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).

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