This weekend I took two horses to a Lientje Schueler clinic in Elk Mound, WI. Both horses are advanced enough to work on collected work. When asked what I wanted to work on while I was riding my first horse Bacara, I said I wanted to work on the quality of her canter. I stated that she had a good canter but when I collected it she left her back tense and lifted her neck. I needed a solution for canter collection that included her entire top line.
The first thing we did was work at the walk and trot to straighten the horse we counter bent her a little and pushed her haunches out to align her. Then we moved on to the canter and did the same. This really made a difference in her top line right away. She was already coming up a little better.
After the canter was straight we widened the reins and pushed her into collection. It seems that the horse was getting stuck in her lower neck and if I widened and lowered my reins a bit - I was able to collect her without her getting stuck there. When I say getting stuck there I really mean that she needed to lower her neck a little in front of her withers (to make the top line a continuous arc) and then lower her croup to obtain the canter collection. The difference in the canter collection and Bacara's ability to stay relaxed was super. I have a direction to go with her that will only make her more athletic in the canter.
Hazel was my other horse at this clinic. We did a very unique exercise. My most stuck spot on Hazel seems to be that she does not displace her ribcage very well. Especially to the Right. Hazel will swing her haunches slightly right or left to avoid bending in her ribcage. She is short coupled and muscular - so this is hard for her. The exercise that was unique was that I had a lung line attached to my riding boot. This was instant feedback if Hazel was trotting or cantering on a circle and she slid her haunches one way or another. Keeping a steady soft tension on the line was really quite difficult. I laughed and said the line tugging on my boot reminded me of a dog getting zapped with a shock collar when it went beyond its boundary. This was really quite effective for improving the bend and not letting the haunches drift.
An additional comment I have is that in the canter, if Hazel was at all stuck in her lower neck, widening and lowering my hands for a moment really helped a lot and her canter collection improved immediately.