Improve Your Dressage Horse's Collection

Biomechanics expert Susanne von Dietze critiques Maureen Hall at Third Level.
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Biomechanics expert Susanne von Dietze critiques Maureen Hall at Third Level.
Credit: Courtesy, Maureen Hall Maureen Hall rides Prospect’s Bravestrom, a 7-year-old Canadian Sport Horse gelding at Third Level in a clinic.

Credit: Courtesy, Maureen Hall Maureen Hall rides Prospect’s Bravestrom, a 7-year-old Canadian Sport Horse gelding at Third Level in a clinic.

This picture shows Maureen Hall riding her homebred 18-hand Canadian gelding, Prospect’s Bravestrom, in a recent clinic. She has done all of his under-saddle training herself with the help of her coaches, and he is now 7 years old and working at Third Level with the hope of moving toward Fourth Level.

Bravestrom appears to be very tall, compact and harmonious. This photo is taken in canter and clearly shows how far he can move with his hind leg under his rider’s weight. Maureen is currently working on achieving more collection and lightness in the canter. This picture is a nice example of a horse with a good and big natural canter, which is not always so easy to collect. When looking at the left hind leg, I can see that he is reaching far forward and keeping his leg relatively straight. For more collection, I would like to see more angles in the haunches. I drew a line along the haunches to highlight what I mean. As the level of collection increases, more angle should become visible in these joints.

To be able to bend more in the haunches and develop the ability to “sit,” Bravestrom needs to lower his croup and open his lower back more. As he is a more compact horse, his back is short, and often these horses have a harder time lengthening the topline in the area of the lower back or the part of the back just behind the saddle. Stepping farther under is not difficult for horses built like this, as they naturally are more together. But carrying more weight with the correct collection needs a little more attention. Keeping the horse’s back supple while shortening the strides will be very important for Maureen to incorporate during her training. Some cavalletti work like Ingrid Klimke often demonstrates can be very helpful to teach the horse how to move with more angle in his haunches and can strengthen his back at the same time.

I notice that Maureen is sitting with her upper body slightly forward and she is clearly aiming to sit lighter on her horse. While she does this, she must be careful not to become tense in her lower back, as this may prevent her from moving with her horse’s stride.

Try this: Hold your reins in your inside hand and with your outside hand pull on the cantle of the saddle to help you feel the movement of your horse’s back more during each stride. To follow your horse’s back, your own lower back also needs to lengthen in each canter stride. Placing one hand on your lower back during the canter work sometimes can help you feel where you need to move and let go of some tension.

Collection starts for horse and rider in the pelvis. In a collected canter, the horse needs to become quicker in his hind legs and shorter in his strides. To feel this, counting how many strides can fit into a quarter of a circle can be helpful. In working canter it may be approximately six strides per quarter, so you can aim to ride seven or eight strides in the same distance. 

This will help you understand that for collection more strides need to fit into the same distance. This is not just a matter of speed. Often, riders tend to slow down their own bodies when asking for collection. 

Looking at Maureen’s picture, I am positive that a little more mobility and quickness in her pelvis movement during her horse’s canter stride will be the key for helping her to straighten up in her upper body and carry her hands with more lightness. 

Her horse shows nice quality, and I am sure she will be able to continue working her way up the levels. I wish her joy along this exciting journey together with her lovely partner.

Susanne von Dietze is a leader in equestrian biomechanics. A physiotherapist, licensed Trainer A instructor and judge for dressage and show jumping, she gives lectures and seminars throughout the world, including at the prestigious German Riding Academy in Warendorf. She is a native of Germany and now lives with her husband and three children in Israel, where she competes at the international level. She is the author of two books on the biomechanics of riding: Balance in Movement and Horse and Rider, Back to Back. Find her books at HorseBooksEtc.com.