What is true collection? Is it a headset or is there more to Collection? How do I get collection?

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

I have received a few questions about Collection and one of my Horsemanship mentors, Charles Wilhelm from Castro Valley California, suggested I blog about the topic of Collection.

Many people think collection is a headset or a particular frame that you put the horse into BUT this is the wrong idea.  Collection is increased engagement of the hind feet having them step further under the body (belly) of the horse.  The front end of the horse rises ever so slightly so that the rear legs can easily step under and forward. For some people a horse in this position is referred to as being “on the bit” or “stepping through.” With collection, we are moving the weight of the horse and rider onto the muscled hindquarters of the horse thereby making the load on the forehand of the horse a little bit lighter.  Collection is the highest degree of self-carriage we can ask a horse to give.

T achieve TRUE collection, the rider must be aware of the footfalls of the horse and ride the entire horse and come to a point of rider and horse becoming ONE.

So how do you start to get collection with your horse?

First, teach your horse to move forward in each gait.  Build a strong foundation of forward movement at the walk and it will give you the basis for correctness and success at the trot and lope.

Once your horse moves forward at the walk, trot and lope, ask for a walk with light contact on the reins.  Then ask your horse for impulsion by using your leg and seat aides to urge him to step forward and under the belly with the hind legs.  These are light seat and leg aides and light hands, not poking, prodding, or pulling with your legs or hands.

While keeping the impulsion, apply light contact onto the horse’s mouth. This light contact on the mouth will help the horse lift up his front end ever so slightly.  As you drive the rear end forward and hind legs reach under his belly, you develop a balance between the front and rear of the horse.  This balance with a light front end and hind legs stepping under the belly is collection.

It is important that you ask for collection for only a few strides at a time as you teach your horse.  I must EMPHASIZE this point.  Riding in collection, especially in the beginning, is the wrong way to work your horse.  Begin gradually achieving collection for short periods of time.  Once you get a few steps of collection, release and let your horse walk freely, then repeat the above process.  Soon you will feel him elevating his back. It will feel like you are riding uphill.

With your younger horses, it is critical that you first teach them to go forward with purpose and energy while riding with the lightest rein contact possible.  Once the horse can move at the walk, trot (or jog), and lope with good impulsion and straightness and balance, only then should you begin to ask for collection.  For those who have spent time studying the Training Scale embraced by the dressage world, Collection, is the pinnacle/top most portion of the training scale and relies on a strong foundation of the elements that precede Collection to be achieved by horse and rider.

Now that we have spoken about the horse element of collection…it is very important to speak to the rider portion.  A rider must have control of his or her body in order to help guide the horse to achieve collection.  Riders who bounce, flap their arms like a chicken, pull and poke and prod in every which way effect the balance of the horse.  Without balance…there can be no collection.  Without rider balance — there can be no horse balance.

So next time you step out to the barn to work on Collection with your horse….take a look at yourself as a rider and make sure you are there to help the horse achieve the goal.  Many riders are not prepared for the mental, physical, and emotional work it takes to achieve collection with the horse.  Shortcuts, headset, training gimmicks….all these can help you achieve false collection — True collection comes with many hours of hard work and finding harmony and balance with the horse.  So when you want to achieve true collection — work for it and realize it will take time.

One final aspect to consider.  When you seek to achieve collection with your horse — realize the potential of your horse, understand the physical abilities of the horse (confirmation, injury, etc.) and work to achieve the collection that he/she can give you.  If you think that every horse you ride WILL and MUST achieve the same level of collection — you are sadly mistaken and a pretty darn poor horseman/horsewoman.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at http://www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

My horse asked me to not be a trainer anymore — I …. ?

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

One of the great aspects of social media is how many ideas and thoughts get shared.  We are now able to chat with people all around the globe and find how similar in thought many people are …. even if the thoughts might just be wrong.

Some of the comments I have read recently that I think are just wrong include the following:

1) I trained my horse to make a flying lead change.

2) I trained my horse to pick up its feet.

3) I trained my horse to walk, trot and canter (lope).

4) I trained my horse to back up.

These are only a few of the comments from people about how they “trained” their horse.  This actually got me thinking about how much the person actual “trained” the horse.  Three definitions I found in the dictionary for the word “training” include 1)   the education, instruction, or discipline of a person or thing, and 2) the process of bringing a person, etc., to an agreed standard of proficiency, and 3) The action of teaching a person or animal a particular skill or type of behavior.

Now step away from the reading for a moment and think about a horse or horses in the pasture that have never been handled.  Have you seen a horse such as this make a flying lead change all on its own in the pasture (I have), have you seen a horse pick up its feet in the pasture (I have), have you seen a horse back, walk, trot and lope along (I have).

So in reality we have seen a horse do all the things we claim that we train them to do.  Wow — quite arrogant of us people to claim we trained a horse to do something that its own natural talent allows it to do just as easily as it breathes. 

Well as I thought about this I realized I need to change some things in my life and my thought process.  I do not train horses.  I do not want to train horses. I do not want to be known as a horse trainer.   I want to coach myself to work with my horses to achieve success.  I want to coach others to work with their horses to achieve success.  I want to choreograph the dance that is inside each horse and rider. 

I shared this with a friend who asked me what the difference was between being a coach and a trainer.  Well since I am a coach — I sure need to define what that means.  A coach is 100% committed to the outcome of the student’s results.  The coach is prepared with a philosophy and a series of principles that guide the process.  With a coach you have a person who brings everything he or she has to the meeting or time together and finds solutions and enhances the communication and helps those connections grow.  The trainer is a person that works around a set schedule and current commitment to a program.  A trainer provides a service that works for the participant and brings them closer to their goals but may or may not achieve the level of success that is possible.  The trainer is often a person who brings a level of accountability to the process. Trainers set lesson times at 45 minutes and sets horse “training times” based on a wall chart.  Sure those all work — but in my opinion they limit the potential of the horse or rider.

The strongest differentiator between the two is more one of faith and desire than actual training principles.  A coach and the person or animal he/she is coaching meet on an equal level with the desire for a specific outcome.  With a trainer — the goals may be set by both participants but it is the heart of the trainer that helps push the person towards the goals.  Life situations creep into the final outcome between a trainer and a horse or rider – big project at work, family vacation, nagging injury – all legitimate reasons for taking it easy in a training program and the trainer actually helps you validate your excuse.  These excuses do not work when you have a coach.

Definitions of training have words like “Action,” “Process,” “Standard,” and “Discipline.” Coaching is like a marriage between souls – a coach will absorb every new technique and implement all tactics to make the horse or rider better.  Coaches spend hours outside of the “lesson times” to make himself better or improve what he knows.  I watch my horses in the pens.  From day 1 of life to now — wow have they improved their athletic abilities — I must come to this partnership with the same dedication to improving as my horse brings.

My horses have taught me that I should not be a trainer.  Since I get up each day that I am home and feed them, clean stalls, work with them and spend time with them — my horses are coaching me to be better in many things.  They are not training me….the horse brings what she knows and I arrive wanting to achieve success so we coach each other.

So I am a horsemanship coach and a horse coach … not a trainer.  There is nothing wrong with being a trainer and for people to want a trainer.  For some people that is what will help them achieve their goals.  For me — I want to achieve that marriage of souls so that my horse and I and people I have the privilege of coaching and their horses all do so much more than they ever thought possible.

 I want to choreograph the dance that is inside each horse and rider. I want to coach myself and my horses to achieve so much more.  I want to ride…I want to live….I want to listen to the horse coach with four legs who asks me to listen so that we can find this partnership that leads to magic.  It has taken years but now I understand what my horse started sharing with me years ago.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at http://www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

A Horse is not a Machine — Of Course

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

A Horse is a Horse Of Course and wouldn’t it be silly to think of a horse as a machine — yet sometimes that is exactly what happens.  Expectations that horses can perform like a machine often lead people to disappointment or sadly — neglect of the horse.  The horse is a Noble animal .. and we should treat it as such.

10 Ways that Horses are not Machines

1) Horse’s do not have automatic transmissions … they need guidance to shift (unless they are in run away mode).

2) Horses do not have “Idiot lights” to tell you what is wrong with them.  They give signs but most times they are not bright lights … you need to observe.

3) Horses cannot be put aside in a shed for a week and not cared for — it is not a motorcycle or bike — the horse needs daily care, not just care when you are getting ready to use it for the weekend.

4) Horses do not have an on/off switch. When you are finished, you cannot power it down and come back with it in the exact same spot next time you are ready to use it.

5) Horses have aches and pains and not all are able to be fixed with a new part picked up at the store.

6) Flies and insects bother horses — a machine is not bothered by flies sitting on it for days.

7) Machines do not have fear — but horses do have fear and we are the leader to help them past the fear.

8) Kick a machine and it will likely fall over or hurt your foot — kick a horse and you will lose its respect, cause it pain, and give it something to fear.  Kick a horse or threaten it in some way and you are a bully — kick a machine and you are just temperamental.

9) A machine can receive a new code, program, or app and be ready to go with something new. A horse learns through training and repetition and this takes time and patience.

10) A machine is the same each day unless it has a broken part or needs fuel.  A horse has moods, thoughts, and experiences that make it behave differently each day.

Now all of us have had a machine or two that we think has a mind of its own but we know that is not true.

I ask you all to stop and take a few moments and ask yourself — do you appreciate your horse because it is a Noble animal or are there times you expect, demand, want, require your horse to be like a machine.  If you do — you just might be loosing out on some of the magic that comes along with the horse experience.  All my horses are unique and give me challenges, make me think, keep me on my toes, and most importantly — my horses bring out my humanity, and humility and they help me to improve as a person ….. and that is magical and something I have never had a machine help me to improve (a few machines have helped me to act like a crazy man — but that is a story for another day).

Next time you are in the barn — make sure you thank your horse for helping you become so much more and remember that he or she is not a machine and can give you so much more.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at http://www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

Rider Physical Issues – Does it matter — YES

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

Over the past month I have been able to work with a few people who have some physical limitations.  Looking at these folks you would not see anything unusual…but the horse tells all.  One lady has a weak right leg, another lady has a hip issue that takes away from her flexibility and ability to sit straight, and another lady has a shoulder issue.  I also recently spoke to a friend of mine who has scoliosis.  All of these ladies love to ride — in fact, they ride daily.  But some were getting frustrated with how things were going with the horse or with their rides.

We took a step back in a few of these cases and figured out the problem.  The lady with the weak right leg was having lots of trouble picking up the left lead for cantering.  The lady with the hip issue was actually sitting on both her seat bones as she should — but this was making her crooked in the saddle and the horse was not smooth during the flying lead changes.  The lady with the shoulder issue was actually bracing that arm and not having any flexibility or rein give and take and the horse was starting to push its nose towards the bad arm.

These ladies and I worked together to come up with some solutions that I will share here with you all.  Then I will share some ideas about preparing to ride.

1) The lady with the weak right leg who had issues with her horse picking up the left lead.  Well that right leg has limited feeling (from an old back injury and subsequent surgery) and the lady never knew if she was giving the horse enough aide to help push the haunches to the left (away from the right leg) to help with the left lead canter departure.  In this case, we solved the problem by having the lady begin to use a bumper spur just on that leg.  The horse felt that added “aide” and immediately the problem is solved and we have left lead departures.  As we continue to work we are going to see if we can take that bumper spur away and have the horse begin to understand the weak leg aide from the rider.  Solution came in the form of changing a piece of equipment.

2) The lady with the hip issue. — Well she actually was sitting crooked.  So we are working on a solution here to help her develop a new balance point so that she stays upright yet flexible for moving with the horse.  This lady was always off-balance — more towards the left and it impacted the rollbacks, cow turns and lead changes of the horse.  In fact, the horse would tell us it was a problem during flying lead changes since we would see a tail swish and sometimes a kickout of a rear leg.  Now — we focus on having a “spotter” work with the rider to help her find the balanced point where she is not leaning.  Amazingly — lead changes are 10X better, horse is more balanced and lighter on the front end.

3) The lady with the shoulder issue — well again we are using a “spotter” to tell her when she is pulling and I have also helped the rider learn to read the signs the horse is giving her.  When she braces with the arm with the bad shoulder…we noticed that the horse traveled with its head higher and with the nose tilted in the direction of the bad arm.

So as you can see — some issues are solved with a piece of equipment being changed, some are solved with the help of a “spotter” and others are solved by listening to the horse.  When things are going poorly — the horse lets you know and you must take a breath and read the signs.

Preparation of the rider is just as important as preparing the horse for a ride. For people with or without physical limitations it is very important to prepare for the ride.  Get limber and stretch before you ride.  Relax and warm up your muscles. 

I have found a variety of exercises that help me increase my flexibility and allow me to be more limber in the saddle and I share them here.  Now one important note — if you have any question — make sure you consult with your doctor about what and how you should prepare to rider…always seek appropriate medical advice. I personally use Yoga and Tai-Chi to help me prepare for riding and there are numerous resources out there to help you as a rider utilize these techniques. Some of the exercises I use to make sure I am limber and ready to deliver my aides with the lightest amount of effort and with proper balance and feel by me.

Stretches shoulder, middle back, arms, hands, fingers, wrist

1) Interlace fingers and turn palms out, 2) Extend arms in front at shoulder height, and 3) Hold 10 to 20 seconds, relax, and repeat.

Relaxes hamstrings, stretches calves, Achilles, and ankles

1) Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, 2) Keep heels flat, toes pointed straight ahead, 3) Assume bent knee position (quarter squat), and 4) Hold 30 sec.

Stretches calf (Leg lunge)

1) Place right foot in front of you, leg bent, left leg straight behind you, 2) Slowly move hips forward until you feel stretch in calf of  left leg, 3) Keep left heel flat and toes pointed straight ahead, 4) Hold easy stretch 10 to 20 seconds, 5) Do not bounce, 6) Repeat on other side, and 7) Do not hold breath.

Stretches middle back

1) Stand with hands on hips, 2) Gently twist torso at waist until stretch is felt, 3) Hold 10 to 15 sec, 4) Repeat on other side, and 5) Keep knees slightly flexed.

I hope this helps you and that next time you get ready to ride…you take a few minutes to warm-up your own body before you get on your horse.  Your personal warm-up routine can help you be a better rider.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at http://www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).