Real Life Rider Lee asked me … ‘what advice would you give to help with collected canter’. A really good question, the answer to which will help many. Here’s what I think …
First thing to do is to make sure you have properly established the working to medium so go for lots of variations in the stride, ‘on and back’ to get you and your horse used to the control of the variation in pace required, utilising paces you know you can do. 5-8 strides of each. I am assuming you know how to do these on the basis that collection only comes into tests at Elementary/Medium level so working to medium trot will be well established.
Walk to Canter / Canter to Walk
Secondly, one you are entirely happy that you have control over the variation and that means, you can control the number of strides, go for working canter to walk / walk to canter to get your horse absolutely on the seat and aids and encourage more hind leg. Again walk to canter is in the Novice test, so you will be accomplished with this.
Here we know that good very much begets good. You will not get a good walk unless you have a good canter and you will not get a good canter if you do not have a good walk. Quality over quantity. The canter needs to be relaxed and forward before you ask for the walk transition. If you rush the transition, walk until you are happy with the quality of the walk, only then ask for the canter.
Thirdly, the rules state “The horse’s strides are shorter than in the other canters, without losing elasticity and cadence. The hocks well engaged, maintaining an energetic impulsion, enabling the shoulders to move with good mobility thus demonstrating self-carriage and an uphill tendency.”
I would pick up the working canter and introduce collecting the stride on the short side and immediately back to working canter on long side. Go for 5 strides.
To shorten the horse’s stride you need to sit taller and lengthen your spine. With multiple half-halts in rhythm with the horse’s strides you will engage the hindquarters. With the half halts, sit up taller on the corner as you go in, slow your upper body, slow your seat and as soon as your horse responds give him a pat and canter on.
Your seat becomes quieter but it is still the forward aid. Often described as ‘bouncing the horse’ because the energy that produces the length of the stride now creates the height of the stride. The idea is to get him responsive and enjoying it and really ‘sitting’, he will only achieve this by a gradual build-up of strides that he can physically do easily.
- Insufficient leg will allow the horse onto the forehand or to break into the trot or walk.
- Don’t try to do it for too long, when introducing the work, your horse will probably drop into trot if you do.
- Do nothing with your reins other than half-halt. No pulling!
- Go back to working/medium after the exercise because the last thing you want is for your horse to start offering a piddly little canter. The canter is forward and loose.
More Collected Canter
Finally, and yes I know, it’s always a long process but to encourage you both to keep the quality of the canter use exercises. Make your circle smaller, I would collect on the short side and pop in a 10m circle and a few collected strides out of the circle and push him on and back into working canter.
Ride slight shoulder-fore, the focus should always remain on the quality of the canter and balance. Never continue with the exercises when quality diminishes because it can ruin your horse’s confidence. Teach him that when the work becomes a little harder, he must keep his activity and alignment. Over time your horse will build the strength to carry you and be able to do a good expressive canter when collecting and most importantly he will be on your aids and under control.
At all times concentrate on your position and the clarity of your aids.
As your horse becomes more comfortable with compressing his stride, you can use increasingly difficult exercises such as counter canter, half passes and working pirouettes.
Hope that helps.