s demo:

gillian higgins horses inside out scales of training pyramid

1. Rhythm – Counting out loud as you ride can help you to focus on a consistent rhythm and help with relaxation (for you and your horse)

Creating a warm-up routine at home that you and your horse both know well, that you can then use when out competing can help you to relax your horse in a competition environment

2. Suppleness – When riding your horse around your inside leg, it is the movement of the rib cage to the side that gives the feeling of lateral flexion as there is actually not that much lateral flexion in the back vertebrae themselves (Gillian demonstrates this really nicely in the demo, you can really see the rib cage opening on the outside of the circle can coming close together on the inside)

I also liked when Gillian pointed out that the horse cannot bend evenly though their body from poll to tail, but we can create that impression when we ride

gillian higgins horses inside out carrot stretch to flank demeonstration painted horse

3. Contact – very simply for me, my favourite statement – Inconsistent contact = lack of forward and poor posture (very thought provoking)

4. Impulsion – the drive from behind allows the horse to demonstrate expression – Gillian has a great way of explaining how the horse drives from behind in this demo too

One of my favourite points also is how the Radius bone of the forelimb and the Cannon bone of the hind limb should match in their level of protraction when the horse is in the trot.

This is such a big thing for me when I watch horses move, it demonstrates good posture and correct way of going.

I am so pleased Gillian includes and demonstrates this point in the demo, as often in the modern sports horse world we see horses that are not moving like this, so the more people that can be aware of correct movement in my eyes the better.

gillian higgins horses inside out painted horse skeleton abdominals rider skeleton suit trot

5. Straightness – firstly the importance of good core stability and lateral balance of the rider and how this can effect the horse’s straightness. Its so important for us as riders to look after our own fitness and symmetry. If we don’t have it how can we expect our horses to? And then for the horse themselves, the importance of lateral work and suppleness and how this then leads to the ability to be straight. Did you know that exercises such as shoulder-in, half pass and counter canter help your horse with their straightness? And then thinking back to working up and down the scales as you need to for your horse - can you maintain rhythm, suppleness, contact and impulsion whilst also working on straightness?

6. Collection – this doesn’t have to mean what we all might think of when we first say collection, such as riding a Canter Pirouette or the Piaffe. Collection for a young horse can be riding a Half Halt or some Walk/Trot transitions. I think this is such an important point to take home. But to represent the more advanced levels of collection, during the demo Lili demos a working pirouette in canter. It’s cool to see this whilst Gillian explains how this movement requires the recruitment of the Psoas muscles, increased flexion of the Lumbo-sacral junction, lift from the base of the neck and a ‘U’ shape of the gullet.

gillian higgins horses inside out Painted horse skeleton nuchal ligament demonstration skull

If I have lost you here with these descriptions then you need to watch this lecture demonstration, as even though this is explained with a Canter Pirouette all these points apply to horses even walking over a simple raised pole on the ground and all contribute to good posture for your horse and good posture contributes to the health of your horse’s body and ultimately their longevity as a riding horse.

And that is what excites me about the knowledge shared in this demo, as that’s what I am all about – healthy, happy horses with strong, healthy, happy bodies.

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