High Collection with Help from the Ground
Collection can be developed with the assistance of a ground person— either with the rider on top or not. There are pros and cons to these two methods. If you have a skilled person on the ground without a rider and the horse trusts the handler, you can take the pressure off the horse by having no conflict of aids. In this case, you never disturb the confidence of the horse-and-rider partnership and their communications always have the same meaning. The horse can learn the concept of compressing and listening without disturbing the confidence of the rider. In some situations, this is excellent. In other situations, the horse might be nervous without the rider, and tension makes the horse worse. The horse might tighten his topline, lose rhythm or even bolt forward. In this case, a skilled rider can provide suppleness, stability and confidence while the ground person assists by providing the incentive for the actual piaffe. The person on top is doing exactly what we discussed throughout this article, which is providing the harmonious, supple topline before asking for piaffe.
Work in hand is not just a learning tool; it’s also a fitness tool. Some people say, “I’ll do ground work until he learns it and then I won’t need it any more.” In my opinion, that’s not quite the right thinking. When you have a ground person, the rider’s aids can be very refined because the ground person is a visual for the horse that he reacts positively to and as a result, you never get into the situation in which the horse is struggling and the rider riding with harsher aids. The ground person can just be the incentive program so the rider can stay soft and supple and the horse can get fitter until the work is effortless.
I’m a big fan of figuring out what’s the best way for each horse to learn. Some horses shouldn’t have ground work because they get nervous. Therefore, they shouldn’t have to do it. It’s a matter of exploring and figuring out what’s best for your horse.