In Part 1 of Karen Adams' series on developing collection without resistance, she showed us how to test and improve your horse's lateral suppleness. In Part 2, we learned how to then improve his longitudinal suppleness as well. In the final section of this series, Karen teaches us how to introduce the collection gradually and also try testing your horse's longitudinal suppleness at the canter.
Test the Longitudinal Suppleness at the Canter
Introduce Collection Gradually
As your skills in this exercise improve, you can begin to develop more collection. Think of this as shortening your horse’s steps and outline without sacrificing the energy, activity or impulsion. When you shorten the reins to the length of neck and frame you want him to adopt, ride him forward into them, encouraging an active hind leg and a reaching neck and topline.
Over time, his collected trot will become more energetic with forward purpose and a rounder, more uphill balance. His withers will begin to rise and the muscles along his back, shoulders and hindquarters will strengthen. His self-carrying ability will also improve as he becomes more athletic and balanced. You can then ask that he carry more weight in his hind legs, an important quality of correct collection. Think of these exercises as progressive and gymnastic in nature, developing his entire body, instead of what we humans tend to do, which is focus on and pull back on the parts we can see from his back: his head and neck.
Before attempting more collected steps in this exercise—or in any other movement—review the warm-up goals I described earlier. Without being able to tick off these boxes, I would not ask for collected steps.
Also try the stretchy circle at the canter, bringing your horse from long and low to a rounder, more collected canter and then back down again. To take this exercise to the next level, ride between lengthened or medium trot and a more collected trot—or between lengthened or medium canter and a more collected canter—again riding the opposites back and forth to develop the quality of both the longer steps and the shorter steps. (For more detail on this exercise, read Laura Graves’ article, “Tuned In: Self-Going Horse,” on www.PracticalHorsemanMag.com).
Keep the work lively and vary your training program so you don’t get too routine-oriented. Be sure to work your horse in both directions regularly to develop his balance and musculature in a purposeful and optimal way. Remember, this training is progressive and you are building an attitude and trust in your horse that the contact and connection are where he finds comfort. By keeping this broader perspective in mind and incorporating these exercises into your program in a playful way, you can make collected work fun for your horse. In turn, he’ll reward you with a better attitude and a willingness to tackle new stages of his training with enthusiasm.
This article was originally published in the September 2017 issue of Practical Horseman.