In this mini-series we are going to take a look at the collectives. These are the marks you get at the end of your test for paces, impulsion, submission and your riding.
When a judge marks you they have two parts to fill out. The first part are the marks for each individual movement where the judge assess the quality of your horses way of going and the actual performance of the movement and will take both into account when deciding on the mark. The second part is the collectives which are at the bottom of the test sheet which they will fill in once you have finished your test. These marks have a coefficient of two which means they are worth a total of 20 marks rather than the usual 10/ They should show the overall impression of your whole test. So it should show the strengths of the test as well as areas that need developing All of this, should be related back to those Scales of Training. Its basically a blue print to show you what to go away and work on in your training.
At Prelim, the collectives are laid out differently to how they are laid out at Novice level and above. When we get to the heady heights of FEI tests; there is only one collective which is called 'general impression' (except in freestyle tests). This takes into account the whole test including the harmony,, presentation and the riders seat and effectiveness). In this series we are looking at the Novice and onwards collectives but all the information will still help you if you are competing at Prelim level.
Here's a little reminder about what the collectives are:
In this article we are focussing on the last two which i've decided to group together and they are rider position and rider effectiveness.
The rider collective is broken down in different ways depending on the level and test you're riding. Sometimes its broken down into 2 separate collectives and sometimes its just 1 and they are worded differently too. Sometimes its 'rider position' sometimes its 'rider seat' sometimes its 'rider effectiveness' sometimes its 'rider results'. Either way it all comes down to how you sit in the saddle and how you influence the horse.
Were going to look at the position and the effectiveness as 2 separate things just so we can break it down as much as possible.
The directives are described as 'balance, straightness and correctness of position'
Lets look at balance first. When a judge is looking at how balanced the rider is they are looking for a rider that is able to hold themselves up and in the saddle without relying on the horse. They should be able to move with the horses movement and not interfere with the horses way of going. Grabbing or gripping onto the reins, tipping too far back or forward, clenching and fixing the legs, hips and bum in the saddle; wobbly or unsteady hands and erratic or sudden off balance movements are all signs that the rider could be out of balance. But to become more balanced in the saddle takes time, its not the case that you can go for one lesson and someone teaches you a magic trick that suddenly has you sitting balanced in the saddle. To be balanced you need to be able to sit in the right position (we'll get to that later), be able to be strong enough to sit and move with the horse without gripping; whether that's with your hands or with your legs. To get to this though takes time, you need to build up your strength in the saddle and learn to sit balanced and use your muscles in a way that means you stay relaxed but engaged and allow the horse to move underneath you.
Now, we can move to straightness. This is all about where you sit in the saddle and where your body is. The more straight you are the easier it is to be balanced but also to give correct aids so straightness is, really, that first building block you need to think about when you're looking at improving your position. When a judge looks at a riders straightness they are assessing two things; firstly, where you sit in the saddle and secondly how evenly you sit. To sit in the correct position you need to sit on the triangle between (without being too crass) your front hole and your back hole. If you sit too far on your tailbone, your lower leg will slide forward and, ultimately you will put yourself out of balance as well as influencing your horse in a whole host of negative ways But sit too far forward, and your lower leg will slide back, your bum will come out of the saddle and, again you're out of balance and your horse is, more than likely on the forehand. A great way i was taught to think about it is to imagine your pelvis is a bowl of water. If you tilt your pelvis too far back and sit on your tailbone, all the water is going to tip out the back; but tilt your pelvis too far forward and the water will tip out the front. We want our pelvis to sit straight in the saddle so we imagine that we are keeping that bowl of water straight so no water can slosh out the front or back.
And we can take this same analogy on when we look at whether you are sat evenly in the saddle. This is all about you sitting with an even weight down through both seat bones and legs, not tipping left or right. And again, the bowl of water analogy works well here; sit too much on your left seat bone and your hip will drop causing the water to slosh out the left side; sit with too much weight down your right seat bone and the water will go out the right side. Think of your pelvis as the first building block for your position, once your pelvis is straight then the building blocks on top (your back, shoulders, hands and so on) will have a greater likelihood of being straight. But when your pelvis isn't straight, lets say we are tipping forward and to the left, our upper body will compensate for this by tipping to the right to balance ourselves out. So things like head tilts, one shoulder lower than the other, sitting to the left or right could all come down to you not sitting evenly across both your seat bones. And again this can affect your horse so your horse might be more blocked in one rein or the other, they might be more supple one way than the other, they might struggle to bend round one leg more than the other.
And this is why the riders position is such an important collective; because ultimately, we train our horse to be influenced by us but a lot of the time we could be giving them cues and instructions we don't even realise were doing and trying to correct lots of issues that we are ultimately causing. So, by fixing your positional issues, you may find that a lot of the problems or issues you're having with your horse may just disappear.
The last thing in rider position is the correctness. And, simply, the judge is looking for a correct position. So they'll be looking at the shoulder, hip, heel line we all know about, they'll be looking to see if you are sitting in the correct position (ie. in the middle) of the saddle; they'll be looking to see, ultimately, whether your position is having a positive or negative effect on the horse. So if they see that your horse is tilting their head because your hands aren't straight because you're not sitting straight, they will mark you down, if they see that your horse is on the forehand because you are tipping forward then you will be marked down for that; and if they see that your horse has contact issues because your hands are wobbly because your not balanced in the saddle you will get marked down for that too.
A straight rider will make a crooked horse straighter, an un-straight rider will make a straight horse crooked.
This part of the collective looks specifically at the aids the rider uses and the response the horse gives.
The correctness of the aids is all about where you put your legs, hands and seat to ask for each movement. It needs to be that you ask for each movement in the correct way, at the correct time and then the effectiveness of the aids is all about how your horse responds to those aids. Transitions are a big place where judges will have this collective in the back of their minds. Transitions that are slow or lazy to react to your aids show a lack of effectiveness whilst an over reaction to the aids shows the same. Similarly, if transitions are late because the rider didn't prepare them correctly this shows a lack of correctness and timing of the aids.
What is the judge looking for overall?
So, overall the judge is looking for a rider that sits straight in the saddle (doesn't tip forward, back, left or right), is balanced and gives correct aids at the right time; getting an effective, correct response from the horse immediately when the aid is given.
Understanding your rider collective
I think a big problem with the position collective, actually sometimes all the collectives in general is that it is often misunderstood. Sometimes we get a mark or a comment that we don't understand or don't quite get. And when this happens you have 3 options. Either go and find the judge, they are normally more than happy to talk to you more and help you understand why you got the mark you did. If you have the test sheet or the video of your test this might help to jog their memory a bit too as they will probably have judged quite a few tests by this point. Another helpful idea is to go and watch back your test with your test sheet and pay attention to each movement, the mark you got and the comment and see if you can spot the areas watching it back. A lot of the time it looks different to how it feels (another reason why test riding is so important!).
Is the rider collective controversial?
I personally love the rider collectives and feel it is something that isn't really focussed on enough in terms of marks and guidance. I think there's a sort of stigma attached to it that if you get a 7 or above you're a good rider and if you get below a 7 you're a bad rider. But i think that we need to start focussing on this collective more, it brings it back that dressage is all about the riders influence over the horse and if were not correct in terms of how we sit and how we train and how we ask for things we wont get the correct results. I also think that we don't focus on this enough as coaches either, a lot of riders want to go straight to fixing the horse and their problems but i think its our job as coaches to build a riders awareness of how their position is influencing the horse, no matter whether thats in a positive or negative way.
How can you improve your rider collective?
Over this series we've spoken a lot about test riding and how this will help your collectives, but when it comes to the rider collectives i think its more about something you need to keep plugging away at. As a rider you should have an awareness of how your position could influence the horse, if they don't react in the right way we should first look at what we did and if we asked correctly before assuming the horse did it wrong. All riders should know what their positional weakness are and should be constantly developing their balance, their seat, their aids and their position all the time. Something i always drill into my riders is that if a horse does something wrong either they don't understand what you're asking or they do understand but you didn't ask correctly. Both of which is our job to sort out and fix, not the horses. So the better we can be as riders and trainers the better our horses will be.
If you are reading this and thinking that you have no idea what your positional issues are or what you need to work on chat to your trainer about it. There are also some fantastic rider analysis coaches out there that are specifically trained to see a riders weaknesses and give you loads of tools to fix them. Another thing you can try is to take a video of you riding in walk and trot from behind and also side on. Then you can have a look and see whether you are tipping to the left or right, forward or backward and you might even be able to see how it is influencing your horse.
Building your awarenss is the first step, once you are aware of what it is you want to fix you can then try different things to see what works and what helps you.