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By Hardy Zantke

The German Training Scale
Part 8: Roundness

by Hardy Zantke


We have covered the first five steps of the German Training Scale:











and now we come to

VERSAMMLUNG = COLLECTION including Roundness


As we come closer to the final steps of the Training Scale, we again realize how all of these steps are interrelated and the earlier ones are leading to the later ones. You may notice that in this chapter, I include not only collection, but also roundness. Like the other steps previously covered, roundness is really another step leading towards collection. If we go back through our previous chapters we will see that we have built the foundation for roundness already all along. First with rhythm and regularity, then with freedom and relaxation, as without those none of the rest is possible. Then we worked on contact, acceptance of the bit, seeking the contact and with that developed impulsion and engagement. Unless you still have it fresh in your mind, I suggest you re-read the precious chapters (CDW 2003 Feb/March and April/May issues), as much of what we have covered was very important for the development of roundness. It is all about the proper dance in which we are engaged with our horses. Like a good dance partner, we are leading the horse through the reins; the horse is seeking our hand to dance with us; to be in balance and harmony with engagement and impulsion, working from behind, through his back, and staying straight through his work, including bending through his turns. What we call roundness is apparent when the horse has all of this; his nose is on the vertical, or slightly in front of it, his neck is flexed with the poll being the highest point, his jaw stays flexible, he is working through his back, and is well engaged. We are there. So our roundness already comes very much out of proper contact, which led to develop proper engagement and impulsion. So if we are able to dance with our horse in harmony along the previous steps of the Training Scale, we have covered all the requirements of a preliminary dressage test, and provided we drive the test properly, should get great marks from the judges.

Before we move on to the next level—the intermediate level which introduces collection—let us make sure that all our previous lessons are well established. Since probably many of our readers may not plan to move beyond the preliminary level, let us take a moment to review the requirements of the two levels up to this point as stated on the dressage tests. Usually all drivers read and study the movements which they are required to drive in each particular test, but unfortunately few ever read the other details on the tests.

Our dressage tests for the training level state:

Purpose: To establish that the correct foundation is being laid for the training of the driving horse requiring the green horse to move freely and energetically forward in a steady rhythm in the working walk and the working trot, while accepting the bit with relaxation, through transitions and 40 meter circles. Increased engagement of the hindquarters (impulsion) cannot be expected yet. This level is also intended to encourage the inexperienced driver.

Instructions: Transitions are made through the walk. Longitudinal stretch and moderate lateral bend are required

Gaits and Movements: Working walk, Free walk on long rein, Working trot, Halt through walk, Rein back” (except tests 1 and 2), 40 m. circle”

For the preliminary level:

Purpose: To establish that the horse has acquired a greater degree of balance and suppleness in addition to the rhythmical, free forward movement expected at the Training Level. While consistently working towards the bit the horse exhibits more activity of the haunches in his movement. To be demonstrated in: Lengthened walk and lengthened trot. The rein back should show a greater degree of submission than expected at Training Level.

Instructions: Horse must show correct longitudinal & lateral bend & increased activity of haunches. Transitions may be made through the walk.

Gaits and Movements: Working walk and trot; Lengthened walk; Lengthened trot; Halt from walk or trot; 20 m. half circle; Rein back” (for tests 1 and 3). Add for test 2: 30 m. circle; 20 m. circle; Serpentine of 3 loops” and add for test 4: “30 m. figure eight; Shallow serpentine of 3 loops from quarter line to quarter line.”

We have not talked about transitions, nor figures, nor the different gaits as they are not the direct subject of the Training Scale. They are the details required of how to drive the tests. The Training Scale’s aim is to help us train a horse how to use those abilities; to help us develop the tools to execute the details, although naturally we are using transitions and different figures constantly during our training. Once we finish this series about the Training Scale, I might talk about some of those things. In the meantime, I can refer you once again to “The Manual of Driven Dressage” available from the American Driving Society, which gives great answers to those questions beyond those which are already provided in the ADS Rule Book Part V – Rules for Dressage Competitions, the pink pages as well Part VIII – Rules For Combined Driving, the yellow pages under Article 2041.

We can see clearly from the above quoted requirements that we should be well able to handle those tests with the first five steps of the Training Scale as long as we include roundness.

On to the next goal of Collection and the next level, Intermediate.

Purpose: To establish that the horse has acquired increased suppleness, impulsion, and balance so as to be light in hand and without resistance. While consistently accepting the bit, the horse exhibits greater use of the haunches throughout his movement. The rein back should show a greater degree of submission than shown at the Preliminary Level.

Instructions: Horse must show increased amount of suppleness, responsiveness, activity of haunches and accuracy. Transitions no longer through the walk.

Gaits and Movements: Collected trot, 10 m. deviation, 5 loop serpentine (4 loops in Test 3), 20 m. circle, Rein back 2 m. Halt 5 seconds.”

While we see that everything really is only a little more of what we had already before, the main new item here is the collected trot.

So then, what exactly is collection? In the rulebook we find it defined in the pink pages:

Article 106 – COLLECTION

(a) The aim of the collection of the horse is:

1. To further develop and improve the balance and equilibrium of the horse, which has more or less been displaced by the additional weight of the carriage.

2. To develop and increase the horse’s ability to lower and engage his quarters for the benefit of the lightness and mobility of his forehand.

3. To add to the ‘ease and carriage’ of the horse.

(b) Collection is, in other words, improved and effected by engaging the hind legs, with the joints bent and supple, forward under the horse’s  body.

(c) The position of the head and neck of a horse at the collected pace is naturally dependent on the stage of his training and in some degree, on his conformation. It should, however, be distinguished by the neck being raised and unrestrained, forming a harmonious curve from the withers to the poll the poll being the highest point, with the head slightly in front of the vertical.”

Now, when we read the above, we do see that collection really is an aim all onto itself, and is not just limited to a collected trot, but to some degree it is also present at a good working trot of a well trained horse with good engagement. Therefore, even if you never plan to move beyond the preliminary level, working on collection after you have mastered the previous steps of the Training Scale, will benefit your horse. It is a further step from, as well as already part of, engagement and impulsion, as we will find when moving further onto the Collected Trot. So let us see what we find there in the rulebook.

Article 100 (a) COLLECTED TROT:

In the collected trot the horse is expected to move with more impulsion and engagement than in the working trot. Therefore his haunches must be more compressed, his loins more strongly coiled and his croup lowered. As a result the horse’s neck and head will be raised higher and his center of balance will be shifted permanently more towards the rear, thus enabling the shoulders to move with greater ease and freedom. As the horse’s frame is shorter than in other trots, his steps will also be shorter but must be more elevated, and he appears lighter and more mobile throughout. Hollowing and / or stiffening the back are severe faults. Only a moderate degree of collection should be expected from a driving horse.”

The horse uses more of his energy to carry himself more on his hind legs, making his front-end lighter rather than to move his body forward as in the other gaits. We notice that it says above “his center of balance will be shifted permanently more towards the rear.” Let us be careful to understand this properly. Yes, we want his center of balance more towards the rear, so that his forehand can become light, but in order to do that, his hind quarters must take up more weight, carry the horse more, and get more underneath the horse, so his hindquarter moves more forward. This however, is very much the case for the ridden horse, which must support the weight of the rider on his back, and in order to carry that with his hindquarters, must get his hind legs up underneath of himself. We see that the rule states, “Only a moderate degree of collection should be expected from a driving horse.” This is exactly one of the reasons, and we will see more as we move along in this chapter, the center of gravity from a ridden horse is normally near the girths. With collection we want it shifted backwards to have the hind legs carry more of that weight and to lighten the forehand. Now look at a driving horse. He is not carrying the weight of a rider on his back; instead he is pushing the weight of the carriage with his chest or shoulders. The actual weight of the carriage is not above him, but far behind him; it needs to be pushed with his chest and shoulders which are over, and in front of, his front legs, so the effect of the carriage weight is really in front of him. Now we want him to lighten his front end. How can he do that? By bringing his hind legs more up underneath himself as the riding horse? Or, by also having to use his hind legs to push off from behind, bringing them perhaps even behind himself?

Let’s look at it this way: for a ridden horse, the ultimate collection is the Levade, the movement from Airs Above the Ground, where the horse balances himself just on his hind legs with the front legs lifted from the ground, and all that with a rider on his back! Clearly carrying both of their entire weights on his hind legs underneath himself. This could not be done with a horse pulling a carriage. He would have to lean forward as you and I would when pulling a heavy load. With that we see the main difference between a ridden and a driven horse in collection and one of the reasons why only a very moderate amount of collection can be expected from a driving horse. But we also see why the heavier the carriage is, the harder it is for the horse to show any of that at all. Never mind collection, even engagement and impulsion become harder to reach, the heavier the carriage is that needs to be pulled. Thus for driven dressage, I strongly urge you to use the lightest vehicle possible. The lighter the vehicle, the less the horse has to pull, the better he can show impulsion and engagement, and ultimately, collection. The lighter the load, the easier we can dance together in harmony. Imagine having to dance with a heavy backpack, or doing ballet while pulling a heavy hand-truck!

We also see that contrary to what many think, and what we often see in driving, collection is not simply going slower! Yes, the carriage would move slower, as the steps become higher and shorter, as each foot stays also on the ground a very short amount of time longer as the hind legs coil more, and the joints of it compress more to create the extra energy required, in contrast to an extension where the amount of suspension, the time in the air is increased. But the timing of the steps and their tempo should really not be slower. Even though that is what we often see in driving, and what (unfortunately in my opinion) even the definition of the Collected Trot under Article 2041 in the Combined Driving Rules suggest. That definition comes from the FEI Rulebook, and it is my hope that it might be made more clear in their next issue of the rulebook.

Article 2041 (FEI Art. 941) Movements

3. Collected Trot. The pace is slower than the working trot. The neck is raised enabling the shoulders to move with more ease; the hocks being well engaged. Impulsion is maintained notwithstanding the slower movement. The steps are shorter and lighter and more mobile.”

I have no problem with any of these words, except I think the word “slower” should refer only to the movement of the carriage, as well as the horse’s body over the ground, but it should be made clear that the word slower should not be connected to the tempo of the horse’s steps.

We find this difference in the Description of Gaits under Article 28 of the Pleasure Driving Rules as well. However, there I have no problems with it, as pleasure driving is another discipline with its own well-established traditions. Also the requirement is clearly a different gait, called the Slow Trot:

“Slow Trot: The horse should maintain forward impulsion while showing submission to the bit. The trot is slower and more collected, but not to the degree required in the dressage collected trot. However, the horse should indicate willingness to be driven on the bit while maintaining a steady cadence.”

So much for our rulebooks, and their requirements and definitions for collection. In the next issue, we will talk more about what collection means for us and how to get there. Then later we will cover the final step, and ultimate goal, of the Training Scale:


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