Updated: Mar 6, 2022
The volte is the birthplace of everything in Classical Training. As such, it is very important to execute this critical exercise properly.
It's tempting to think of the volte as simply a small circle, that we progress to after lots of big circles. How difficult is that? We all know that larger circles are easier for the horse to navigate, requiring less to balance and bend. Why not start with more straight lines and bigger circles, and then reduce them, over time, to the smaller ones as the horse becomes more flexible, right? Wrong.
A Dressage horse, like a gymnast, must work on the exercises that increase flexibility. Gymnasts do not spend hours running track. Training on straight lines. They spend hours stretching and bending. They only incorporate speed and power when the strength and flexibility is acquired. The exercises an athlete uses in their training regime are designed to build the proper musculature and flexibility for their sport. If a gymnast was to spend hours running track they would not build the right musculature. This would strengthen wrong muscles and prevent flexibility necessary for their end goals. Similarly, if we want a horse to be able to execute bends properly, they need to begin bending early in their training.
The Classical horse needs to flex and bend in many ways in order to become supple and correctly straight. The Volte is the exercise that creates the correct bend, suppleness, obedience and strength. The Volte teaches the horse to lift the shoulder and round the back. It encourages correct posture, and proper bend from poll to tail. (Not nose to tail) Executing a proper Volte is very difficult and takes time.
A Volte is a small circle 10 meters or less. The small circle is best trained at the walk. The walk. It is a calm and rhythmic exercise, like Yoga. It is required to be on two tracks. The inside hind should not cross under the horse, which compromises the exercise, allowing the horse's spine to remain straight, and throwing the haunches out of the circle. Both haunches and shoulder should remain on the track of the circle. The bend achieved is through the spine from poll to tail.
Allowing the horse to exercise the Volte at the walk trains correct posture - more upright by necessity. If the horse stretches the nose out in front the bend is incorrect - achieved in the neck only. Also, the horse's head will be tilted if the rider tries to pull the horse around the circle with the inside rein. This does not create a supple horse, but one that is bending at the neck and collapsed on the forehand. The walk in this exercise should be slow, with rhythm maintained by the rider. A fast walk will compromise the correct bend and throw the horse off the geometry. Walking slow also encourages the horse to build cadence, and keep the shoulder and haunches on track. Remember the words of the Masters 'speed is the enemy of impulsion'. Training the horse to keep a steady, slow gait is one of the keys to Classical training.
In Working Equitation there is a lot of requirement for riding a Volte. We see this in many of the obstacles with greater challenges in the advanced levels as smaller Voltes are being executed in the faster gaits. This is incredibly challenging. Speed should never be increased on a circle before flexibility and balance. This will result in strain. When a horse decides to speed up, this is because they struggle to keep in the exercise, in balance. Efforts should be to reduce the speed and increase relaxation. Only by relaxing will the horse learn to bend.
In order to train a horse to be properly flexible and balanced on the Volte we must return regularly to the exercise at the walk. This is how we develop the strength, flexibility, correctly. It also teaches the horse calmness.
When riding any Working Equitation circle, it is more important to execute the circle properly, with rhythm, balance and proper bend than to try to execute the smallest circle possible. A small Volte performed poorly only showcases poor training and an overtaxed horse. Too many times I see competitors choosing to ride too small circles at too high a speed.
When deciding how to ride circles in Working Equitation I suggest using a circle that your horse can properly bend to, in a relaxed manner, in the correct posture and without losing rhythm, cadence, balance or throwing the haunches. The drums, the figure eight and slaloms are difficult exercises that require frequent changes of bend on full, half and quarter Voltes. Horses need proper preparation for these challenges. And, in competition we should choose our path to showcase the horse's best training and ability. In this way, I encourage all riders to prepare your horse in training by using the Volte exercise frequently if not daily. Then, in competition choose the size of circle accordingly. The Judge will score for the geometry, quality of gait, rhythm, suppleness, correct bend, submission to aids, ~ all of which will fall apart when the circle is too small for the horse's ability.
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