The scala of dressage out of the window

Last time I explained the scala of dressage is the backbone riders are holding onto for centuries. As do I, when things get difficult. However, Anky van Grunsven is not too keen on it. And what she says makes sense.

The six points of the scala in the right order are: rhythm, relaxation, contact, energy, straightness and collection. Anky finds the scala too rigid and complicated. And not very logical. She thinks it is far more important to teach a young horse to find it’s balance, without leaning on the hands of the rider, then to focus on the right rhytm. And a just broken horse might not be all that relaxed the first sessions. It should be about balance, regaining it with a rider on it’s back. And the next step is controlling the speed. Anky says the way to do this differs for each horse.


Straightness is very important. Anky is slightly worried that people misunderstand the word. Straightness means suppleness to both sides. If a horse is not straight, it can’t go in balance. On a circle a lot of horses are forced into a shoulderfore position. The inside hind should go into the footfall of the inside fore. Same goes for the outside. You should have the horse between two reins, with an equal feel in both. Anky advocates you should not let a horse lean on you. Correct it shortly but then take away the pressure. She’s very much against outside reins on pressure all the time, which some instructors promote. If you maintain an aid all the time, it loses its meaning.

Control the speed

Instead of focusing on the scala, Anky feels we should focus on the horse. How he reacts and what the rider does with the respons. Contact is another difficult matter. ‘Riding a horse from back to front’, is what all the classical books are stating. But what if your horse pulls you? More leg? Then he will pull even harder. A horse should follow the hand of the rider, but not pull it.

Energy to Anky should be about controlling the speed. She finds the scala not very clear. Does energy mean going fast? She wants to keep it simple, so it’s easier to do. Give a short leg aid to go forward, use hands and seat to slow down.


To be fair, all the points of the scala are being dealt with if you train a horse properly. But to Anky not in a rigid order. About the two new points balance and ‘durchlässigkeit’ that recently have been added to the sides of the pyramid Anky is clear: balance is the main thing in riding and the rest is all very complicated. She likes the vary the frame a lot while training. ‘I think that’s better for the wellbeing of a horse, far better than to follow a rigid system that doesn’t suit each horse equally. You know, you should always look at the horse. It’s all about good riding, not about written words or opinions’.

So, what do I think about this? I completely agree with Anky that you should never be rigid when training horses. They are all different. I like to have something in the back of my mind to fall back to, but I always try to focus on what the horse does and what I need to do to make it better. Have the knowlegde but be flexible, so you can use whatever is needed.

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