The Western Dressage Association® of America (WDAA) lists collection as the sixth step in its Guidelines for Training Progression: Readiness, Balance, Rhythm, Impulsion, Suppleness, Collection, and ultimately, Lightness. There are many different ideas of what “collection” in the horse is—and what it isn’t. The WDAA defines it as follows in its Western Dressage Glossary:
“Transitions are the first steps taken to teach your horse how to transfer more weight to his hind legs, engage the joints in his hind end, and round his spine, which compacts his body in the way necessary for him to be collected,” writes TSB author Lynn Palm in her terrific Western Dressage primer THE RIDER’S GUIDE TO REAL COLLECTION. “The flexibility of his hind limb joints—hip, stifle, hock, and fetlock—is increased. Transitions also work on the suppleness of his longitudinal muscles; they stretch when the horse goes forward and compress when he slows down, which builds strength and enables him to go forward and slow down with more power.”
As she discusses in YOUR COMPLETE GUIDE TO WESTERN DRESSAGE, Lynn teaches her students that their seat is their primary aid, and rein and leg aids merely support it.
“Think of it this way,” Lynn says. “Your seat is the director. Your leg and rein aids are the supporting cast.”
When you are passively letting your hips follow the horse’s motion, your seat stays in “neutral,” but for an upward transition (walk to jog or jog to lope, for example), you move your seat and hips in a more exaggerated manner, “As though you’re trying to propel a swing higher and higher,” says Lynn, before adding a touch of the leg aid. For a downward transition (jog to walk or lope to jog, for example), you stop your seat and hip movement to restrict your horse’s motion, and then add a whisper of a rein aid.
Try this walk-jog-walk transition exercise from THE RIDER’S GUIDE TO REAL COLLECTION to improve your use of your seat while building your horse’s ability to collect, so you can ultimately turn in a better Western Dressage performance:
1 Ask your horse to move in an active, forward, four-beat walk for one full circle.
2 Use your seat to prepare and cue your horse for the upward transition to jog.
3 Jog one full circle. The jog should be an active, square jog, where the hind legs track in line with the front legs, and your horse maintains longitudinal bend on the curved line of travel.
4 Use your seat to prepare and cue your horse for the downward transition to walk.
5 Repeat the exercise in both directions.
During the exercise, Lynn says to think of the horse as a speedboat on the water: When the boat accelerates (the upward transition from walk to jog) the back of the boat goes down because the power is coming from the motor (the horse’s hindquarters) and the front of the boat lifts up (the horse’s forehand lightens). When the boat’s speed is reduced (the downward transition from jog to walk), the motor pushes the back of the boat down and elevates the front so it can slow smoothly and not in a jarring, rough manner. The horse should slow from jog to walk in the same way, with power from behind while elevating his front end.