Only after I have started my internship at Taonara (Belgium), have I learned what proper collection really means and how it woks scientifically. I also learned the concept of contra collection (by the courtesy of Josepha Guillaum – see article Collection (1)) and finally understood why I always felt like I could not collect the school horses (nor any other horse I ever rode), until now.
I feel that it is time to share my new insights with my readers.
In order to fully understand what I mean with the concept of collection, it is important that you read both parts of the article collection. And please, feel free to comment. I am curious in what you have to say on this topic!
Let me start this article in the same was as I have started the former article Collection (1): Concept and Contra Concept, by trying to define collection.
Definitions of collection:
Wikipedia defines collection as “when a horse carries more weight on his hind legs than on his front legs”. As I have already explained in the former article, this understanding of collection is simply wrong. The horse carries around 55% of his weight on the forehand (neck and head), and approximately 45% by the hindquarters. But, these numbers of weight-bearing change constantly, depending on what the horse is doing. When it rests, with the head lowered towards the ground, and one hind leg cocked up, there is more weight on the forehand. However, when it flees there is more weight shifted towards the hind-end (100% weight bearing on the hind legs is achieved when the horse rears). In the picture on the right side, you can actually really see how much weight is one the horse’s forehand (nicely underlined/brought out by the “rider” leaning forwards as well).
Another definition I found was stated in the article Definition Collect, Collection by K. Blocksdorf. This definition states that collection is
When a horse can carry more of its weight on its hindquarters than on the forelegs when ridden or driven. His back will be raised as he engages his stomach muscles. He will be flexing at the poll and will carry himself lightly. This makes the impulsion that comes from the hindquarters much greater (…). The horse can be more easily maneuvered and can carry a rider with greater ease. The horse will reach further underneath its body with its hind legs making stops and turns much more precise.
Overall, I must say that I like this definition a lot, except for the beginning, since it reminds me of the Wikipedia definition. To me, it has many of the most important elements mentioned in collection. Just compare the bullet points below on collection with this definition, and you will find that there actually are a lot of overlaps.
Why do we want collection?
Proper collection is necessary for the horse to carry itself as well as the rider in the most efficient way. Horses are not made for carrying around riders on their back. They must be trained to do so, in order to not break down or get injuries from that. A rider doesn’t only put some extra weight on the horse, but also ads pressure. The horse tries to avoid this pressure by hollowing its back and tense the back muscles (very bad for the horse! And again contra collection!). Another thing that happens when a rider goes on the horse, is that the horse’s balance is disturbed; for a flight animal this can have sever (fatal) consequences. So, before we can even think of collection, we must first teach the horse to stay relaxed, and then to raise his back, and only then can we really start working on proper collection.
Furthermore, collection is necessary to get the horse to use its body properly, especially when we ask the horse to do something unnatural, i.e. carrying around a rider on his back. Often, the horse hallows its back and tends to fall on his forehand. From this, many injuries can result, especially relating to the back, the head and neck, as ell as the forehand.
Unfortunately, horses are most often not trained in a proper manner and will carry the rider wrong and are usually even taught to perform in contra collection (and even Rollkur). Have you never wondered why there are so many crippled horses coming out of the professional riding disciplines?
So, all things considered, proper collection helps the horse to carry itself and us properly, insures safty of horse and rider, improves any type/discipline of riding, and is a necessity for maintining a healthy horse.
this YouTube video shows a nice way of a high form of collection with the rider
What is proper collection?
Proper collection can be observed most often when the horse runs around freely in the field. Collection occurs (in the wild) when the horse feels in danger, intimidates rivals, fight, flight, imponieren (marries or opponents), and when playing around.
Proper collection has to do with energy, the ego and balance of a horse.
- In collection, the energy of the horse is collected. When you look at a horse in proper collection (especially the Spanish breeds), than you can really see the energy contained in a horse. In Spanish bull fights for example one can see a lot of truly collected horses full of nearly overflowing energy! One of the most important (pre)conditions for collection related to energy, is impulsion, which can basically be described as energy coming from the hindquarters (moving the horse forward). Impulsion leads to the engagement of the hindquarters. The hind legs are brought deeper underneath the body and for the rider it feels like riding “uphill” instead of “down-hill”.
- It is important to notice that a horse can only collect itself. We cannot force a horse to collect itself. We can only aid, but we cannot enforce. In order for a horse to want to collect itself, it must feel good about itself – the ego must be pushed (by us) and we will get a horse that wants to present itself to us. In my internship, I have firstly been really introduced to horses that truely feel good about themselves and that love to collect! It is amazing. So, in order to be able to achieve collection, the horse needs strength, flexibility, balance and proprioception, and not to forget, self-confidence and the desire to do so. So it’s not all about pumping muscles, it’s also about the nervous system, comfort and motivation.
- Collection also has a lot to do with balance. In order for a horse to be collected, it must foremost be balanced – with or without a rider. For a horse it is of necessity to be balanced at all times, otheriwse a predator might have an easy dinner, for the horse cannot run away properly.
In this YouTube video, all of the aspects mentioned above, and the bulletin points underneath can be observed!
I have also tried to note down some of the most important things happening in collection:
Higher erection of the neck
Vertebral column arches upward
Flexion at the poll
Vertical head position
Withers come upwards
Free and light shoulders
Usage of “stomach muscles”/abs
Ribcage is lifted up
Usage of upper line neck and back muscle (nuchal ligament is contracted)
Longissimus dorsi can move freely
Get the back up
The pelvis tilts
Engagement of the hindquarters
Setting the hind legs under – Stepping in under the body
Shorter, higher strides
Lowering of the hind leg joints
Freely moving tail
It is important to note that all of these things are interconnected and interrelated. This is due to the horse (bio)mechanics.
More detailed explanations
In this section, I will briefly elaborate on some of the bulletin points mentioned above and try to make the connections between them clear.
- The joints – hip, knee, hock and pastern – are always bent to a degree, which leads to shock-absorbing movements. This bend affects the forehand as well, since, due to the bending of the joints in the hindquarters, the croup is slightly lowered, which in turns arches the spine slightly upward and thus raises the forehand. This increased flexion of the joints during the weight bearing phase, is a prerequisite for impulsion. (See above – energy/impulsion). The forehand of a horse should not be forgotten though, since it is pushed up by the muscles of the shoulder the chest and also somewhat the neck muscles.
- A horse uses his abs to support the arch of the back and the croup.
- The base of the neck is lifted and the upperline muscles are contracted. The nose drops towards the vertical
- The tail of the horse should be slightly arched (neither tucked in, nor overtly sticking out) in a horizontal line and then fall down freely, moving gently from side to side.
I would like to end my article with a quote by the old (horse) master Xenophon:
If one induces the horse to assume that carriage which it would adopt of its own accord when displaying its beauty, then, one directs the horse to appear joyous and magnificent, proud and remarkable for having been ridden.
Finally, one of the nicest videos on collection I have seen so far:
http://www.equusite.com/articles/riding/ridingCollection.shtml (read this article for a bio-mechanic explanation!)
http://www.josepha.info/ (article contra collection)
http://www.youtube.com/user/TaonaraTV#p/u/3/IbHXw7Sj8K4 (Taonara – O-Master)
Originally published on Stéphanie Kniest’s blog Homo Equus: http://lilith16.wordpress.com/2011/11/15/collection-2-proper-collection/