collective#Are your collective marks letting you down?

You may have honed every move in your dressage test, completing the movements in the right place, at the right time but the performance adds up to MORE than just the sum of each movement.

Very few trainers give real emphasis to their pupils’ understanding and focus on the collective marks, thinking that the collectives purely reflect your ability, factors that only improve as your standard of training improves.  My view is that if you pay lip service to this area of your training you will not have a full understanding of the aims of your test and you must WORK to maximise the marks in this section.

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.  Classes can be won and lost on collectives as in the event of a tie, the overall winner will be decided on the collective marks.

In this, the fifth post in the series on the subject of The Collective Marks, I will attempt to address how you can gain those invaluable extra points at the bottom of your score sheet.

So far in the series we have looked at …

  1. The Collective Marks – Scoring
  2. The Collective Marks – Paces and Regularity – The Walk
  3. The Collective Marks – Paces and Regularity – The Trot
  4. The Collective Marks – Paces and Regularity – The Canter

Now we turn to Impulsion, which is defined on the score sheet as “the desire to move forward, elasticity of the steps, suppleness of the back and engagement of the hindquarters.”

So, what is impulsion?

The rule book states that “this is the contained power of the horse.  It is created in the hindquarters by getting him to take more energetic steps, to place his hind legs further under this body and it is contained by the rein contact that stops him from using up this extra energy to simply go faster”.

Facts about impulsion …

  1. Resistance, or tightening of muscles it

     will block the energy flow so your horse needs to be supple and connected to be able to show impulsion.

  2. Your skills come into play by creating as much energy as can be contained without the horse starting to pull and speed up.
  3. Ultimately, impulsion can only be shown through your horse having a soft and swinging back.
  4. Speed has little to do with impulsion; the result of speed is more often a flattening of the paces.
  5. As impulsion is only seen in those paces that have a period of suspension – The trot and the canter, you are aiming for a ‘push-off’ as the hind foot leaves the ground and will be able to demonstrate that the horse is spending time in the air rather than the ground.

  6. If there is no impulsion there can be no collection.

Every ridden thing you do with your horse requires energy.  If you have enough energy, your horse will perform the movements better and more easily.  Creating the right amount of ‘oomph’ can be tricky.  The judge wants to see springy steps and bent joints in the hind legs, a controlled and energetic picture rather than speed.  Many, many horses are not sharp enough off the leg.  If this is the case you should use transitions to help your horse get his hind legs underneath him and introduce some ‘oomph’.  Having said that, without relaxation, energy is wasted – we must remember that the judge is considering elasticity and suppleness.

Quick Tips:

  • Train your horse to respond to a click of the tongue.  Click with your voice and immediately ask for more forward with your leg.  Eventually, you will be able to just click with the voice and get an immediate response of more energy.
  • Trotting poles are a good way to add interest and increase energy.  Raise them for even more expression.
  • If your horse uses the corner to slow down he will come out of it lacking energy.  As you approach a corner, really ride forward asking for more impulsion.  This is a good way to pick up extra marks in your test – ride your corners well and don’t lose any energy in them.
  • Horses don’t get bored of going in the school, they get bored of being nagged and pulled around.  As long as you are fair to your horse he should stay a happy and willing partner.

Bottom line is, no matter how accurate you are in the test if your horse is going in an ‘incorrect’ way, it will be immediately obvious to the judge.  So, it is essential that your horse is not on the forehand, is in front of the leg and forward at all times. (F – IS FOR FORWARD)

Impulsion 2Suppleness is also a pre-requisite of impulsion.  Consider a nervous rider in the arena who ‘freezes’ and the horse lumbers round earning a comment from the judge that more impulsion is needed; the rider on his next test hurries, confusing impulsion with speed, making the horse tight, lose regularity and rhythm.  So, in order to gain extra marks for impulsion, ensure your horse is forward, keep a rhythm and breathe!

An experienced trainer will stand back, consider the bigger picture and help you to improve your horse’s general way of going with building block style exercises to improve things like rhythm, relaxation, transitions, suppleness, rather than obsessing about individual movements of a test and continually practising them.

The collectives are a reflection of your ability and training.  At the lower levels, stiffness is a problem.  A supple horse will gain impulsion and ease of movement and the collectives will improve and those elusive extra marks could come your way.


The collective marks in a test can mean the difference between winning and not winning. But for me that is not the aim of the game, for me the collective marks are about feedback on the very basics of your training and what you should concentrate on most of all when you get your test sheet.

Next time we will look at submission, until then, have fun.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster


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