So as a follow up to my last post, I’m going to address my newest goal with Hot Rod, collection. When I found out I need a lead change for my ranch pleasure class, I asked Catie to help some rides on Hot Rod so we could nail those changes. As usual, it was easier said than done, and with all advanced maneuvers I found myself beginning with the basics all over again. We’ve been progressing with our lead departures using only neck reining, so I admit that I have not thought about using collection in my rides for quite some time. It seems as though if I focus on one thing, everything else flies out the window! After only two rides, Catie demonstrated how its vital to have him collected to perform a good lead change. Which is why I had been having a hard time on my own, I’d been riding him in a flat position.
The topic of collection can be so lofty and vague, but if you think of it in a mechanical sense it’s quite easy to understand. You must engage the hind end by squeezing your legs around the horse’s barrel with a lifting motion and pushing them into the bridle. This will create more power from the back of your horse and round out his entire body. You’ll feel a difference in the rhythm and cadence of your horse, a lifting or bounce, if you will. You must have connection (with the bit) to gain collection, but they’re not the same thing. Just because a horse might break at the poll and drop his head doesn’t mean they’re collected. True collection comes from the hind end.
Here Catie is riding a young green quarter horse. You can see the horse’s hindquarters are engaged because of the roundness in his back. Also notice how deep he’s stepping underneath himself. At this point, headset is not as important as developing a strong butt and back for collection. In fact, shaping the front of the horse will be easier once collection is established.
And here is an example of a flat, uncollected horse. Notice how his neck is very flat, his body is not round, and he is barely stepping underneath himself.
Catie has an excellent illustration for the idea behind collection, “The horse is like a tube of toothpaste. If you squeeze the toothpaste up, you have to keep the lid on or the toothpaste will shoot out.” So consider the lid to be your hands and as you squeeze the tube, or the body of the horse, you generate controlled energy from the back to the front. I’m a visual learner, so pictures like this help me out tremendously.
After riding our normal routine a few times, but incorporating intentional collection, I can already see results. Hot Rod’s neck is developing a nice suppleness and his stamina is increasing. It’s hard for him to go in a collected manner for long periods because it’s much more demanding, so I try to give him frequent breaks. I can also tell that if I keep it up he will develop a nice compact, muscled look along his abdominal, because the new muscles in his hind end and back will draw up his giant belly. Thank goodness for that. Not to mention mastering those lead changes. Moral of the story? When in doubt, go back to the basics.