Monday, February 2, 2009

Collection - Part 3 - How to Ask For Collection

How To Ask for Collection
Today our topic continues with finding out how to ask for it of the horse. (It's a long one!)
From the last 2 articles, we now know what it is and why we need it, and now we are ready to learn how to ask for collection.

More of My Story on Collection
When I started to teach collection and ask for collection on my horses, I did so while mounted. That was all the material available that I could find on collection. How to put the horse into a frame while walking, jogging & loping. (This is going back 18 years now -as of 2010. Not like what we have today.)
Squeezing the horse with my legs and asking for a good headset. There was a lot of trial and error, of course, as I didn't know what it was supposed to feel like or really look like when I got it.

After all and riding is mostly about feel. (I will talk more about what it's supposed to feel like in the next article).

After I understood the mechanics of asking for collection and once I got enough experience at it, I understood what it felt like and what it looked like. (Youtube can provide great videos to show you what it looks like. Please refer to my
1st article on collection for videos.)

I wanted to figure out a way to ask for collection or do precollection work from the ground first (to make it easier to understand for the horse & rider. If you remember, my program is a step-by-step progression & heavily based on groundwork)....

In The Beginning..... there is Groundwork
There are 3 key components to asking a horse to collect:
  1. To have the horse flex or soften their face, break at the poll in response to rein pressure. (And not to stop or turn or resist by sticking their head up in the air).
  2. To have the horse know how to drive their hind end underneath themselves (engaged hindquarters) in response to you squeezing your legs. This is sometimes called riding from back-to-front (please see side bar for article.) The horse rounds their back and reaches further in with their hind legs. (The horse does not think of this as a cue to take off running!)
  3. Is to time the above 2 steps together (much like a clutch and gas pedal on a car) to get the horse to get soft in the face, flex at the poll, drive their hind legs underneath themselves, shifting weight to their hind end as they round themselves.
And of course we want the horse to eventually do all this without us asking. After many months or years, the horse will eventually know to collect the moment you pick up on the reins in preparation to ask them for something. Now that's a Cadillac!
Let us, as riders not forget too that horses collect themselves all the time out in the field. When they run and play the game 'a lion is after me.... I better stop, turn and get away fast!' This is not foreign to them. We are just asking for it when we would like it to happen.
Groundwork Exercises to Teach Collection
There are several exercises you can do from the ground to get a horse to understand the 3 key components to asking for collection. I teach these to the horse as well as students so it's easier to understand collection once mounted.
These 3 groundwork exercises are to work on lateral flexion. As Clinton Anderson famously says: "The key to Vertical Flexion is Lateral Flexion. The softer and more flexible we get our horse through lateral flexion (bending) the easier it is to get softness and collection (vertical flexion) of our horse's poll. This in turn gives us greater overall control of our horse's direction, speed and attention." *
  1. Flex laterally at a standstill. (see my previous article on lateral flexion). This gets a horse soft in the face and flexing at the poll laterally in response to rein or bit pressure. This is done 1st with a halter and then a bridle at a standstill. This can be done anytime the horse is handled. (Halter & bridle groundwork).
  2. Flex laterally while longeing. This is done while longeing at the walk, jog, trot & lope. The horse is encouraged to really move forward in the faster gaits as the horse's face is flexed to the side by the longe line.
  3. Bitting Up while longeing. The horse is bitted up so that the horse gets a release of pressure (a self reward) when they flex their head. This is done at the walk, jog, trot and lope. The horse is really driven forward in the faster gaits to understand to still flex at the poll at speed.
Progressive Collection Exercises while mounted
Once the horse understands to give to bit pressure and really move forward while doing so from the longe line, the horse can progress to being mounted. This is the Body Control or Western Performance Horse Development training that I've been talking about.

  1. Vertical flexion at a standstill mounted. (lesson 11 in my book). This is the same as lateral flexion as in part 1 above, but with flexing vertically at the poll in response to a pull from both reins. This is where the horse first learns to 'drive into the bit' or flex vertically from the squeeze of both legs. (Horses will want to backup or move or do something when they feel the bit pressure on both sides of their mouth). We do not want them to backup. So we will squeeze our legs to get them to flex at the poll and then we release our hands when they stand still. Larry Trocha calls this his 'bit wall' on his videos.
  2. Flex laterally while mounted. This is the same as part 1 on the ground but while mounted. The horse learns to flex laterally at the walk, jog, trot & lope. A lot of leg pressure is used to keep the horse moving and not to slow down. I do this exercise everytime in my warm up!
  3. Vertical flexion (mounted) at the walk. This is where the horse is taught to really drive their hind end underneath themselves while moving from the squeezing of our legs. The horse will want to stop or slow down because of the rein pressure but our legs will drive them on. The position of your hands & legs will assist the horse in getting into the right frame and collect.
  4. Vertical flexion (mounted) & lateral flexion at the jog & trot. This can be used as a drill in your warm up. To really drive the horse with your legs to drive them forward & to collect. When the horse has trouble collecting on their own with the vertical flexion, you can go back to lateral flexion as a review. The jogging or the troting helps the horse to understand to have lots of forward motion. To really drive forward.
  5. Vertical flexion (mounted) at the lope. This is the true collection that we are looking for. Over time, the horse will stay collected for longer and longer distances until they are able to stay collected as long as you need them to. And that my friend... is Body Control.
Collection is vertical flexion while moving.
How to Ask for Collection (once the horse knows how)
Don Blazer has a great article called "A half halt on steriods" which beautifully describes how to as a rider, ask for collection. I highly recommend you read it. I couldn't describe it any better.

Everywhere, everywhere .... collection
Once the horse understands collection, the horse should be asked to collect before doing any rider request. That is why I review collection in my warm up part of my riding.
One more thing....
This is hard work on a horse's muscles; especially their hind end so please be patient and go slowly. It will take several months for a horse to carry a horse and rider beautifully while collected.

Next we'll talk about how it feels...

*Article taken from
Questions & comments are always welcome.
If you need any help with this, please contact me.

Putting my spin on Collection!
©Copyright KISS Reiners

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