A horse is in true collection when it is able to transfer it’s weight sufficiently to it’s hind quarters whilst staying in balance and self carriage. This enables the horse to increase the flexion of his hind legs and lift his neck. The higher the poll whilst remaining round and over the back ,the more degree of collection is achieved. The rider will feel like the horses shoulders lift as the horse ‘sits’ ,creating a soft connection in the rein whereby the rider can give away the reins completely and the horse remains in a frame, otherwise known as self carriage.
Horses are born and move naturally with more weight on their front legs than hinds. Therefore with gymnastic training the rider needs to develop the muscles over the back, top line and hind quarters ,to enable the horse to transfer more of it’s weight to the rear in order to balance the weight over it’s entire body. This done over time, ensures the horse is strong enough to do the higher dressage movements. Hopefully ensuring a long and sound life for the horse.
It takes years to develop a horses strength required to do moves like pirouettes, passage and piaffe. On average between five and eight years of constant training with a good rider. In order to build muscle, one needs to load the muscle a little more each day. By loading the muscles, you cause damaged muscles fibres. The body then repairs the muscles by fusing muscle fibres which increase in thickness and number to create muscle growth. So exercise with rest periods is the key!
I like to vary my horses work not only for their physical benefit but also mental. My horses do on average three days a week arena work, with one or two days riding out down roads, the beach or a lunge.
They have some sort of exercise five days a week with one to two rest days. It is important to consider weather conditions and work load when deciding what activity the horse needs the following day.Whenever possible, especially on rest days, the horse gets time out in the paddock to stretch his own legs.
The longest spell I like to give my horses is a maximum of four weeks. As after three weeks muscle starts to diminish. Muscle does however have “memory”. This means when a horse has reached a certain type of fitness previously , it is in fact easier to bring it’s fitness level back and at a faster rate than it’s initial training program. Sometimes due to the rider or horses injuries ,spelling time is significantly longer than we had previously planned. If the horse has spelled for a long period of time, you need to start slow but can increase after the initial six weeks. You’ll find the muscle comes back quiet quickly if correct work is done.
It is crucial both physically and mentally that we start the horse stretching “long and low” in warm ups and cool downs in order to warm up the muscles and keep relaxation. Just like human athletes doing stretches before a race. Riding a horse ’round’ will build correct top line which is all important to achieving collection. Without the correct muscle tone a horse can’t collect sufficiently to do the job and or break down with injury. What we ask a
horse to do is unnatural. Carrying a rider and performing all these movements can take its toll if the preparation isn’t there.
Collection is achieved by the rider being able to influence every part of the horses body. The awareness of where all the legs are and the ability to change the horses outline and flexion. During dressage training we train this by altering the stretch down and bringing up of the frame, lateral work to position the horses shoulders and hind quarters and by shortening and lengthening the steps within the paces.
It is not achieved by pulling or kicking. It’s all from the Body!!
When you look at the progression of dressage tests through the levels you can see a clear progression of exercises that train the horse towards the collection needed for the Grand Prix. It takes a good rider to have the feel and timing to attain such a level. As well as a lot of commitment and dedication as collection doesn’t just happen by accident.