The importance of how you understand and focus on the collective marks cannot be emphasised enough. If you pay lip service to this you will not have a full appreciation of the aims of your test as more and more emphasis is being put on the horse’s ‘way of going’. It is no longer sufficient to simply do the movements; you must demonstrate relaxation and willingness from the horse.
The collective marks allow the judge to give an overall score for their perception of how you and your horse performed throughout the test. It is their opinion as to how you, as a combination, conducted yourselves and the overall impression you left them with as the test progressed.
The first post in this series – Collective marks – Scoring, explained the way the collectives are scored by the judges. Moving on, we turned to paces, regularity and freedom, the first of the collectives to be given marks and my post the collective marks – paces and regularity – the walk takes you through the rule requirements and what is being looked for in the walk element of your test.
Your score will be either an individual score for each of the 3 paces (walk, trot and canter) or an overall score for all of them, depending on your training level.
So, onto Trot – the two beat pace of alternative diagonal legs separated by a moment of suspension.
The trot should show free, active and regular steps
It is the quality of the trot that is being judged. By assessing the regularity; elasticity of the steps; cadence and impulsion the quality of the gait originates from the horse’s supple back and well-engaged hindquarters. Rhythm and balance will be assessed with all variations of the trot.
At all times the horse is required to be ‘on the bit’. For the observer, a horse is on the bit when you can draw an almost vertical line from his nose to his forelock when viewed from the side. Yet, there is so much more associated with the horse on the bit that many riders are not aware of.
The horse is only truly on the bit when he has rounded his outline an when we speak of outline we do not mean neck and head only, we of course are talking about the back and neck, which should be created from engaged hind quarters, stepping forward with impulsion and bringing the horse’s nose to the vertical.
The following trots are recognised in Dressage Tests:
- Working Trot
- Lengthening of Steps
- Collected Trot
- Medium Trot
- Extended Trot
1. Working Trot
What is working trot? Well it is not collected and not medium! The pace is the one at which the horse generally works without asking for collection or lengthening and is unique to the horse. The judge is looking for rhythm, balance, taking forward of the bit, even elastic steps and good hock action.
The focus for you should be on rhythm, contact and forwardness. By ensuring you have these 3 basic requirements in place you will demonstrate balance, being ‘on the bit’ and the best hock action you can achieve.
Elasticity will be explored further in the subsequent Collectives Posts relating to submission, impulsion and balance.
How to improve: Really work on the rhythm in your working trot – like a metronome 1-2, 1-2, 1-2 ensure every step is the same, concentrate – get into the zone in your training, let nothing else detract you 1-2, 1-2, 1-2, each step no longer or shorter than the one before, 1-2, 1-2, 1-2 each step relaxed and forward into a steady contact. This achieved? Now you have the building blocks for your future work and the basis of a very good score.
2. Lengthening of Steps
In the test for four year old horses lengthening of steps is required. This is a variation between the Working and Medium trot in which a horses training is not developed enough for the Medium trot.
How to improve: Control the tempo. Allowing your horse to run is not the name of the game. The steps should be longer not faster.
3. Collected Trot
Introduced at Elementary level dressage, the horse is required to remain ‘on the bit’ and move forward with the neck raised and arched. The judge is looking for a greater degree of flexion in the hocks, maintenance of energetic impulsion, shoulders moving with greater mobility and thus demonstrating complete self-carriage.
Although the horse’s steps are shorter than in the other trots, elasticity and cadence are not lessened. The pace is not slower; it is more engaged with the emphasis on the hind legs.
How to improve: The key is in the preparatory work and suppleness. You need to ensure that you have good collection between hand and leg in walk first to prepare for the trot.
Spend time stretching the horse over his back, legs and neck by asking him to flex a little to the left and right. Ride lots of transitions from walk to trot to encourage your horse to take his weight onto his hind legs and step underneath his body. Lateral exercises such as shoulder-fore and quarters-in are good for helping with submission and straightness.
4. Medium Trot
This is a pace of moderate lengthening compared to the Extended trot, but rounder than the latter. Without hurrying, the horse goes forward with clearly lengthened steps and with impulsion from the hindquarters. The horse will need to ‘open’ his frame and lower his head, carrying it slightly more forward of vertical than in working trot.
The steps should be even, and the whole movement balanced and unconstrained it should feel powerful with bigger, not faster, movement.
How to improve: Start with collection and achieve a more vibrant trot. As you ask for more impulsion, think of it coming from the hindquarters and up, over your horse’s back. As shown in the ‘bridge’ picture above. Hold with your hands and keep the horse well up and on the bit.
It is imperative that your horse is straight when teaching to lengthen. To begin, straighten yourself with a half-halt and allow the horse forward into the Medium trot with a forward and down movement of the hand. Be very, very subtle about this; do not throw away the contact.
Indicate forwards with your middle, buttocks and back. Do very little with your legs. If you push hard with your legs the horse may be pushed onto his forehand, he will flatten and lose energy.
A word of warning – be patient and reward and praise for a little change at a time. Better that you build gradually than rush and have to correct. Warming up and ensuring your horse is sufficiently fit and gymnastic to do these exercises is a prerequisite to ensuring a good result.
5. Trot on a long rein
The horse is allowed the freedom to lower and stretch his head and neck forward and down while the rider maintains a light contact through the reins. The horse should continue to trot in the same rhythm, with suppleness of the back and self carriage.
How to improve: Ensure you are used to working in a long and low frame by utilising it in your training. The secret is not to abandon the contact, you should feel a contact at all times. Abandoning the contact is Trot of a loose rein.
6. Extended Trot
One of the main stepping stones to higher level dressage movements; it takes time to develop the extended trot. The horse covers as much ground as possible. Without hurrying, the steps are lengthened to the utmost as a result of great impulsion from the hindquarters. The rider allows the horse to lengthen the frame and to gain ground whilst controlling the poll. The fore feet should touch the ground on the spot towards which they are pointing.
The movement of the fore and hind legs should reach equally forward in the moment of extension. The whole movement should be well-balanced and the transition should be smoothly executed by taking more weight on the hindquarters.
It is rare to see the equal steps that are the diagonal pairs of trot. You often see a big “flick” of the front feet.
How to improve: It is important that you understand what the Rule Book says, and what the judges really want. It is not so much that we have to teach the horse extended trot, it is more that we need to ‘allow’ and ‘develop’ the horse’s capacity to carry us while he does extended trot, and be able to do it on cue.
A great extended trot exercise to improve the length of stride is to get three poles down the long side of the arena. Set them out at about 1.3m or so and then every day just make the distance between them a little bit longer.
To succeed in your extensions, think about a pressure cooker! It is useless to shake a pressure cooker to get the steam out through the valve! All you have to do is to drastically increase the heat (forward thrust) first and then slightly open the valve and the steam will ease out.
It is the same with a horse – increase the impulsion – open your hands (move them forward and down) and let the horse extend, following the movement without shaking him with your legs.
The extension comes from the increased impulsion and the strong engagement of the hindquarters.
The collective mark is looking at paces and regularity. They real key word is regularity and often the horse becomes irregular in the pace and the foreleg and the hind leg on the same side move almost on the same beat so that the walk tends to become an almost lateral movements. This ambling irregularity is a serious deterioration of the pace and will cost you dearly in a test situation.
If you are getting comments like “some irregular steps” from the judge, examine your contact and leg aid and ensure you a) do not have too strong a contact and b) you are not using excessive leg aids.
The next post in the series will be the canter and what you need to look out for to improve your collective marks for the canter work.
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Until next time, have fun!
Patricia, The Dressage Tipster