During the next phase of training the horse learns to accept the rider’s aids without suffering physical injury or mental stress. The Scales of Training, which outline the correct phases of education necessary to achieve this, are:

– Rhythm
– Suppleness
– Contact
– Impulsion
– Straightness
– Collection

The horse should work through his back from the first stage of riding, and this is helped by riding half-halts and transitions into and out of trot, for example.

Working through the back is not mentioned in the Scales of Training despite the fact that well-known trainers of the German cavalry practised and taught it. It was said that understanding the horse was the key to acceptance of the rider’s aids (submission). The horse should accept the driving aids (legs and seat) without resistance and with active hind legs develop pushing power and, at a later stage, be able to carry weight behind. He should also accept a contact with the reins, flexing through the poll, top line of the neck and back, allowing the hindquarters to tuck under the body, which is achieved through halts and half-halts using the co-ordinated weight, leg and rein aids. In every stage of training the horse must work through his back.

Used correctly, the Scales of Training (or ground rules) help to develop the natural ability of the horse. When progress is delayed by resistance or confrontation the rider must remain self-disciplined. The horse can only reach the required level of training and work correctly through his back with the influence of the rider’s aids. Basic training must be established before concentrating on individual ambitions.


What does this mean? The horse has three basic gaits: walk, trot and canter. Each of these gaits has a set sequence of footfalls: the walk is four-beat, the trot two-beat and the canter three-beat. The regularity of the steps while maintaining the natural movement of the horse is described as rhythm. Maintaining rhythm is an important task for riders of young horses. The rider must go quietly with the movement of the horse and help him to find his natural balance before asking him to adjust his balance under the rider’s weight. The horse must learn to carry the weight of the rider so that he can move freely in a relaxed manner again. When this is possible the horse is described as moving in natural balance and in a rhythm.


By this we understand the swinging of the back as the centre of movement and the contraction and extension of the required muscles without tension (i.e. in the neck, the back, between the ribs and in the hindquarters).

As well as appearing outwardly supple, there must also be contentment and ‘inner calm’ or willingness on the inside. The inner qualities of the horse are temperament, character, friendliness, sensitivity, trainability, willingness, and natural ability. Responsiveness to the rider’s aids is dependent on age and stage of training. We must then help the young horse to work with the unfamiliar weight of a rider on his back so that he can complete his education. He must develop the ability to work as freely and naturally with the rider in the saddle as without.


With the subsequent development of carrying power of the hindquarters the horse is more able to work through his back into a steadier contact with the bit. Swinging movement under the rider can only be achieved when a secure, soft contact can be maintained between the rider’s hands and the horse’s mouth. One can see spectacular movement when horses run free. Improvement of natural impulsion can only be achieved when a soft, elastic, steady, feeling contact exists. The horse should step towards the bit and, through his individual length of stride and stage of training, maintain the desired outline. In this outline his strength is best developed, but this is dependent on first achieving the correct contact.

Impulsion and straightness

The correct contact improves rhythm, suppleness, the ability to work through the back and impulsion. The horse works expressively and actively under the rider when he is allowed to step energetically forwards with his hind feet. Propulsive power is developed in trot and canter when it is transferred forwards through the horse’s swinging back.

‘Ride the horse forwards and straight’ is an important training objective of Gustav Steinbrecht in his The Gymnasium of the Horse, which has been around for many years. ‘Make your horse flexible on both sides, ride him forward and straight’ was the phrase of Major a.D. Paul Stecken, the long-serving manager of the Westphalian Riding and Driving School.

Nearly all young horses have a problem going straight, some more so than others. This is a consequence of the natural crookedness of the horse. In the same way that most people are right-handed, so most horses are crooked from the right hind to the left fore, i.e. the right hind foot does not step into the print of the right forefoot, but away to the right. In his book, Riding Logic, Wilhelm Miiseler discusses the theory that crookedness depends on which way the foal laid in his mother’s womb. Through basic training natural crookedness can be improved by building the horse up equally on both sides and improving flexibility through the rib cage on both sides so that both hind legs step on the same line as the corresponding forelegs, that is the hind legs follow in the tracks of the forelegs. This applies both to straight lines and to circles and curved figures such as serpentines.

Maintaining equal weight on all four legs in certain exercises is also absolutely essential for maintaining quality of movement and the health of the horse.


After about a year it is time to start working towards collection. This entails the horse taking more of the weight on the hindquarters, coiling the loins by closing the pelvis, hip and stifle joints and thus shifting his centre of gravity backwards. In this way the horse can produce more power. Also, the more weight the hind legs can take, the freer the shoulder movement is, and the lighter forehand places less strain on the forelegs.

The benefits of collection do not apply only to dressage but also to jumping (for example when turning, or preparing before an obstacle such as a water jump) and even to hacking. Moreover, certain dressage movements can only be ridden out of collection where the forehand is lightened in preparation, for example extended trot or canter or voltes in canter.

The raising of the forehand by collection also allows improvement in working through the back. However, it is important to understand that the lifting the forehand is dependent on the lowering of the haunches. False lifting of the forehand happens when the rider lifts the horse with the hands, the horse going against the reins. There is then no stepping under of the hind legs.

Working through the back

A rider who wants more influence over the horse’s movement must work to use the aids to ride the horse forwards and develop the lateral movements. Obedient response to these aids will help develop the working through the back. As the young horse’s ability to work through the back develops it is possible to ride transitions and simple exercises in rhythm with him. Alternatively, without this suppleness developing, the energy from the hind legs cannot swing forwards through the whole horse. It is necessary to be aware that strong rein aids cause tension in the poll, neck or back, preventing the hindquarters from working correctly.

The progressive benefits of the young horse working through the back can be summarized thus:

– A horse with a supple back can step forwards energetically with his hind feet, is able to react to the driving and controlling aids and can go forwards with good impulsion in trot and canter.
– A horse who works through the back is able to react to half-halts and respond to the forward-driving aids on both sides of his body, moving straight towards the rider’s hands without the hindquarters swinging away to one side. (Extending the trot and canter strides can be improved by rein-back.)
– Working through the back is essential for exercises such as walk-canter and canter-walk. Also for the exercise trot-halt-rein-back and riding forwards once more, resulting in improvement of the degree of collection and lifting of the forehand.
Working through the back, which is achieved with correct training, makes it easier for the horse to obey the aids, thus making things easier for both horse and rider. The rider must not be inconsistent in the aids. There should be a partnership between horse and rider. The horse should chew the bit quietly and carry his tail in a quiet, relaxed manner. There should be harmony between horse and rider in their daily training!

Leave a Reply