[Training Scale Series] Part 6 – Collection; Starting Today?

[Training Scale Series] Part 6 – Collection; Starting Today?

[Training Scale Series] Part 6 – Collection; Starting Today?

For many riders, collection can feel like an exotic and luxury destination that they can only dream about visiting.  It can feel very much outside the realms of possibility when they consider their riding abilities and their horse’s abilities as well.

Now, the flip side of this is that there are also a smaller group of riders who feel entitled to go there every day. No preparation, no visa requirements. Just click your heels three times and, voila! Collection. Hmmm… In this case, the collection they’re visiting is unlikely to be the real thing; rather a cheap imitation!

And finally, we have the riders who visit collection often with their horses.  They have put in the time, invested the effort, and now they can visit regularly for short trips. 

For most riders, collection is not somewhere they want to stay forever… Just a place to visit in order to enhance the journey.

This is part 6 in a series about the training scale and how it applies to your horse.  We have already covered rhythm, suppleness, contact, impulsion, and straightness.  Collection, the topic of this post, is the final step of the scale.

What is Collection?

Because it is situated at the ‘top’ or pinnacle of the training scale, collection requires a great amount of physical, emotional, and mental development of both horse and rider.  This is due to the energy being directed ‘up’ rather than ‘out’.  I realize this can sound strange but bear with me…

Imagine yourself jogging along in a straight line. As you imagine this, feel the rhythm and tempo to your jogging.  The one, two, one, two.  Now, imagine you are going to direct the energy ‘out’ in front of you, without changing the rhythm or tempo.  Your legs would stretch longer with each stride, yes?  You would cover more ground with each step you take.

Now imagine that, again, without changing rhythm or tempo, you are going to direct the energy up. 

You will take short strides, but instead of stretching your legs out, you will lift them up so that your knees are moving towards your chest each time you ‘run’. This is a little like collection.

If you really want to experience it, try the above-mentioned experiment for yourself, and notice how much physical strength, fitness, coordination, balance, and focus it takes for you to maintain the rhythm while lifting your legs as high as you physically can and covering as little ground as possible while doing so.

Collection, in riding, does not always mean covering as little ground as possible, this is just so that you can feel the physical impact of it on your body.  However, it does mean changing the direction of the energy; up rather than out. 

How Developed Must My Horse Be?

How long is a piece of string?!  This is a difficult question to answer because contrary to popular belief, I think that there are ways you can begin working on collection pretty early in your horse’s training.  I will chat more about that later in this post.

What is important to remember when working on any principle in the training scale is that they are all built on each other. If your horse can maintain the basics of rhythm, suppleness, and contact, for short periods, you can begin asking bigger questions.

And how you will know he is struggling or more work is needed, is when you ask the question, either relaxation, rhythm, suppleness, or contact (but usually relaxation or rhythm) become difficult to maintain. 

Whenever you reach a point where you are struggling to maintain one or the other, pause and ask yourself “Is the question too big and do I need to go back a step or two?” or “How can I support him to maintain the basics for longer while we answer this question?”.

Emotional, Mental, and Physical Development

Have you ever tried to do something that, technically speaking,  you ‘should’ be able to do?  Maybe it was a walk across a 4 meter long balance beam?  Or climb a ladder?  Maybe walk your horse around the arena off the lead line?  The point I want to make is that while you physically could do the thing, your emotional or mental development on being able to do that thing was not quite a strong as you would have liked.

You may have felt nervous because you doubted your capabilties.  Or you might have experienced anxiety or overwhelm because you just didn’t understand how it all worked and what you were supposed to do. 

Your horse experiences the same issues.  As riders, we all know the horse who can jump the jump, physically,  But that same horse actually cannot jump the jump because he doesn’t believe he can jump the jump.

Asking for anything too early in your horse’s training will often result in not only a lack of physical development to do the thing, which often leads to injury.  But also a lack of mental (how he understands it) and emotional (how he feels about it and his abilities) development as well.  If any one of these is missing or underdeveloped, it will create a challenge.

Developing Physically

Now, I do believe that, as riders and trainers for our horses, we can ‘loan’ them some of our confidence.  This same principle also works the other way around when a novice rider is on a schoolmaster. But confidence will only take anyone and any horse so far.

Your horse’s body has to be physically developed in order to maintain any sort of true collection for any period of time. 

You can begin doing this today by working on the other elements or steps of the scale.  Riding exercises and school movements just to ride exercises and school movements won’t improve your horse’s training in the long run.

Having a specific focus or goal for each exercise, such as increasing suppleness, creating contact, or similar, will result in your horse becoming stronger; physically, mentally, emotionally. 

Collection Early in Your Training

And collection can be worked on much earlier than many riders realize.  One of my favourite ways of introducing this concept to horses is through the turn on the forehand.

In order to achieve a true and correct turn on the forehand, the rhythm must be maintained.  So too must the flexion; suppleness.  The connection and engagement must also be present, both through the hindquarters, the core of the horse, and the contact itself. The energy must continue to be created and directed within the container; impulsion.  And, the horse must remain straight while moving laterally.

Finally, in order to maintain the rhythm of the walk, while performing the turn on the forehand, the horse must lift his front legs up – not out. This is collection. 

Will it be perfect straight out of the gate?  No!  In fact, a truly high-quality turn on the forehand requires a lot of development and training, for both horse and rider.  But it is a great introduction to the concept.  And one that is easily understood by both horse and rider.

Collection for the Rider

Finally, before I leave this topic I want to touch on how important all of the development is for the rider as well.  I firmly believe that the concepts of the training scale are not just for horses, but also for riders.  And I also know that the level the rider develops will, eventually, dictate the level the horse develops to as well.

Many riders struggle with suppleness. It is a key area that needs work, especially if you are to work with your horse and all of the energy involved in true collection. 

If you and your horse have reached a plateau in your training, could it be possible that your lack of development is what’s holding everyone back?

Happy Riding

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