Over two years, we have covered these six steps of the German Training Scale:
- Takt = Rhythm and Regularity
- Losgelassenheit = Freedom and Relaxation
- Anlehnung = Contact = Acceptance of the Bit and Seeking the Contact
- Schwung = Impulsion and Engagement
- Geraderichtung = Straightness and Bending
- Versammlung = Collection including Roundness
and all now come together to our final goal:
Durchlaessigkeit = THROUGHNESS, Suppleness, Harmony, and Confidence
As with many of the previous German words, it is a bit difficult to get this translated correctly. Literally translated, it would mean “letting throughness” or here we often hear THROUGHNESS, which the U.S. Dressage Federation’s Glossary defines as: “The supple, elastic, unblocked, connected stage of the horse’s musculature that permits an unrestricted flow of energy from back to front and front to back, which allows the aids/influences to freely go through to all parts of the horse (e.g., the rein aids go through and reach and influence the hind legs).” The Manual of Driven Dressage adds quite well after “musculature” also “and mental acquiescence.”
The USDF Dressage Glossary then refers to “Connection—The lack of blockage, breaks, or slackness in the circuit that joins horse and rider together in a single harmonious unit. The unrestricted flow of energy and influence from the rider to (and throughout) the horse, and back to the rider.”
I think the above definitions cover it quite well, even though the second one refers to riders and is probably slightly more the case with the ridden horse, when the bodies of horse and rider form a physical unit a bit more so then with the driven horse. Nevertheless, the basic principle is the same. We too want to form a harmonious unit between the driver and the horse(s).
At times, when we read about the German Training Scale, we may only find the previous six steps mentioned and not this seventh, as some feel that this is part of each of the previous steps already; which in a way it is, as only when the horse has achieved throughness will he be able to keep a proper rhythm in all his gaits and carry himself in balance through transitions, will he be able to work properly “through his back” with his back swinging evenly and any rein aids getting through to his hind legs with them stepping properly and evenly underneath of himself.
All our previous training and our previous chapters have led to this goal, which can only be reached properly if all the previous steps have been achieved successfully. This is a long-term project and a constant striving for getting closer to the goal of perfection, during which we are fully aware of that we can never reach ultimate perfection. Nevertheless, that should not deter us from trying to reach for it.
The German Training Scale is not only the basis of our proper long-term training and education of the horse (and us!) but is also always our short-term plan for each lesson up to the point of when we are in our current training stage. So for each lesson, we start out going through the basics and the steps of the Training Scale and work for rhythm, relaxation, contact, impulsion and engagement, straightness and bending, and roundness and collection to come to throughness, suppleness, confidence, and harmony, again, each time to the point where we are in our training, as each step is the stepping stone for the next, yet they all are interrelated with each other.
Slight variations of the sequence can be in order, as there is always discussion, even among the experts, due to the interrelation of all these steps, about which comes first. For example, first rhythm, then relaxation, or for some, it may also work with first relaxation then rhythm. Likewise, first impulsion then straightness, or first straightness then impulsion? And is roundness not already part of contact and being asked for already there, or only at the stage of collection? Is throughness more suppleness with freedom and relaxation, or more collection with impulsion and engagement? I see no problem with these fine variations, which often also come partly due to the different translations of the German words. But the ultimate goal—the throughness, confidence, and harmony—can only come when all the other steps are covered and their goals and results are there with no tension, no resistance, willingness, and trusting and attentive engagement.
The Manual for Driven Dressage defines confidence as when “the horse performs with boldness and self-assurance and shows total trust in his partnership with the driver, and vice versa, the driver shows trust in his partnership with the horse.” This complete mutual-trust relationship of course takes years to build.
The observant reader may notice that today I have changed the translation of this last step Durchlaessigkeit to throughness, whereas before in previous issues, I had referred to self-carriage. Let me explain: As with all of us, I too keep learning. Only after I started this series two years ago did I come across the above definition, which I think covers it much better. I still like the word “confidence,” but I was not quite happy with the term “self-carriage” for quite a while but had left it in, as I did not want to confuse anybody with a change of words in midstream.
But in the meantime, I learned that the self-carriage is quite often misunderstood or at least misleading, especially in carriage driving, for which some drivers then think they should be able to throw the reins away and have the horse go by himself. This, of course, is not the case. The horse should “carry” himself and should be in “balance,” but not be all by himself without our guidance. After all, did we not teach him to seek the contact? So when we give our hand, should he then not stretch out and look for it again? I believe he should, but as always, there is this very fine line, and at times, it looks as if our terms contradict each other. He should carry himself, should not lean on our hand for balance or support; yet on the other hand, yes, he should seek our contact, and we should help him achieve his balance and support him where and when needed. But the more he carries himself, the less support he needs, but we still should always be there to dance with him in harmony, not let him dance solo. The term self-carriage is perhaps more proper for the rider, who can dance with the horse also with his body as both have their physical connection there, and thus, are less dependent on their connection through the reins. We do not have that physical connection through our bodies, so we must maintain our connection through our hands with the reins. If we throw away the reins and have no contact, then we are not connected. Then we have hung up the phone between us.
The Manual for Driven Dressage states it similarly: “The horse can only be light in hand when he is light on the forehand and therefore is in good self carriage and does not need the reins as support. However, he must NEVER give up the reaching for the bit.” I agree, but I don’t like the second part of the definition in the Manual for Self-Carriage, which comes from ridden dressage: “State in which the horse carries itself in a balance, correct, and unconstrained posture, without taking support or balancing on the driver’s hand.” I think “without” should be replaced with “with little” because we also want our horse(s) to be “on the aids,” e.g., well-connected, accepting and keeping the contact, maintaining the connection to our hand and on the bit, and being responsive.
Our horses should look like they go almost effortlessly, carry themselves erect with their necks well raised yet not tense, noses on the
vertical, hind ends well underneath
of themselves using their bodies to the best of their ability, in harmony and looking proud and elegant, as they feel themselves how they are in harmony with us and the world—and we have all reason to share that feeling and be proud and in harmony then, too.
The amount of throughness we achieve with our horse is part of every note in our dressage test and also in the collective remarks under submission, where it asks for attention and confidence, calmness, lightness, and ease of movements, or in the international FEI tests—obedience and lightness, response to aids, willing and without resistance—but with that we see that it really is also part of the harmony that we have with our horse in every drive, and without having learned the steps of the Training Scale, he cannot really perform in harmony. And isn’t that the goal? Not the perfect number in our dressage test, but the harmony and confidence in every drive.