In the last issue we covered the first step: Takt = Rhythm and Regularity. Now we come to the next goal:
Losgelassenheit = Freedom which includes Relaxation.
As with all translations, often one word does not cover all the meanings of the original word. So Freedom and
Relaxation might not be sufficient. Literally translated "losgelassenheit" would mean "let looseness", which we
understand to cover quite a broad spectrum. It means free of tension, relaxation, lightness, ease of movement. But being
free of tension also needs calmness. So it covers a lot. The muscles must be able to contract and relax time and again to
work properly for each movement. The joints must be able to move freely. If they are tense or stiff, they can't relax and
with that they can't do their work in harmony and with ease. For the muscles to be able to do that, they must get the
proper signals from the brain, and the brain can only give them the proper signals if it too is relaxed and calm and free
of tension. Please note: I did not restrict the above statement to just the horse! It very much includes the driver as well!
I know, this is easier said than done, but it is one of the essentials in proper training, and with that, also a requirement
in our rules. Let's take a look into the American Driving Society (ADS) rulebook first to see where we find it before
we talk a little about how to reach it. I think it often helps to read the rules just one more time, as usually they give us
some good explanations of what is really expected:
In our pink pages for dressage:
Article 97: The object of
Dressage is the harmonious development of the physique and ability of the horse. Through progressive training the
horse becomes calm, supple, and flexible as well as confident, attentive, and keen in his work.
Clearly a very tense horse cannot fulfill these goals. The text continues:
These qualities are revealed by:
- The freedom and regularity (see Part 1 in the August/ September issue) of the paces;
- The harmony, lightness and ease of movements;
- The lightness of the forehand and the engagement of the hindquarters, originating in a lively impulsion; (We'll cover those items in future issues as we move along.)
- The acceptance of the bridle, without any tenseness or resistance. (We also will talk more about that in the next issue).
The horse, confident and attentive, submits generously to the driver, remaining straight in any movement on a straight
line and bending accordingly when moving on curved lines. (We'll also cover that in future issues.)
His walk is regular, free and unconstrained. His trot is free, supple, regular, sustained and active.
Because the horse has impulsion and is free from resistence he will obey without hesitation and respond to the various
aids calmly and with precision, displaying a natural and harmonious balance both physically and mentally. (All emphasis added by me.)
As we read further through the rulebook, we will find these messages time and again. For example in Article 100
under Collected Trot we find "Hollowing and/or stiffening the back are severe faults." So the horse must be supple in
his back. Under Working Trot we read: "The expression "good hock action" means here a free and energetic forward
swing of the hind legs...aiding in his free forward movement." Under Article 101, Rein Back, we read:
"Anticipation or precipitation of the movement, resistance to or evasion of the hand...are serious faults." Under Article
102, Transitions: "The horse should remain light in hand, calm..." Article 107, Submission: "...an obedience revealing
its presence by a constant attention, willingness and confidence in the whole behavior of the horse, as well as
by the harmony, lightness and ease he is displaying in the execution of the different movements. The degree of
submission is also manifested by the way the horse accepts the bridle with a light contact and a supple poll..." "...grinding
of the teeth and swishing the tail, are mostly signs of nervousness, tenseness or resistance...and must be taken into
account by the judges in their marks for the movement concerned as well as in the collective remarks for
"submission"." So not having relaxed horses will cost us dearly. Not only in the note of each movement, but also in the
collective remarks, but much worse than that, if our horses are not relaxed, they cannot really perform properly in the
But the rules also do not forget the driver, Article 108: "The driver should be seated comfortably on the box so as
to be relaxed and effective."
Also in the yellow pages for CDEs, Article 2035 (FEI 935), we find the same:
"The object of the Dressage Test...is to judge the freedom,
regularity of paces, harmony, impulsion, suppleness,
lightness, ease of movement...."
Accordingly, we find these requirements also on our dressage tests. The words "suppleness" and "relaxation" as
judging directives are in many movements in all training level tests. In the preliminary- and intermediate-level tests, we still find "suppleness". On all three levels we find
"relaxation of the back" as a requirement in the collective remarks, and on the advanced level, we have under the
collective remarks,"Obedience and lightness," the words "without resistance". Under gaits in the collective remarks
we find in all ADS tests as first words "freedom and regularity," whereas the FEI tests have it the other way around
"Regularity and Freedom," which shows the FEI completely in line with the German Training Scale. I don't know why in
our tests the sequence of the two words is reversed, but I think there is probably not much meaning to that. And in
most of the above, we also see always mentioned regularity, which we covered in the last issue as our first requirement
and first step in the Training Scale.
Since these are the important steps in the training of the horse, our training-level dressage tests state that, too, as their
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 (see last issue) in the working walk and working trot,
while accepting the bit with relaxation..."
If we look at the same pleasure driving rules which I quoted already in the last issue when we discussed regularity,
we also find similar requirements there:
Article 28: "Walk: A free, regular and unconstrained walk of moderate extension is required. The horse should walk
energetically, but calmly..." and under Trot: "...The horses go forward freely..."
So we see that freedom and relaxation are required in dressage as well as pleasure driving and together with rhythm
and regularity which we covered in the last issue, they must be the basis of our training, for without relaxation there
can be no freedom of movement.
The ADS Manual for Driven Dressage confirms this and states, "Relaxation is the absolute key to Dressage training."
The Manual explains in details the meanings of every word in our dressage requirements of Article 97 as well as how
one is built on the other. I highly recommend reading the Manual, as it shows in much greater details how it is all related.
Let me just quote a few sentences here:
"Calm: The horse is neither dull or lazy and, of course, not excited or agitated either. Instead calmness means that
the horse is in a relaxed yet alert state of mind and is able to respond to all the driver's commands without any concerns,
fears or other mental resistances.
"Supple: Suppleness is the physical counterpart to calm. In a supple horse every joint can work freely and there is no
physical resistance in response to any aid from the driver. A horse cannot be supple (physically relaxed) without being
calm (mentally relaxed).
"Freedom...means primarily physical freedom. A freemoving horse's limbs and back swing freely, traversing their
full ranges of motion. No joints anywhere seem stiff, constrained or "stuck."
"Harmony, ease and lightness of movement: This means that there is a soft and continuous, rhythmic flow in the
horse's movement, and every step appears effortless and weightless."
But we also find in the manual the same requirements for relaxation and suppleness for the driver! Because only when
the driver is relaxed mentally and physically can he expect his horse to be, too.
So then this is our first step in how to get a horse that moves freely and relaxed. First we must work on us to become
free and relaxed. I know how difficult that is for many of us. Already at home it's tough enough, let alone at an event in
the dressage or show ring. But we must work for it. Otherwise, neither we nor our horses can perform to their
potential. So first work on your own relaxation at home, then, when we are calm and relaxed, we need to work on the
same with our horses. I also know how hard that is for many of us, but we must get it, otherwise we cannot progress in
I know that quite of few of us are driving fairly hot highstrung and nervous horses. Well, every horse is a compromise;
there is no perfect horse (or driver). If I have one of those hot "Ferraris" this is my challenge! Perhaps when I look for
my next driving horse, maybe it would be a good idea to not concentrate so much on what wonderful gaits he has, but
look also how high strung he is, because the great movements will not help me much when he is too nervous in the ring to
ever really be able to show his brilliance. Let's take this even one more step back: when we
breed that next driving horse, our true dream horse, it would suit us well to not only look at
the physical qualities of the father and mother but also at their mental qualifications. A willing mind that can be calm
and relaxed is really quite an important requirement in a good driving horse and will fill not only our daily life around our
horse with so much more pleasure, it also will enable us to bring our horses along in our training process so much easier.
But now that we have our horses and are working with them, we must work on relaxation. That work starts each
time we are around our horses. We must move and handle them with confidence and good leadership. Above all, we
always must be relaxed ourselves. Only then can we hope to transfer that state of mind to them too. We need to build
our training and break it down into many small steps. First, get your horse relaxed with you in his stall. Then teach him
to stand relaxed while you groom and harness him. Then teach him to walk with you relaxed. Always keep it relaxed,
and if he gets nervous, go back to the previous step for which you had relaxation. Ground-drive him relaxed, and
finally, get him to drive with the carriage relaxed. For most horses, that means spending a lot of time at the walk. But it
is very important that you do not skip this step, because if you do, then you have not laid the proper foundation and will not be able to build successfully. A horse that cannot do
a training-level dressage test calmly will never be able to perform the requirements of a higher level test. He will never
be able to bend properly, to go "round," to work on the bit, to stand, to back, you name it. If you don't fix that problem
on the ground level, there really is not much sense to try to move on to higher levels. Sure, you may be able to get through
some hazards with guts and glory, and you may even be able to come through a cones course, but you won't be able to do
that competitively on higher levels nor will you ever be able to get a good dressage score.
You must have a platform of relaxation like a safe heaven to which you can always come back during your training,
when you work on something new and the horse gets nervous or tense. For most horses, this works well at the walk, but
with some, we do need to walk for quite a while until we get them to relax. Every now and then, I even encounter a horse
that is so high-strung and nervous that we cannot even walk. If it becomes so hard that we are fighting for a walk, well,
then it becomes clear that we are not going to get relaxed that way, as a fight certainly does not produce relaxation. So
then on rare occasions, I find that a horse may relax at a working trot. If that is his platform of relaxation, OK,
perhaps we can work from there. However, more likely than not, the horse that does not relax at the walk probably will
not do so at the trot either, and will only become hotter at the trot. So in that case, we need to go back to ground
training, as far back as it takes to get relaxation, and then build it up very slowly from there. Unfortunately, I do not
know of any shortcuts. There are no magical tricks as far as I am concerned, and even the horse whisperers work first
and foremost on getting the horse relaxed. Being able to achieve that faster than most of us, that is their specialty,
that is what sometimes may seem like a magical trick to us as they work their way into the mind of the horse and get him
You can see if he is relaxed in his eye; in his ears, the
expression of a happy horse. The ears should play back and
forth freely, checking what's ahead and then again what the
driver may want; they should not be fixed in one tense
position. We can also see it in his back, when we can see the
muscles on each side contracting and relaxing as his legs
swing freely. This is hard to see for the beginner. The rider
may be able to feel it, but we must learn to see it. This is very
important, as we want our horses to be supple in the back
and to work with their hind legs through the back, engaging
the entire body. We can often see in his mouth, if he is tense
and nervously chewing his bit or even has his mouth open,
pressing against the bit, or chewing relaxed on it. Naturally,
if he is running against our hand, and we have a great amount
of pressure on his bars, there is not much relaxation, and
there is no lightness. If we have good communication with
his mouth with constantly giving and taking a little, then we
can get him supple in his mouth, can get him to relax his
lower jaw, and to get supple in his poll. We will cover more
of that specifically in our next chapter when we talk about
contact and acceptance of the bit. We can see it in his tail, if
that is swinging freely from side to side, especially in the trot, or if it is tense, held to one side, or swishing the tail
trying to catch our reins.
Relaxation, of course, also has to include that the horse is
free of fear. He can only be free of fear if he has trust and
confidence in his driver and in his own abilities. So as his
confident leader, we must not ask the horse to do anything
that brings him into danger. We also must not ask him to do
anything that he cannot do either physically or mentally. So
we must prepare him for his tasks always by breaking them
down into small steps that we can teach him in a way that he
can understand what we ask him to do and is able to do it.
To be free in his movements, to be supple, and to have all
his muscles work with ease, he needs to be properly warmed
up. And when we can do all that at home, it then still is a big
step to be able to carry this over to the show ring or the
dressage arena, where again, first we must make sure that we
stay ourselves relaxed. For some of us, it helps to ever so
calmly hum a little tune to ourselves, hardly noticeable to
the outside. That turns on the musical side of our brain, and
that side usually is much more relaxed and much more free
of tension. Just try it next time you drive that dressage test
that often gets you so tense that you have trouble
remembering to just keep breathing, as you are concentrating
so hard on the test. Just concentrate a little less, hum that
tune, relax, and you'll see that less is really more. It just may
all flow so much better.
We will cover the remaining steps of the training scale in future issues:
"ANLEHNUNG" = CONTACT
including Acceptance of the Bit
"SCHWUNG" = IMPULSION
"GERADERICHTUNG" = STRAIGHTNESS
"VERSAMMLUNG" = COLLECTION
"DURCHLAESSIGKEIT" = SELF CARRIAGE