The mission of the Hannoveraner Verband is to further the Hanoverian Horse in breeding and sport. As part of that, training and preparation of young horses for their later tasks is among our main goals. We constantly train a variety of young horses at our facility in Verden, Germany, doing our best to equip these horses with the necessary basics for their future careers.
The basics every horse has to learn are very similar, no matter if the later focus will be dressage, show jumping, eventing or just to be a valuable friend for life. The basic education is the horse’s elementary school. The way of teaching it varies individually from horse to horse, but the content the horse has to learn is pretty much alike across disciplines. In Germany we call that the “Training Scale” or “Training Pyramid”, which both describe the same thing.
It is a Pyramid build of rhythm, looseness, connection to and acceptance of the bit, impulsion, straightness and leading all the way up to collection. These building blocks have to be put in place bottom up and none of them can be left out, as they logically follow each other. The scale creates a fundament for later training and at the same time provides a guideline for the daily work. In this article we want to give an overview of the first main phase of the training scale, the so called acclimatization phase, and go more in depth on the single parts and the following phases in the upcoming weeks.
The basis for every young horse is formed by the first three building blocks rhythm, looseness and connection to the bit. Those have to be a given before any further work would make sense. In the education of a young horse, this is the focus of the early work when the horse makes the first steps under the rider, which is where the name acclimatization phase comes from. For trained horses, reaching these points is the goal of the daily warm-up.
Acclimatization starts starts with rhythm. Rhythm means the regularity of the horse’s steps and strides in every tempo, on straight as well as curved lines. Each step should cover equal distance and be of equal duration, resulting in a regular beat. Inequalities in step and stride length, a horse rushing off or losing the rhythm in the turns and corners will always negatively affect the balance and prevent the horse from relaxing and reaching looseness. There is ongoing argument as to why rhythm comes before looseness, as missing looseness will also lead to stiff and irregular steps. Imagining a human dancer, for example, the dancer will be taught to relax so he can find the rhythm. For the education scale of the horse however, we see that the other way around, because the rider has to influence the horse to find the rhythm, which then in turn will help the horse relax and reach looseness.
Looseness means the horse is free from tension and uses all parts of its body. It is physically and mentally ready for the work with the rider. Physical readiness is expressed by a calm eye, an interested ear movement, a closed but slightly chewing mouth, a swinging back and tail, and the horse snorting. Snorting shows relaxation because the horse’s last 10 rips are not connected to the sternum but tied to the diaphragm and thus move with every breath the horse takes. When the muscles are tensed the breathing of the horse is shortened, only when those muscles relax can the horse take a deep breath, resulting in the snorting the moment that happens. Existing looseness allows the horse to energetically move forward, driven by the hind legs, through the back and towards the bit, into the hand of the rider.
At this point, the connection to and acceptance of the bit is being created. The horse has to be comfortable to find the connection to the bit and trust the hand of the rider. Some horses may tend to push on the bit while others might prefer to stay behind it. Out of the natural development of rhythm and looseness the rider has to guide the horse to find its balance and lead it to the right connection to the rider’s hand, which is a constant, light contact. It is highly important that this contact is created by the horse moving forward into the rider’s hand as described above. A backward pulling hand will always result in blocking the horse’s movement through the body.
With those three basic building blocks the horse should be willingly moving forward towards the rider’s hand, engaging every muscle in its body and naturally stretch down towards the bit. While the building blocks and the results are the same for every horse, the time it takes and the way to get there will be very different, based on the horse’s temperament, construction and perception to the rider. That is what makes the work as a rider and trainer at the Hannoveraner Verband so interesting. We always have a number of very different horses that we train and guide along their way.
One of these youngsters is the four year old gelding Belaggio (Belissimo M/Ehrentanz). Belaggio already had his debut on a big stage when he was three years old and convinced judges and spectators on the International Dressage and Jumping Festival in Verden about his qualities, then ridden by Andrea Müller-Kersten. He received especially high scores for the scale of education and ended up as reserve for the German Championships.
Belaggio had a thorough basic education that leads him to a trustful relation with his rider, which is also what our customers felt test riding this wonderful gelding that was sold for €62,000 ($70,000) this past Saturday on the Hanoverian March Auction. Romy Wiegmink (rider) and Barbara Cadrikova (groom) had taken Belaggio under their wings. Romy underlines that Belaggio is the prime example of a good basic education. “From the start of every training, even with a longer rain, he is always totally with me and fully concentrated on my aids, reacting immediately and correctly. It is so much fun to have a horse like him!” Of course not every horse is a model student like Belaggio, but that is what keeps our work so interesting, and that is what the riders at the Hannoveraner Verband are focused on.
One horse may be too much forward and needs to be trained with numerous transitions, a lot of turns and circles to get its focus to the rider and lead it to concentrate on the rider’s aids while another horse may get bored easily and thus it is more important to constantly change the program and include work over cavalettis and poles and additional lunging days. Yet another horse will be a fast learner and the focus is on developing strength with more conditioning exercises on the race track. While every horse’s training should vary and include all those options, extend and frequency has to be matched individually to every single horse.
Even though these are basics, the work on them never ends. As we heard from our US partners Sabine Schut-Kery, Kathleen Raine and David Wightman already, their main focus in the daily work with their Grand Prix horses is to ensure the basics are in place, especially rhythm, looseness and connection. It is like reading for a person. If we learned it well in elementary school, we will always be able to do it, but only if we stay with it we will be able to read the bigger books and remain focused.
Training and education of the horse is a great topic with a lot of variety and no “one fits all”. Over the coming weeks we will keep on presenting different aspects of the training scale with examples of the daily work of our US partners as well as from our German base in Verden.
Watch the Video of the Number 1 of the last collection, 4 year old gelding Belaggio (Belissimo M/Ehrentanz)!