How do I teach my horse to engage his hind end and collect?
I have a 9 year old thoroughbred gelding that I've had for going on 3 years. His is NOT off track. I need to start getting him to engage his hind end and collect, but I'm not really sure where to start. I can get at least a 1/2 way bend in the front end, but his back end is still just...everywhere. He drags his feet, and the only time he picks them up is over the trotting poles. He's got a slight bit of roached back, but not too bad.
I just really need to know how to train him to do this, because I don't know how. I don't have a trainer or instructor, nor can I afford one. Any help is appreciated! I've attached a picture so you can look at his build in case it helps.
First make sure he is light and soft doing lateral flexion, you should be able to lift one rein to your hip and he gives his nose to your boot. If he is stiff at first start on the ground and ask for just a little flex and as he softens ask for more. When he gets really soft, good lateral flexion is the key to vertical flexion.
Once he is soft in the saddle laterally then start asking for vertical at a stand still. Pick up your reins lightly pull them to your seam on your jeans as low as you can reach towards your knees and hold them there. As soon as he gives and feel the release throw the reins away, horses learn from the release of pressure. He should get to when you pick up the reins he gives, keep in mind vertical flexion is a feel not a look, the horse should be soft in the bridle. If he is really resistant, backs up, moves sideways just hold until he finds the right answer which is give to the pressure. Once he is soft at a standstill start asking while at a walk. You would do the same thing as at a standstill but also apply your legs to lift his ribcage, hands and legs on together off together, and as soon as he gives throw the reins away. Once he gets good at walk do it at a trot, then you can practice downward transitions with vertical collection. When he gets really soft at walk, trot and transitions then work for vertical collection at the canter. Always keep in mind vertical collection is a feel not a look if he gets resistant pick him up more with your legs and drive him forward until he softens, and remember to give back when he does it right, asking for just two steps to begin until you can get all the ways around the arena. Then you can work on work on refining so your not holding him and becomes responsible for holding himself in the bridle until you say otherwise.
I'd probably work on circles and figure 8s. Start big and slow, and gradually tighten the turns and increase speed. Walking them is fine for a start - maybe even critical at the beginning. Try doing gait transitions from faster to slower and back. A horse going uphill will shift its weight to the rear, so those are supposed to help if you have hills to practice on.
You might get some ideas from these exercises:
3 Takes on Training: Suppleness, Part 1 | Horse Journals
You don't always need a trainer! Is there anyone you can utilize with knowledge of horses? I agree with gssw5, softening of the face and body control is a must before collection. How soft is he?
If you focus on the 'head position' or what gssw5 calls 'vertical collection', then you are already on the wrong track.
I suggest you search 'collection, on the bit, round' or something along those lines on the forum. Or have a scroll through the dressage section. Worry about getting that engine of his revved up before you even contemplate thinking about 'fixing' his head. If he wants to stick it in the air but have active, carrying hind legs then that is a-ok by my books while he is learning and building strength. Eventually he will be strong enough behind and through the back to start coming into the bridle, while you start teaching him the basics of inside leg to outside hind, developing bend and suppleness.
This is a good read ::: Sustainable Dressage - Collection & Its Evasions - Preface :::
If he is reluctant to bend through his back he may need some readjusting. Get his back and saddle checked.
Secondly, getting a contact and long and low will be far more beneficial that up in a frame at this stage.
You don't want to be throwing your reins away, but you have to remember that it is a lot of work for a horse to come up, and takes a lot of work to get there.
Hind to front. If your horse is trailing his hind, but on the bit then he is fixing his head and not in a true outline. Once the horse's hind end engages, he will use his back and drop in to your contact. This isn't an over night fix, it takes time.
I would suggest getting a lesson at least once a month, if you can. That way you can work towards things, and be put on the right track.
Lots of transition changes, serpentines and circles will help loosen him off.
I've have also been given the advice to drive him into the bit, and that he will drive with his hind end...How do I know if he is collecting under me? I am not so advanced as to be able to feel it...
If he is throwing it on the air and bracing then yes, his back will hollow. You however, want positive tension. Because he doesn't have the strength or balance to carry himself in a 'round' outline at this early stage, something has to give. Often when you start to rev up the engine, the horse will feel most comfortable with the head and neck raised, as opposed to braced. This will lessen as he finds balance and builds muscle with active hind legs.
You need to ensure that you keep a steady, elastic contact with the bit, not pulling back of side-to-side. Once he can motor off on that hind end, you can start looming at adding some leg yield on a circle and other exercises to develop lateral suppleness. THEN he will start to 'come onto the bit'.
As said neurosis times above, this is very difficult to achieve without help on the ground, someone telling you in real time when to give or take aids. That is why a good coach is invaluable. Unless you have felt it before, or have someone telling you 'yes, now' on the ground do that you can store that feel in your memory bank, you will find it very difficult to feel when the work is correct, as a beginner.
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Any advice on how to get him to stop being so heavy on the forehand?
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