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A 'simple' path to collection

 Kerry Mack and Mayfield Pzazz always look classy

 © Roger Fitzhardinge


By Dr Kerry Mack

There is one 'simple' thing you can work on right from the beginning of training your horse that will help you produce a horse who can come through the grades to the higher levels.

I won't say that this is the most important thing, or that this is the secret. There is no one magic key. Of course there are lots of things that contribute to producing a horse who is happy to collect himself. A rider’s secure seat, sympathetic hands, independent aids, an understanding of learning theory are all important. Control of your emotions and a commitment to regular training are important. But there is one thing you can work on that will improve your horse while you are still working on all those other things.


TRANSITIONS. Transitions within the pace and transitions between the paces. For a youngster it's walk to trot or trot to walk. For a 5 or six year old it might be transitions to medium paces, walk to canter or a transition within the shoulder in. For a more advanced horse it might mean transitions to and from collection and extension etc. If you ride the transitions paying attention to the balance and the training scale, as appropriate to the age and level of training of your horse, then he will be developing the foundation of collection. Simple. Simple idea, not so simple to execute, actually. 


So what is a good transition? It is BALANCED. Does he slow down by balancing on the hind leg, giving you the feeling that he pushes you up a little, and that the withers come up a little, which is what you want. Or does he slow down by propping on his front legs, giving you the feeling that his withers and shoulder go down, and perhaps he leans on the rein as he uses his neck to balance. This is not what you want. So you have to explain to him which one you want. If he goes to lean on the reins and drop down when he slows down you can push him forward and rebalance him, half halt, ask again. If he leans on the bit you can take for a moment and give, 'don't do that, be soft, carry yourself'. If he does offer a more balanced transition accept it with pleasure, and reward him. Let him go slower for a while or even stop. Then repeat. Five to seven repetitions for efficient learning. But they must be repetitions of good transitions. If you allow him to do unbalanced transitions you are training him to do unbalanced transitions. Balanced transitions up, such as trot to canter will also feel like they come from the hind leg. The wither will come up and you will feel a sense of him reaching forward and down into the rein. You should not feel him lifting himself into the transition with his head and neck going up.


A good transition will have the attributes of the training scale. RYTHYM, SUPPLENESS, CONTACT, STRAIGHTNESS, IMPULSION, COLLECTION. 


RHYTHM. A transition within the pace like a small trot to a bigger trot must have a constant rhythm, not speeding up to go faster, not slowing the rhythm to slow down. The rhythm stays the same but the length of the steps changes. Only ask for as much lengthening or shortening that he can maintain the rhythm. As he develops strength and balance he will manage more length and more shortening. Maintaining rhythm in the transitions between the paces such as canter to trot means that the rhythm in each pace stays true, the canter doesn't break into four beats as the transition is prepared, and the trot rhythm is immediately established with cadence, not a running, fast trot for a few steps while the horse slows down.


SUPPLENESS. You should feel him staying soft, perhaps a little shoulder fore position, inside rein able to be soft in all the transitions.


CONTACT. The horse keeps an even soft contact with the bit through out the transition. He doesn't lie on the bit, nor does the neck shorten as he slows down. He stays reaching forwards towards the bit. Sometimes you will see the horse shorten the neck as the rein is used to slow down. He doesn't slow down until he has absorbed the pressure in the rein by shortening the neck. This is incorrect. When you use the rein to slow down he must not shorten the neck. You can correct this sometimes by pushing the quarters out so far that he can't stay in the canter when he ignores the signal with the rein, instead of pulling on the rein more. Then when he trots be soft and reward.


STRAIGHTNESS. The horse will try to evade collection and using the hind leg by becoming crooked, particularly by pushing the hindquarters to the inside. Correct this by keeping an attitude of shoulder fore through the transition.


IMPULSION. As he develops more balance you can ask for transitions with more impulsion. But remember Kyra Kyrkland' adage, sometimes 'slower for better balance', when you are working on transitions that are at the edge of what he can do. Then ask for more impulsion, more energy.


COLLECTION. Well this is what it's all about. If you ask your baby horse to do correct transitions from walk to halt, and correct transitions from walk to trot, and slowly and progressively you ask for harder transitions you will develop the capacity for collection. Soon you will be doing walk to canter, which requires the horse to balance and push with the hind leg, which is collection. And the process just continues until the horse’s repertoire includes the ultimate in collection, the transitions into and out of piaffe. 


So ride LOTS of transitions, ALL the time. Simple. Well a simple idea, but not so simple to execute. 


Have fun,






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