Collection Exercise

One of the great mysteries of horsemanship is collection.

Feel what your horse does when you ask him to collect.

Feel what your horse does when you ask him to collect.
Feel for yourself what your horse feels when you ask him to collect. Journal photo.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

One of the great mysteries of horsemanship is collection – the body position a horse adopts to perform at its maximum level of athletic ability.

For most people, it’s an “I know it when I see it” concept.

AQHA Professional Horsewoman Lynn Palm recommends this exercise to give you insight on how a horse works – and how he does and does not collect.

Lay a beach towel down on the floor to keep yourself clean and kneel on it. Place your knees directly under your hips with your hands on the ground, directly under your shoulders. Hold your head normally, looking forward.

This is a balanced position of self-carriage for a horse. Notice there’s more weight on your hands (forehand of the horse) than on your knees (the hind legs of the horse), due to the weight of your head and neck.

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Lift your upper body as if you were a horse departing into a lope. Feel the effort it takes to lift yourself up. A horse naturally has to lift the forehand as the hind legs propel him forward into the lope.

“(A horse) can do that easily,” Lynn says.

Next, move your knees up under your body and round your back. This simulates a horse that is collected – the hindquarters lower and more weight goes to the hind legs (feel this in your knees). The forehand lightens as the horse rounds his spine. In this advanced position, a horse can do advanced transitions from stop to run, lead changes with every stride, jumping, turning a barrel or doing a sliding stop. Looking straight ahead, lift your front end as if you were loping off.

Feel how much easier it is to get your front end off the ground. “When the horse rounds and collects correctly, the hind legs engage farther underneath him and allow less weight on the front legs,” Lynn says. “You can get more activity, and it enables you to do more advanced maneuvers.”

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Finally, drop your head so that it hangs down from your shoulders (note the increased weight on your hands), and move your knees back so they’re positioned behind your hips. This is an example of a horse that has been pushed into a low headset. With the head lower than his topline, the horse can not engage the hind legs. It forces his legs farther out behind him to accommodate his balance. There’s now more weight in the front end than the hind end, commonly referred to as “on the forehand” or “downhill balance.”

Now attempt to lift your upper body to lope off. There’s more weight and more effort on the front end, which means the horse is going to have difficulty doing athletic things.

“Feel how hard it is to get the front end up to lope off,” Lynn says. “If the rider sends (the horse) forward then pulls and sets the head, the horse keeps it down to avoid pain in the mouth. It forces more weight on the front, and the horse can’t do so. It can become a vicious circle if the rider has to use more aids to get the horse to do the maneuver and instilling forceful aids.

“The anatomy of the horse allows collection one way, and that is in an uphill balance. A horse will set his head and break at the poll naturally if a rider flexes the head correctly without bending the neck.

“If a horse is balanced, he is happy and will respond with lightness, relaxation and willingness.”

18 thoughts on “Collection Exercise”

  1. you know- that was a great article to explain why we don’t want peanut rollers anymore, and the mechanics behind everything…however lacked the “exercise” portion of the article- how to get there, how to set them on their rear and properly bend at the poll and how to properly flex the head. Or did I miss something?

  2. Inside leg to outside hand – drive that backside up in to the bridle. When the horse finds it easier to use their hind quarters and they get the idea that this is what you want the aids “Inside leg, the driving aid become lighter” “a constant outside hand” and then you have proper collection. (repetition so that it becomes the norm)

    Just my opinion on the matter. Might not be every ones toughts but that is what I do.

  3. I agree with Gypsie. It demonstrates wonderfully why we don’t want peanut rollers yet doesn’t give any helpful ways to achieve balance and collection. Kind of a pointless article in my opinion :/

  4. it is also important to condition your horse so that the muscles are there (in the hindquarter) to accomodate the load transfer from front to rear. Long-trotting, uphill walks, or trotting in deep sand are good muscle toning exercises when done on a schedule and treated as a timed work out. as for teaching a horse collection, i’m sure there are as many methods, tricks, and shortcuts as there are trainers. It is not really so much something that is taught as it is something that is developped through softness, flexion, and repetition. But some good exercises are square cirles, 45 degree turns, 180 degree turns…it is crucial to take it slow in the beginning, dont demand perfection from your horse. Like a dancer, he must develop muscle memory…and if you take it slow and you know where his feet are, that memory will be of correctness, and quicker more fluid movements will be a cinch later on! Good luck!

  5. The exercise I understood but not how to get the horse how to do it unfortunately laymans terms would be good

  6. I would have to disagree with this article. I am against peanut rolling so love anything that supports it’s end, but “true collection” comes from the hindquarters and back, not from the forehand or head set. No matter where the headset happens to be.

    To prove this try the example get on your hands & knees, as long as my back is round and butt tucked it does not matter where my head is, of course it is easier if it is up, but it does not take that much more “core strength” to lift my forehand with my head in the down position, I even added extra weight hanging around my neck to simulate a longer neck. But I can feel the muscles that engage, they come from the lower back, core, and butt not from my shoulders, arms, neck. However, it is most defiantly easier to do with my knees slightly tucked & back round verses my knees perpendicular or stretched behind with a hollowed out back (than it becomes a lot of work. True collection comes with the horses back raised so that the muscles in his back, core, and butt are engaged. A highly trained horse should still be able to go from stop to canter even with their head down, it is just easier to do it from a upright headed position.

    However, I do believe that many horses with a peanut rolling gait are not really working collected because true collection takes a lot of time, energy, technique, and strength. It is not something you can get riding part time or riding badly, it takes a lot of time to build the muscle of a horses core. Even though they might want to work collected they cannot necessarily do it all of the time because they have to develop the core strength to do it as well as to do more difficult actions like halt-to-canter with head down. Classic dressage says something about a year for every level of test as it takes the horse that long to develop the strength, balance, flexibility, and technique to preform the new tasks. If you look at it in those terms I highly doubt most people put enough time in riding their horse to get true collection on a 2 year old.

  7. I have to wonder if some of you read this article. Never does it say collection comes from the forehand nor headset. It does in fact say it comes from the hind quarters and back. The peanut rolling comments are getting tiresome and have nothing to do with this.

  8. Yes, I think Lynn was simply trying to show us how hard it is for a horse to be collected if they are heavy on the forehand-not going up hill…not in a good position to make collection easy to obtain, not easy, but u know what I mean!

  9. THANK YOU for providing an exercise to explain collection to novices. I am going to use it at the next meeting of 4-H equestrians to help them understand the concept.

  10. Why don’t our show judges and our trainers see the correctness and encourage young horsemen to ride their horses this way? Way too many “pleasure” horses have become dangerous peanut pushers. And the sad part is the youngsters are not learning what balances their horses and makes them more capable of doing what they do best – moving in a natural way.

  11. I got down on the floor and did the exercies — and I get it! Excellent way to explain/show/feel why a horse performs better with a rounded back and more weight on the hind end. Thank you!

  12. I liked the article and comments. I think what I got out of
    both is I need to do more riding and exercising.

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