The Training Pyramid – Rhythm

dressage horse in extended trotDressage training is a progressive process which entails 6 interconnected major elements. These elements are outlined in the Training Pyramid. The first of these elements is rhythm. Rhythm refers to the regularity of the horse’s gait. As a horse moves, his hooves naturally fall in a specific pattern.

First, let us clarify that rhythm is not the speed with which the horse’s hooves touch the ground. That is tempo. Rhythm is the regular defined beat pattern in which the hooves fall. According to the USDF Directory in the Glossary of Judging Terms, rhythm is defined as “the characteristic sequence of footfalls and phases of a given gait. For purposes of dressage, the only correct rhythms are those of the pure walk, pure trot and pure canter (not those of amble, pace, rack, etc.) Not to be confused with “tempo,” “cadence” or miles per hour.”

The rhythm of each gait is outlined below. In each gait, the horse’s hoof falls should be clear and regular.

Walk 4 beat gait
Trot 2 beat gait
Canter 3 beat gait

A horse’s natural balance is illustrated through the clear, regular footfalls that maintain a consistent rhythm and tempo. This natural balance plays an important role in later training, as it helps to eliminate training problems such as being on the forehand, lack of self carriage and switching leads in the canter. It also makes it easier to develop medium and extended gaits. A horse that is well-balances maintains rhythm, and therefore, makes his training easier. In addition to making training easier, the horse with clear and consistent rhythm will consistently score well.

dressage horse in piaffePreservation of the horse’s natural rhythm is integral in training the dressage horse. This is done through correct training and appropriate use of the aids. One can learn about the rhythm of a horse by watching the horse move freely on a lunge line with side regularity of the horse’s footfalls. When the horse begins to carry a rider, he may lose his natural rhythm temporarily due to a lack of musculature and balance. With adequate and correct training, the horse will regain his balance and natural rhythm fairly quickly.

While it is debatable whether rhythm can actually be improved, the rider can certainly influence the preservation of a horse’s natural rhythm. To minimize the loss of natural rhythm, the rider must ensure that appropriate aids and correct training methods are used. The greatest factor leading to the loss of rhythm is in-effective use of the reins. This can be a result of trying to collect the horse too early, especially in the walk and the canter. The result is an irregular gait that is lateral in nature. Initially the rider will use soft hands that maintain a light contact and allow the horse to search for the contact.

trot circle
Rider: Mary Haskins Gurganus Photo by: Richard Gray www.MaryHaskinsDressage.com

As the horse develops the appropriate musculature for carrying the rider and develops his balance, the horse will again develop his natural rhythm. If this is not established early in the training sessions, the horse will develop tension and resistance which leads to additional problems later in training as the horse progresses up the training pyramid.

The rhythm of the horse is the regularity of the foot falls of the horse. As the horse moves his hooves fall in a particular pattern depending on his gait. Rhythm is the first element in the training pyramid and with proper training will be preserved. As such, the horse’s natural balance will be illustrated. This is essential to the higher levels of the training pyramid.