November 2, 2011
Feel what your horse does when you ask him to collect.
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.”