Trevor Woodward on THROUGHNESS

We are so pleased to introduce Trevor Ibborson Woodward. Trevor is a Dressage trainer and rider who has lived his life perfecting and writing about the sport. Here, and in a recurring column bi-monthly for Flying Changes, Trevor discusses training elements of Dressage and how to incorporate them. We are so pleased to offer readers this invaluable resource.

Dear Readers, I’m presenting for you some training principles learned and applied in Denmark, Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands, accumulated over my career as a rider and trainer. These tips are principles I write I about in my books, and focus on the importance of “Throughness”. I hope you enjoy it!

“Throughness is mission control for all movements.” 

It is the determinator as to how well you do at all levels. From Training level to Grand Prix and beyond, it underpins how well you and your horse will do. Once you are on the pilgrimage to develop throughness you’ll have the knowledge and power to understanding what makes the dressage horse perform.

Throughness is what makes good horses and riders GREAT horses and riders.

Once you taste throughness it will be your benchmark for all future training and competing levels! It is a dressage narcotic you just yearn for it more and more in your endeavours to do well. Everyone knows how important it is to have your horse balanced, and this is what throughness is.

But very few riders are taught enough about it to actually achieve the goal of “throughness.” This begs the question: what is throughness? To understand and or deploy throughness it helps greatly if we understand the theory first, and why to apply training in this manner, and then we can put into operation the thinking to help us get bigger and better throughness.

1. What is throughness, exactly?

2. How do you develop it, and how does it feel?

First, let’s see what the FEI-USDF have to say concerning the definition of throughness:

The state in which the rider’s aids/influences go freely through to all parts of the horse, from back to front and front to back (e.g., the rein aids go through to reach and influence the hind legs). Prerequisites for this state are good connections and positive mental / emotional state.

Note: “Throughness” is a shortening of “throughlettingness,” the literal translation of the German term Durchlässigkeit.

THROUGHNESS VERSUS THE SCALES OF TRAINING

All of the elements of the Scales of Training are equal to Throughness on some level — the total sum of the elements of the Scales of Training is Throughness.

The training scale elements are important in providing a solid platform from which to use Throughness through to Grand Prix and beyond. The more we use the individual steps of the Training Scale, with the betterment of each element, the higher the levels of Throughness will be. 

The Scales of Training comes in three phases consisting of six elements: Rhythm, Suppleness, Contact, Impulsion, Straightness, and Collection.

The combinations of these elements then overlap one another giving us the three phases of physical advancement.

Phase One:

The Familiarization Phase: Rhythm, Suppleness, and Contact.

Phase Two:

The Forward Thrust (pushing power) Phase: Suppleness, Contact, Impulsion, and Straightness.

Phase Three:

The Carrying Capacity Phase: Contact, Impulsion, Straightness, and Collection

With ongoing improvements of Phases, balance and throughness are further refine.

ANALYTICAL TOOL

Once we understand what the phases are and how the elements overlap, we can then use a “root cause” analytical tool to start looking in the appropriate areas to overcome training issues. For example: should you have an unevenness issue, this relates to Phase One, Familiarization. Somewhere in this phase there is an issue within rhythm, suppleness, and contact.

It can be a lack of suppleness on one side of your horse creating striding that is “one short, one long” scenario. Or there may be Connection / Contact issue as in a dominant inside rein that is disengaging the inside leg.

Again this in turn will affect the Phases of 2 and 3, and overall the level of thoroughness you have achieved.

MAKE IT EASIER

“Improving throughness therefore cannot be achieved by purely focusing on throughness. But rather by improving the individual elements of the Scales of training.”

It does help to think of thoroughness as your starting point. It gives you the rideability required to further the improvements / development of each individual aspect of the Training Scale, and thoroughness as you move up.

We connect with our horse via framing between our seat, leg and hands. From this point on, the horse gives the contact back. We do this in the walk with the open, longer, deeper training frame to allow for greater freedom of the muscle groups to ease into the exercises.

To go to the competition frame is never an issue as all of our horses are trained in the basics framing aids. To bring them up, we simply close legs a little and bring the hands up in the competition rein position, and the horse’s neck and poll come up.

Going to a competition frame is never an issue with this method because you’ve trained your horse to be responsive to all of your aids so he or she reaches for the bit and will follow the connecting hand wherever you place them.

We are always told that the connection comes back to front. But what they don’t say is if you don’t have the connection of the front end working for you, you cannot possibly work 100% from the back to the front. Meaning the rein connection and the framing of the horse between seat, leg and hand is paramount to get the front connections correct initially.

THE CONNECTING AIDS

Once we get this connection and throughness in the walk the energy and work is then carried easily through to the upper levels. Be it piaffe, passage, half pass or pirouette work, it matters little as the principles are the same. Remember the “little is more” principle applies so well here… or in fact any of the upper gaits.

Once in throughness the horse gets it. And by means of the throughness they have the energy, they are in balance and self-carriage in check therefore the work is easier. Of course, this predicated upon the early training of these two basic rein aids in order to get them deep and round and to come back up. This is essential.

All of the principles are driven home in the walk work. The horse then understands, so the subsequent, more advanced work is easier. As in having all of the basics correct then the upper levels are so much easier to deploy in principle. It is a matter of having the correct leg aids, seat posture, and the understanding of passive, pro-active, and reactionary half-halts. Then you have the front end able to influence the back end to complete the connection cycle from the back to the front!

a) Inside rein flexes to the inside point the horse in the direction of the turn

b) Establish inside leg to outside rein and leg the diagonal connection

c) Introduce and ride in shoulder-fore position

d) Use the outside rein to influence and control the shoulder, lift in the back and the bend in the neck

e) Maintain a consistent, soft rein, seat and leg connection

f) Never overdoing it with your aids, if needed or they are behind the leg,

g) Go back to sensitisation and refine all of the aids.

h) Allow hands that follow or “breathe” with the horse’s mouth,

i) Try and keep equal weight in each rein so there is a connection between the left and right-hand reins.

But the caveat is for your horse to always be there, in front of the leg: then it is forward, forward, forward, sit deeper, let them swing, you let go, and let them go. To “let go” is to relax your posture and rein allowing the horse to reach for the bit / contact. Giving them the freedom to move forward into your hands, then you can deploy other aids to move you in the direction of the exercises and movements.

Then we have to work on the forwardness and energy from the back to front connection in order to make our horses start to dance!

EARLY THROUGNESS EXERCISES

The rein back is a movement where the judges can assess throughness, suppleness, and willingness. We use this as a duality exercise, by addressing the rein back with suppleness, and throughness over the back into your hands, we also introduce an early starter exercise that will pay big benefits at a later time when the progressive development of piaffe begins. We start it very early on so as to not surprise them, and to mitigate the worst enemy of all, tension / stress.

Tension and stress are our enemies and are to be avoided at all costs. For once associated with a particular movement it is very difficult to be rid of, if not impossible for some horses. Even if calmed down in their training, when they become excited or stressed at a competition there is a grave risk of old muscle memory taking over. So avoiding it in the first place is the way to go.

One exercise we teach very early on encourages the elements described above. It is the transition forward and backward (rein back) that makes the horse loose in the neck and poll to become lighter and lighter. If you do only one step, they accept the aids and they do not perceive the rein-back as a punishment, which is ordinarily a risk.

There is a caveat: you must have throughness and ultra suppleness rounded softly over the back and into correct breathing connecting hand. Then you ride slowly, but with consequent, one step forward and one back then trot off actively. 

If the horse sneaks a couple of extra strides in, don’t make a fuss. Don’t praise, regroup slowly and try again. Should they start to feel stressed, immediately take a walk rest break, and try again more slowly and or come back the next day.

But I hear you say, but why? Simply having them through and the understanding they can do it is a very early precursor exercise for piaffe as in slow motion moving forward as we do in training half steps for the piaffe.

PART OF THE BASICS

“It is imperative that we get the basics correct, as the benefits go all the way through to Prix St George.”

Concerning the basics, think more about how you use the inside rein in all endeavours especially when you are seeking improvements in throughness.

When I ride I’m ever so cognisant of not letting the inside block the swing from behind, the same for my riders. Don’t interrupt the swing or rhythm with the inside rein. Just let them swing from behind especially your use of the inside rein in all of you lateral movements, trust them they understand this better than riders do.  Turn from the outside in, not inside out…

TOP TIPS

Nevertheless, let me finish with a couple of tips.  Until next time take care and stay safe in these Covid19 times.

1) By training with the neck longer and lower, horses starts to feel more like they can do anything. Easily goes go forward or back at will. The neck now becomes an extension of the back, then you have got it over the back to let go and go forward.

2) With thoroughness, the hindleg activity might be there, but we always want a little more suppleness through their top line to be really effective, no suppleness means no performance!

3) For throughness it is the refined use of the half-halt which will soften the back allowing for more room to create and implement greater jump and lift from the hind legs.

“There is so much I could write about throughness for it is part of every aspect of dressage training and so important to get right.” 

Next time I will elaborate a little on Throughness Energy and Elasticity and how this helps the overall aspects of your riding and training. Take care, talk soon, and stay safe, so much more to come, have a great month. — Trevor

TREVOR IBBORSON WOODWARD BIO:

In 1980-1984 Trevor worked and Trained with Swiss Cavalry Officer Marcel Judd in the Olympic Disciplines of Dressage, Showjumping, and Eventing.

From 1985 -1992 she formally trained and worked the Danish Bereider 5 star International Henning Frankaert again in all the Olympic Disciplines, training and competing in Dressage and Showjumping from Training Level to FEI events with youngsters through to Grand Prix horse in dressage and Showjumping.

Since 1992 she has trained 4-year olds extensively through to Grand Prix horses from which she applies her training for clients internationally and in her home in Australia.

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