Riding a Horse with Collection

Many riders think of collection only as a frame that is created by manipulating the head and neck into an arched position and then driving the hindquarters forward energetically. While this is not entirely wrong, it lacks understanding of what the horse needs to do with its entire body. In theory it sounds reasonable to restrict the horse’s head and neck motion to encourage collection, but attempting to collect a horse from front to back rarely works well because horse’s are masters of compensation.

This is how a horse has to compensate when the rider tries to achieve balance from the front end by using the reins for "collection"

When a rider is trying to collect a horse from the head position in order to affect the hindquarters often times the horse will feel restricted, blocked and the need to compensate by dropping its back behind the withers instead of shifting weight to the hind legs.

Often people can’t stand to see a horse’s head or neck out of an ‘ideal’ position because it looks awkward and so will quickly resort to devices or manipulations that control the most mechanically malleable part of the horse. It is important to realize that the position of the head and neck is always a direct reflection of the horse’s ability to engage the hindquarters. When a horse gets the back end right, then the front end will become right as a reflection – and without a lot of help. If the rider tries to get the front end right first then the hindquarters will seldom if ever get right.

Collection means, “the act of gathering things together.”

Vertical balance – shifting a majority of weight to the hind legs – is the same as collection. More weight bearing on the hind legs means a greater degree of engagement in the hindquarters. Engaging the hindquarters starts a whole chain of events that gathers the entire horse together in balance.

This horse is showing good balance at the trot and the beginning stages of collection. The position of the neck is a reflection of how the hindquarters are being used.

Engagement is increased by shifting more of the horse’s weight to the hind legs, which causes the hip, stifle, hock and fetlock joints to flex and extend through a greater range of motion. If the horizontal and lateral aspects of balance are consistent then the hind leg joints will bear weight evenly, creating a balance between flexion and extension through each of the hind leg joints. The sacrum must extend and lengthen, allowing the entire pelvis to rotate higher in front and lower in back. The rotation of the pelvis allows the hind legs to step closer to the center of the horse’s body. The horse’s back then becomes a bridge between the hind and front legs. The abdominal muscles push the back up, lifting at the withers and lowering the low back with the hindquarters. The entire front end of the horse is ‘picked up’ by the action of the back or bridge moving in conjunction with the hindquarters. The weight load is lightened on the front legs, allowing an increase in their range of motion and length of stride. Finally, as a result of correct mechanical function, the neck arches and draws the head closer to the body, with the front of the head finding a vertical alignment with the ground as a result. This chain of events from back to front is how a horse is ‘collected’ soundly, safely and with comfort.

Riding a horse with collection is a healthy, sound way to ride that horse’s enjoy every step of the way. Collection is not just for sport, it is for the well-being of the horse’s body while carrying a rider for any purpose. The problem with saying that out loud is that the most prevalent concept of what collection means is not sound or healthy. If collection conjures up images of tight reins, programmed head sets, gadgets to get the horse’s neck arched or tense, anxious horses – then it would be better to skip it entirely. However, once you begin to understand the mechanical nature of the horse, then collection will have an entirely new meaning for you.

Comments

2 Responses to “Riding a Horse with Collection”
  1. Well said! I become so distrissed by the prevelant misunderstanding and misuse of collection.

    I would like to ad that collection takes strength and agility in the horse and cannot be developed overnight.

  2. sandy says:

    also can you send me a pdf file on the riding your horse with collection. ontop of classical horse training. thank you very much for your help.

Leave A Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Equine Imbalance

...."Many problems (of the horse) can be caused by unbalanced patterns of tension in the body"........
....."Uneven tension will often result in uneven body use, difficulty carrying a saddle and rider, stiffness generally 'through the back' or the body as a whole, behavioural problems etc..... " Gavin Scofield D.O.
Founder of Equine Postural Training &
Official Osteopath for the British Endurance team

Acknowledgements

Photos Contributed by:
Jim McCleary - McCleary Photography
Christianne Gentile - True by Christianne
Sarah Wengernuk - Essence Photography

Quote Of The Day

The best horseman, trainers and teachers in all disciplines understand the horse’s structure and mechanism, his natural balance and way of moving, and how he should best use himself to do the particular job required in that specialty
~Susan Harris