The Training Tree: Collection
WAVERLY, WV--Collection is at the top of our training tree and it is another one of those mythunderstood words out in the horse industry. A lot of people look at a horse and say hes collected when hes really just all bunched up in front. Maybe hes got a lot of activity drive and the rider is hanging on his mouth so he cant move forward and spend it as freely as hed like. So he curls up his neck and prances around and people who dont know any better say hes collected. Or maybe the rider doesnt really know what it means to have an independent seat and put her horse on the aids. She just fusses with the reins and the horse, being an obliging sort, bends at the poll, tucks his nose, slows down so she thinks her horse is on the bit and that shes got collection.
True collection only comes at the end of a long road when the horse has done the necessary body building to be able to respond correctly to a complete circle of correct aids. We had a lady who brought a 2-year-old horse here for training and after just a few months, she wanted to know if her horse was doing collected work yet. Collection is at the top of the training tree for a reason. It takes a great deal of both physical and mental conditioning before any horse is ready to attempt true collection much less achieve it for more than a stride or two.
In order to achieve collection, a horse has to develop a lot of muscle in his hindquarters. He has to be able to shift his center of gravity more over his hind feet by increasing the bend in his hocks and stifles. That lowers his hindquarters, shortens his strides, and means that when he thrusts off the ground, his impulsion now becomes more up than forward.
When people try to describe what collection looks like, they talk about the horse shortening his frame. If you draw an imaginary line around a horse when hes standing still, you can describe where his body is relative to the sides of that box as he begins to work. When people talk about a horse lengthening or shortening his frame, they mean how he looks in that imaginary box relative to where he was when he was standing still. He may have stretched out and lengthened his spine so his nose may now be sticking out the front of the box or maybe hes gathered himself up so that now theres some space between his nose and the front of the box.
In true collection, that frame shortening comes about because the horse shifts his weight to the rear so that his hind feet are closer to his center of gravity. He does this by increasing the bend in his hocks which lowers his hindquarters. Now if you look at the horse relative to the sides of the imaginary box, it looks like hes traveling uphill in a shorter frame even though hes standing on level ground.
Theres one more thing thats got to be there for true collection. When a young horse or a horse thats lower down on the training tree moves with impulsion, their stride becomes bigger and longer, more forward. When collected horse shortens his frame and lowers his hindquarters, however, his impulsion or thrust off the ground becomes more up than forward. Now the horse thats framed in that box is the picture of coiled power.
Some people pull their horse together in a shorter frame, slow down the rhythm so hes taking shorter strides and think theyve achieved collection. But it isnt collection because the impulsion, the way he pushes off the ground, stays the same. In true collection, the horse must lower his hindquarters and push off the ground so that he moves his body more up than forward.
It takes a lot of muscle to do collected work. Its extremely difficult. Its not intended to be something simple and you cant take shortcuts. A really talented, athletic young horse may be able to achieve collection in two years of training. Many horses may need as long as four or five years of working four or five times a week before they have the proper muscling to compete as a grand prix dressage horse. Different horses will take more or less time. And not every horse is going to have the physical potential to reach the top levels in whatever game their rider has decided to play.
horse needs to go methodically through every step in the training tree
in order to develop the muscles he needs to play at the upper levels.
Whether its a dressage horse or a reiner or a cutter or an event
horse, you can look at the horses muscle development as he goes
into the arena and predict whether hes going to be able to give
a good performance or not. If he doesnt have the muscle, you know
its not going to be a good performance because the horse hasnt
been conditioned to do the job.