What Is The Horse Training Pyramid And Why Use It? Part 1

training pyramid

This is a well done version of the training pyramid

The training pyramid, or training scale, is a systematic approach to training horses based on classical principals. Training horses correctly is not about quick fixes, new gadgets or bits or about doing too much, too soon.

It is a progressive system of training that begins with establishing or reconfirming the basics each time you ride.

We recently completed a 7 week “training scale” series of lessons with a group of students at our farm. The purpose was to introduce them to the elements of the training pyramid and teach them exercises to help develop and improve their horses.

Many people want to do the “exciting” parts of riding, like jumping big jumps or “moving up the levels” in dressage or eventing, but are unaware of the foundation that the horse needs to be physically and mentally ready to do those things.

The idea behind the training pyramid is that you lay a solid foundation, and each of the six blocks or steps lays the foundation for the next. The best riders and trainers begin each session, or ride, by re-establishing the basics.

At the base of the pyramid, the first block is rhythm. Once a horse begins work with a rider on his back he needs to find his balance and rhythm in all the gaits.

training pyramid

Gemini looks balanced, relaxed and happy

Rhythm is defined as the regularity of footfalls in each gait, the sequence of footfalls. For example, the walk should be a clear four beat gait, the trot a clear two beat gait and the canter should have three distinct beats.

Rhythm should have energy and the right tempo for each horse.

Tempo is the rate of repetition of the rhythm, it might be easier to think of it as the number of beats per minute.

So the first step on the training pyramid is to develop a clear rhythm with good energy and the right tempo for the horse, neither sluggish or quick.

The next step up the training pyramid, or scale, is relaxation, both mental and physical. Without relaxation the horse cannot achieve balance, a good rhythm or any of the other goals of training.

Relaxation also means looseness or suppleness. Signs of relaxation include, a swinging back, steady rhythm, occasional soft snorting and a closed mouth.The horse can be chewing the bit but should not open or stiffen the mouth.

A horse that is relaxed will stretch out its neck and lower its head when invited to, in all three gaits.

The  next “building block” or step in the horses training is connection. Connection can be described as connection to the bit through acceptance of the aids.

The aids are your hands, seat and legs…your means of communicating with your horse while riding. I also add the “voice” to my list of aids.

Connection goes hand in hand with contact; the soft, steady, elastic connection between the rider’s hand and the horse’s mouth. Your horse should go confidently forward from thrusting hind legs into the steady contact of your hands.

When I think of connection I also think of straightness of the horse, even though that comes further up the training scale.

I think of the horse as a train with three cars; the head/neck/shoulders, the middle of the horse and then the hindquarters. When these three “cars” are aligned, one behind the other, whether the horse is on a curved or straight line, then the horse becomes connected.

It truly feels wonderful when the horse is aligned, without the hindquarters swinging one way or the other, or the shoulders popping out or “bulging.”

These first three blocks of the horse training pyramid are all part of the familiarization phase of training where the horse learns to rediscover his balance and develop rhythm while carrying a rider.

I will follow this post up with some exercises for this part of the pyramid and later, in part 2, I will cover the next three blocks, or steps.

By following the classical horse training pyramid you will find that you create a willing, happy horse that is soft, supple and a pleasure to ride no matter what your discipline!

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