The scales looked at in this article is Contact & Impulsion

 The Scales are:
1. Rhythm
2. Suppleness
3. Contact
4. Impulsion
5. Straightness
6. Collection
There are many exercises that will help a horse develop suppleness, providing the rider is in balance and has taught the horse to react appropriately to the aids.

In a previous issue of Northants Horse Trader Magazine (April – June 2018) I wrote “The Scales of Training – An Introduction to Rhythm and Suppleness” and that each scale should be achieved before moving on to the next and each scale as a direct effect on the success of the subsequent scale. We considered the effect a rider has on the horse’s natural balance and therefore his rhythm and how the balance of the rider and the reactivity of the horse to the aids affect the horse’s rhythm when ridden. I then suggested an exercise to help develop the horse’s rhythm and suppleness.

There are many exercises that will help a horse develop suppleness, providing the rider is in balance and has taught the horse to react appropriately to the aids. A balanced rider will always help the horse to settle into a good rhythm from which the rider can then look for ways to develop the suppleness through movements around the school.

Suppleness can be described as the ease of the range of movement and has two effective directions, longitudinally i.e. over the horse’s back and laterally i.e. along the horses back. Working the horse in a rounder outline develops longitudinal suppleness with him ‘lifting’ under the saddle and adopting a ‘rainbow’ shape over his back. Lateral suppleness is developed through bending the horse around your inside leg. Don’t forget, bend can be to either the inside or outside of the direction of travel – in other words, if you are on a circle on the right rein you can bend the horse to the left, your left leg becomes the inside leg and your right rein becomes the outside hand. A truly supple horse will work easily in either bend on either rein.

So, we now come to consider ‘Contact’ and ‘Impulsion’ which are scales 3 and 4. Firstly, let us think about contact, what is contact? Well, contact is the feeling you have down the rein, it is the direct link between your hand and the horse’s mouth. Contact is achieved by riding the horse forward from your leg to the hand. This is probably a term you have heard used plenty of times. Describing, and therefore understanding, contact is not an easy thing but essentially you should be looking for an elastic feel down the rein, your arm should be firm and yet your elbow soft, it sometimes helps to think of your elbow and shoulder as ‘well lubricated’. Suppleness can be described as the difference between a new hinge and a rusty hinge, they both move but the rusty hinge gets stuck, the new hinge moves freely and easily. Your elbows provide the elastic feel the horse needs to work into in order to give a good ‘forward seeking’ contact.

Here we just need to remind ourselves of the importance of the rhythm and suppleness, these first two scales are not forgotten – they are always there and are always required before achieving a good contact. It is essential that the horse is reactive to your aids in order for you to be able to effectively ride him forward from the leg to the hand.

Here is one exercise I find useful when working on an improved contact, this exercise can be used in any pace but the most straightforward one to start with is the trot:

● Start working the horse on a 20m circle, make sure he is swinging forward in a nice rhythm and supple trot.
● Then begin to spiral the circle smaller, take your time, reducing the circle by just one or two meters on each revolution.
● Ensure the reduction in circle is even and the circle remains round and does not become egg-shaped.
● Once down to approximately 10m circle, hold that circle for a couple of circuits ensuring you have a soft inside rein which allows the horse to step through from behind.
● Then you start to use an increased inside leg aid to ‘enlarge’ the outside of the horse’s body and increase the size of the circle.
● Make sure the horse does not over-bend to the inside, the amount of bend should not change too much and must be through the whole body, not just the neck.
● As you enlarge the outside of his body and allow the circle to become gradually bigger you will be developing an improved inside leg to outside hand connection and therefore an improved contact in the outside rein.
● It is essential that the inside rein stays soft – you can test this with small give and re-takes of the inside rein throughout the whole exercise.
● Repeat this ‘spiral-in/spiral-out’ exercise several times on each rein.

tom figure


Once you feel you have achieved this you can move on to a very simple figure of 8 exercise to develop a more consistent change of bend. The way to do this is to:

● Ride (in trot to start with) large round the arena, concentrating on inside leg to outside hand through the corners.
● Change the shape of the way you ride round the short sides of the arena to almost a half 20m circle at each end.
● Then start to ride changes of rein along both long diagonals, so you are constantly changing the rein with a half circle at each end, this would look like a tall thin figure of 8 rather than a round ‘bumblebee’ figure of 8.
● As you ride the figure of 8 think about the inside leg to outside hand feeling on the half circle and then when you ride straight across the diagonal you need to ‘pick-up’ the old inside rein so you have an even feel down both reins.
● Before arriving at the start of the new half circle on the new rein you need to prepare the new inside rein through a few ‘feel and give’ motions down the rein. As you give the rein you should back-up increased inside leg to outside hand connection by nudging with the new inside leg to the new outside hand.
● Ride the new half circle and immediately change the rein on the next long diagonal repeating the above step of picking up the old inside rein and connecting the horse from both legs into both hands before preparing the new inside rein with a series of ‘feel and give’ motions down the rein backed up with the new inside leg.
As you consistently ride this exercise the horse has to remain supple through to the bit and the consistent feel down the rein become elastic through the constant change of rein and adjustment from one inside leg to outside hand connection to the other.

The most important thing to remember here is that it is always leg first; contact is achieved through riding the horse forward from leg to a ‘forward thinking hand’, not a blocking hand.

These exercises build on the rhythm and suppleness exercises you will be doing with your horse and help develop increased lateral suppleness as well as an improved contact.

Impulsion is achieved when the horse takes more weight on his hindquarters in order to perform movements with a greater degree of engagement and cadence. The image at the bottom of this page shows the relationship between the hind leg coming ‘through’ and under the horse in order for him to lift under the saddle and take more weight through his hindquarters, note the position of the head and how impulsion would be compromised by a hand that is pulling back and not allowing the horse to travel forward.

A shorter rein with a forward thinking hand will shorten the frame of the horse and through the later scales of training will achieve greater collection.

Let us focus on improving impulsion, essentially what we are trying to achieve is a greater degree of controlled ‘push’ from behind. The horse should bring his hind leg well under his body and take more weight on his hind leg for an increased period of time, leading to the impression he is taking a longer, slower, step with a greater degree of ‘lift’ or cadence in each step. This is developing the horse’s longitudinal suppleness, creating the ‘rainbow shape’ over his back.

There is one simple way of improving impulsion and that is through transitions. Repeated transitions will encourage the horse to engage more from behind – the trick is to ensure the transitions are performed in an rhythmical, supple manner with a good contact – it is no coincidence that these are the first three stages of the scales of training! Hopefully you can see how things are fitting together now and how each scale affects the subsequent scale.

 correct bend

 Image credit:
By Renate Blank - Klaus Schöneich Zentrum für Anatomisch richtiges Reiten® & Schiefen-Therapie®,
CC BY-SA 2.5,

Here is one more exercise to work on:

● Trot a 20m circle.
● Make a transition to walk anywhere on the circle, keeping the leg on and push the hind leg through to the front leg, imagine riding the hind legs into the space between the front legs.
● Don’t forget to use a forward thinking hand – do not block the hind leg action by pulling on the rein but maintain a good elastic contact.
● Walk for 5 steps and then ride forward to trot again.
● Repeat this several times around the circle.
● Then move on to just 3 walk steps each time and repeat several times.
● Once established, continue with the transition to walk but only for one step this time, repeat this several times around the circle.
● Your horse should be getting the idea of what is coming so you can use this anticipation as an opportunity to refine your aids.
● Now start to ride a transition from trot to walk but just before he walks ride away in trot – repeat this several times.
● Use the moment from the ‘almost walk’ to trot to really exaggerate the push from behind – don’t rush him but keep a light and active leg aid to encourage a quick and active hind leg action from your horse.


Repeating this exercise will help develop an improved trot with greater impulsion and longitudinal suppleness – you are looking for an increased moment of suspension where the horse is taking more weight on his hindquarters, slowing the tempo but maintaining rhythm to ultimately achieve improved impulsion. This can only happen if he is allowed to lift under the saddle and lighten the front-end, the contact should lighten a little – if it becomes heavier then he is balancing on your hand and not taking the weight on his hind-quarters. If this happens then go back to the earlier stages of the above exercise and ensure you are not allowing him to balance on your hand by maintaining a quick and light leg aid into a supple and forward thinking contact. In simple terms, use your leg to maintain activity and don’t pull back!

The next steps from here are to develop improved straightness and ultimately a greater degree of collection through stages five and six of the scales of training.

Good luck with your homework!

The Scales Of Traning forward thinking hand

The horse Tom is riding in the photos in this article is called ‘The Good Omen’ (stable name Nemo), he is owned by Jo Holmes-Cole BHSII from Oakham and is working well at Novice level dressage with good potential to work up the grades. He can be a bit cheeky and self-opinionated at times and has earned himself the social media tag #naughtynemo! The horse Tom is riding in the photos in this article is called ‘The Good Omen’ (stable name Nemo), he is owned by Jo Holmes-Cole BHSII from Oakham and is working well at Novice level dressage with good potential to work up the grades. He can be a bit cheeky and self-opinionated at times and has earned himself the social media tag #naughtynemo!


The Scales Of Training With Tom Fray - Part 3