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The German Training Scale Part 1: Some Explanations

By Hardy Zantke

Some Explanations

After having given you various news items in the last few issues and following my earlier series on combined driving, let me embark on another new project with you, which will take a few issues to cover. I will try to explain, to the best of my limited knowledge, the German Training Scale, which in Germany is believed to be the basic concept for dressage training under saddle as well as in harness. As we go along with this, as always, I will add my personal perspective and training tips the way I see them. Yes, much of this is geared toward dressage, but I hope that word will not turn any of you away to whom dres-sage may be a double “four letter word.” Really, dressage is just basically training the horse to do his job properly. Although I do admit that some of our dressage requirements may not apply equally to a draft horse pulling a heavy wagon and a racehorse on the track, it all does help our carriage horses.

As with all of my articles, I do not believe that I am an authority on the subjects covered, and there certainly can be differing views. There are many ways that lead to Rome. Mine is just the first few little steps in a lifelong journey of learning, hopefully in the right direction for us to become better drivers and for our horses to be able to do their work for us with pleasure and success. As with any clinic you take, so also with this series, different clinicians have different opinions as do different writers. You need to be the ultimate judge to choose what makes sense for you and in which direction to work. Exploring different ideas can be confusing at times, but ultimately and hopefully, will lead to a better understanding of the total picture—our relationship with these wonderful creatures, our horses. My way of doing things, I believe, is based on my understanding of the German Training Scale combined with the Achenbach Driving System.

For good reason, we find this is the first criteria to be judged in the collective remarks in every one of our dressage tests because it is the first basis. The horse must go REGULAR with even steps at the walk as well as the trot. Irregularity will get you marked down, as it is either a sign of a health problem, like lameness, or a sign of insufficient basic training of the horse so that he cannot balance himself properly. For most horses, rhythm and regularity do not seem to be a big problem. Unless they have lameness issues, most go regular naturally if driven at the proper speed. But it often is a problem for gaited horses and for breeds that pace because they can get mixed up in their gaits and become irregular. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for owners and drivers to sometimes have very heated discussions with judges, and even the show veterinarians, to convince them that their horse is not unsound but just has this “funny” gait, or is just mixed up with trying to “pace.” Well, under our show requirements, that is not acceptable and will get you at least marked down; or, if it looks like lameness, will usually be the reason for not allowing you to participate as soundness is one of the basic requirements. Let’s take a look in the ADS Rulebook:

Article 14.4
“Horses must be serviceable sound and must not show evidence of lameness...”

Note it does not say they MUST be lame to be excluded, it says “show evidence of lameness.” So if he LOOKS lame, he should not participate, even if you think he is sound and just at times goes a “little funny.” But clearly, if he looks lame to a judge, or at times even to a veterinarian, then he certainly must look lame to spectators, and we cannot present a proper picture of our sport if we allow horses that look lame to compete. The general public would be all over us. So please don’t try to argue about it with show officials or even with trained and certified show veterinarians, but gracefully and in good sportsmanship withdraw if you are asked to do so.

All right, now let’s take a look further. How about the horse that is not lame but just doesn’t move quite regularly. This is what the rules require under gaits:

Article 99 Walk
“The Walk is a marching pace in which the footfalls of the horse’s feet follow one another in four-time, well marked and maintained in all work at the walk. When the four beats cease to be distinctly marked, even and REGULAR (emphasis added by me!), the walk is disunited and broken. It is at the pace of the walk that imperfections in progressive training are most evident.”

And we have the same at the trot:

Article 100 Trot
“The trot is a pace of two-time on alternate diagonal legs (near fore and off hind leg and vice versa) separated by a moment of suspension. The trot, always with free active and REGULAR (emphasis added by me!) steps, should be moved into without hesitation. The quality of the trot is judged by the general impression, the REGULARITY (!) and elasticity of the steps—originated from a supple back and well engaged hindquarters—and by the ability to maintain the same RHYTHM (!) and natural balance.”

There we have it. Nobody says that your pacer is not a good horse. There are wonderful horses in all breeds, and nobody wants to discriminate against any, but some do have a harder time fulfilling dressage requirements. A pacer was not bred and intended for dressage, the same as a draft horse was not intended to go in a trotting race. So you should try to get your horse to walk and trot with REGULARITY, or accept that you will be marked down if you show in front of a judge.

Both articles above come from the dressage pages of the ADS rulebook, but if you are a pleasure driver, we really have similar requirements:

Article 28 Description of Gaits
“The following descriptions constitute the ADS approved standard for performance of each of the required gaits in a Pleasure Driving competition.

1. Walk: A free, REGULAR (!) and unconstrained walk of moderate extension is required. The horse should walk energetically, but calmly, with even and determined pace.”

The rulebook then goes into the descriptions of the various trots, which I won’t quote all except to note we find the words, “The steps should be as even as possible.”

So even steps and regularity are important. But, under the walk description above, we also had the words “...with EVEN and determined pace…” and in the dressage rule, we had “...maintain the same rhythm…” Now that covers not only the steps of each foot, but this also means we maintain an even speed, which is part of RHYTHM and REGULARITY. An even speed means not changing between going faster and slower but a well-balanced speed for the horse.

In addition, it’s not only the even speed, it is also the basic speed that is important and covered with RHYTHM. If you go too fast, the horse will become unbalanced. At the walk, he will be rushing, and at the trot he will become uneven in his steps. As a driver, you can see that best if you keep your eyes on his croup. When you drive too fast, the movements of his hind legs will become uneven as he starts thinking about breaking into the canter. He then is unbalanced and uneven, and you have to slow him down. If you drive too slowly at the walk, you can’t go forward “energetically” as required above under the Pleasure Driving rules, nor is he “marching” as requested under the dressage rules. He is just slowly moving forward. Not a pretty picture, and a good work attitude cannot come out of that, no spunk in it when the horse is lazy and looks like he is going to sleep any second in that slow walk.

At the trot it’s really the same. If you drive too slowly, the horse will look lazy and not forward. In pleasure driving, they do have a SLOW TROT, but even there it says (also all under Article 28): “The horse should maintain forward impulsion...” as well as “...maintaining a steady cadence.” In the working trot description we find: “The horses go forward freely... engaging the hind legs... the hind feet touch the ground in the footprints of the fore feet.”

So there we also see that we need to have the right speed and can’t go too slowly. The hind feet touching the ground in the footprints of the fore feet is very important. We call that “tracking up,” and it is also an easy way for any driver to see if his horse works forward enough. But a young and undeveloped horse will often not do that yet. The horse still needs more training and needs to develop his muscles and body to be able to track up. So don’t get frustrated if your horse has trouble tracking up; it just shows you that you must work with him toward that goal. If he doesn’t track up, you are either too slow or he is not developed enough. So if you drive faster, and he still does not track up, then it’s clear he needs more training to develop his body. But we will cover more of this part when we get a few steps further along in the Training Scale and come to “Impulsion.” At this time, under RHYTHM, I just wanted to explain that it covers the right speed, not too fast but also not too slow either. Most beginning drivers have the tendency to be a little timid and then, get in the arena and drive too slowly. Every now and then we also have somebody who gets in there and is off to the races. Neither is correct as the horse cannot work well balanced at the wrong speed.

The ADS Manual for Driven Dressage states:

“Regularity refers to the ‘beat’ or footfall-suspensionfootfall of a given gait. A regular gait exhibits its proper rhythm, which is repeated over and over again with the same order and speed of footfall... Each gait must be pure, even and level. This means that the walk must have a clear and even four-beat rhythm, the trot a clear and even two-beat rhythm.” (And) Irregularities may be momentary or pervasive, and they may or may not be caused by unsoundness.”

Under RHYTHM, as we move along with our training of the horse, we unfortunately do have two very different requirements between dressage and pleasure driving that cause a lot of confusion. In dressage, the RHYTHM should stay the same between the different paces, meaning a collected, working, and lengthened gait (e.g., a walk on the bit and a free walk and a lengthened walk) should all have the same rhythm and the same tempo of the footfalls. A lengthened walk should not have a faster rhythm. The same is true with the different paces of the trot. A collected trot really should have the same rhythm as a working and arenas, as it is hard to do and requires a lot of proper training. Thus many cheat a little and drive a little faster when lengthening is requested. But that’s not what it should be, and will not bring the required results.

We also don’t see it often because many drivers and horses either don’t know or are confused by the different requirements in pleasure driving. Unfortunately, the rule book does not express this clearly enough even in the Combined Driving section, and in my opinion, uses a poor choice of words under Collected Trot (Article 2041.3) “The pace is slower than the working trot.” That is confusing. They mean that the speed of the carriage is slower since the steps don’t cover as much ground, but the rhythm really should be the same. In the dressage section of the rulebook (Article 100), fortunately we do find a better choice of words, and even find there under the lengthened stride at the trot as well as under the extended trot “maintaining the same rhythm.”

Unfortunately (in my opinion) in our pleasure driving rules (Article 28), they call one gait the “slow trot” and also state that the trot should be slower. Besides the working trot, they also have the strong trot for which they require a “clear, but not excessive, increase in pace and lengthening of stride.” So we do find the lengthening of stride there as in the dressage requirements, but maintaining the same rhythm seems not to be a requirement in pleasure driving. Since many drivers and horses show in both divisions, it is clear that both drivers and horses are often confused and don’t know the proper requirements in driven dressage to maintain the same rhythm. The proper rhythm should ultimately be established from the first stride in the gait and be maintained throughout.

All of the above is included and meant by “TAKT” = RHYTHM and REGULARITY.

I will be a bit shorter than usual, as I am afraid that I might lose your attention otherwise. I’ll still give you a few news items in another section of this issue. But for the Training Scale, stay on to the next issues in which we will cover the next steps in the training scale:

“LOSGELASSENHEIT” = FREEDOM
including RELAXATION

“ANLEHNUNG” = CONTACT
including ACCEPTANCE OF THE BIT

“SCHWUNG” = IMPULSION
including ENGAGEMENT

“GERADERICHTUNG” = STRAIGHTNESS
including BENDING

“VERSAMMLUNG” = COLLECTION
including ROUNDNESS

“DURCHLAESSIGKEIT” = SELF CARRIAGE
including CONFIDENCE

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