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Collected work: How to activate the hind leg?

It‘s a fantastic feeling to ride down the centre line in collected canter – light, active, the horse in front of your leg and full of energy, ready for anything to come. But how do you achieve true collection? It’s not simply riding slower, it’s about your horse shifting more weight onto its hind legs, so that it lowers the croup and lifts up in front while stepping actively under its center of gravity. Developing true collection is a long process and requires years of building strength: “At the beginning, with a young horse, you should be happy with very little, even just an indication of collection is great,” emphasizes Benjamin and reports: “We first start to collect the canter – since most horses find it easier to use their backs correctly in canter and tilt their pelvis to step underneath their centre of gravity. Also, the canter is often easier to sit for the rider. We actually teach how to develop the collected canter step-by-step in our online Masterclass `The Canter Pirouette`, as the collected canter is of course a requirement for the pirouette.”

The horse’s back is the key for the collection

Generally, true collection means that the horse carries itself in good balance. “Rather than thinking of going slower, try to think about shifting into a lower gear to boost torque!” explains Benjamin. “The horse should shift more of its weight onto its hind legs and I as a rider want to be able to be light in front and give the reins. The key to this is the horse’s back. Often, people only look at the hind legs, but how do I activate the hind legs? By working the horse over the back and looking at the whole horse. The horse’s back forms a bridge, the connection between the hind legs and the front of the horse, so to speak. When the back is supple and moves correctly, I have access to the hind legs. Transitions between the gaits as well as within the gaits are great to work on collecting your horse. Don’t slow down your horse in the transitions, really ride the transitions using your driving aids. The horse should collect in response to your driving aids.”

Overcome challenges in the collected work

So, what do you do if you are losing impulsion and energy? „Ride forwards, refresh the canter and try to collect again,” that said, Benjamin adds: “However, if you only ever ride forward, the horse may lose its balance and become too flat and long in its frame. Again, this is where transitions will help to generate energy and bounce, so the horse stays with you. You may also lose impulsion, if your horse is tense and doesn’t move forward from the leg. If that’s the case, I won’t try to get through with the leg aids by kicking harder, instead I need to focus on the back. If the back is supple and opens up, then the horse will be more willing to move forwards off the leg. Another way to improve the impulsion and activity in the canter is to sit a little faster than the rhythm the horse is offering with his canter strides. Again, your seat and the horse’s back are key.”

The interaction between horse and rider

When working on the collection, the seat of the rider is crucial. A balanced seat brings the horse into balance. You need good awareness and control of your own body. “Balance is not a permanent state, it’s a dynamic process and requires good feeling,” Benjamin knows from his daily work. Dressage movements which help the horse to open its back are also great for developing and improving collection – like for example, shoulder in, lateral work or later piaffe-passage transitions. One thing is very important to Benjamin: “When working on the collection or collecting movements, transitions are great. However, I need to keep in mind to always get back to a steady and even rhythm. Too many changes and transitions may unsettle the horse. I want the horse to stay quiet and relaxed. Also, the focus should not be on the horse’s head or neck position. I want to work the whole body of the horse using my whole body. That way the whole horse can be supple, the connection and contact will be better and the collection will be light and elegant.”

Within our Aubenhausen Academy masterclass The Canter Pirouette you can find more tips and exercises from Jessica & Benjamin for the collected work in canter. Find out more now!

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