A Reflection on Collection
Nerd alert, non-horse people stop reading now or be bored senseless. Horse people may be bored just as senseless. Beware.
I had an “Ah Ha” moment the other day. I was on Coyote bareback as usual but with a bridle for once. It was a muscle building exercise for me as much as anything, preparing to bring Nev home. Coyote was a little rusty and we were working through the basics: haunches in, leg yields, turns on both quarters, flexing and bending until I once again felt that I could control every inch of his body with him remaining supple and calm. I took contact with the reins and squeezed with my legs to push him forward and then IT happened.
I have read about IT forever. Everyone is always talking about IT. I know that I have achieved IT before, at least I sure hope so. But never have I really gotten IT.
IT is true collection. The kind that comes from behind not from pulling on the horses mouth until they drop their head. That kind I know, it’s not all bad. My horses have always had soft mouths and would give nicely to the bit. We, my horses and I, have accomplished a fair bit in our lives. They have done well at our chosen events we must have been getting IT? Maybe now it’s just that I can see IT so much more clearly.
It sounded so voodoo when they would talk about IT. All this about propulsion and forward movement, the most common statement I’ve heard is about pushing a horse into IT not trying to pull them into it with the bit. I worried all the time that I was doing it wrong but could never quite grasp what right would be. Then Coyote rounded up and reached for the bit his hind end clearly coming underneath. I stopped pushing and felt his top line drop. Such a little thing and so amazing.
Knowing what that felt like but maybe not consciously looking for it I started riding Nev. He was riding nice starting to soften and beginning to yield, well to yield all his parts, when asked. I was not asking for any type of head set. I was asking for softness, to give instantly when I picked up the reins. Not when I pulled back but turning him and in circles. It was in circles that I started to get IT. I picked up the inside rein and asked him to pick up his inside shoulder and step to the outside. He stepped up under himself and rounded his neck giving me the proper head set because he was collected not collecting because he had the proper head set.
All that voodoo was making sense. I and most people I know are going about this backwards. Collection should cause the head set. The head set does NOT cause collection. It’s a fine line, a horse needs to give it’s head to achieve collection but pulling on a horses head does not cause collection. I feel like such a nerd getting so excited about this.
We were working circles again. This time working on spins. I would get him going, say, to the left getting off the inside rein then apply the aids for a spin to the left for one step. When we had lots of forward he would reach clear across with the outside front leg and that one step of spin would flow. When he was dragging and trying to stop I could feel his withers drop, his head came up, he would hang on the bit and the step was not graceful.
I have been trying and failing to explain this amazing, to me, revelation to my mom for the last week. I think I’m not doing a very good job I just keep saying that it’s amazing dropping my chin to my chest and doing rounding motions with my hands. Every horse person does that right? Dressage people at least? This is probably not any better an explanation but it is so amazing to me that I have to keep trying.