Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Equestrian Dressage - Training Scale

There are six building blocks of the German Training Scale. The German words for these scales have a more encompassing meaning than their vague English counterparts. The dressage training scale is often arranged in a pyramid or sequential fashion, with “rhythm and regularity” at the start of the pyramid and “collection” at the end. The training scale is helpful and effective as a guide for the training of any horse, but has come to be most closely associated with dressage. They are interdependant and interwoven each stage should be achieved before moving on to the next. They are not, however, a checklist of success. The lower rungs should always be revisited to check that progress is genuine and that the horse is fulfilling all the preceding requirements.

Rhythm and Regularity (Takt): Rhythm, gait, tempo, and regularity should be the same on straight and bending lines, through lateral work, and through transitions. Rhythm refers to the sequence of the footfalls, which should only include the pure walk, pure trot, and pure canter. The regularity, or purity, of the gait includes the evenness and levelness of the stride. Once a rider can obtain pure gaits, or can avoid irregularity, the combination may be fit to do a more difficult exercise.

Relaxation (Losgelassenheit): The second level of the pyramid is relaxation (looseness). Signs of looseness in the horse may be seen by an even stride that is swinging through the back and causing the tail to swing like a pendulum, looseness at the poll, a soft chewing of the bit, and a relaxed blowing through the nose. The horse makes smooth transitions, is easy to position from side to side, and willingly reaches down into the contact as the reins are lengthened.

Contact (Anlehnung): Contact—the third level of the pyramid—is the result of the horse’s pushing power, and should never be achieved by the pulling of the rider’s hands. The rider encourages the horse to stretch into soft hands that allow the horse to lift the base of the neck, coming up into the bridle, and should always follow the natural motion of the animal’s head. The horse should have equal contact in both reins.

Impulsion (Schwung): The pushing power (thrust) of the horse is called impulsion, and is the fourth level of the training pyramid. Impulsion is created by storing the energy of engagement. Proper impulsion is achieved by means of Correct driving aids of the rider,Throughness (Durchlässigkeit - the flow of energy through the horse from front to back and back to front) and Relaxation of the horse. Impulsion can occur at the walk, trot and canter. It is highly important to establish good, forward movement and impulsion at the walk, as achieving desirable form in the trot and canter relies heavily on the transition from a good, supple, forward walk.

Straightness (Geraderichtung): A horse is straight when the hind legs follow the path of the front legs, on both straight lines and on bending lines, and the body follows the line of travel. Straightness allows the horse to channel its impulsion directly toward its center of balance, and allows the rider’s hand aids to have a connection to the hind end.

Collection (Versammlung): At the apex of the training scale stands collection. It may refer to collected gaits: they can be used occasionally to supplement less vigorous work. It involves difficult movements (such as flying changes) in more advanced horses. Collection requires greater muscular strength, so must be advanced upon slowly. When in a collected gait, the stride length should shorten, and the stride should increase in energy and activity. When a horse collects, more weight moves to the hindquarters. Collection is natural for horses and is often seen during pasture play. A collected horse is able to move more freely. The joints of the hind limbs have greater flexion, allowing the horse to lower the hindquarters, bringing the hind legs further under the body, and lighten and lift the forehand. In essence, collection is the horse's ability to move its centre of gravity to the rear.

Equestrian Dressage - Airs above the ground

The "school jumps," or "airs above the ground" are a series of higher-level dressage maneuvers where the horse leaves the ground. These include the capriole, courbette, the mezair, the croupade, and levade. None are typically seen in modern competitive dressage, but are performed by horses of various riding academies, including the Spanish Riding School in Vienna and the Cadre Noir in Saumur. Horses such as the Andalusian, Lusitano and Lipizzan are the breeds most often trained to perform the "airs" today, in part due to their powerfully conformed hindquarters, which allow them the strength to perform these difficult movements.

The pesade and levade are the first airs taught to the High School horse, and it is from these that all other airs are taught. In the pesade, the horse raises its forehand off the ground and tucks the forelegs evenly, carrying all weight on the hindquarters, to form a 45 degree angle with the ground. The levade was first taught at the beginning of the 20th century, asking the horse to hold a position approximately 30-35 degrees from the ground. Unlike the pesade, which is more of a test of balance, the decreased angle makes the levade an extremely strenuous position to hold, and requires a greater effort from the horse. Therefore, many horses are not capable of a good-quality levade.

In the capriole (meaning leap of a goat), the horse jumps from a raised position of the forehand straight up into the air, kicks out with the hind legs, and lands more or less on all four legs at the same time. It requires an enormously powerful horse to perform correctly, and is considered the most difficult of all the airs above the ground. It is first introduced with the croupade, in which the horse does not kick out at the height of elevation, but keeps the hind legs tucked tightly under, and remains parallel to the ground. The horse is then taught the ballotade. In this movement, the horse's hind hooves are positioned so one can see its shoes if watching from behind.

In the courbette, the horse raises its forehand off the ground, tucks up forelegs evenly, and then jumps forward, never allowing the forelegs to touch down, in a series of "hops". Extremely strong and talented horses can perform five or more leaps forward before having to touch down with the forelegs, although it is more usual to see a series of three or four leaps. The courbette, like the capriole, is first introduced through the easier croupade.

In the mezair, the horse rears up and strikes out with its forelegs. It is similar to a series of levades with a forward motion (not in place), with the horse gradually bringing its legs further under himself in each successive movement and lightly touching the ground with the front legs before pushing up again. The mezair was originally called the courbette by the old dressage masters, and it is no longer practiced at the Spanish Riding School.

Equestrian Dressage - Arenas

There are two sizes of arenas: small and standard. Each has letters assigned to positions around the arena for dressage tests to specify where movements are to be performed.

The small arena is 20 m by 40 m (66x131 ft), and is used for the lower levels of eventing in the dressage phase, as well as for the USDF Introductory tests and the USEF Training Level tests. Its letters around the outside edge, starting from the point of entry and moving clockwise, are A-K-E-H-C-M-B-F. A number of mnemonic devices are used to remember this sequence, such as the phrase "All King Edwards' Horses Can Make Big Fences." Letters also mark locations in the middle of the arena: Moving down the center line, they are D-X-G, with X in the center.

The standard arena is 20 m by 60 m (66x197 ft), and is used for tests in both dressage (USEF First Level and above) and eventing. The standard dressage arena letters are A-K-V-E-S-H-C-M-R-B-P-F. The letters on the long sides of the arena, nearest the corners, are 6 m (19.7 ft) in from the corners, and are 12 m (39.4 ft) apart from each other. The letters in the middle of the arena are D-L-X-I-G, with X marking the center line. At the start of the test, the horse enters at A. There is always a judge sitting at C, although for upper-level competition, there are up to five judges at different places around the arena—at C, E, B, M, and H—which allows the horse to be seen in each movement from all angles. This helps prevent certain faults from going unnoticed, which may be difficult for a judge to see from only one area of the arena. The dressage arena also has a centerline (from A to C, going through X in the middle), as well as two quarter-lines (halfway between the centerline and long sides of each arena).

Equestrian Dressage - Tests & Movements

At the international level, dressage tests governed by the FEI. are the Prix St. Georges, Intermediare I, Intermediare II, and Grand Prix. The dressage tests performed at the Olympic Games Dressage competition are Grand Prix. This level of test demands the most skill and concentration from both horse and rider.

Movements included in Grand Prix dressage tests are:

Piaffe is a dressage movement where the horse is in a highly collected and cadenced trot, in place or nearly in place. The center of gravity of the horse should be more towards the hind end, with the hindquarters slightly lowered and great bending of the joints in the hind legs. The front end of the horse is highly mobile, free, and light, with great flexion in the joints of the front legs, and the horse remains light in the hand. The horse should retain a clear and even rhythm, show great impulsion, and ideally should have a moment of suspension between the foot falls. As in all dressage, the horse should perform in a calm manner and remain on the bit with a round back.

Passage is a movement done at the trot, in which the horse has great elevation of stride and seems to pause between putting down its feet (it has a great amount of suspension in the stride). Described very well like a horse "trotting under water", it takes great strength and training to get a good passage.

Extended gaits is usually done at the trot and canter, the horse lengthens its stride to the maximum length through great forward thrust and reach. Grand Prix horses show amazing trot extensions.

Collected gaits (trot and canter) is a shortening of stride movement in which the horse brings its hindquarters more underneath himself and carries more weight on his hind end. Takes a great amount of strength. The tempo does not change, the horse simply shortens and elevates his stride.

Flying changes, informally called "tempi" at this level. In this movement horse changes leads at the canter every stride (one tempi or "oneseys"), two strides (two tempi), or three strides (three tempi).

Pirouette is a 360 or 180 (depending on the level) degree turn in place, usually performed at the canter.

Half-pass is a movement where the horse goes on a diagonal, moving sideways and forward at the same time, while bent slightly in the direction of movement.

Tests ridden at the Olympic Games are scored by a panel of five international judges. Each movement in each test receives a numeric score from 0 (lowest) to 10 (highest) and the resulting final score is then converted into a percentage, which is carried out to three decimal points. The higher the percentage, the higher the score. Olympic team medals are won by the teams with the highest, second highest, and third highest total percentage from their best three rides in the Grand Prix test.

Equestrian Dressage - Competitions

Dressage competitions may begin in local communities with introductory level classes where riders need only walk and trot. Horses and riders advance through a graduated series of Nationally defined levels, with tests of increasing difficulty at each level. The most accomplished horse and rider teams perform the FEI tests, written by an international committee called the Fédération Équestre Internationale or FEI. The highest level of modern competition is at the Grand Prix level. This is the level test ridden in the prestigious international competitions, such as the Olympic games.

Dressage at the international level under the rules of the FEI (Federation Equestre Internationale) consists of the following levels: Prix St. Georges, Intermediare I, Intermediare II and Grand Prix. In addition, there are four to six lower levels, occasionally more, regulated in individual nations. The lower levels ask horses for basic gaits, relatively large circles, and a lower level of collection than the international levels. Lateral movements are not required in the earliest levels, and movements such as the leg yield, shoulder-in, or haunches-in are gradually introduced as the horse progresses.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Equestrian Dressage - Horses

All riding horses can benefit from use of dressage principles and training techniques. However, horse breeds most often seen at the Olympics and other international FEI competitions are in the warmblood category. Warmbloods are a group of middle-weight horse types and breeds, primarily originating in Europe, registered with organizations that are characterized by open studbook policy, studbook selection, and the aim of breeding for equestrian sport. Dressage is an egalitarian competition in which all breeds are given an opportunity to compete successfully. Therefore, many other breeds are seen at various levels of competition. In non-competitive performances of classical dressage that involve the "Airs above the ground", the "Baroque" breeds of horses, most notably the Lipizzaner, are seen most often. The Lipizzan or Lipizzaner, is a breed of horse closely associated with the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Austria, where the finest representatives demonstrate the haute ecole or "high school" movements of classical dressage, including the highly controlled, stylized jumps and other movements known as the "airs above the ground."

Equestrian Dressage - Debut in Olympics

Equestrian made its Summer Olympics debut at the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris, France. At the 1900 Summer Olympics, five equestrian events were contested. Only three are currently considered Olympic by the International Olympic Committee including "Dressage".Dressage had changed dramatically since the 1912 Olympics. The dressage horse no longer has to jump, but the test on the flat has become increasingly difficult, emphasizing the piaffe and the passage. The 1912 Stockholm Olympics held the first Olympic dressage competition, featuring 21 riders from 8 countries (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States). Dressage horses were required to perform 3 tests: a test on the flat, a jumping test, and an obedience test. All dressage horses were required to jump 4 obstacles which were a maximum of 1.1 meters high, and another fence with a 3 meter spread. They were then asked to perform an "obedience test," riding the horse near spooky objects. Riders were required to wear informal uniform if they were military officers, or black or pink coats with silk hats if they were civilians. Horses had to be ridden in a double bridle, and martingales and bearing reins were prohibited.

Equestrian Dressage - History & Overview

Man's relationship with the Horse began many millennia ago. The practice of riding horses is estimated at having begun between 6000 and 4000 BC. However dressage as a considered approach to training horses for riding began with the Ancient Greeks, in particular the Athenian Cavalry Commander Xenephon, who is responsible for the first recorded writings on dressage training. He wrote his treatise 'on the Art of Horsemanship' in 360 BC. So dressage training has its origins firmly in the military use of horses, to make them more maneuverable and obedient in battle, also to improve their strength, stamina and agility. The Ancient Greeks approach to training the horse was continued by the Romans, for whom the horse was also a crucial part of their military power. Its fundamental purpose is to develop, through standardized progressive training methods, a horse's natural athletic ability and willingness to perform, thereby maximizing its potential as a riding horse. At the peak of a dressage horse's gymnastic development, the horse will smoothly respond to a skilled rider's minimal aids. The rider will appear relaxed and effort-free while the horse performs the requested movement. Dressage is occasionally referred to as "Horse Ballet". With the increasing popularity of indoor riding practiced by the royalty and nobility, dressage training started to become an art in its own right, with the development of the dressage movements, such as lateral work, piaffe, passage, and airs above the ground (the levade, courbette and so on). At this time dressage training started to become a much more refined activity than the standard training of horses for the military. Although the discipline has ancient roots, dressage was first recognized as an important equestrian pursuit in Europe during the Renaissance.

Equestrian - Debut in Olympics

Equestrianism made its Summer Olympics debut at the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris, France. At the 1900 Summer Olympics, five equestrian events were contested. Only three are currently considered Olympic by the International Olympic Committee. It is not certain how many competitors there were, but it is likely that there were between 37 and 64. It disappeared until 1912, but has appeared at every Summer Olympic Games since. The current Olympic equestrian disciplines are Dressage, Eventing, and Jumping. In each discipline, both individual and team medals are awarded. Equestrian sports are one of the oldest categories of the Olympic Games. One of the first events introduced was the four horse chariot race. The equestrian events are comprised of three categories – dressage, show jumping and the three-day event. This is sometimes referred to as the “equestrian triathlon” as well. The International Governing Body for equestrian sports is the Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI), and it is subject to rules made by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in regards to Olympic Competition. The 1924 Olympics were the first to be held under the FEI.

Equestrian - Overview

Equestrianism (from Latin equester, equestr-, horseman, horse) more often known as riding, horseback riding (American English) or horse riding (British English) refers to the skill of riding, driving, or vaulting with horses. Horses are trained and ridden for practical working purposes such as in police work or for controlling herd animals on a ranch. They are also used in competitive sports including, but not limited to, dressage, endurance riding, eventing, reining, show jumping, tent pegging, vaulting, polo, horse racing, driving, and rodeo.  Gambling on horse races appears to go hand-in hand with racing and has a long history as well. The history of Equestrian sport dates back over 2000 years to when the Greeks introduced Dressage training to prepare their horses for war. It continued to progress as a military exercise throughout the Middle Ages with the Three Day Event designed to reflect the range of challenges military horses would face. In 682 BC, a four-horse chariot race was run at Greece’s 25th Olympiad, marking the earliest recorded date in Equestrian history. Equestrian as a competitive sport first began in 1868 at the royal Dublin Horse Show. Enthusiasm for the sport then quickly spread to Europe and North America. By the late 1800s horse shows were regular international events that attracted much notice. Equestrian events were first included in the modern Olympic Games in 1900. both horse and human are declared Olympic medallists! It is also the only Olympic sport where men and women compete in the same event.