Elements of Dressage - Kurd Albrecht von Ziegner - ebook

Elements of Dressage ebook

Kurd Albrecht von Ziegner



K. A. von Ziegner has developed an indispensable training tool for dressage, eventing and jumping. This book was developed to help riders, trainers and judges understand what it takes to classically train a horse so it can succeed in any discipline. Here, he presents the "Training Tree", a concept that is compelling, and easy to understand. It outlines the ten essential elements of classical basic training and shows how the elements are related and in what order they should be achieved. The author clearly explains how trainers and riders can apply dressage work gently and logically, in order to develop a solid foundation in any horse, mentally as well as physically. This book will assist trainers and riders in teaching a horse to be sound, confident, and well prepared for work and competition at the advanced levels.

Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:

czytnikach certyfikowanych
przez Legimi

Liczba stron: 206

Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostepny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacjach Legimi na:


Elements of Dressage


A Guide for Training the Young Horse

Kurd Albrecht von Ziegner


Col. K. A. von Ziegner is known in the equestrian world mainly as a successful trainer. He created both the compelling concept of the “Training Tree” and the Prix St. James, which combines the most important basic dressage requirements with the Prix St. Georges.

The Colonel started his equestrian career as an officer in the German cavalry in 1939. After World War II he became a Licensed Riding Teacher and worked for ten years as Chief Instructor at the University Riding school at Tübingen. During this time, he had many successes in national and international dressage, eventing and jumping competitions at advanced level, eventually being awarded the German Riding Badge in Gold.

In 1956 Col. K. A. von Ziegner was reactivated by the Bundeswehr and became a Commanding Officer of German NATO Forces. Afterwards he was posted for four years to serve as the Chief Instructor at the Turkish Cavalry School in Istanbul, which he reorganized along the lines of the famous German Cavalry School in Hanover.

Since 1971, together with his wife Elisabeth and his son Botho, he has managed a private riding school at Mechtersen near Hamburg. The school also serves as a training centre for the Eventing Division of the German Rider and Driver Association, which he has presided over for more than ten years. Since 1980, Colonel von Ziegner has held dressage clinics and seminars in many countries, mainly in the United States up to Grand Prix.

He has frequently written articles for the German equestrian press, collaborating on the book Deutsche Reitlehre (Principles of Riding) and became an editor of several editions of Müseler´s Riding Logic. In 1995 he published the concept of the “Training Tree” with his first book in the English language, The Basics.

Copyright of original edition © 2002 by Cadmos Verlag2nd edition 2016

This edition © 2002 by Cadmos EquestrianDesign by Ravenstein + Partner with a photo of Bruno Baumann

All rights reserved. Copying or storage in electronic media is permitted only with the prior written permission of the publisher.Printed in Germany

ISBN Print: 978-0-85788-181-6

ISBN EPUB: 978-3-8404-6922-0




The Unalterable Principles

The Training Tree


Element 1


Element 2


Element 3


Element 4

On the Aids

Element 5


Element 6


Element 7


Element 8


Element 9


Element 10

Reflections on School Figures

Reflections on School Movements

The Hangbahn (The Indined Riding Arena)


The Prix St. James Test

Lateral Movements

The Flying Change of Lead

To my wife Elisabeth,who tolerated my absence twice a year.

To my children and grandchildren,of whom I am proud.

To my horses, who taught me.


Col. K. Albrecht von Ziegner was not known to me until he attended one of the Training and Teaching Seminars which were held at Tristan Oaks each summer under the auspices of the United States Dressage Federation Welcomed as an observer, he watched a whole day of teaching sessions. During this time a green horse was causing some trouble for his rider. At the end of the day Col. von Ziegner asked permission to ride the horse. Permission was granted, he mounted and walked away on the soft rein. The horse became relaxed and perceptive to the aids. Moving into the trot he presented a very nice movement. As seeing is believing, I wanted the opportunity to learn more about this person. During a lengthy conversation I learned that our ideas about training corresponded closely. I was impressed with his classical methods and his compassion for the horse.

My association with Col. von Ziegner in the years that followed our first meeting has always been in a clinic situation. His approach to rider problems was helpful, and the results proved beneficial for both the rider and the horse. It was enlightening to see the ease with which the corrections were made.

Two helpful ideas were introduced by Col. von Ziegner to our riders. First was the diagram of the Training Tree, which showed schematically the correct steps in the development of the horse, and which also show the time element necessary for the learning process. Col. von Ziegner insists that a correctly trained horse should be able to perform the high-level and the low-level work equally well. The second idea was the Prix St. James test, which he developed to this end, which is now used in competitions in the areas where he has done a good deal of work with both riders and horses.

During the years I have observed Col. von Ziegner´s work in the United States and learned more about his equestrian philosophy, I have gained respect for his ability to direct his students towards the correct understanding of what dressage training should mean to them. This book will spread his teachings throughout the country and will, I believe, contribute greatly to the education of our dressage riders.

Violet HopkinsTristan OaksWhite Lake, Michigan, † 2002


Everyone knows that dressage is not teaching tricks to the horse to be shown in the ring. Dressage is the mental and physical training that aims for the full harmony between rider and horse. Though it is fascinating, dressage is primarily hard work, demanding self-discipline and fairness towards the horse.

The Elements of Dressage and the Training Tree are not a “new school”. What I have in mind is to help trainers and riders better to comprehend the German way of training a horse, which emphasizes the importance of a solid foundation. It is the systematic elements of basic training that enable the horse later to be successful in international competitions.

The German approach, which is practised in most countries, is not a new school either, as it is an outgrowth of the Classical School developed by the old masters. It has been published in Deutsche Reitlehre, the official handbook for German instructors, and it has been translated into English as The Principles of Riding and Advanced Techniques of Riding.

The Elements of Dressage is meant to be a complement to these standard German manuals. However, there are some important distinctions. The concept of the Training Tree was developed out of over 50 years of my experience training horses and riders. In that time I became convinced that certain aspects of the German Training Scale need to be thought about in a different way and revised in some aspects. When the German Training Scale was conceived I both contributed to and endorsed it. A lifetime of work and reflection resulted in the Training Tree, first published in „The Basics“ in the United States.

The Training Tree is meant to simplify and clarify the complex issue of training. It should give the reader the right perspective on training as well as answer the following questions:

• What are the essential elements of dressage?

• How do we achieve these elements?

• In what order do we develop these elements in training?

• What is the purpose of the movements and school figures?

• When are these movements useful? When are they harmful or even damaging?

• How do we introduce these movements to the horse?

The Elements of Dressage will help clarify misconceptions in training a horse. In addition to the above-mentioned standard manuals, it is a guide for everyone who wants to train a young horse up to the higher levels in dressage as well as jumping or eventing.

The procedure may take time, but in basic training, the longer way is actually the shorter one, as the horse's well-being is prerequisite and the key to success.


”The horse is God's gift to mankind."(A rabian Proverb)

When you set out to build a house, you certainly would start with a solid foundation. The importance of such a solid base for your structure will increase with each storey you add.

When planting a tree from which you expect to harvest tasty and healthy fruits, you prune it down in its early years to make the trunk strong, stable and long-lived.

These are the images you should have in mind when training a young horse. Since you want your horse to stay in lasting good health, you need a solid foundation that enables your horse to perform successfully when matured. You must proceed with care, developing the mental and physical abilities of your horse systematically in a natural way.

Sounds logical? After all, there is no sense in having a 12-year-old child doing the same things adults are supposed to do. Agreed?

There are several stages a horse has to pass through before it starts with serious training. During the first six months of its life, the foal is well cared for by its mare. In addition, the breeder does his or her best to accustom the foal to humans. The next stage is kindergarten, where the yearling receives special care since there are new experiences and challenges, many of them potentially harmful.

A young horse spends the first three and a half years of its life among its comrades. The breeder has worked hard to produce an animal with excellent physical constitution and by this time, the green horse should be well on its way to domestication. It should be familiar with a lead rope, being tied, a bridle, a saddle, a lunge line, a trailer, and, of course, the farrier. A young horse that is sound and self-confident is ready for the next step – its training.

Fig. 1

Now it is up to you, the trainer to take on this job. What a great feeling and challenge! But are you sure you know how to go about it? Let us talk about it first.

You are a knowledgeable horseperson and you have seen a lot of horses trained by good, not so good, and sometimes even bad trainers. You want to be a good trainer.

Let's assume your horse is a three-and-a-half-year old warmblood gelding. At this age the young horse is similar to a ten-year-old child and is expected to grow up to one more hand in height. Your horse might look big, strong and ready to go, but his bones, joints and ligaments are not yet fully developed. Improper handling (the first danger being the lunge line) can result in serious damage.

With constant care, you start establishing a close relationship with your young horse. He will learn how to behave and how to deal with the new environment you have brought him into. He will learn to understand you just by the sound of your voice and your hand movements. He will also become well aware of the carrot in your pocket. He will learn to distinguish when your voice indicates that you want him to come (your offering hand, Fig. 1), from when your voice indicates that you want him to go (your hand raising the stick).

Before long, your horse will learn to accept your authority just has he respects the leader of the herd. Some people do not understand this and confuse the horse rather than gain his confidence. Once the horse has found out that he is superior in strength (or intelligence), he may cause problems whenever he feels like it – a serious setback in training. Do not handle your horse like a pet dog or a person. Handle him like a horse. Study his character and mind. Horses are always horses. They think like horses and they act like horses.

Their original community is the herd. Their defence is flight. If they are afraid or spooky, it is because they are horses! Forgive them as they will forgive you.

Horses do not have a lot of brains, but they are not stupid. They just do not think the way humans think. Their actions are instant and spontaneous, not a result of various logical considerations.

Horses have amazing instincts and are capable of great sensitivity, beyond the human imagination. They can feel an earthquake hours in advance. They also have excellent memory. They do not forget frightening experiences. Instincts coupled with memory may explain why a frightened, nervous horse cannot be calmed down as quickly as one would wish. This aspect of a horse´s nature must always be of primary consideration, and must always be handled with a great deal of patience.

But it is not only the bad experiences they remember. Horses don't forget good experiences, either. For example, horses can always find their way back to the stable.

Horses are born good-natured. Bad characters are developed through human failures in training. A horse easily adopts bad manners if the human responsible for him is not consistent with the following of rules for handling horses.

The horse must trust you. Do not expect love. The more you understand your horse – his personality as well as his problems – the easier it will be to achieve friendship and collaboration.

Always aim for a partnership with your horse by creating harmony, confidence, and willingness. Always be honest and fair towards your horse. Never overreact! Discipline yourself before you discipline your horse.

When you ask your horse for a response, always use proper execution of the request. When the horse responds as expected, tell him he is a good boy. Never ask for more than the horse is able to give, for this may damage his confidence. Remember, we don't ask for perfection, we strive to it.

Sometimes it is wiser to give in a little in order to gain a lot. But if there is no other choice than breaking serious resistance by force in order to avoid disaster, you must be sure to master the situation. Otherwise, you´d better leave it up to a more effective and courageous rider.

Remember, the horse is stronger than you. Once he finds out that resistance may be a way to evade your control or even frighten you, you have lost a good part of your authority. You must convince the horse to co-operate. The horse must understand what you expect him to do. It´s easier to handle one pound of brain than a thousand pounds of horsepower.

Before starting serious training, take time to reflect on your goal and the way to achieve it. The goal has not changed since the days of the French master François Robichon de la Guérinière (1688–1751), who wrote:

The aim of this noble and useful art is solely to make the horse supple, relaxed, flexible, compliant, and obedient – and to lower the quarters, without all of which a horse whether he be meant for military service [eventing], hunting [jumping], or dressage will neither be comfortable in his movements nor pleasurable to ride.

The method has not changed either. It is the procedure of training that follows the principles of classical dressage, which according to the FEI, is:

the harmonious development of the physique and ability of the horse … which makes the horse calm … supple … confident, attentive, and keen, thus achieving perfect understanding with his rider … The horse thus gives the impression of doing of his own accord what is required of him. Confident and attentive he submits generously to the control of his rider.

Both definitions mention the essentials of classical dressage that one must deal with not only in the upper levels, but especially in basic training. There is no other way but honest work – no alternative, no modern or old- fashioned way, there is only the right way or the wrong way. The principles of classical dressage are unalterable. It is impossible to change these principles, for they are the foundation of equestrian sport. We must strive to understand and practise these principles correctly at all times.

Fig. 2

Fig. 3

Fig. 4

Fig. 5

The basic training, which is an all-around and comprehensive training, takes about two years. In the first year the horse learns to handle the rider's weight. He learns to move in a relaxed and rhythmic way, maintaining a steady contact with the rider´s hands. He learns to respond to the aids from the seat, legs and hands. Once the horse is on the aids, he can be worked towards First Level. Besides the flatwork, the horse should also be introduced to cross-country work, with small fences, ditches and water.

At the end of the first year, the horse should be confident with his rider. He should be familiar with hacking cross-country as well as in traffic. He should also be able to perform a First Level test as well as a clear round over small stadium fences in an adequate style.

Dressage prospects need only enough jumping to provide variation of the routine (Figs. 2–5).

In the second year the horse is on the way to the Second Level. Confirming the First Level movements, the trainer will improve the horse's straightness and start developing the carrying power of the quarters. Without straightness and strength in the hindquarters, Schwung cannot be achieved. At the end of the second year the horse should be ready for Second Level tests and confident with all kinds of small jumps.

After these two years of basic training the horse will be approaching six years of age and will be almost fully grown with his muscles well developed. If the horse reaches this level through the harmonious development of his physique and mental abilities so that he “gives the impression of doing of his own accord what is required of him”, the trainer certainly has done an excellent job.

At this point the horse is a pleasure to ride. He is on the aids and thus ready for special training, which will allow the adult horse to excel in the discipline for which he has the most talent. Solid basic training is the best preparation for specialization in higher levels of dressage, eventing or jumping. This all-around work is the best way to ensure that a horse will be mentally and physically sound and willing to perform well into his older years.

One must always pay attention that it should be the horse who is doing the work. It must not be allowed that the rider puts in a lot of effort while the horse conserves itself.

The natural forward movement of the horse is a worthy possession that one cannot afford to sacrifice. When that gets lost, look for the cause. It often lies in insufficient well-being or expecting too much too soon.

Whenever one sees a horse perform unwillingly, with tension and resistance, one can be quite sure it is because of a lack of proper basic training. Such horses cannot move freely, lightly or balanced like they could before they entered training because of stiffness, crookedness and pain. They have been forced to work on levels for which they actually weren't ready. Unfortunately, we see quite a few riders presenting themselves this way at shows, especially at the higher levels, perhaps hoping for a kind judge. Their horses have been drilled in higher level movements, but in doing so have also lost their natural freedom, lightness and brilliance. Such presentations are ridiculous and most certainly have nothing in common with classical dressage!

Bad pictures in jumping also result from bad basic training on the flat. Horses not properly “on the aids”, unbalanced, and stiff do not allow the rider to present himself in an attractive manner.

The only way to correct this is by returning to lower-level requirements, to reestablish regularity, balance and suppleness, elements of the basic training, the essentials that must dominate to achieve any kind of harmony between horse and rider.

In my opinion the only way to avoid this deviation from the classical principles is a qualification system as practised in Germany. This system would not allow a horse/rider pair to compete at a higher level until they have proven themselves successful at the previous level.

The basic rules of training have remained unchanged since the time of Xenophon. To touch them would be to wander onto dangerous territory.

Unfortunately, there are deviations in the practical handling of the pure art of training. These are for singular cases and should be seen as such. These ways should never be accepted as “new methods in training”.


“A good rider with an average horse achieves more thanan average rider with a good horse.”

We know that basic training is an all-around prerequisite to the three equestrian disciplines: dressage, cross country, and jumping. This way, the young horse will develop at his best, mentally as well as physically. After two years in basic training, he can proceed to special training and excel in the discipline for which he has the most talent.

We also know that in basic training, in addition to the work on the flat, gymnastics with cavalletti and work over small fences can help develop muscles and elasticity. Both gymnastics and education are essentially what dressage is all about.

There are ten elements of education that dovetail with each other and are the keys to dressage. Everyone has heard of “Schwung”, straightening, rhythm and relaxation. But how do they develop, and in which order? A good trainer knows how to put these elements together, both in groups and in a logical order.

For a better understanding take a look at the Training Tree (Fig. 6).

This image should give you an understanding of the progressive steps in your training. The trunk is composed of ten elements, which must be developed in sequence during the two years of basic training of the young horse. These elements, carefully built upon one another, create a solid tree trunk that can support a beautiful crown of branches.

The beauty of the crown is the result of special training, based on this solid, sound trunk. The fruits are a great jumper, a successful eventer, or a breathtaking dressage horse.

Fig. 6

The ten elements of the Training tree are the following (in alphabetical order):




Durchlässigkeit (often translated as suppleness)

Freedom (of the gaits)

On the Aids



Schwung (often translated as impulsion)


In what sequence would you place these ten elements? For the correct answer, read on, but first try to find your own answer. First consider what each of these elements mean.

• Balance is the relative distribution of the weight of horse and rider upon the left and right reins (lateral balance) and the fore and hind legs (longitudinal balance).

• Collection is the state in which the horse is gathered together. The hindquarters carry more weight, the forehand becomes lighter, and the horse becomes more elevated in the withers and neck.

• Contact is the acceptance of the bit.

• Durchlässigkeit, a German term which is often translated as suppleness, though it is much more than looseness in the horse's body. Durchlässigkeit is the “quality in a horse that permits the aids (primarily the rein aids) to go through and reach and influence the hind legs”. We can also consider the definition given for suppleness, which is “the physical ability of the horse to shift the point of equilibrium smoothly forwards and back as well as laterally without stiffness or resistance. Suppleness is manifested by the horse´s fluid response to the rider's restraining and positioning aids of the rein and to the driving aids of the leg and seat. Suppleness is best judged in transitions.” (USDF Rule Book). Another definition reads: Suppleness is “pliability, showing ability to smoothly adjust the carriage (longitudinal) and the position or bend (lateral) without impairment of the flow of movement, or of the balance” (USDF Glossary of Judging Terms).

• Freedom of the gaits is the reach and scope and lack of constriction in the movement of the fore and hind limbs. A horse that has freedom of gaits exhibits a desire to move forwards with natural ease.

• On the Aids is the state of a horse that has learned to respond to the directions from the rider's seat, legs and hands.

• Regularity is the correctness of the gait, including purity, evenness and levelness.

• Relaxation is the absence of tension in the horse's body and mind.

• Schwung is another German term that is often translated as impulsion. Schwung is “the powerful thrust emanating from the hindquarters propelling the horse forward and traveling through an elastic swinging back and relaxed neck” (USDF Glossary of Judging Terms, 1990).

• Straightness