Starting Collection

Riders often find connecting their horses easy when they ride in a long and low frame. However, when they start to collect (shift the center of gravity toward the hind legs), they struggle to maintain that connection.

Keep in mind that a longer, lower frame is perfect for warm-up no matter what your horse’s degree of training.

Think of the training scale. Connection (#3 on the training scale) comes before Collection (#6 on the training scale). Your horse must be connected before you can correctly collect him.

Also, if you start to collect your horse and he loses the connection over his back, you need to go back to your lower frame, re-connect him and then start to shift his center of gravity back again.

Don’t try to make this balance adjustment too fast or he will get tight and tense. You can use exercises like frequent transitions skipping a gait, lateral work with a bend like shoulder-in, and smaller circles to gradually collect your horse.

You can also use collecting half halts to bring him up. These half halts are a momentary closure of seat, legs, and hands.

Give three collecting half halts when you feel your horse’s inside hind leg on the ground. As you do it, decrease the amount of ground you cover for those 3 strides, but keep the same rhythm and tempo. (i.e. If it normally takes you three strides to ride through a corner, aim for five or six strides.)

Remember that collection takes strength. Think of it as deep knee bends.

So, establish your long and low frame, then bring your horse up slightly for just a minute or two at a time. In the new, slightly-more-uphill balance, check the suppleness in his neck and poll. If he gets tight, put him long and low again.

Then bring him up less, and check for the suppleness again. When you find a slightly more collected balance and he’s still loose, plateau off there for some days/weeks until he gets comfortable.

You’ll go through many of these gradual balance adjustments always checking for suppleness.

In other words, don’t expect a horse to go from long and low to “up” in one fell swoop!

Gradually, as he gets stronger, he’ll be willing to spend more time “up”.

Just listen to your horse. If he’s tight, rigid, grinding his teeth, or losing rhythm (#1 on the training scale), he’s telling you the work is too hard at that moment.


  1. karen parfitt says

    Hi Jane
    I have a 6 year old gelding who has always had trouble with long and low.Coming from the hunter ring I felt this was important. I had a chiropractor come out and he found an old tear in a neck muscle- with that sorted out , my horse is very happy to go long and low. Your advice is so important- listen to your horse. They always want to try for us but sometimes they just can’t and they can’t ” tell” us !

  2. julie egolf says

    I prefer the written word to video. Are you going to publish step by step in writing? Also, any other video works you’ve done?

  3. Anne Zahradnik says

    I’ve wasted time and money on videos in the past, so I haven’t purchased any in quite some time. With my trainer in FL for the winter, however, and me in NY with a 3 year old to start on my own, I decided to spring for your step-by-step series. I’m thrilled to say that was money well spent. Your explanations are so sensible and clear that I’m easily retaining them and putting them to good use. My youngster is responding well to the techniques you teach and we are making great progress. Thanks so much! I hope to work with you in person when you come back up north.


  4. Wow! You are just the kind of teacher I need – break it all down into logical, concise, clearly explained steps with visual demonstrations…and to remind me to relax and be realistic(stop getting in my way of trying to do everything perfectly right now). It all makes so much sense!
    However, I make some progress then find myself going backwards (i.e., simple bending, or just getting her to drop her head)- guess it’s just going to take a lot of time for me to figure out how to use my muscles (relocating them after 27 years of not riding) to become the aids needed to get my mare to relax/supple after many years of being a hard-worked (tortured?)camp horse.

    Such is the life of an “old dog” that’s learning some new tricks! I am a retired band teacher with my first horse – a dream come true!! Thanks for your help!

  5. Mary Beth Hilburn says

    I have asked this question before. I have a VERY forward horse who doesn’t believe he can canter slowly for very long. I need a program to get him to the point of getting canter walk transitions. I know it is not a simple sequence but haven’t seen it any place.

    • Jane Savoie says

      Hi Mary Beth,
      I cover this in depth on the Dressage Mentor site.–both through Audio and in video lessons.

  6. Linda girard says

    Hello Jane! It’s always interesting to read you. I am shopping for a new horse and I have to try young horses (around 4 years old). What is the most important thing to check to know how the horse will be easy or not to put on the bit. Each time I tried one in the last week, owners or trainers told me do not take a contact, just put it forward.

    Thanks in advance to reply

    Linda from Québec

  7. Rachel Blackie says

    Well! THANK YOU. brief and simple and sooooo much help for us. We always get tense tense tense in our tests, and now i know that the strength is likely not there, I can build with this exercise. Its very clear now. Thank you again 🙂

  8. Hilary Smuts says

    Your very simple short article on starting collection. VERY GOOD! One of the most succinct little articles I have read.:)

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