Many riders ask me if it’s better to extend their horses’ gaits and then ask for collection? Or should they have a shorter horse and then ask him for more energy?
Understand that in this “chicken and egg question” that collection comes first. Extension develops out of collection. You “coil the spring of the hind legs” for collection and then you let that energy express itself over the ground in longer strides for collection. When collected, your horse should feel like he’s almost boiling over at 211 degrees – ready to take that bubbling over power and express it into an extension if you allow it to.
Here are some things to consider as I feel you have some confusion about collection and extension.
1. They both have the same amount of energy. One just has shorter strides and the other has longer strides. But the calories used are the same in both cases. And the uphill balance is the same in both cases.
2. Think of both collection and extension as “an addition” of power. You “add” hind legs to collect. You “add” hind legs to extend. Don’t think about adding hind legs to extend and then subtracting hind legs to collect.
3. Yes, the frame is shorter when a horse is collected. But that’s just part of the story. Collection refers mainly to the UPHILL BALANCE of the horse and the shift of the center of gravity back to the hind legs (croup lower than withers and horse carrying more weight on the hind legs).
4. Probably the simplest thing you can do to collect (and then from that you can extend) is to do frequent transitions skipping a gait. This will accomplish many things. Your horse will be hotter off your leg, you’ll build power. You’ll shift his center of gravity to the hind legs, you’ll lower his croup and his forehand will elevate.
5. So to collect the trot, do 5 strides trot and then halt. Trot again for five strides and then halt again. Don’t allow any walk steps in between either the upward or downward transition. He should be hot off your leg to trot. (See any videos on the www.dressagementor.com website on putting the horse in front of the leg or “thinking forward”). Use your seat, legs, and outside hand in a firm fist to halt.
He should feel like he’s lowering his haunches and sitting down like a dog when you halt.
Once you’ve done a few transitions like this, trot around and see if he feels:
- More packaged
- Like he’s carrying more weight on the hindquarters
- Like his croup is down and his withers are up
6. Do the same thing to collect the canter. Five strides canter, five strides walk, five strides canter, five strides walk, no trot steps in between. Then ride the canter and see if he meets the three “collection” criterion described above for the trot.
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