Early in February we asked our Facebook friends what they would like to read about and we received a lot of great suggestions. In coming months we will try to write about many of the topics that people requested. By far, the most requested topic was regarding collection; what it is and what it isn’t, how to achieve collection, how do you know when you do achieve collection with your horse. We will try to address many of questions in this article regarding collection basics.
The following is my description of a collected horse. Collection starts in the hind quarters of the horse. The horse must round their body from the poll to their tail and propel themselves from the back, not drag themselves along from the front. In order to do this, the horse must be able to elevate their shoulders, which allows them to pick up their back and make room for the hind quarters to reach deeper and achieve the drive. If you could come up with one word to describe collection, it would be elevation.
The height of the horse’s head does not indicate collection. When I do clinics and ask my riders for their description of collection they usually say it is when a horse puts their head down. No! Not true. A horse travelling with their head down, if they don’t have their shoulders elevated and back lifted, will be forehand heavy. This means the horse is pulling themselves with their front end rather than pushing themselves with their backend. If you see a horse loping on level ground but they look like they are traveling downhill, they are probably forehand heavy and therefore not collected. This type of movement contributes to much of the lameness that is prevalent in our pleasure horses today.
A horse’s head height when they are moving depends on the confirmation of the horse. Most dressage horses have a neck that comes out of their shoulder higher than a western horse. As a result, a dressage horse will carry their head higher, with their poll being the highest point of their body. A stock type horse’s neck comes out of their shoulders lower, which allows them to have a naturally lower head carriage. This helps them excel with working cattle and general ranch work.
In looking at the movement of the horse, regardless of the breed, an easy way to tell if a horse is moving with collection is to look at the movement of their back legs. If the stride of their back legs puts their hocks out into their tail and they do not reach up under them self, the horse cannot achieve the drive with their hind end. Hocks in the tail = no collection and a horse which is forehand heavy.
Another key to collection is rhythm. A horse which is collected moves with a regular rhythm or cadence to their feet, similar to the beat of a metronome (one of those gadgets that your piano teacher put on the piano that goes tick-tick-tick). A horse that is not collected will have an uneven foot fall and will even make a heavier sound when their front feet hit the ground. (For more about cadence, see the January 2013 issue of Horsemen’s Corral.)
We have spent much of this article describing collection and what I feel collection looks like. Achieving collection is a topic that entire books are written about. Many of my articles in the Horsemen’s Corral deal with some aspect of collection. Collection starts with the rider’s body position. If the rider is out of balance, the horse will be out of balance and therefore cannot move in a collected manner. So collection starts with you! The characteristics a horse needs to have to achieve collection: the horse must be soft and light in the bride with both lateral and vertical flexion, they must stand up in the shoulders as they move, they need to be able to bend in the rib cage when asked, and the rider must be able to push hip/haunches in. Much of this relies on the rider’s proper use of the outside (not the inside) rein to help keep the horse balance as I discussed in last month’s article.
Collection for a horse takes time to achieve, both mentally and physically. You will not get this accomplished in 30 or 60 days. It takes time to develop the mental skills in the horse as well as the physical conditioning. Collection is a mental and physical development for both the horse and the rider, but well worth the time and work it takes to achieve it!
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Terry Myers is a national clinician and champion horse trainer with a depth of knowledge developed from over 45 years in the horse industry. Myers has been a popular clinician at multiple expos in the U.S. and Canada. To learn more about Myers’ Ride-In-Sync methods as well as clinic and training services available, visit Myers at www.tmtrainingcenter.com or on Facebook.