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The German Training Scale Part 9

By Hardy Zantke

The German Training Scale
Part 9: Collection

We have covered the first five steps of the German Training Scale:
and now we are at part two of

We talked in the last issue mostly about what we find in our rule books about collection, and since the word comes up only in the “collected trot,” which is only required at the intermediate level and above, it might have created the impression that lower-level drivers don’t need any of this. However, that is not the case. Any horse will benefit greatly from the complete Training Scale. Our aim is to train a horse that is willing and able to perform his work properly. For the horse to be able to do that, he must be in balance. For that, he must distribute his work evenly over all four legs. By nature, his front legs are burdened with more of his weight since they need to carry the weight of his neck, and far out on the end of that long lever, nature even attached another big weight, the head; whereas, the hind legs just need to carry the hindquarters and tail. Thus, we see horses at the beginning of their training “on the forehand,” carrying most of their weight on the front legs, and having their hind legs at times trailing behind, almost like a truck pulls a trailer behind. So, one of our earlier steps was to get the hind end connected, or “engaged,” with the hind legs reaching more forward underneath the body to take up more of the body’s weight in order to carry their fair share of the weight. We do this not only so the horse looks proper in his “dressage frame,” but also, and more so, so that he is in balance and, with that, is really a safer and more useful horse because he will stumble less over his front feet, and if he does stumble, then he will not fall down right away. Also, we want to do this so that his front legs are not worn out prematurely. This shifting of more weight to the hind end is the basic idea of collection.

To shift more weight onto the hind legs, all three of the hind-leg joints need to bend more, and the hind feet need to step further underneath the body. Each amount of extra weight that the hind legs take up lightens the load of the front legs. Since the hind legs need to bend more and be brought more forward, the steps are then more elevated and pronounced at the hind end; but the same also happens in front as the weight the front legs have to carry is now less, and thus they can move with greater ease. Through systematic training, the muscles of the hindquarters—the engine of the horse—can become much stronger, enabling much more pushing power for engagement and impulsion from behind; whereas, the front legs are mainly designed to carry the front end but not so much to push the horse forward. When the hind end gets more underneath of the body, the result is a lowering of the croup as the legs are bent more in their joints. I grant you that we don’t often see much of that lowering of the croup in driving, the reason being that it is so difficult for the driving horse to achieve much collection. But this is the goal and sign of true collection—the lowering of the croup, together with the front end being lightened with the horse raising and arching his neck, which brings in that far-out weight of the head and helps in shifting the center of gravity more to the hind end and results in shortening his frame. These are the signs of true collection with which he then can move in balance in what is called an “uphill” manner, meaning that the front end of the horse is elevated while the croup is lowered. The start of that is already in any good engagement.

We have discussed in our chapters about contact as well as impulsion and engagement—the basic steps for how to develop the forward trust of the hind end, which is the route to collection. (Again, I suggest you re-read those chapters in the February/March and April/May 2003 issues of this magazine.) This cannot be forced by the trainer by pushing or pulling the horse “into a frame” or by artificial training aids, such as a biting rig, but must be developed with a careful, steady, and elastic hand by driving the horse on the contact, by the careful use of half halts to make him take up more weight with his hind legs, and by careful whip aids to activate the hind legs even more. We must keep a soft feeling, with our hand helping the horse to always balance himself, as we ask for more push from behind. We cannot simply force the horse together by holding with a rigid hand in front and pushing with whip and voice aids from behind. That would not only make the horse very frustrated, but also would make his back rigid, and instead of working through the back and engaging the hindquarters, it would result in the opposite, blocking the hindquarters. The hind legs would not reach further underneath the body but would only move up and down under a rigid back. That is not collection and proper training; that is the opposite. So as we need to balance the horses, we must also find a careful balance with our hands. Done properly, the neck will be raised slightly, but should not be pulled up artificially by the driver’s hand; instead, it should be raised and arched by the horse on his own to help shift the balance of the body further to the rear. The nose will go more on the vertical, the hind legs will take up more weight, and the horse will work with engagement and energy in balance. Our work at the previous step of straightness and bending in the Training Scale has also helped in the education of the horse toward collection, as there we have asked the inside hind leg in all turns to take up more weight, which now, for the collection, we need from both hind legs.

But, unfortunately, there are many ways that the training is done incorrectly. The fault most often seen, especially on lower levels, is that the horse does not go “round.” Instead of working through the back, his back is stiff and hollow, his jaw is rigid, his nose is stuck out in front of him, and he leans on the bit with a big muscle bulge underneath his neck. That is a horse that has not learned to properly accept the bit or to stretch down and forward seeking the contact after a giving hand. Usually, that is a horse that is not relaxed and has developed the wrong muscles underneath his neck. We would need to go back to an earlier step of the Training Scale and work on freedom and relaxation as well as contact, and only when we have mastered those, can we go on to impulsion and engagement. We should also keep in mind that, when we say the horse must stay relaxed through all of our demands, we must never confuse relaxation with being lazy. The horse must actively work forward. For proper roundness—and even more so for collection—the horse needs to stretch his top line and arch his back upward, which results in a shortening of his bottom line. False collection with a horse pulled together artificially does the opposite; the back becomes hollow, thus the top line shortens and the bottom line becomes longer. This would also happen when using overchecks, sidechecks, or biting rigs to force a horse into a “frame.” Instead of taking up more weight with the hind legs, in false collection, even more weight is on the front legs, his withers are pushed down instead of elevated, and his hind legs are not engaged but just moving up and down. This is also what will happen when a horse is asked for collection when he is still too young for it, and has not yet developed the correct muscles to carry himself properly for any collection. It takes years to build up a horse’s muscles enough, and not only does he need to develop his hindquarters for it, but he also must develop his shoulder muscles—especially so for a driving horse, which needs the shoulder for pushing the carriage.

Another fault is when the horse comes with his nose behind the vertical, either by being pulled there by too strong a hand of the driver or by avoiding the contact and going behind the bit. Both cases need re-schooling, too, by giving with the hand and encouraging the horse to stretch out while going forward and then very carefully taking up the contact again to establish a soft give-and-take balance between driver and horse. The proper education of the horse, thus, can only be achieved by following the logical steps of the Training Scale with great patience through the training process. We have worked in our previous lessons already on stretching and bending the horse. With collection, we are now working on bringing him more together. In the collection, our horse looks like he is becoming shorter. Working on impulsion through up-and-down transitions and alternating straight lines with bends to both sides will increase the amount of collection that the horse is able to develop. The driver needs to use his forward driving aids with voice and whip to actively send the horse forward while using his hand on the reins with very careful restraining aids and with proper half halts to keep him together so that he doesn’t just run faster in response to the forward-driving aids, but instead is developing the impulsion and push from behind in response to the half halts.

Again, we see why this is so much harder to accomplish with a driven horse than with a ridden one, as the rider has his seat and legs on the horse as his forward-driving aids with which he can help the horse at every step and especially push him forward, as necessary. We cannot achieve that amount of constant helping forward aid with voice and whip, which is especially necessary when asking the horse for any collection. Collection is not a goal that any horse has himself. Going forward, yes, many horses have that desire, but going collected, definitely not, because that is very hard for them to do. For that reason, we also should not ask for any long periods of collection, especially not at the beginning of our training. A few strides are all at first, very moderately, and then we can very slowly try to build that up to the requirements of the dressage tests. Ask little in the beginning; it takes time to build up the muscles and understanding for it. Don’t overdo it. It is hard on the muscles and joints of the horse as well as on his mind. Quite often, asking for a little less will give you actually more. If the horse gets nervous or frustrated, go back a step to the previous level and only start very carefully again at a later lesson. During these exercises, the driver should alternate between lengthening the horse and stride by giving with his hand and taking up a little more contact to collect the horse, but that part has to be done very carefully so as not to block the horse.

During all of this, the horse must keep his balance. Keeping that is so much harder for a driving horse than a horse under saddle because, for the driven horse, the amount of pull of the carriage changes a bit with every step (that’s because the carriage, at times, rolls easily behind him and, a fraction of a second later, needs another pull to keep the forward momentum). This is not a constant force on the horse; this is a changing force all the time. Add to that the changes by rolling over different terrain, even up and down hoof prints in a dressage field, and you will notice that it must be very difficult for him to maintain his balance through these constantly changing forces on him, constantly changing his center of gravity, through which we can help him only very little with the reins. In contrast to that, look at a rider whose weight and balance shifts very little during each step on the horse, and by a good rider, will even be there to help the horse keep his balance. The greater the amount of collection that we desire, the more difficult it is to keep this balance by the horse; and the heavier the carriage is, the more difficult we make it for him.

Let me note here that the extension, as in an extended trot, is only coming out of proper collection and is different than the lengthened trot. The extended trot, then, is only required in advanced-level dressage tests; whereas, up to and including the intermediate level, all that is required is the lengthened trot. It takes years of proper training to build up the horse’s muscles, joints, and tendons enough for the necessary collection of the horse to come to a proper extension. We are literally “collecting energy” during a short period of collected trot—even though working at the collected trot does cost the horse a great amount of energy as well, and he can’t hold that very long—in the corner of the dressage ring or through small circles to then use that “collected energy” to move forward into the extended trot across the diagonal.

In driven dressage on the lower levels as well as on the highest, the FEI level, there are no canter movements required; although, we do have two ADS tests with canter movements on the intermediate level, which, however, are hardly ever used because they are not part of any CDE requirement. On FEI levels, canter movements are being used by some drivers in their musical freestyle presentations. But almost all our CDE drivers that move above the training level are using the canter in some of their marathon obstacles, and many do so especially at the upper levels also in the cones. That was the reason that the ADS did develop the two intermediate canter tests. The careful working of canter transitions can also be very beneficial toward further collection of the horse, both in upward and downward transitions from and to the trot, as both require more action from the hindquarters, more push in the upward transition, and more getting underneath of the horse in the downward transition. In the two canter tests, there is only the working canter required, but for marathon obstacles as well as in the cones, advanced drivers certainly also use collection as well as extension in the canter. The training of both in a safe environment, as well as many transitions between collected canter and extended canter, is very beneficial to help the horse move toward further collection. It is very important, though, to keep the horse in balance through the transitions and not be too harsh with the commands; keep a soft and giving hand, and keep the horse relaxed. Thus, canter and collecting exercises should alternate in short order time periods with relaxing and stretching exercises, during which, however, the horse can also still be driven actively forward to use and engage his hind legs.

In our dressage tests, collection is only required from the driving horse at the trot; nevertheless, for getting that collection at the trot, as outlined above, proper canter work and transitions are very beneficial because they encourage the hind legs to become more active while keeping the horse swinging through the back. When the horse gets rigid and tense, that is often a sign that he has not properly understood our requests or is lacking one of the previous steps in our training scale. We cannot force any collection; we can only encourage a gradual development of it. So we need to go back to the previous steps and build it up again from there to come to our goal. However, we must also realize that different horses also have different limits in their physical ability, not only due to their different amounts of training but certainly also due to their inherited conformation, which makes it easier for some horses to achieve some collection and much harder, if not at times physically impossible, for others to ever get there.

As we have seen above, it is very difficult for a driving horse to achieve true collection and, therefore, only a very moderate amount of it can be expected in driving. But on top of that, in all of our discussions above, we have only talked about a single horse. As long as we would drive on a straight line, achieving collection should not be more difficult for a multiple, except, of course, that the driver has to compromise his aids between the different horses, which makes it much harder since he can’t help each horse with the exact dosage of necessary aids to find and keep their balance. But, on the other hand, the horses in a multiple have it a bit easier, as they can share the pulling of the weight among each other; leaders in a tandem or fourin- hand can even be driven without having to pull any weight. So they have an advantage there; however, all of that is only true on a straight line. Unfortunately, all of our dressage tests that require collected trots also ask for them on curved lines, such as circles and half circles. That means that while the inside horse(s) can be asked to collect, the outside horse(s) having to travel a longer route can hardly stay much collected through the turn.

So, if all this shows how difficult it is to train for and achieve proper collection with the driving horse, which may never be reached by most driving horses, then why do we even have this requirement in our upper-level tests? Why even try to work for a goal that most can’t ever reach? Well, isn’t that the case with so many of our goals? We are striving for perfection, knowing full well that we will never be able to reach that goal. But every step into that direction is of benefit, as it will enable our horses to become better driving horses—as long as we do our steps in the correct way.

Toward that goal, we move on to our next and last chapter in the Training Scale:

including Confidence

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