by Bob Jeffreys & Suzanne Sheppard
Defined by Webster as “the act of gathering together”, this is a term often misunderstood in the horse world. Some refer to it as a “frame”, others see it as a head set, and some believe it is the act of compressing the horse into a shorter length.
We feel that your horse must be driving from his hindquarters, rounded in his back, soft throughout his neck and shoulders and holding his head on or near the vertical (breaking at the poll), allowing us to harness and direct the hindquarters in order to be “collected”.
We do believe all collections starts with impulsion from behind, but it is much more than this. We need to have softness throughout the horse’s body in order for his back to round up underneath our seat. In particular, we need softness or suppleness in his neck and shoulders and we need to have the horse holding his face on or close to the vertical position on his own without holding him there.
This is different than a “head set”. If you just achieve a head set without softening the neck and shoulders, the horse is just breaking at the poll to get away from the bit, may not be driving from behind, and most often will be hollow in the back. You will see this when riders are holding their hands down and out to the side and flicking their fingers back and forth rapidly.
If you truly want collection slowly lift the reins upward while driving with your legs and release the cues when the horse delivers energy from the hindquarters, shifts his weight back, breaks at the poll and round up under you. Your hands control this energy through the reins and the bit but you shouldn’t hold this position, you must release it.
Your horse will probably lose his collection when you do but you will simply ask again. The more you ask and release when he does collect, the horse shall learn to hold this position for longer and longer on his own (self carriage). If you hold him in this “frame” he will learn to lean on the bit for support and become heavier over time.
So, what is one way to teach “collection” to your horse? You must have already taught your horse to move forward off your legs and to “give” to the bit when asked. When you have achieved these basic requirements, you will ask the horse continuously for a series of baby “gives”, releasing between each, on one side until his head comes sufficiently to that side so that you actually see his inside eye.
Ask for another “give” and use your outside rein if necessary to encourage his nose to tip in toward the point of the shoulder. When this happens, release. Work both sides in this manner until you can transition from right to left and back again without the nose popping out. This will take weeks – not hours.
When transitions become consistent, try going straight for 3 or 4 strides before finishing the left to right, or right to left transition. Add more straight strides as your training progresses. This is how we eventually can achieve collection with a simple cue (drive with legs and lift reins) and have the horse stay collected on his own without constant contact with his mouth.
When the horse is moving in collection, he is turning over control to the rider and is attentive to the rider’s requests. Horse and rider become tuned into each other, achieving a greater balance and harmony.