Why, What, & How of Collection – by Al Dunning
After training horses for over 40 years, I am convinced that proper collection completely changes the dynamics of your horse’s performance. So how can I explain this fundamental aspect of training your horse? I’ll do it by answering three key questions: Why is it necessary?, What does it do?, and How do I achieve it? So read on and you’ll be on your way to a cool and collected ride!
1)Why is it necessary? Some horses are built to have an automatic physical advantage when it comes to collection. Their conformation lends itself to being more compact and flexible. Their legs are up under them, they move well, and they have a sense of self-collection. Other horses are loose movers, strung out, and feel like their front feet are forward and clumsy and their rear legs lack power. Either horse must be well broke to respond to a rider’s legs and reins to perform any requested task. The goal of collection is to aid a horse in the ability to understand and more easily be maneuvered by his rider.
2)What does it do? When a horse achieves proper collection, they are round, soft, and in tune with the rider. They respond to leg cues and are able to drive from the rear end while maintaining controlled and relaxed communication in the mouth and on the neck. Because their body is more balanced, stable and compact, they move and respond readily to cues. They will turn better as the turning radius is shorter. They will stop better because the head maintains form while the rear end rounds and drives into the ground. Balance is a big aspect of collection. Once you have the chin pulled to the rear and the rear pushed to the head, your horse’s stride is more up and down rather than forward. Proper collection equals control.
3)How do I achieve it? This is not an easy task. We concentrate on collection from the early stages of training. Lateral flexion is the precursor to vertical flexion. When we break colts, we bend them with the purpose of inhibiting forward movement and teaching the horse to “give’ to pressure. You give and take to direct, then reward a correct response. During bending, use your inside leg to create roundness and give. Rather than a straight pull, I use offset rein pressure, usually picking up one rein and pulling with the other. I have developed a technique of jiggling my hands to ask for a reaction prior to the pull. A constant hold is used sometimes to steady the horse and wait for a giving response before I release.
The most important factor in this process is the implementation of your leg. Simply, your hands can control the front and your legs control the back. Without both, collection cannot be achieved. I concentrate on my horse yielding to leg pressure and basic bend/leg techniques, backing with leg, two-tracking, and side-passing. Concentration with feel and knowing how much to ask in a session combined with knowing when to release the pressure and reward makes this work well.
Being logical is of the utmost importance. Having a purpose and a goal is mandatory and taking your time and being patient is necessary. Start getting collected to achieve greater communication and the performance results you have always wanted.