[dropcap]W[/dropcap]e all seem to agree that training must first and foremost contribute to the physical development of the horse. Ultimate collection does not only ask a great deal of straightness, flexibility and co-ordination, it also asks tremendous mental concentration and contribution from your horse.
What is collection?
Very briefly, in collection you want the horse to shift his weight, which means that the energy you put in is not going forward but rather upwards. You want the horse to put more pressure on the hind legs and lift his front. Roughly we can distinguish three stadiums of collection:
The natural balance of the horse refers to the three fifths of the horse’s weight on the front legs and the remaining two fifths of the weight on the hind legs. When the horse carries a rider, there is even more weight on the forelegs. In the beginning, when starting a young horse, this is how the weight is distributed.
In the second stage, the horse has equal weight distribution, with his weight evenly divided on all four legs, and this is referred to as horizontal balance.
It is up to the rider to train and encourage the horse to distribute the weight better and eventually move the gravity to the rear end. This last stage is called the ultimate collection.
Duration of the schooling career
Each horse has different conformation and a different nature, so the following is not a golden rule but more a guideline to make you realise that it takes a lot of time, sweat and tears before you and your horse are advanced.
Ultimate collection comes at the end of a long schooling career, after the horse has done the necessary bodybuilding and is able to respond correctly to all the aids. Your horse needs to be mentally and physically prepared and ready to demonstrate ultimate collection. In the beginning stages, two to four collected steps might be enough for your horse.
In order to achieve collection many muscles need to become stronger. The horse has to be able to shift his centre of gravity towards his hind legs. By doing this, the angle in the hocks and knee joints increases. Therefore, the horse lowers his hindquarters, the strides become more elevated and the movement becomes more ‘upwards’ than ‘forwards’. This is often referred to as the horse shortening his frame and moving more uphill. You can always keep in mind that the horse needs to become ‘shorter’ in the section behind the saddle and not be cranked in a short head position.
Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts. Many horses need four to five years of training to become skilled and able to really handle the ultimate form of collection – both mentally and physically. Besides, not all horses have the mental and or physical talent to accomplish top level in whatever discipline.
Engaging body parts
The combination of different body parts working together and being connected makes it possible to truly dance with your horse. By lifting his back and tightening his abdomen, the back end and the front end become connected. In this manner, the horse lifts his back and is able to better support the weight of the rider.
What people think
A lot of people think there is only one goal: the head and neck should be bent and preferably on or even behind the vertical line. That seems to be true with an advanced-level horse, but keep in mind that even the advanced-level horses change their frame, bend and balance a lot during training. You want your horse to be able to shift between the three stadiums of balance, while keeping the same soft connection and suppleness of the back.
Yes – there are tricks you can do to make the horse curl his neck, but just because the horse has bend in his neck doesn’t mean he is on the bit or collected.
- The horse needs to seek and take the contact.
- The horse needs to be in front of your leg.
- The horse needs to be able to make transitions between gaits and within gaits, without pulling on the bit.
Depending on the level, age and physical development of your horse, you can start asking him to bring his poll up, while maintaining a supple topline and engaged hindquarters.
When the horse stretches his topline, the hind legs are engaged and the connection stays intact, you will get a magnificent feeling of the horse ‘taking you’ with his movement.
Exercises related to ultimate collection
The schooling of a horse can be compared to high school. Most young horses get to play around in their early years and are taught some basic rules and actions, just like in kindergarten. At the age of three, you start asking the horse to become more disciplined and keep a longer focus. Just as with high school kids, you have general competencies and more subjects, or in this case, discipline-related competences. You are the teacher, and your horse is the student. You need to challenge your horse, approach him positively, and be patient and consistent.
See the full article in the September issue of HQ (114).