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Tuesday, 3 September 2019

The Six Scales of Dressage Training – Part 6: Collection

Photo credit: Paul Dobson Photography

The final post in our scales of dressage training series covering collection. It’s safe to say that you need to have mastered the previous five scales of training before you can achieve true collection – it is the only one of the scales that is wholly progressive from all the ones prior to it.

In dressage, we want the horse to be the best ride he can be – manoeuvrable, powerful and easy to control. He needs to be able to put his weight onto his engine (the hind legs) in order to balance and effective carry the weight of the ride through the series of movements that we request of him. Very early training will see the horse carry most of the weight through his forehand which will makes it difficult to execute the dressage movements and exercises we will expect of him later. Working through the five scales of training will enable you and your horses to work towards collection.

Anyone who enjoys dressage will have heard the term collection, but do we all know what it means & what it is aiming to achieve?

“To further develop and improve the equilibrium of the horse, which has been more or less displaced by the additional weight of the rider.

To develop and increase the horse’s ability to lower and engage its hindquarters for the benefit of the lightness and mobility of its forehand.

To add to the ‘ease and carriage’ of the horse, thereby making it more pleasurable to ride”

To put it very simply, collection is all about balance – re-balancing your horse to carry the rider and training him to take more weight collectively onto his hind quarters than on his forehand. ‘Sitting on the quarters’ as it is commonly  termed, enables him to be balanced and move in an uphill mechanic, giving his freedom and ease to his movements.

A truly collected horse will display a harmonious curve throughout his neck from his withers up to his poll, with his nose ever so slightly in front of the vertical. If you attempt collection before you are ready or you don’t add enough collection for the movements you wish to perform, the horse will lose his submission, he will find the movements difficult and the fluid nature to his movement will no longer exist.

Even when you are not ready to fully work your horse in collection, you can add it for a few movements to build up and have your horse working in this way as it can also be a useful training aid to improve the quality of the horse’s natural paces. It is also more natural for a horse to carry the weight of himself on his stronger area – the hind limbs. By working your horse in collection you can avoid some of the stresses and strains placed on other limbs when overworked in an on-the -forehand way of going.

Importantly, collection is not simple there or not, it is added in degrees – slowly but surely it can be added and then removed. However, you must have a high degree of the other five scales of dressage training to be able to truly achieve collection. He’ll also need a decent muscle tone and strength so that he can support him in his own balance, without the interference from a rider, as well as understanding positional aids throughout his body.

So what can you use to develop the art of collection in addition to the previous five scales of training that we’ve blogged about?

First up, use plenty of half-halts without losing the uphill feeling to your horse. This will add balance and give the aid to wait without changing much about the way he is going. As he will need to be clear on all the aids for across his body, incorporating shoulder-in, half-pass and travers as a great way to get him moving his body laterally while keeping those hind legs active and engaged.

That’s key – keeping the activity to his movements while varying his paces within each pace. He needs to be able to jump his hind legs as far underneath him as possible, giving the impression of him ‘sitting down on his quarters’. Once you can truly establish this, you’ll be able to start to ask your horse for much more complex movements such as canter pirouettes, piaffe and passage.

Collection results in the mastering of all other five scales of dressage training, and allows the horse to be more engaged, becoming lighter in his shoulders and to move more fluidly. It will enable him to have more cadence yet present a more powerful overall picture.

Discover the other scales of dressage training

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