In the lower level tests, you will ride in working trot, showing a few steps of lengthened trot strides and some medium trot. The collected trot is first asked for in dressage tests at US Second Level and BD Elementary Level.
Unfortunately, when asked to show collected trot, many riders make the mistake of assuming that what’s required is simply a slower version of the working pace. But that’s far from the truth!
So, what is collected trot, and how do you ride it?
What is collected trot?
In the collected trot, the horse’s strides are shorter but have the same degree of impulsion, elasticity, and energy as the working trot. The rhythm in the collected trot should remain the same as for the other trot variants.
The horse should maintain the correct frame and self-carriage, take more weight onto his hindquarters, and lighten his shoulders.
The benefits of collecting the trot
Riding the horse in collection has a number of benefits for both you and your mount.
You will find the horse much easier and more pleasurable to ride because he will be much better balanced. Also, the horse’s back will swing underneath you, making his paces more comfortable to sit to.
From the horse’s perspective, collection helps to strengthen the muscles of the back and stomach and lifts the shoulders. That makes schooling much more comfortable for the horse and reduces the risk of concussion injuries that can occur in horses that work continually on the forehand.
What the dressage judge wants to see
When judging collected trot, the judge hopes to see the following:
- Consistent, correct rhythm
- Plenty of energy to the trot strides
- An uphill balance
- The correct frame, i.e., horse’s face slightly in front of or on the vertical
- Balanced, smooth transitions between the paces
- Increased spring and lift to the steps
The judge does not want to see a horse whose rider is slowing the tempo of the pace and using the reins to pull the horse’s head in.
How to ride collected trot
You cannot ride collected trot until the working pace is established, and the horse is working correctly along the dressage Scales of Training.
Riding the half-halt
To ride a horse in collection, you must be able to ride an effective half-halt. The half-halt is a rebalancing aid that enables you to shift the weight back onto the horse’s haunches, bringing his hind legs more underneath him and lifting his back.
To ride a good half-halt, sit deep into your horse, stretching up through your torso, without lifting your shoulders, and tighten your abs. As you do that, you will feel your pelvis rotating underneath you, bringing your pubic bone up toward your navel. That stops you from following the horse’s movement, effectively gathering the horse more together underneath you and impeding his progress forward.
Simultaneously, stretch your legs down as though you were trying to put your feet flat on the ground. Wrap your legs around the horse’s barrel and apply gentle pressure. That will keep the horse moving forward with plenty of energy.
Close your fingers around the reins as though you are squeezing a sponge. Bend your wrists so that your thumbs are pointing slightly downward, and don’t pull back on the reins.
The combination of all these aids works to take the horse’s forward momentum back onto his haunches. The horse’s body will shorten from his forehand backward as his back lifts up, and his hindlegs step further underneath his body.
Ride with this level of collection for a few strides only, and then revert to working or medium trot.
Don’t expect your horse to work in collected trot for too long; it’s hard work! Be patient and gradually build up the duration of periods of collection. Once the horse is strong enough, he will be able to maintain the collection for longer.
Refining the half-halt
To refine the half-halt, you’ll need to learn to ride both sides of the horse by synchronizing the timing of your aids.
You can only influence the horse’s hind leg and bring it more underneath the horse with your leg when the hind leg is lifting off the ground. As the hind leg is rising, apply pressure with your leg on the opposite of the horse.
To know which hind leg is rising, watch the horse’s outside shoulder, just as you would when determining what diagonal you are riding. As the outside shoulder comes back, the hind leg on the opposite side is rising, and that’s when you should apply your leg aid. At the same time, gently squeeze the inside rein.
Using these subtle aids will help to make your half-halt much more effective.
Lifting the base of the horse’s neck
As the horse’s weight shifts back onto his hind legs, he will be more easily able to raise his head, neck, and shoulders, while flexing at the poll.
To soften the horse’s jaw, squeeze the reins. When the horse softens his jaw, shorten your reins to encourage the horse to flex at the poll. Resist the temptation to try to pull the horse’s head down. That will simply cause the horse to come behind the vertical and become too short and tight in his neck. Some horses will also drop their poll in an attempt to evade the contact.
Remember that, when the horse takes more weight behind, he uses his stomach muscles to lift his back. When that happens, you can allow the horse to lift his neck at the base. The overall shortening of the horse’s frame means that you will have to shorten your reins so that you can maintain the correct contact.
By using the half-halt correctly, you can develop your horse’s collection in the trot. The half-halt shifts the horse’s weight back onto his hind legs, activating his belly muscles, lifting his back, and raising his neck and forehand.
As a result, the trot steps will be shorter, more elevated, and elastic. The energy you create with your legs will translate into powerful impulsion generated by the horse’s haunches, giving the steps much greater spring and lift than is seen in the working trot.
Once your horse is able to work in this way, you have the foundations in place for the advanced variations of the trot; passage and piaffe.
If you have any helpful tips for teaching your horse to become more engaged and collected, share them with us in the comments box below.