Performance Horse Development and The Training Scale

Some of you might be familiar with the Dressage Training Scale. Pictured below, I have the Dressage Training Scale with my notes on how a Performance Horse Development Horse, or PHD Horse, should display the parts of the Training Scale.

We start at the bottom of the Training Scale, and work our way up. Like the foundation of a house, if the base of the Pyramid is not solid, the parts at the top will fall apart.

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So what does Performance Horse Development have in common with the Dressage Training Scale?

A lot!

IPHDA has created a set of progressive patterns that increase the physical and mental demands on the horse and rider as they move through the levels. Each level is designed to make sure the horse accepts the cues from the rider, allowing the horse and rider to perform the gymnastic and control maneuvers of each level in a manner that develops the horse’s strength and suppleness.

Let’s take a look through the progression of PHD patterns and how they relate to the Training Scale.

Level 1A: These patterns are to establish the rider’s balance and rhythm and the horse’s longitudinal and lateral balance to a point where they can:

  1. Walk and trot with forward energy.
  2. Transition down from trot to walk, and walk to halt, while maintaining longitudinal balance. Transition up from a standstill to trot and walk, and walk to trot, without losing longitudinal softness.
  3. Start to develop some lateral softness by being able to perform circles with an arc in their shoulders and hips so that the horse’s feet follow the arc of the circle.
  4. The horse will start to listen to the rider’s rhythm as they begin to become supple at this level. Listening to the rider’s rhythm will help the horse maintain a steady cadence and smooth transitions

Level 1: These patterns are to establish the rider’s balance and rhythm and the horse’s longitudinal and lateral balance to a point where they can (in addition to the level 1a requirements):

  1. Transition from a trot to a stop while maintaining longitudinal balance.
  2. Back while maintaining longitudinal softness.
  3. Perform 180 degree turns on the haunches while maintaining longitudinal balance and with forward energy. It is the forward energy and longitudinal balance that allows the 180 degree turns to have lateral balance.

What are we looking for in a Level 1A & 1 PHD Horse?

RHYTHM and SUPPLENESS/RELAXATION

A Level 1/1A PHD Horse should have a steady, consistent rhythm at the walk, trot, and back up.
A Level 1/1A PHD Horse should have lateral suppleness to be able to walk and trot circles, to change bend, and to perform 180 degree turns on the haunches.
A Level 1/1A PHD Horse should have longitudinal suppleness to be able to transition up and down between a halt, walk, and trot.

What about Level 2A/2?

Level 2A: These patterns are to establish the rider’s balance and rhythm and the horse’s longitudinal and lateral balance to a point where they can (in addition to the Level 1 requirement):

  1. Lope with forward energy.
  2. Transition down from lope to trot while maintaining longitudinal balance.
  3. Transition up from a standstill, walk, or trot to a lope without losing longitudinal softness.
  4. Start to develop more lateral softness by being able to perform circles at a lope, and smaller circles at a trot, with an arc in their shoulders and hips so that the horse’s feet follow the arc of the circle.
  5. The horse will further develop their willingness to listen to the rider’s rhythm as they begin to become supple at this level.

Level 2: These patterns are to establish the rider’s balance and rhythm and the horse’s longitudinal and lateral balance to a point where they can (in addition to the Level 2A requirements):

  1. Have control over the horse’s stride length at the trot,
  2. Stop from a long trot, while maintaining longitudinal softness
  3. Back up, and then turn, 180 on the haunches without a hesitation, this requires maintaining longitudinal softness while changing the amount of lateral balance and softness required.

What are we looking for in a Level 2A & 2 PHD Horse?

RHYTHM and SUPPLENESS/RELAXATION, and Introducing CONTACT & CONNECTION

A Level 2/2A PHD Horse should have a steady, consistent rhythm at the walk, trot, lope and back up.
A Level 2/2A PHD Horse should have lateral suppleness to be able to walk, trot, and lope circles, to change bend, and to perform 180 degree turns on the haunches.
A Level 2/2A PHD Horse should have longitudinal suppleness to be able to transition up and down between a halt, walk, trot, and lope.
A Level 2/2A PHD Horse should accept the rider’s contact and connection to change between a regular jog and an extended jog.

Levels 3A through 8 continue on with this gradual progression up the training scale.

As you can clearly see, the PHD Progression starts at the bottom of the training scale, and works its way up. If you take the time to work through the PHD Patterns, you will develop your horse into a solid, well broke horse that can go on to excel in other disciplines.

Why does the PHD Progression work?

Because by working through the PHD Progression you are ensuring that a solid foundation is laid in your horse’s training-there will be no holes or skipped steps.  The PHD Progression also gradually develops the muscles in your horse’s topline, making it a great exercise program and reducing the chance of injury to your horse, because you are not asking him to perform maneuvers that he is not ready for.

Using the PHD Progression:

When I got a new horse in for training that was “broke”, the first thing I would do was ride a Level 1/1A PHD Pattern. These patterns are a great diagnostic tool, and quickly helped me determine where the holes in the horse’s training were. By riding the patterns throughout the horse’s training, I could easily see where the horse was improving, and where the horse needed work, for example, if the horse was stiff to the left, I would have trouble with circles. If the horse was ignoring my forward cues, my upward transitions would be rough, etc.

By continuing to test the horse by riding the PHD Patterns, I was a lot less likely to ignore or cover up holes-the PHD Patterns are great truth tellers!

So if you have a broke horse at home, start with Level 1A. Film the pattern and submit it in a V-Show, or send it in for Video Coaching with one of the IPHDA Professionals. Then listen to the feedback, and work on the areas where you have trouble. You will be amazed at how quickly your horse improves at other events when you use the PHD Progression to find-and fill in-the holes in your horse’s training.

So go over to the IPHDA website (www.iphda.com), download the PHD Patterns, and get to work!

You already own a PHD horse-you just need to get out there and develop it! 

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What is a Performance Horse?

What is a Performance Horse?

Is a performance horse a reiner? A cutter? A cowhorse? A roper? Is a jumper a performance horse?

Is a performance horse defined by it’s discipline? Or is a performance horse simply a horse that has a purpose, a job, that it has been trained to perform?

To me, a performance horse is a athlete that is trained to do a job, and respond lightly to the rider’s requests. (My personal opinion is that the ultimate performance horse is a reined cow horse, that can perform a reining pattern, cut a cow, and control a cow down the fence. Talk about an adrenaline rush!)

The International Performance Horse Development Association (iphda.com) rulebook states: “A performance horse is a trained athlete. All performance horse events require the rider to control their horse while they PERFORM the athletic challenges demanded by a particular sport.”

I like this definition. It doesn’t restrict the horse to a specific discipline, but rather focuses on the horse’s ability to do a job.

What do you think? What is a performance horse to you? Can you describe your ideal performance horse? What makes a performance horse a performance horse?