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May 18, 2021 19 Comments
a big, big topic, that's what it is. So big in fact, that we have other words for it. We call it finesse, we call it riding with a frame, or on the bit, or riding round, we call it dressage, we call it vertical flexion, we call it high level work and many other things. But I like to call it "simple."
I love taking difficult concepts and attempting to simplify them. That's not to say there isn't way more to learn, there always is. Making things simple just makes them understandable and gives us a simple map to move forward through. Navigating that map takes some skill, no doubt, that's why we dive deep into collection work and collected riding in our Mastery University. Check it out! For now, let's start with some basics...
Collection made simple in three understandable statements:
1. Contrary to popular belief. Horses don't always travel in a perfectly balanced fashion. Collection attempts to change that and enhance the horses balance, strength, and longevity.
The fact that horses aren't naturally balanced should be logical. Humans aren't naturally balanced either. We have to work on our coordination and strength to improve them. We have to work on our posture to improve it too. So assume the horse you own may need some of that work too.
2. To balance a horse we attempt to work with three major body parts. The head, the shoulders and the hips. Independently at first, then together in harmony.
This is usually where upper level trainers confuse the public, because when it all comes together so beautifully, it makes us think we should be able to put it together right away and we get frustrated when it takes longer than expected to put all the pieces together. Great trainers know it can take upwards of a year or two to master basic collection and another year or two to get some upper level things like flawless flying lead changes and the like. It's okay to take your time suppling and strengthening each body part and then slowly putting them together. If the process is rushed the product is reduced to a puppet on a string without any understanding.
3. Horses learn. That means they can be treated less like robots or puppets and more like students or athletes.
Traditionally, trainers who talk about collection talk about tools. They advise on things like double bridles, spurs, and heavy contact techniques to force an upright, round, strong, and collected horse. Collection is not just physical however, it's also mental. With mastery in mind, a trainer can achieve collection without any tools at all. I have colleagues who can complete an entire grand prix dressage test without a bridle on the horses head or a saddle on his back. There is value in tools, but there are no rules apart from one. Don't be cruel, because horses can learn anything if you take your time and help them trust the process and even enjoy the experiences.
Now just three more statements to get you started on the road to collection:
1. Think smaller.
In your early stages of collection, don't follow the "extremes" crowd. People will tell you that you need "xyz" when all you need is "abc." Start everything from the ground. Ask your horse to flex and soften his head and neck to your hand suggestions. Help him feel rewarded for those simple things. In the Mastery University, we have videos that will guide you through this process and more. Help him learn consistency in those simple things. Then once you're on his back, do the same work without going anywhere. Remember the horse is broken into three major parts, the head, the shoulders, and the hips. One day, you'll be able to collect the whole package and walk forward with a strong back, a forward step and a perfect vertical flexion. Don't start trotting around and asking for roundness and forward energy in your horse. Don't try to get perfect vertical flexion, work toward soft, relaxed flexion at first. Think smaller. Start smaller. Build on the small things.
2. Don't be critical.
People will look at your progress and tell you you're doing it wrong. If you haven't had this experience yet, you will. On the journey to collection you'll encounter an army of naysayers. I once heard a story that if you catch a crab and put him in a bucket without a lid, he'll escape. But if you catch two crabs they will never escape, because as one attempts progress the other reaches and pulls him back down in his own attempt to make progress. This concept seems true regarding horse people. The minute you start doing some cool things, you'll encounter a slew of people that try to pull you down or steer you in another direction. Understand that's okay. Understand it's okay to have negativity around you. In fact it's normal human life. Don't let that eat at you. Stay secure in your journey, especially if your journey supports a happy balanced horse, and a happy life. And whatever you do... don't be too critical of others. They are doing the best they know how. Give them time and be a role model not a critic.
3. Be patient.
Rome wasn't built in a day. If you think you should be further than you are, you'd better check yourself. That kind of self talk is destructive. It's true that you may be capable of more but you'll need the support to get there. There is no way my wife and I could have come so far in our technical expertise without the support of master trainers surrounding us. I've met people that think they can do it all themselves but it's a half-truth they tell themselves. Anytime I hear someone say they learned it all by themselves, without support, I laugh inside a little. The truth is they picked something up along the way and forgot to lend credit to the support. We're always picking things up. Even reading this article is picking things up, or at the very least, reinforcing things you've already picked up. Be open to support around you. It comes in video form, lessons, coaching, books, magazine articles and more. If you're patient in your journey to collection with your horse, you'll find yourself doing things with harmony that the greatest horsemen and horsewomen in the world can do. Things like tempi lead changes, canter half passes, piaffe, passage, pirouettes, and more. It's exciting and worth the journey!
Thanks for reading, comment below and share with your friends.
PS. To those who comment, I'll send a free video snippet from one of our mastery lessons, all about starting collected riding.