Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Working back to front

TWH in collection in downward phase of head shake, would be in neutral position in upward phase of head shake.
Being ridden with no hands, horse is in self carriage of gait.
Fox trotter in bosal in collection at the fox trot
with soft support of aids
Foxtrotter in a collected flat walk in side pull
I am guiding, directing and supporting at this time with aids
Foxtrotter in collected fox trot in side pull
He is in self carriage of gait.

I have been asked a question about collection, types of head gear used to get it and self carriage in gait. So I thought my blog may be a good place to answer it for anyone that may be having the same very common questions, and how I see it, and answer it.
Many people have a lot of opinions of what collection is and how to get it.
I will answer in how I work with it and how I see and achieve this.

As to head gear used this is a personal preference, I am one who believes less is more if I have done my home work and taken my horse through all the proper phases of teaching starting from the ground work up.
I work on teaching a horse collection from the ground first before I ever get up.
Everything in my ground work relates to making communication easy and clear so when I get on a horse, much is already done.
Yes, this takes more time to start but saves me time later,while avoiding holes in a horses education that later would have to be gone back and repaired anyway to get where I need to in the best performance, physical health and emotional well being for the horse.

Keep in mind a large amount of my career has not been breaking horses, but fixing them after they have been broken.
In my opinion and experience, yes you can achieve collection without a bit, as shown in a few of the photos above. Longitudinal work can be done in bit less head gear.
Collection to me is working from the back to the front of a horse.
This when astride means I work from the center of the horse first when asking for it.
By this I must be in a centered, balanced position with an open pelvis and ask the abdominal muscles to lift up to me through my pelvis and leg aids. This in turn raises the loins of the horse , engages the pelvis ,while opening up the hind quarters of the horse to reach well under its self, and raising the spine upward.
This puts the horse in that desired weight bearing posture.
The secondary aid is through my hands to head gear, asking the poll of the horse to relax back to me. There is a difference in having a poll relaxed back to you when asked rather than pulling the poll to you and flex with tension.
In the poll that relaxes back to you, the jaw is also relaxed on the horse and in turn the horse will lift the 3rd and 4th cervical vertebrae, this is what lifts the horse off the front end, raises the root of the neck. The horse should give you it's poll, your not taking it.
This creates the horses total weight to be distributed more evenly through out the body rather than by nature, be heavier on the forehand.
This opens up the front leg assembly to now be able to achieve maximum reach and/or lift and fold that is in an individual horses structure to achieve.
Yes we do need to know how a horse is built to know how to maximize what is achievable in performance, yet not ask it to do more than it's capable of .

It does baffle me that so many want their horse to perform what they want, yet know nothing of the structure and demand in asking or forcing horses to do what may not be possible for them no matter how hard they may be pushed.
Teaching self carriage for collection takes time and it is all in knowing how to :
1 Guide
2. Support
3. Direct
It has to be done properly and a horse must be worked from the mind first in keeping it open to you through trust, in you being reasonable in what and how you ask something of the horse.
A horse has to be emotionally sound and healthy first before it will give you it's body to fully guide , direct and support. If they hold back in emotional discontent you will never get the very best a horse has to give you.
It's not about controlling the mind, to control the body.
It's about asking for the mind to work with you and in turn it will trust you to bring the body in the proper shape needed to execute collection and maintain it.
Know that collection done properly feels good to a horses body and is a healthy shape for a horse to carry it's self and you at the same time when they know how.
Remember they are not born knowing how to carry people , we have to help teach them this.
Conditioning for self carriage is also a very important factor to have in place also .
One cant just expect, because we had our horse working in self carriage of collection last fall , and it sit all winter doing nothing, that in the spring it can bring it right back. Just as any athlete and a horse is just that, we have to bring the conditioning back into place. This is not just in how long we can get our horse to work, but what is the quality work we are asking. The 5 Essentials of Horsemanship must be worked on again and brought back into place.
When all is in place then working in self carriage is ready to be asked for and achieved.
This means asking the horse to be in the right shape of collection, and then not engaging your guide, support and direct aids even for just a brief few seconds and see if the horse will hold it for you on it's own. Be quiet when doing this, no big moves or just throwing away your aids, it's a subtle softening of them. When the horse falls out of the shape of collection you can immediately guide , support and direct where you need to to bring them back into collection.
I start with my seat and legs first, rein aids second only if I need to.
I try to keep the horse going and knowing it's doing it properly, through my own emotions of positive energy. A verbal reward or even just a slight touch to the wither with a finger and say the word "yes" . They may not know the word but they do know the positive emotion I deliver the word with, and in turn horse wants to please. When they know they are doing well they want to keep trying to find what made you pleased with them.
So I'll stop here for now, but know, yes, it does take lots of work, and lots on your part, but a horse can only be as good as what you bring to the saddle as a teacher and a rider.
It's in our body's and attitude, if and when we succeed in finding collection.
Once found,
beware you may become very addicted to it, as there is nothing that feels better when on the back of a horse and it's something you earn ,making it all the more worth while.