The Importance of Consistency and Routine with Dressage Training
Training happy dressage horses requires a balance between consistent, effective gymnastic
training and extra-curricular activities that keep his brain engaged and task oriented. Whilst
every horse should have a specifically tailored and intuitively directed training program, it is
important as a rider to have a core training philosophy which manifests itself as clear
expectations and a deliberate routine. Horses learn through consistency, the rider should be
aware of this and incorporate it into their program to maximise training results. In this article
I will begin by prompting the reader to consider their own principles, expectations and
current training habits and beliefs. After breaking this down, the article will cover the key
phases of warm up, working and cool down. Finally, I will cover the importance of getting
the right balance between work and play.
What are your Dressage Training Principles?
When you begin your journey as a Dressage rider you are taught to follow the Pyramid of
Training, this scale was developed by the German military and forms the basis of classical
dressage. The scale is still considered one of the most important references for training
Dressage horses today. The scale is made up of rhythm, relaxation, connection, impulsion,
straightness, and collection. Each component builds upon the one that comes before it and
can be used to problem solve issues that present in training. Most problems that occur in
Dressage training can be traced back to one of these core building blocks of the partnership.
Whilst most riders are aware of the Pyramid of Training, very good riders use the Pyramid of
Training as a way of thinking. It is their lens in which they view the horse and themselves
constantly. Having this framework helps riders to deal with the endless possibilities and
challenges that come from the individuality of each horse. It gives them a constant, stable
reference point in the confusing issues that are presented to riders.
The truly great rider not only uses the Pyramid of Training as a compass to keep their sails
full of air, but also is aware of their own expectations and individual differences as a rider.
Just as each horse is different, each rider carries preferences for the feel and way of going for
their horses. Being aware of your own preferences, and even shortcomings in relation to the
training scale will set you apart from the average rider.
The first, and potentially most important phase of the ride begins as soon as you sit in the
saddle. The warm-up serves to prepare the horses body for the demands of rigorous
gymnastic work, slowly engage his mind in a calm and kind way, and allow the rider to
assess his body, energy and mood, before selecting the work for the most intense part of the
The rider should aim to have the horse stretching forward and downwards with a steady
rhythm in all three paces for the warm-up. Make it a purposeful, relaxing, and low-pressure
time for the horse to prepare for his work. Take the time to feel for correct swing and
relaxation in the walk for at least 10 minutes before beginning the trot work.
The most essential thing for the rider to do during the warm-up is to tune into how his horse
is feeling. Check the forward aid – is the horse moving happily off the leg or does he require
more encouragement on this day? Try gentle bending and see if he is particularly stiff on one
side on this day. Depending on the level of your horse some gradual leg yields can help you
to assess the horse and decide what needs to be done in the main training phase. This is the
chance for your horse to communicate with you and for you to set the intensity and
requirements for the ride.
The Working Phase
After your horse is warmed up in walk, trot and canter on both reins the working phase
begins. You will have assessed the horse in the initial phase and can now proceed with
working on whatever gymnastic activity suits the needs of that particular horse on that day. In
this phase pay special attention to transitions, asking for more engagement and take a little
This phase is where you should be introducing new movements and engaging in the most
challenging work mentally and physically for your horse.
The Cool Down
This phase is often overlooked by many riders, but it is key to keeping your horse sound and
healthy for a continued career in Dressage. Modern training now holds a real emphasis on the
horse as an athlete and for this reason it is important to allow your horse to gradually stretch,
cool down and slow his heartbeat. He should be ridden in the same relaxed and stretching
frame as the warm-up in all three paces to ensure the lactic acid doesn’t build up and cause
muscle stiffness in future training sessions. Make sure to focus on stretching left and right,
his muscles are soft, supple and can develop flexibility best in this phase.
Never get off your horse if he is still puffing or panting. If you have the option, take your
horse for a loose reined walk around the property/along the road to give him optimal recovery
and reset time.
Getting the Right Balance Between Work and Play
There is a delicate balance between having a regular training program that builds muscle and
fitness to keep up with the sport and maintaining a happy horse. The key is to adjust training
programs to suit the particular horse and stage of development. Young horses benefit from
regular days spent hacking, doing cavaletti work and groundwork to keep them engaged and
prolong their longevity. It is far better to have a young horse that is eager to work and enjoys
being ridden with a steadier development, than a horse that is pushed to fast and becomes
bitter/sour. Incorporating the Pyramid of Training into extra-curricular activities actually
proves to be a fun, creative challenge that will not only improve your dressage performance
but also your connection and partnership with your horse.
From downunder, Brooke