Thursday, June 18, 2015

Collection - What we do.

Excerpt from the FEI definition of collection:

The position of the head and neck of a Horse at the collected paces is naturally dependent on the stage of training and, to some degree, on its conformation. It is distinguished by the neck being raised without restraint, forming a harmonious curve from the withers to the poll, which is the highest point, with the nose slightly in front of the vertical. At the moment the Athlete applies his aids to obtain a momentary and passing collecting effect, the head may become more or less vertical. The arch of the neck is directly related to the degree of collection.

I pulled this from the FEI's definition of collection. I have absolutely no issue with it. None.

Let me start with conformation.

The little paint is a quality reining bred yearling. The chestnut (gray?) is a quality yearling Danish Warmblood. Look at the slope of the shoulder, the haunches and the tie-in point on each neck.

Look at the flat croup and the neck tie in and the shoulder on the gray. This build gives him the ability to provide the up and down movement desired in dressage. 
The lower head set in a quarter horse comes from his build. The heavily muscled, long, sloping croup allows him to step under himself and round his back, creating balance and lightness with his "long and low" way of going.

I am not going to get into a discussion about peanut rolling pleasure horses or the crazy low heads of reiners. Both were fads, both are slooooowwwwly leaving the show ring.

I do know that the lowered head on he reiners scored high for degree of difficulty, but I think it's no longer the ideal.

The pleasure horses? I don't know. It's just show crap.

This is a Ranch Pleasure competitor. It is not crap. It may be the salvation of the western pleasure horse.

I can only explain how I train my horses. It's how I was taught to create a round frame, which lengthened the horse's stride, lightened the front end and increased our ease of maneuvers. Lightness through the shoulders, drive and power from the hindquarters...that's our goal.

The low head set comes from drawing up the horse's barrel with pressure from our legs. Try sucking in your stomach and rounding your back, check out what your neck does.

Lightness comes from bending, transitions, half-passes, side-passes, turns on the forehand, serpentines, shoulders in, haunches in....

When each maneuver is correct (no matter what level), the steps deepen, the back rises, the shoulders lighten and the poll lowers...and we encourage it.
The legs go deep, the back curves, the head drops...legs are off...bit is not even there.

Can't spin on  heavy front end.

Excerpt from the FEI definition of collection:
The aim of the collection of the horse is:
i) To further develop and increase the balance and equilibrium of the horse, which has been more or less displaced by the additional weight of the rider.
ii) To develop and increase the horse’s ability to lower and engage his quarters for the benefit of the lightness and mobility of his forehand.
iii) To add to the "ease and carriage" of the horse and to make him more pleasurable to ride.

Some people want this

Some people want this

You want lift?

We get in the dirt

Collection is all about getting what we want while helping horses create a way of going that keeps them in balance. Both disciplines use the same techniques to develop our horses, with a few variations thrown in to compliment the conformation of our horse.

I am sick of talking about collection.
I could have done all kinds of charts and diagrams, but I didn't feel like it.
This is the simplest, clearest way I could address it.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Collection begins in the back and ends at the front. It's all in the feet.

The end.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Collection - It's All About the Feet

Collection is one of the first advanced concepts we start hearing about once we're past the basic WTC.

As a kid, I thought collection was about creating a pretty picture -- by keeping my horse's nose in. As many of you know, my horse, Mort was a head slinging, hard mouthed runaway. It made sense for the advice I heard the most to be, "Get that nose down!"

I didn't understand how collected he was without any help from me. His hind legs always were under him and his front end was loose and light. There's something about a horse who can jig for twenty miles and bolt into the wild blue yonder at the drop of a hat that creates a rounded frame.

My biggest breakthrough in understanding collection came when I realized this is not a man-made way of going. Horses collect all by themselves.

When left to their own devices, a horse collects as needed for the maneuver at hand. Spooking, fighting, stopping themselves from falling off a cliff, or jumping over an irritable bear, all require collection.

The mustang (Kiger 1) is beautifully collected. See the pissy horse (Kiger 2) coming up behind him? He's creating the whole kit and caboodle by driving the hindquarters forward. The beautifully flexed poll on Kiger 1 comes from resisting being moved out, but still having his butt shoved into his head. He in position to rock back and start kicking or to spin and come in biting or striking.  See how his hips are angled toward Kiger 2's head? This horse could easily step in to a haunches in, or 
kick Kiger 2's face off.

Horses travel by choice by dragging themselves along with their front end, and letting their hind legs trail happily behind a hollowed out back.
We humans realized a collected horse is a smother ride. It also benefits the horse by strengthening the back and easing the stress of lugging our lumpy selves by getting those hind legs to bear a portion of our weight.

Different disciplines have different ideas of what  constitutes a collected frame.

Personally, I think this is what causes 90% of the clashes between English and Western riders.

Western Reining Horse  -- Collected

Western Horse -- not Collected

English - Dressage Horse -- Collected

English - Dressage Horse -- Not Collected

Western --Pleasure Horse -- Collected

Western-- Pleasure Horse -- not collected

English Jumper -- collected

English Jumper -- not collected

I am not bashing any discipline here.
I'm not even bashing the riders that have missed the collection boat. I don't know any of their circumstances, they were simply clear examples of the mess created by saggy middles and sprawling legs.

I do want to point out that collection can happen no matter where the head is. The reason this can happen is because collection isn't about the head. It's about drive. Which comes from the feet. 

rider from any discipline will never, ever, EVER collect their horse by pulling the reins to their hip bones. 

All that can happen is the horse will raise his head, hollow out his back and trail those legs behind.


What do these images have in common? The riders aren't using their legs to shape their horses.Their legs are too forward to do anything but hang like deadwood and put them out of center. 

Collection begins in the back of the horse. By squeezing, pushing or bumping (name your poison) with your calves you will propel the horse's hindquarters forward.

"But  he just speeds up!" My argumentative audience interjects.

"Shut up for a minute." I respond.

As the horse begins to pick up speed, your hands create just enough contact with the horse (bit, halter, fairy dust) to create a wall. 
Yes, a wall. You are propelling your horse into a wall. Jamming them into that baby so you can squeeze them together between nose and tail like a car in a compactor at Hank's Auto Salvage.

The woman with the white pants is squeeeeeezing her horse and shoving his head into the wall (see red line). This encourages him to take deeper, longer steps so he can puuuuuuush the wall with his forehead. This lifts his back. The harder he pushes, the rounder his back becomes, and the farther he reaches underneath himself  with his hind legs.
The headless rider is doing the exact same thing  except his rider is bump, bump, bumping and he will puuuuush his wall (red line) on a loose rein.  The deep, reaching steps and the lifted back are created the same way.

Here's the deal. Neither horse needs to be pulled on in order to collect. The vertical carriage  comes from the push into the wall, which is created by the legs of the rider driving the hindquarters forward. The riders hands give the horse a place to go to, so it can push that frigging wall.

If a horse is used to having his face pulled only to drop his nose, BUT FOR NO OTHER REASON he will learn to get behind the bit. Once his poll is tipped over his nose he can't push against the wall...if he can't push he can't collect. He can however, get some relief from those yanking hands

Can't you see the power all leaking out the back?

Collection is essentially a way of creating boundaries both front and back with our hands and legs that create the ultimate in efficient, beautiful movement. There should always be an equal amount of pressure between legs and bit. Always. If the horse has confidence in the communication and trust in hands and leg, he will find the best way to go comfortably between the boundaries we have established. 

Monday, April 20, 2015


I am working on a horse post. It's about collection. It's really haaaaaard (can you hear the whine?).
In the meantime, a theory about how Brockle has offered some of his behaviors has wriggled through my mind.

This is pure speculation on my part. It does come from the knowledge I've been absorbing since I decided to study dog training and behavior. I would love some feedback.

While learning to read dog body language, I came across a  stern warning again and again, from many different sources.

"A dog who looks directly at you, actually staring at you with a tense facial expression, is another matter indeed. A direct stare is much more likely to be a threat, and if you’re in close proximity to such a dog, it’s wise to slowly look away." PetMD

Recently, I keep finding articles telling me that people and their dogs both get a surge of oxytocin when they look into each others eyes. 

When I met Brockle, I hadn't studied any of this stuff. He stood tall, didn't give ground or cower, his mouth was tight, his ears were erect and his tail hung at half mast, with no welcoming wag. He looked straight into my eyes.

He made direct eye contact again and again.

I'm glad I was ignorant about what his body was saying.

If I go by my beginning book learning, this tense, tight-mouthed dog was challenging me, or even thinking about biting me.

His eye contact was unsettling. It felt like he was desperately trying to tell me something. I decided he was asking me to bust him out. So I did.

Obviously, I'm glad I made the decision. I have learned that I have a tense, nervous dog. He was almost paralyzed with anxiety when we met. I've had to get used to the eye contact, he's either got it or is seeking it almost 24/7. 

Since I was his fourth owner in the first 11 months of his life, he had good reasons for being wound a little tight. 

He is much calmer now even if he still likes to look deep into my eyes. I could humanize him by saying he's looking into my soul, but I have a sneaky suspicion he's an oxcytocin whore.

The training I've been taught to use with Brockle, is to essentially convince him I'm the biggest and best party in town. Hanging with me is better than anything else in the world, and listening to me is better than that. 

This approach has been working just fine, but how does it explain his offered behaviors to assist me? What reward does he get from bugging me to sit down when my blood pressure is dropping? What inspired him to help me get up off the floor, steady me when my balance goes and walk me up and down stairs?

Again, I could say it's because he looooooves me, and I'm not saying he doesn't, but that's too simplistic.

Here's what I'm thinking. Brockle is insecure. He guards me like a peanut butter filled Kong. He also has one of the pokier noses I've ever dealt with. He sniffs me often. Not a dainty little sniff mind you, but a deep, kind of damp snorfling, breaking all personal space boundaries. 

He's obsessed with pits. Not just crotches, but arm pits, elbow pits, ears, nostrils and knee pits. He wants to check my breath several times a day. He's finally quit crotch-diving every person he meets, but has perfected the drive by whiff.

He goes crazy with any kind of wound, on any person, dog or horse. He wants to lick it until it's healed. He chased the kidlet for days trying to get at a semi-infected oozy scrape on her achilles. She kinda hates him, I'm not going to lie.

I'm pretty sure my scent changes when I'm feeling poorly. 

I think the offered behaviors started with Brockle just wanting a snootful of the new odor. He was obnoxious enough to make me sit down. Once I sat, his reward was being able to sniff.

I realized he did this when I was going to crash and began rewarding him with food when he helped me out. It became an established behavior.

He becomes frightened when I'm not steady on my feet. Even more so if I fall. His first instinct was to crowd as close as he could. I think it was more of a "Hold me, I'm scared," than an offer for me to lean on him. 

I re-balanced myself by grabbing his ruff. He was happy because I got back on course and I reinforced him with praise and treats.  

In return, Brockle has made these behaviors his job. It has made him more confident. Is it because he knows what to do to stop situations that used to frighten him? I don't know.

His rude sniffing may be annoying, but I have a better understanding of why he does it. My pits are still off limits, but I have decided he gets all the oxytocin he wants.  

So there's my theory. 

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