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Riding Skills: Is Contact Required For Collection?

Question Category: Riding Skills

Question: Julie,

I saw your clinic at the horse Expo in Illinois a couple of years ago and am completely impressed with both the your clinic and the down to earth way you present information on the Q&A page of your website. I know I have learned a lot from you! I have a question that I hope you can shed some light on for me.

I have ridden in a western saddle for around 30 years and just took up basic dressage in the last 6 months. I had a judge comment to me in my last dressage test that I don’t have enough contact – which I knew – but then she continued on and said that without proper contact there is no way a horse can canter confidently.

I have ridden horses and seen horses ridden on a loose rein – or even bridleless – that seem to be cantering quite confidently. Is she referencing a proper collected dressage canter specifically or am I missing something in my knowledge of a horse that is ridden in western pleasure, reining, barrel, or other disciplines? Thanks for taking the time to respond and I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you,

Answer: Nicole,

Collection is a natural movement—it’s known as “prideful” behavior and most everyone has seen it at one time or another. The horse has his neck arched high; his tail up over his back and he is strutting his stuff. Almost everything we ask of the horse when we are riding he can do naturally—therefore he is capable of doing it with confidence. To say there is “no way” a horse can do this is perhaps an overstatement.
Horses can make collected maneuvers under saddle, with or without out heavy contact, on light contact, a loose rein or with no bridle at all because they can do it on their own naturally. Unless the rider gets in the way, which we all know is usually the case.

The judge that told you the horse needs more contact to canter confidentially no doubts believes that that is the most prudent training technique to get the desired result.

It’s true that support with the outside rein will help you engage the horse’s hind end—but I do not believe that heavier contact necessarily gets a better response. In fact, in my opinion, the lighter the horse is (the less pressure on the bit required to get the desired response) the better the movement.

Having said that, you’ll benefit a lot in your riding skill and knowledge of riding theory by taking dressage lessons. There are some schools of thought in dressage that are very heavy, and others that strive for lightness and natural movements. Allege Ideal〈=en is a movement in dressage that I believe strongly in and whole-heartedly support. There are some important issues at stake here—check it out.


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