Maîtrise des Allures (MA) / Control of Paces (CoP) – what is it?
This phase is intended to show you can maintain a calm slow canter along a given path, and then return in a quick walk. This demonstrates you can control your horse in open country, but can also cover the ground at walk so that your trail ride moves on briskly. A nice steady canter will achieve points, but many horses and ponies find it much more difficult to attain a good score on the walk. You can score up to 30 points for your canter, and 30 for your walk, so a total of 60 points overall.
This phase will usually be a reasonably level, straight line course, of up to 150m, usually 2m to 2.2m wide. This is dependent on the ground available, as there may not be room for the full 150m and it may also be on a curve or slightly uphill/downhill. At some events, the route marked may be wider and shorter for Levels 1 and 2, than for Levels 3 and 4 and at arena winter events it is usually 50m – 75m. Points are awarded on a graded scale according to the speed you travel at between two markers. You’ll find a table of speeds in the TREC Rulebook on www.trecgb.com, for a variety of distances up to the maximum 150m, which will show you the corresponding number of points achieved.
In this phase consistency of pace is important. If you break pace, even for one stride, you’ll get no MA/ CoP points for the pace that you have faulted on, so it’s important to maintain canter and then walk for the whole distance. Be aware that you should ride the pace from several strides before the start markers to several strides after the finish markers. Many people have made a lovely job of the CoP, but have anticipated the finish and therefore so have their horses. Breaking a fraction before the finish line still scores zero, so don’t let that happen to you.
Timing may be done by stopwatch or electronic timing equipment, depending on what facilities are available to the organiser. The time is taken when the horse’s chest/shoulder passes the markers. The corridor you have to ride along may be marked with sawdust, paint or space markers. Avoid stepping on or over the line of the outside of the path, as this will also result in a zero score.
You will be allowed three attempts to enter the corridor. Judges will be stationed along the corridor to verify whether or not you remain in the correct pace.
If you fall during either stage will mean you score zero for that stage only, and does not necessarily mean elimination unless officials consider the rider or horse are unfit to continue.
Maîtrise des Allures (MA) / Control of Paces (CoP) – how can you improve?
Working on this phase can give you the equivalent of one or even more extra obstacles on the PTV, so it’s worth persevering. You can score up to 30 points for your canter, and 30 for your walk, so a total of 60 points overall. A calm balanced canter, especially on a curve, will mean a good opportunity to pick up the full 30 points, however for many horses their natural walk would only score around 6 points.
It’s as important to walk the CoP course as it is to walk the PTV. If you only glance over at the location of the CoP, you may miss a slight decline or a softer patch of ground which could unbalance your horse. Walk the whole course, and visualise riding along it. Be aware of what might be in the sight line of the horse, which might cause it to go faster, or cause it to spook and stop. I saw one CoP on a curve which had a steeplechase fence just off the curve, many horses speeded up as they anticipated they might be asked to jump. And many of you have already met the infamous Urswick Killer Sheep. In this phase consistency of pace is important and you’ll score zero if you break pace even for one stride. Choose a point several strides before the start and make sure you’re in your pace there, then ride to a point several strides beyond the finish. It will make a big difference to your overall score if you’re organised well before the start line, and it’s heartbreaking to see someone break a fraction before the finish as they’ve relaxed too early – ride on and through the finish positively.
Your overall aim should be to work with your horse to improve control, balance and harmony. I remember teaching a CoP session which included another instructor who was new to TREC who said 'ah, it's fun dressage!', but don’t be put off by hearing that word, dressage simply means training, and it can be fun. To improve your CoP scores, you will need to do a bit of training. It won't happen by magic but it will FEEL like magic when you achieve a better partnership with your horse.
You don't need an arena to improve your scores either so try some of the following exercises and see how you get on.
Find somewhere to measure out 150m. If you've got that straight, on grass, yippie, but one and a half times round a standard 40m x 20m arena will do. You don’t have to have a schooling area; you can mark it out on a track on one of your hacking routes. You may have a couple of trees which are conveniently 150m apart, or find a couple of other landmarks you could use. A discreet ribbon on a fence post to mark the start, going towards an obvious landmark, would also work. That means you can find out your current time to canter and walk for that distance, and you'll have a starting point to compare in a few months. You will need a friend to help you time the canter accurately, but it’s easy to time your walk yourself.
However, as many of us find riding time is spent alone, there is another way to gauge how your pace is improving. You can measure the number of strides your horse takes between two points – make this a shorter distance, around 30m or 40m is ideal. The actual distance is not important because you’re going to use two obvious markers and count the number of strides your horse takes, and then see if you can alter the number of strides between those same two markers. This could be along the long side of a school, between two large fence posts, or between another two convenient trees. For canter you want to encourage the horse to take more steps and for walk, fewer steps.
So we’ve worked out the distance, and a way of measuring our paces without and without a stopwatch, but how do we improve our horse’s canter, or actually change the number of strides they take between two points? In a nutshell, circles and transitions. There are lots of schooling exercises you can do to improve your horse’s paces, and the help of a qualified instructor will help, but if you work on circles and transitions, you will see an improvement. Start by riding a large circle, and concentrating on maintaining a steady canter round the circle at least once. Once you can do that, see whether you can do two, three, four or even more circles maintaining the same steady canter. That will also improve your fitness and your horse’s fitness! Once you can do a couple of circles consistently then start to ride smaller circles too, maintaining the canter and in the same rhythm – moving from a 20m diameter, down to 18m, 15m or even 12m once you and your horse are really connected. Do remember however that the smaller the circle, the harder work it is for the horse. Aim to maintain the canter with your inside leg, and control the size of the circle with your outside leg and hand. Work on both reins – you’ll probably find you make more progress on one rein than the other, but it’s important to do work evenly in each direction.
As you ride, introduce transitions/changes of pace. This can be done on a circle by changing up and down the gears on each half of the circle. You can go from walk to trot, trot to canter, and back down again, but also try some direct transitions from halt to trot, walk to canter, canter to walk, and also changes within in the pace, so a bigger trot to a smaller trot back to a bigger trot. Remember your inside leg needs to do some work to maintain the energy when you are slowing a pace down, and if you want your horse to take longer steps then think about what signal you are giving the horse that will allow him to understand what you are asking. It’s the downwards transitions which help your horse learn to lighten his forehand.
This is a great way of making a routine hack more interesting, if you start introducing transitions along that track, field or road. Make a plan for your hack – don’t just trot till you’re tired and want a break, as that will make your horse’s pace deteriorate, rather think of varying the pace and riding transitions.
Introducing a little bit of leg yield either on a circle or on a straight line is another good way of loosening off your horse and allowing his inside leg to step under more and support him in the canter. If you’ve not done it before, ask a friend who has. However just moving from one side of a track to the other then back again as you trot along will be helpful, as long as you keep your horse’s body parallel to the side of the track. See if you can move him sideways and forwards at the same time, without increasing the speed at which you’re travelling.
The quality and balance of the canter isn’t marked, nor which canter lead you are on, nor whether you change leads in the middle of the stage, but it is essential to keep cantering. Practise maintaining canter on both leads at home. If you keep enough energy, when your horse is considering breaking to trot, it might just do a flying change instead.
This is much harder to change than the canter, but it is possible. Next time you’re on a hack, find that real ‘going home for lunch’ march as that’s the walk you want when you’re at a competition (both on the POR and on the MA/CoP).
The horse’s footfalls are left hind, left fore, right hind, right fore so we want to give weight aids with alternate legs to maximise the walk. If you’re not sure when to push on which side, take your feet out of your stirrups and allow the horse to swing you. You’ll soon feel the side to side motion and if you then encourage the horse to take longer steps by pushing on that side as his hind leg comes through, you’ll see
For most of us, we’re looking for a walk which would give us a good mark at Prelim Dressage for ‘free walk on a long rein’ so a nice active walk on a contact with long flowing steps. However, experiment to see what suits your horse best. You may find he goes forward more actively if you have a slightly shorter rein, or if your horse is buzzy like mine, you may find that holding the rein on the buckle will give you a relaxed and forward walk, and therefore a faster time than if you have to hold a contact to stop your horse from trotting. If your horse always breaks into trot when you ask him to take longer steps, check whether you are really giving him a different aid for longer strides or are simply asking him to go faster. A good tip can be taking your feet out of the stirrups when you want your horse just to walk, and that relaxation can help keep his back soft and keep him in walk.
Be careful – the judges are looking for any ‘diagonalisation’ which would show the horse has moved from a true walk into a jog, so that four time beat is really important.
With a little bit of thought, you could squeeze a few more points out of your Control of Paces phase, and that will help your overall score for the entire competition. Good luck and have fun!
Thanks to Rhoda McVey for this article & photos