UNDERSTANDING THE HORSE SCORE-TRAINING PYRAMID
The training pyramid is the most important guideline for trainers, riders, lungers and judges. The training pyramid is separated into three parts:
- Development of understanding and confidence, focusing on rhythm, suppleness and contact;
- Development of pushing power, focusing on suppleness, contact and acceptance of the bit, impulsion and straightness;
- Development of carrying power, focusing on impulsion, straightness and collection.
Rhythm, The Regularity and Tempo
The "Rhythm" is the regularity of the beat in all gaits. The regularity is the correct sequence of the footfalls; the tempo is the (BPM) beats per minute. Steps and strides should cover equal distances and also be of equal duration remaining in a consistent tempo. The rhythm should be maintained through the whole performance. In order to judge the correctness of the rhythm, the judge must refer to the correct biomechanics of the basic gaits.
Suppleness, Elasticity and Relaxation
Suppleness, together with a pure rhythm, is an essential aim of the preliminary training phase. Even if the rhythm is maintained, the movement cannot be considered correct unless the horse is working through its back, and the muscles are free from tension. Lack of suppleness can take many different forms, e.g. tightness in the back, severely agitated tail, rhythm faults, hind legs lacking activity, a tense and dry mouth and crookedness.
Indicators of suppleness are:
- A content happy expression – freedom from anxiety
- The elasticity of the steps – the ability to stretch and contract the musculature smoothly and fluently
- A quiet mouth gently chewing the bit with an elastic contact
- A swinging back with the tail carried in a relaxed manner
- Soft and rhythmical breathing, showing that the horse is mentally and physically relaxed.
Contact is the soft, steady connection between the lunger’s hand and the horse's mouth. Correct, steady contact allows the horse to find its balance and find a rhythm in each of the gaits. The poll should be the highest point of the neck, except when the horse is worked (without side reins) forward and downward Contact must result from the energy of the active hind legs being transferred over the swinging back to the bit.
Indicators of good contact are:
- The horse steps forward to the bit through a straight and supple poll
- The horse accepts an elastic contact with a quiet mouth gently chewing the bit. The tongue is not visible
- The poll is the highest point
- The line of the nose is slightly in front of the vertical, and for moments, at the vertical
Impulsion Increased Energy from Hindquarters
A horse is said to have impulsion when the energy created by the hind legs is being transmitted into the gait and into every aspect of the forward movement. A horse can be said to be working with impulsion when it pushes off energetically from the ground and swings its feet well forward.
A horse is said to be straight when its forehand is in line with its hindquarters; its longitudinal axis is in line with the straight or curved track it is following. Straightness is necessary in order for the weight to be evenly distributed over the two halves of the body. If the horse is straight, the hind legs will push exactly in the direction of the center of gravity.
Collection Engagement and Balance
The aim of all gymnastic training is to create a horse which is useful and ready and willing to perform. For the horse to meet these conditions, its weight, plus that of the vaulters, must be distributed as evenly as possible over all four legs. This entails reducing the amount of weight on the forelegs and increasing the same amount of weight on the hind legs, which were originally intended mainly to create the forward movement.
The increased flexion of the hind legs results in the neck being raised. The horse is then in a position, if the carrying capacity of the hindquarters is sufficiently developed, to move in balance and self-carriage in all three gaits. The understanding the horse score document is in place so that judges, lungers, vaulters and coaches can have an understanding of what quality training and basics are. The AVA’s understanding of the horse score was drawn with permission from the FEI guidelines for vaulting.
The Training Scale
- Rhythm, the ability to maintain ragular strides with energy and tempo
- Relaxation shown with elasticity and suppleness
- Connection shown from acceptance of the bridle and acceptance of the aids.
- Impulsion shown by engagement of teh hindquarters with an active hock action.
- Straightness shown by alignment on the circle adn increased balance.
- Collection shown by increased engagement, uphill tendency, lightness of the forehand and self-carriage.