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German Training Scale is helpful for common driving training issues

12th in a series

Patricia Demers / Horsetrader Columnist - May 21st, 2015 - About Driving

PatriciaDemers_170pxIn my previous articles, I’ve referred to the German Training Scale. It is a logical system of training developed by the German National Equestrian Federation (GNEF), describing the progression of training of an equine for all disciplines.

It can also be imagined as a circle of steps, that one cannot make progress without a combination of all previous steps being established, before moving forward in which end result is the horse achieves balance, self carriage and engagement. The GNEF publishes a series of books, which are an excellent resource for all equestrians. I would recommend their book on driving, which is based on the Achenbach system, developed in the early 1900’s by Benno Von Achenbach.

This system of driving is recognized worldwide, who’s main aim is to produce a driver, who will not through ignorance, cause suffering and injury to his horse, nor place themselves or others in danger while out in public, as the result of bad harnessing or poor driving techniques.

It starts with relaxation, the 1st step. The equine must be without resistance or concerns, allowing its neck, back, hips to relax. Elasticity and suppleness are the first goals.

The 2nd step is rhythm, which can be seen in an even footfall: walk 1-2-3-4, and trot 1-2, 1-2, think of a metronome ticking with each set of footfalls. Here we establish energy and tempo.

Contact/connection is the 3rd step, and often the most misunderstood. The horse must be willing to carry the bit without evasion or leaning on it for support. This is the beginning of self carriage and balance. The driver must have contact with the horses’ mouth at all times. However this doesn’t mean heavy handed or rough. Contact is the connection between the driver’s hands and the bit. It is your communication, which might be described as a handshake- not too firm and not too soft. Think of your horse as your dance partner, and you are guiding with your hands. A little pull this way and the horse follows, a little giving, and the horse moves to take more contact. Acceptance of the bit, thru acceptance of the aids (whip and voice) is the goal.

Impulsion, the 4th step, is the power/propulsion/thrust/energy that is generated from the hindquarters, which moves the horse. Think of the gears in your car: torque = power = impulsion. Your horse can’t pull your carriage efficiently if it doesn’t have the power of PUSH from the hind quarters. It’s got to maintain that push at all paces.

Straightness, the 5th step, is achieved from alignment and balance, which comes from contact and impulsion. It is the accumulation of the previous steps. Without straightness, your horse and carriage will wallow from side to side down the road. When you look back at your tracks it looks like a squiggly line. Your horse may also travel crookedly. Without contact and impulsion you can’t have straightness.

Collection, the 6th step, is being able to gather your horse’s energy without losing impulsion and power. Think of compressing a spring between your hands, and gently releasing pressure. It is the horse’s ability to compress its body, raise its back, and carry more weight on the haunches — self carriage. In driving, HOWEVER, because the equine is PULLING and not CARRYING weight, we cannot and do not, expect the same level of collection as a ridden equine. If you collect too much, you will end up with a loss of impulsion.

All of the steps combine to create an equine that is balanced in mind and body with increased lightness, engagement, and self carriage. In the next few articles, I will be addressing some common training issues and how to correct them thru the German Training Scale.

Common Training Issues: My Horse travels crooked when hitched-first be sure that your harness is adjusted equally on both sides.

If one side of the trace is longer than the other, it may encourage the horse to travel crooked. Also check that the shaft loops are on the same hole on both sides of your saddle. Next, check your carriage for soundness – missing nuts, bolts, or broken springs. Also, check that your cart’s wheels are lubricated and are turning freely. A tight wheel will cause the cart to pull unevenly, thus encouraging the equine to compensate and pull crookedly. This unevenness can also cause harness rubs, so check your equine carefully after workouts.

Next, the driver also needs to pay attention to their own body position on the box seat. If you are unbalanced, slouching or crooked in your posture or contact, your horse will be also. People tend to be heavier on their dominant hand, and your horse may adjust its body to find balance in the driver’s unbalance.

Your horse could also need more conditioning, and is showing that it is less flexible on one side vs. the other. It could also have a sore muscle somewhere, and it is protecting its self by holding tension in its body. By eliminating the above, then we have to go back to looking at training. Each time your horse travels crooked, ask it to straighten out by tapping with your whip- as you would use a leg in riding for lateral flexion. If your horse is crooked to the right, then tap your whip on its left side behind the saddle and vice versa (hopefully you have conditioned your horse in previous training to move laterally with the whip pressure).

Then you must ask for impulsion — not necessarily speed, but energy to move forward. Soften your contact (don’t throw it away!) and ask the horse to establish a soft and following contact with the bit.

If you get a stretching motion for the bit — excellent work. Reward the horse (verbally) for its efforts each time it tries to reach for the bit, accepts contact, and achieving momentary straightness. Repeat, repeat etc. This is an example of how contact and impulsion can get straightness.

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