WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #88
Better movement; more control; and a happier, healthier horse -
these are the benefits of true collection. Adapted from a
definitive new book on the topic.
by Lynn Palm
Collection is one of the most misunderstood concepts in riding.
Everybody wants it, but few people truly understand exactly what
it is. With true collection, you can improve your horse's
performance, boost his willingness, extend his physical and
mental longevity, and enjoy the ride even more.
Fortunately, every horse can achieve and move in a collected
frame given time and patience. My new book, "The Rider's Guide to
Real Collection," is a manual for achieving true collection. In
this adaptation from the first chapter, I'm going to explain the
importance of collection, define what it is (and isn't), clarify
the role of flexion and bending, and give you some tools to help
you better understand how real collection helps your horse.
Why you need it
When a horse is collected, he's more balanced, so it's easier for
him to do whatever you ask of him. He can change gaits, change
speed within gaits, turn, go up and down hills, move laterally,
spin, stop-all with less difficulty.
With collection, your horse's movement is more rhythmic, free,
and flowing. His walk has a marching, defined pace, where you can
shorten or lengthen his stride without losing the fourbeat
His trot has fluidity and a precise, two-beat rhythm. His lope is
a true three-beat gait, where the natural stride is maximized and
made more beautiful. Collection "magnifies" your horse's
movements and maximizes his potential. It also gives you, the
rider, light and easy control of your horse. He is responsive to
you and "locked in" to what you're asking of him. It's almost
like a dance - everything is light and effortless.
Collection also promotes the soundness of any horse (assuming he
has no obvious conformation faults). It isn't a "technical" style
of training; it's a path to the natural physical development of
the horse's body. It's in accordance with equine anatomy and
biomechanics, so it promotes a horse's longevity. Collection also
benefits your horse's mental state. It promotes a positive,
eager, and willing attitude, because it puts your horse in a
position physically to do things the easiest way. A properly
collected horse is a happy horse.
There are differences to a horse's frame in collection for
specific riding disciplines and breeds, but the essentials of a
horse in balance are the same in all riding. When collected
naturally and correctly, a horse can excel in whatever event or
competition he's suited for. He'll be comfortable and relaxed-and
certainly more fun to ride.
What collection is ... exactly
True collection, also known as the horse being in
"self-carriage," is achieved when he's able to compress his body
and move in a shorter, "rounded" frame. It starts when he more
fully engages the joints of his hind legs, bringing them farther
underneath his body as he moves, which enables him to bear more
weight on his hind end.
When he does, his hindquarters lower; his back comes up and is
"round" rather than flat; and his withers are elevated, thus
allowing the front legs to carry less weight. His neck and poll
also rise, he "breaks" at the poll, and his head comes on the
vertical (that is, his forehead is on a vertical line to the
Collection can only be achieved by riding your horse from back to
front. This means using your driving aids - your seat and legs -
before your rein aids, to create a connection from your horse's
hind legs to his mouth. In this way, the power in your horse's
hindquarters is directed forward through his body to your hands.
He begins to round his spine and come "on the bit," which is
necessary for his future ability to collect.
A horse on the bit is properly connected from back to front;
other terms used to describe this are "connected from the leg to
the rein," "moving in a round frame," "throughness," "packaged,"
or "rounding his back."
...and what it is not
A "headset" is not collection! This is probably one of the
biggest misconceptions in riding. Achieving a headset is part of
collection, but it's not by itself collection.
"False collection" is perpetuated through techniques such as
overflexion, neck bending, and riding from the mouth. These, in
turn, often result in a frustrated and resistant horse, poor
performance, and even artificial gaits, which stem from a loss of
correct cadence. The hind legs are "delayed" because they're not
engaged with power. The trot loses its two-beat rhythm, and the
canter has four beats instead of three.
Artificial gaits are a sure sign of a horse that's being ridden
from front to back. At the canter, the horse will be flat in his
spine, with no roundness to his body. He'll likely be overflexed
in the poll, restricted from going forward, and have too much
weight on his forehand. This causes his hind legs to drag behind
him, which keeps him from engaging to a three-beat canter.
Trying to achieve collection "from the head" breaks a horse down
physically. It places undue stress on him because he's not built
to travel that way. When a horse has his poll lower than his
topline, and his nose behind the vertical, added strain is put on
his front legs and on his back and loin muscles. His hind limbs -
hips, stifles, and hocks - are overtaxed, which is why we see so
many injections being done in these areas. All-over muscle
soreness can also result.
False collection negatively affects a horse's mental state, too;
this is often clearly seen in his body language. Because what
you're asking of him is physically difficult or impossible, he
becomes frustrated and angry. This unhappiness will be expressed
by his ears, mouth, facial expression, and tail (more on this in
Flex and bend-the right way
When your horse's head position is on the vertical, his forehead
is, as I indicated earlier, vertical to the ground, or at a
90-degree angle from it. This is the maximum position that a
horse should flex at the poll.
When the nose is farther out than 90 degrees to the ground, the
head position is considered beyond the vertical. When the nose is
straight out and there's no flexion at the poll, there's no
roundness to the spine, so there can be no collection. This
position is sometimes referred to as "nosed out," or it is said
that a horse "noses out."
When the nose tucks behind the vertical, such as when the horse
draws his chin toward his chest, he is flexing at the third
vertebra in the neck rather than correctly flexing at the poll.
This is known as "overflexing."
Too often, I see riders pull on the reins to get the horse to
"give" to the bit and fix the head inward. This restricts the
horse from going forward. The only escape he has from the pain he
feels in his mouth is to lower his head even farther and/or bring
it behind the vertical.
When a horse goes behind the vertical and is overflexed, he has
the advantage (to him) of escaping the action you are giving with
your rein aids to the bit. In other words, if you wanted to turn,
he could avoid the cue. And if you wanted to slow down, he could
escape by bringing his chin toward his chest. So whenever your
horse is overflexed, you have a loss of control and often cannot
totally regain correct responses when you need them.
Many people bend their horse's neck from side to side to try to
achieve a headset. As I explained earlier, trying to obtain
"collection" from the horse's head and neck only results in a
false collection. The neck is just one part of the horse's body.
I like to divide the horse into five parts: head, neck, shoulder
and front legs, back and barrel, and hip and hind legs.
If your main focus is bending your horse's neck back and forth
(thus constantly pulling on his mouth), you're only achieving
elasticity of the neck and making it act like a rubber band. And
the more the neck is like a rubber band, the more it becomes
another means of your losing control of your horse's body, and
thus control of what you're asking your horse to do.
(Oh wow...is the lady ever right on this. I've seen people at the
Griffin Ranch and other places - bringing back the horse's nose
to the fender of the saddle, some even "tying back" the horses
head to the fender and leaving the horse like that for 10 minutes
or more. Oh they tell me, "It's to develope felxability or
elasticity." Then when out on the trail and the rider wants the
horse to go left or right and the horse does not want to, the
horse just turns its head to the fender, and the rider kicks away
and the horse just stands there, as if to say, "I ain't going
your way and so I'll just fex my head as you taught me and stand
here." I say to myself, as I've seen this happen, "Well so much
for teaching your horse to flex its neck....see you later, when
your horse decide it would like to go home to the barn" - Keith
True lateral flexion of the neck is when the horse moves his head
to the side just enough to allow the rider to see his eye. He
does not bend his neck, but rather flexes at the poll to "give"
to the bit.
Some riders incorrectly believe they are suppling their horse
merely by bending his neck from side to side. Real lateral
suppleness, however, involves the horse's entire body, not just
his neck. Promote suppleness by riding your horse on a curving
line; this compacts the muscles on one side of his body while
lengthening, or stretching, the muscles on the other side, from
head to tail.
(Right on Lynn, right on girl - Keith Hunt)
True suppleness and lateral flexion are not done through the
neck, just as true collection is not just a headset.
Lynn Palm, author of the book from which this article is adapted,
has more than 34 AQHA world. and reserve world championships to
her credit, not to mention four AQHA Superhorse wins. She was
AQHA's Female Equestrian of the Year in 2000, and is also a
carded judge. For more information on Lynn and her Palm
Partnership Training schools, go to HorseandRider.com and click
on the Team H&R link. To check out "The Rider's Guide to Real
Collection," go to HorseBooksEtc.com
HORSE&RIDER OCTOBER 2010
To be continued from time to time