Tempo – Timing – Rushing – Labored
Dressage or Jumping –
“Tempo” means how FAST a horse is going
“Rhythm” means the type of beats (for example in dancing it’s waltz rhythm, or cha-cha rhythm). In horses we have 4 beat walks, 2 beat trots, and 3 beats in the canter (which in fact is actually 4 beats if you count the “moment of suspension” in the air).
“Regularity” is when you keep both tempo & rhythm consistently correct.
How can we MEASURE tempo?
You can measure tempo in miles or kilometers per hour, or even more precisely…beats per minute (BPM).
Too fast: When the horse “roars down the long-side” too fast, or “runs at the fences”, you will probably get the comment: “rushing”. This happens a lot in extended paces, especially canter. It’s often hollow, hard to sit and certainly the speed is not under your control
Too slow: The smaller the circle, the slower the horse. A horse has to show great energy, and a good speed, and if either is lacking you are severely marked down in dressage and showing, or just wont make the last part of the staircase for cross country, or the explosive energy to take the short option in show jumping.
Why history chose speed of the horse
Long ago it was discovered that a horse could travel about 50 miles/day and be able to repeat that, day after day, without becoming unsound (and the rider surviving as well *smile*). Certainly the horse can go faster, but can’t maintain it day after day. And, of course if they travelled slower, the enemy would catch up with you…and you wouldn’t be worried about BPM then!
Before the invention of the metronome, music composers used a words to describe both the speed and the “feeling” of how a piece of music should be played, such as:
Prestissimo – extremely fast (200 – 208 bpm)
Vivacissimo – Very fast and lively
Presto – very fast (168 – 200 bpm)
Allegrissimo – very fast
Vivo – lively and fast
Vivace – lively and fast (~140 bpm)
Allegro – fast and bright (120 – 168 bpm)
Allegro Moderato – Moderately cheerful and quick
Allegretto – moderately fast (but less so than Allegro)
Moderato – moderately (90 – 115 bpm)
Andantino – Alternatively faster or slower than Andante.
Andante – at a walking pace (76 – 108 bpm)
Adagietto – Rather slow (70-80 bpm)
Adagio – slow and stately (literally, at ease) (66 – 76 bpm)
Grave – slow and solemn
Larghetto – rather broadly (60 – 66 bpm)
Lento – very slow (60 – 40 bpm)
Largamente/Largo – “broadly”, very slow (40 bpm and below)
Walk: Long in history the walk was described as “Andante” (“a walking or marching pace”). To this day the rules still describes the walk as a “marching pace”.
Trot: was described as “Allegro” (light and lively).
Canter: was very similar to walk (“Andante” = a marching pace).
Walk around 95bpm
= clear “one-two-three-four” sound heard on hard ground
= sounds like a “clydesdale walking on concrete”
= “1-2-3-4” “1-2-3-4” “1-2-3-4”
In ancient times, armies would often have a drummer sounding out the exact time for the walk. The speed, after all these years, hasn’t really changed, even though we have much bigger horses.
It’s interesting that both the modern endurance rider, the modern competitive dressage rider and performers seem to agree on approximately the same beats per minute to be considered “ideal”. And, no matter what the size of the horse!
Trot = around 150 bpm
= clear “one-two” sound on hard ground
= sounds like a little pony pulling a cart
=”1-2″ “1-2” “1-2”
Modern dressage requires the display of several types of trot. The most collected being piaffe (pretty much on the spot at performance level), passage (the most collected of the “moving” trots), collected trot, working trot, medium trot and extended trot (the longest steps)
If you visit the remaining military schools (Cadre Noire, Spanish School of Riding in Vienna, Royal School in Jerez), most performances are done to riding music that is, in itself, quite old…in fact the music is often as old as the schools themselves.
The same word chosen hundreds of years ago to describe trot (Allegro or “light and lively) is the same speed at which we trot today.
Canter = around 98 bpm
= “one-two-three” “one-two-three” sound
= sounds like “1-2-3” “1-2-3” “1’2’3”
To be able to jump a show jump or cross country course, or to have the power to get around a pirouette, the horse has to maintain a certain speed. Too fast, or rushing, and the horse will be “flat”, and unable to jump maximum height. Too slow, they simply don’t have the energy to get over the jump, and in the worst case scenario, they will simply stop in front of the fence.
Both the top dressage and jumping coaches agree…when a canter gets down to about 94bpm they say it’s too slow, and when it gets to 105bpm they say it’s too fast. So, dressage or riding music you would needs to be exactly within that range.
Lots of websites are wrong…
I don’t normally go “out on a limb” and complain about other sites or trainers. I always have the saying “I’m not here to complain about them, I’m here to beat them!“
However, studies have been done to show exactly what tempo the top horses are riding at.
I have read several sites where the information was quite wrong. The speeds they advise simply are too slow, or too fast, or too broad a range. Or, they still have the concept of music “to suit your horse”.
This has never been correct! Just imagine the horse down the back of the military line of thousands of horses that wanted to go too fast…or too slow. No! They had to fit in the requirements of the military not just “suit yourself”!
When dressage to music free styles first came in vogue about 20 years ago, they filmed the horse and sat on the lounge-room floor for hours watching the video matching music to the horse. The problem is that the horse might be faster one day than the next, and it doesn’t train the horse to have a consistent rhythm. That’s like the ballet dancer deciding how fast Swan Lake should be played. No, the judges are the ones who have decided what speed they want the performance, and the performer has to go within that range.
Judges are more educated, the audiences are more educated, and no-one wants to pay $100 a head to go to a show to watch a horse doing the waltz when the freestyle dressage music music is square dance music! Be very careful when you see dressage free style music downloads that you are definitely following the judge’s requirements.
Extension & collection
The problem is extensions rush, and collections are slower.
So, we have to teach the horse to do longer steps with a longer frame for extension, and shorter steps that lift their legs higher for collection.
The easiest way that is measurable and correct is trot poles to music.
By riding to music, you’ve measured the tempo.
By riding over trot poles you’ve measured the distance (length of stride).
Read any pony club manual on all the walk, trot and canter trot pole lengths, and gradually increase them first, and then as the horse develops they can be shortened. TO THE SAME RIDING/DRESSAGE MUSIC!
Be careful never to put trot poles too close together, as that’s too dangerous – and remember that every book I’ve read says that poles should be “pinned” or “secured” to the ground.
Want to know more – free riding music
Have a look at this marvellous grouping of work, and you will learn all about walk, trot and canter rhythms, rushing, labored, collection, extension, in fact all you’ll need to know on how to ride, teach, and improve rhythm, tempo, timing, cadence…this work is brilliant!
Have a look: more >