Col­lec­tion with THROUGH­NESS and FOR­WARD DE­SIRE

An in­ter­na­tional trainer and com­peti­tor ex­plains the process be­hind find­ing perfect col­lec­tion.

Dressage Today - - The Clinic - By Scott Hassler with Beth Baumert Photos by Amy K. Dra­goo

Learn­ing to de­velop col­lec­tion is one of the most im­por­tant as­pects of horse and rider ed­u­ca­tion. Col­lec­tion can be poorly pro­duced un­less both horse and rider un­der­stand the prin­ci­ples of what it should achieve. In defin­ing “col­lec­tion,” I like to use the word “com­pres­sion” be­cause when you com­press some­thing such as a spring, it wants to push back. If you take a spring that’s 12 inches long and you com­press it 1 inch, it wants to push back that 1 inch. If you think of col­lec­tion as “fluid com­pres­sion that wants to push back,” you’re ahead of the game, so don’t lose that con­cept!

What is Perfect Col­lec­tion?

I of­ten com­pli­ment a rider whose horse is can­ter­ing with ex­pres­sion, but then when I ask that rider to show me how she col­lects the can­ter, the qual­ity is of­ten lost. The bot­tom

line is that col­lec­tion should make the horse more beau­ti­ful than he was be­fore­hand, not less beau­ti­ful. If the horse loses the ex­pres­sion, the el­e­va­tion, the beau­ti­ful con­tact, the en­ergy, the flu­id­ity of the gait or the way his legs are an­i­mat­ing, we can’t be sat­is­fied that we’ve achieved col­lec­tion.

As you ask for a de­gree of col­lec­tion, you should feel a grad­ual yet en­er­getic coil­ing, and for ev­ery de­gree of ground cov­er­age that is re­duced in col­lec­tion, your horse should come up that much higher. His in­cli­na­tion from the be­gin­ning should be to lower the croup and lift in the shoul­ders. Pe­riod. Your horse should un­der­stand that clearly.

Then later, when you’re ask­ing for higher col­lec­tion in, for ex­am­ple, the prepa­ra­tion for a pirou­ette in the Prix St. Ge­orges, your horse knows to com­press or col­lect him­self and the croup be­comes lower and the shoul­ders higher. When you’re go­ing from an ex­tended can­ter to a col­lected can­ter, he still has that con­cept that the croup is low­er­ing and the fore­hand is ris­ing.

Col­lec­tion re­quires an in­cred­i­ble abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate with the horse’s body. You must be able to show the horse how to col­lect flu­idly with­out run­ning through you, drop­ping be­hind the leg or fall­ing left or right. These re­sis­tances are of­ten sim­ply a lack of un­der­stand­ing in the horse. Here are the ex­er­cises I use to help my horses un­der­stand col­lec­tion.

Col­lect­ing the Can­ter

Can­ter is a very nat­u­ral gait from which to learn col­lec­tion be­cause the horse can in­nately can­ter very fast or al­most in place. Trot­ting is dif­fer­ent, more ar­ti­fi­cial and usu­ally more dif­fi­cult, so let’s

start in can­ter.

I teach col­lected can­ter in two ways. I start some horses with Ex­er­cise 1, “School­ing through the Num­bers,” and some with Ex­er­cise 2, “Chang­ing the Bal­ance Rapidly.” How­ever, even­tu­ally, your horse needs to un­der­stand both.

Ex­er­cise 1: School­ing through the Num­bers

In this ex­er­cise, I ask my horse for col­lec­tion very grad­u­ally, think­ing about the rhythm and the speed—or ground cov­er­age—of the can­ter. For pur­poses of il­lus­tra­tion, we might con­sider that the speed of a qual­ity work­ing can­ter is 15 mph, the Third Level col­lected can­ter might be 12 mph and the FEI col­lected can­ter of the Prix St. Ge­orges might be 10 mph. Fi­nally, the highly col­lected can­ter in a pirou­ette is only 1 mph.

How do we get from 15 mph to 12 to 10 and fi­nally from 10 to 1? Try this ex­er­cise to coach your horse to qual­ity col­lec­tion.

For the Horse Just Learn­ing Col­lec­tion: Step 1: Start in your work­ing can­ter at 15 mph. Within the rhythm of can­ter, go to 14 mph. That slight re­duc­tion in ground cover should trans­late into more an­i­ma­tion. The rhythm shouldn’t get choppy, slow or tense. The con­tact should re­main the same. Con­firm the qual­ity and com­fort of each step and when 14 mph feels good, try 13 and then 12. When 12 is com­fort­able and beau­ti­ful, try 11 and then 10, which is ap­prox­i­mately a Prix St. Ge­orges can­ter.

Step 2: Slowly—one step at a time—go from your 10-mph col­lected can­ter to 11 and grad­u­ally back to your 15-mph work­ing can­ter.

For the Ed­u­cated Horse:

Step 1: The Prix St. Ge­orges horse has a col­lected can­ter that might be about 10 mph. Ask for a 9, and if that 9 feels com­fort­able for a few strides, you can go to 8, and if 8 feels sup­ple and you’ve re­tained the beauty of it, then try for a 7. Make seven com­fort­able and then go to 6. Make 6 com­fort­able and go to 5, and so on.

Step 2: Next, work your way back up to 10, one step at a time.

What he should learn: Your horse should have the ex­pe­ri­ence, the feel and the un­der­stand­ing of grad­u­ally uti­liz­ing the rhythm to coil, lower the croup, lift his shoul­ders and shift his bal­ance.

Be­cause the ex­er­cise is so grad­ual in na­ture, it has the ad­van­tage of build­ing con­fi­dence as well as un­der­stand­ing. This method is ideal for nervous and sen­si­tive horses. But later you will have to ma­ture the process so you can go through the num­bers much more rapidly with­out los­ing any of those pos­i­tive qual­i­ties. That nervous, sen­si­tive horse will even­tu­ally need to un­der­stand Ex­er­cise 2: “Chang­ing the Bal­ance Rapidly.”

What you should learn: The rider who asks for col­lec­tion this grad­u­ally has the ten­dency to use the aids more ap­pro­pri­ately and rhyth­mi­cally than the rider who is try­ing to make a sud­den change and might be in­clined to grip and hold.

Ul­ti­mately, how­ever, the goal isn’t just to get through the num­bers grad­u­ally; you must teach the horse how to shift his bal­ance promptly, again with- out los­ing flu­id­ity in the back or any of the other ba­sic qual­i­ties. The power and com­pres­sion shouldn’t get choppy, he shouldn’t lose his bal­ance, he shouldn’t feel any ten­sion in his ears or in his tail. He shouldn’t feel dif­fer­ent in the con­tact. You’ll learn how to meet the needs of your horse whether he is lazy or hot.

Ex­er­cise 2: Chang­ing the Bal­ance Rapidly

With a lazier horse, you’ll want to make a change of bal­ance more rapidly to add some en­ergy and in­spi­ra­tion to him and then do it more flu­idly later. With this lazier horse, you want the rapid change of bal­ance to say, “Come on! Wake up and do it now!” Then, after your horse is awake, you go back to Ex­er­cise 1—go­ing through the num­bers with flu­id­ity and get­ting the beauty of it. With the sen­si­tive horse, after you grad­u­ally go through the num­bers, he must learn to do it quickly be­cause, in fact, a rapid change of bal­ance is of­ten needed. All horses need to do it both ways. You want to do it flu­idly with rhythm and com­fort and you want to do it rapidly to get a com­plete bal­ance shift.

Where do you do your ex­er­cises? In do­ing your ex­er­cises, fig­ure out what lines and pat­terns are best for your par­tic­u­lar horse. It may be on a straight line or a bent line. Does your horse do bet­ter on:

• a 20-me­ter cir­cle? • a short di­ag­o­nal? • a long side? • in counter can­ter? We don’t talk enough about col­lect­ing the can­ter with counter flex­ion. Some horses col­lect more eas­ily that way, per­haps be­cause the weight of the horse’s head and neck are no longer on the in­side shoul­der so it’s lighter and freer and can come off the ground more eas­ily. Also, the horse is more eas­ily aligned and the rider’s in­side rein isn’t block­ing, which al­lows the in­side hind leg to jump through in­stead of into a hold­ing in­side rein. For these rea­sons, ex­plore counter flex­ion, but then you will need to go back to the true prin­ci­ples with true po­si­tion­ing. Ex­plore how best to get col­lec­tion beau­ti­fully in can­ter.

Col­lect­ing the Trot

To me, col­lec­tion in the trot has a very dif­fer­ent feel. The prin­ci­ples of what we want to achieve in col­lec­tion are the same, but the way in which you cre­ate it is very dif­fer­ent. In the trot, we must be very care­ful not to mud­dle the clar­ity of the rhythm and tempo of the very de­fined col­lected, medium and ex­tended trots and the very clear pi­affe and pas­sage. These gears must be well es­tab­lished and un­der­stood by the horse. The col­lected trot, for ex­am­ple, can’t be­come pas­sagey. So go­ing “through the num­bers” is an un­nat­u­ral ex­er­cise in trot and it can con­fuse horses. The horse should know his per­for­mance trot with what­ever de­gree of col­lec­tion is ap­pro­pri­ate.

For ex­am­ple, the Third Level horse will have a dif­fer­ent de­gree of col­lec­tion from that of a Grand Prix horse. Cor­rect use of the half halt is the ul­ti­mate goal when de­vel­op­ing col­lected trot.

The Half Halt

The half halt is a beau­ti­ful, ef­fort­less way to ask your horse to en­gage and shift his bal­ance with­out los­ing rhythm, re­lax­ation or any as­pect of the con­tact. The half halt com­mu­ni­cates this to your horse: shift your bal­ance and com­press while re­tain­ing your beau­ti­ful en­ergy, sup­ple­ness and con­tact.

Ask your­self: When I do a half halt, am I get­ting com­pres­sion and an­i­ma­tion or am I get­ting flat­ten­ing, slow­ing down, loss of en­ergy or a horse that’s brac­ing or lean­ing?

How to teach that: The prin­ci­ples are the same as in the can­ter. You start with the slight­est mo­men­tum change in which you’re not cov­er­ing quite as much ground in the trot and you feel your horse un­der­stands the prin­ci­ple of shift­ing his bal­ance and en­gag­ing.

When it’s right: The horse com­presses, low­ers the croup, gets tall in the with­ers and the gait be­comes more beau­ti­ful and ca­denced, invit­ing a tran­si­tion to pi­affe or pas­sage. If the half halt isn’t

beau­ti­ful, then the tran­si­tion from trot to pi­affe isn’t go­ing to be beau­ti­ful.

When to ask for more power: Only when half halts are beau­ti­fully per­formed, do we have the right to ask for more power in, for ex­am­ple, an ex­ten­sion. If the half halts aren’t rhyth­mic, ef­fec­tive and easy, you have no right to add pres­sure—ei­ther from the sad­dle or from a per­son on the ground. That’s the best way I know to get a horse to run away or get nervous and scared.

The half halt is the hall­way into the horse’s body and into his men­tal un­der­stand­ing of how to ad­just his gait. When the horse un­der­stands the half halt, he un­der­stands how the de­gree of his col­lec­tion can be­come greater. When the rider learns to ride for­ward to a greater de­gree of col­lec­tion with­out loss of rhythm or sup­ple­ness, he has the key to de­vel­op­ing his horse’s col­lec­tion.

For ev­ery de­gree of ground cov­er­age that is re­duced in col­lec­tion, your horse should come up that much higher. His in­cli­na­tion from the be­gin­ning should be to lower the croup and lift in the shoul­ders.

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