This page aims to introduce and illustrate the 'scales of training' as applied to the average horse and rider.

The scales of training are the building blocks of the German training system, sometimes referred to as the 'pyramid of training'. These basic training requirements are assessed in the collective marks for Dressage: these are the marks you find on the bottom of your test sheet.

To train a young horse correctly up the levels, it is important to establish the basics before moving on to higher level work. However, there is some overlapping and interdependence so each building block shouldn't be considered in complete isolation, and even with a horse working at an Advanced level, you should revisit the basic stages regularly to check that your training is correct.


Sometimes the 'Scales of Training' are referred to as a 'pyramid'.

There has been some discussion about whether 'rhythm' or 'relaxation' should form the base. When you have read the descriptions of each, you can let us know your opinion via our poll and discussion forum!

The following descriptions are adapted from "The Principles of Riding", which is part of the "Official Instruction Handbook of the German National Equestrian Federation". It has proved difficult to translate the key words exactly into English without some loss of meaning, but the interpretation should be the same .


Relaxation / suppleness/ looseness (Losgelassenheit) is a prerequisite for all further training and, along with rhythm, must be achieved in the preliminary training phase. Relaxation refers to physical as well as mental aspects: the horse needs to be physically and mentally free from tension so that it can work with looseness and use itself fully. The horse's joints should bend and straighten equally on each side of its body and with each step or stride, and the horse should give the impression that it is putting its whole mind and body into its work. When the horse is loose and relaxed it will stretch its head and neck forwards and downwards in all three gaits.

A relaxed horse

This horse shows quite good relaxation: note the softly carried and swinging tail, slightly mobile ears, quiet mouth and low pitched snorting.
A tense horse

Tension in this horse is apparent via the rigid tail, immobile ears and unsteady mouth. Note also how tension affects the rhythm and the contact, but these can not be improved until relaxation is achieved.


The term "rhythm" (Takt) refers to the regularity of the steps or strides in each gait: Each stride should cover equal distance and be of equal duration. In trot, each diagonal should be the same. The rhythm should be maintained through transitions and turns as well as on straight lines. Rhythm must not be confused with 'tempo', which refers to the speed of the rhythm. The tempo can be correct, too fast or too slow, whilst the rhythm per se can only be regular (correct) or irregular.

Good Rhythm

This horse maintains a regular rhythm through the trot -walk -trot transition.
Loss of Rhythm

This horse shows some loss of regularity through the transitions, but the rhythm is re-established once the horse is working on the right rein.
Rhythm and Relaxation in a Young Horse

Establishing rhythm and relaxation in a just backed and immature horse. This horse shows a good forward rhythm and mental relaxation, but needs to develop more suppleness.

There is no attempt at this stage of training to work in an outline, but towards the end you can see the horse starting to seek the contact of its own accord.

You may like to watch this training session to improve rhythm and relaxation in an older horse (this video has sound!):

Note that with an older and more established horse, other elements of the training scale are also addressed, particularly the straightness.

So rhythm or relaxation, which should come first? Cast your vote in the poll below, and see how your opinion compares with others'.

Here is an interesting thread on the British Dressage Forum about this topic. Rhythm and Relaxation thread

If you have any more thoughts about this, you can present your own opinion in the discussion board here.


Contact (Anlehnung)is the soft, steady connection between the rider's hand and the horse's mouth. The horse should work rhythmically forward from the rider's leg and seat into the contact. A correct, steady contact allows the horse to find its balance under the rider and find a rhythm in each of the gaits. The poll should always be the highest point of the neck, except when the horse is being ridden forwards and downwards. The contact should never be achieved through a backward action of the hands; it should result from the horse working through from behind with a driving hindleg. Contact is not just about the mouth, but involves the whole horse working forwards into the bridle : the term 'connection' is sometimes more useful.

Good contact

This horses generally works into a secure and confident contact.

Unsteady Contact

Unsteady contact in this horse is affecting the rhythm, which at times becomes irregular.

This irregularity due to contact issues, (in an otherwise sound horse) is sometimes referred to as 'bridle lameness'

Contact and 'connection' in a Grand Prix Horse

An Advanced horse stepping through into a secure contact.


A horse is said to have impulsion (Schwung) when the energy created by the hind legs is being transmitted into 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. Impulsion is created by training and is sometimes referred to as 'contained energy'. Impulsion is not the same as speed: if the horse is pushed too fast so that it quickens its steps, the moment of suspension is shortened because it puts its feet down sooner. Even if the rhythm is maintained, if the tempo is too fast, the impulsion will suffer as a result.
Good Impulsion

This horse shows good impulsion at Novice level. Although the tempo is a little quick, and the balance could be more uphill, there is a good natural energy as a basis for further training.

Lack of impulsion

Loss of engagement in an older horse. Note that in the trot there is no clear moment of suspension.

Speed vs Impulsion

This young horse shows good natural energy, but needs to work with more relaxation and a slower tempo to allow this energy to develop into impulsion. This will result in a more noticeable moment of suspension.

Good Impulsion in a Higher Level Horse

Excellent implusion in this horse working at Grand Prix level. Note the engagement of the hind legs as they step well uner the horse's body. There is a very clear moment of suspension


Straightness (Geraderichten) is achieved when the horse's forehand is in line with its hindquarters, whether that is on a straight line or curve (circle). Straightness is necessary in order for the horse's weight to be evenly distributed over the two halves of the body. It is developed through systematically training and suppling both sides of the body equally. Most horses start off asymmetric (crooked), just as people are right or left-handed. In training, the aim is to get achieve symmetry (straightness). This not only makes the work easier for the horse, but will also contribute towards soundness and longevity.

Lack of straightness

This horse becomes crooked through the canter transition by taking the quarters to the inside. This results in loss of engagement and impulsion.

Training for Straightness

A training session to demonstrate how to correct lack of straighness.


Collection (Versammlung) refers to the increased wight carrying capacity of the hinquarters. By systematic training and correct muscle development, the horse is able to increase the flexion of the hind legs, and step under with more engagement. As a consequence, the forehand is lightened and the neck raised. The horse is then in a position to move in balance and self-carriage in all three gaits.

No collection

A Novice horse in working paces showing minimal collection as expected at this level of training.
Training for Collection

Training for collection: This horse is learning to collect, but showing some loss of impulsion in the process. This illustrates that you must continually revisit the earlier stages during your training.
Advanced Collection

Extreme collection in the piaffe. Note how the croup has lowered and the hind legs are stepping right under the body.

An interesting blog about collection here.

The End Result?

Is it ever possible to get to the top of the pyramid?!


Watch Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro in the Grand Prix Special at Hagen 2012 as this comes close!

          • .