My third coach was an expert in all English riding but, specifically she was dressage expert. She competed in dressage on her stallion and had won countless competitions. I had already been riding for a while when I found her but I had mostly focused on jumping.
For the longest time, she didn’t talk about how to collect a horse. She would mention it here and there but she wouldn’t tell me how to do it. Instead, we would focus on all the pre-requisites.
I was always confused about why she didn’t want to show me how to collect a horse, and why it wasn’t more of a priority in our lessons.
Wasn’t collection super important?
Wasn’t it the horse moving in the most advantageous way?
Also – if I’m being dead honest – at that time I was still struggling a lot with my sitting trot and I wanted to know how to make it easier to ride and I had read somewhere that collection made that easier.
One day, we were working on neck flexion with Lucy. At that point she finally explained it to me.
She told me:
If you can’t properly flex your horse, then it’s almost impossible to maintain collection. It will invariably breakdown because it’s too difficult for the horse to maintain if they aren’t nicely flexing around corners and on circles.
So before we get started on collection, let’s make sure we’ve got flexion down and how to keep your horse from falling into the circle that you’re flexing them on.
You’re a master of neck flexion? Great!
Now let’s get to collection…
Being Gentle is Better than Trying to Muscle
The problem comes from trying to muscle a horse into collection using the reins so that they bend their necks.
Of course, trying to collect a horse that is prancing, fighting at the bit or tossing his head can be a challenge. Your horse needs to be focused on you and on the movement. It’s more athletically challenging for your horse to move in a collected manner but it makes those tight circles and other movements when riding much easier too.
Remember, your horse is a hell of a lot stronger than you are, for one.
But for two, just because a horse’s neck is bent and they’re moving a bit slower doesn’t mean that they’re collected.
Collection means bigger movement of all four legs. This creates a feeling of going slower and more deliberately. Additionally, your horse should have their weight in the hindquarters, which will give the impression that you’re “going uphill”.
You want your horse to power through his hindquarters, push up through his back and stretch forward through his neck.
When he stretches forward into the bit, that’s a pretty good indication you’re on the right track. But notice how you can’t MUSCLE your way there. Just holding tighter onto the reins and getting your horse’s neck to curve doesn’t actually mean anything. In fact, if you force that posture on the horse, it will drop the back in order to crane the neck and it might be counterproductive.
So what do you do then?
You have to let your horse find collection on his OWN. You can’t push him to do it. To do this, you have to make it easier for him to move in a collected way then not.
How do you do that? Circles that get smaller and smaller!
IMPORTANT! A horse that’s been held in a “collected” position with a high neck without actually developing the proper muscles and top-line to actually be collected may not be able to do this. They might need to go back to basics. If you’re wondering if this is your horse, reach out to me and we’ll figure it out together.
The Secret on How to Collect a Horse: Circles Are Your Friend
If you read my post on flexion, you’ll know how much I stress this.
That’s because it’s so important.
Now that you’ve learned how to obtain proper flexion and how to stop your horse from falling into the circles that you ride, you’re going to use your perfectly circular circles to collect your horse.
You’re going to trot nested circles until you feel that slower, more deliberate, more balanced, more uphill feeling of collection.
The best part about constantly trotting in circles is that if your flexion is correct, your horse will almost automatically become collected.
Do Nested Circles Using Half the Arena
This is the pattern that I want you to trot:
Add this exercise to your daily routine, wait until your horse drops his head into it. While you’re doing this, maintain nice contact with the bit but (and I can’t stress this enough) don’t muscle it.
The better you do at flexing appropriately and keeping your horse on that perfect circle with his body flexed along the diameter, the easier it will be to achieve collection.
That’s It! You Know How to Collect a Horse!
Like I said, if you incorporate this into your daily routine, you’ll have collection down in no time. Then you can start really preparing for dressage, and think about beginning to compete. And that’s a really exciting time for any rider.
If you want advice on what to wear to your first dressage competition, I have a whole article covering it! You can check it out here. Now that you know how to collect a horse, with the right clothes both of you will absolutely look the part.
Let me know how it goes! I would love to hear in the comments how you found this technique, or whether you have any more questions for me about how to collect a horse.
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