Rhythm or Relaxation?
Rhythm, Relaxation (suppleness) & Strength
These are the three pillars of performance, according to the HDV12 German Cavalry Manual—original source of the Training Scale. Gymnastic training—creating strength and agility in the horse—paired with careful education is precondition for a healthy equine athlete. This combination of physical training and education is called dressage (HDV12 German Cavalry Manual).
The Chicken and the Egg
Taken too literally and without proper understanding of the classic German training system, we could mistakenly understand this to mean: Create Rhythm first, then achieve Relaxation.
In the so-called Training Scale or Training Pyramid, which is a visual representation of the concepts presented in the chapter “Goals and Principles of Dressage” (HDV12/1937), we often see Rhythm and Relaxation as two different ‘steps’ on the bottom of the Training Scale, with ‘Rhythm’ appearing on the bottom. Several master riders like Dr. Klimke and K. A. von Ziegner (see his book Elements of Dressage), have taken issue with that, and rightfully so. This simplification can lead to confusion.
The good news is: It’s not that simple. This is good news since it makes the practical application much easier than we may think. What it really means: Without relaxation, no rhythm. And if there is no rhythm, there cannot be relaxation.
Doesn’t sound simple? More like the chicken and the egg? Not quite…
What does the HDV12 say?
The HDV12 mentions both elements—Rhythm & Relaxation—in the same header and describes both concepts in the same paragraph. The reason: Rhythm & Relaxation are interdependent.
The rider attempts to regulate the rhythm by encouraging the horse to move in the natural posture and speed of the respective gait. This includes a long neck, open throat latch and relatively low nose (not much lower than shoulder bone height).
Relaxation, also called suppleness, is the precondition for successful dressage (see HDV12 German Cavalry Manual chapter “Goals & Principles of Dressage”). A relaxed horse with swinging back will move in rhythm, without rushing (think metronome). In other words: Rhythm is an indicator of a relaxed and supple horse.
Stop & Go
The importance of Rhythm & Relaxation cannot be overestimated. Next time you see a sign showing the Training Scale in a barn or arena, imagine that the two bottom steps are blended into one: “Rhythm & Relaxation, precondition for successful dressage”.
Above you will see a horizontal traffic light (in your mind’s eye, of course…). It will default to RED until you can honestly say: “Suppleness is the precondition for successful dressage. My horse and I have achieved this, as indicated by a relaxed natural posture, a swinging back and rhythmic movement in all gaits. I may now move on to the next chapter in my training…”.
Only then will the traffic light switch to GREEN and you are on your way to developing Contact.
But, of course, Contact is also not really that simple… Stay tuned to learn about “The Meaning of Contact in the Training Scale”.
Enjoy your horse and please be in touch with questions.