If you haven’t read my first two blogs on collection, please go back and check those out before you read this one. I’m going to build on what I’m writing so hopefully you can do things in order with your horse for the best results.
Collection Part Two, Shoulder Control
So I have already covered that collection is all about power. It’s about a horse carrying more weight on its hind end in a “prepared” way. From this position, the horse is able to perform any athletic maneuver with ease. I talked about shoulder control and how taking the shoulders away will help naturally transfer more weight to the horse’s hind end. That is an important piece to the puzzle.
Another important factor in developing collection is responsiveness. This is especially important for barrel horses. When you apply some kind of pressure, whether it is to the bit or with your legs or spurs, does your horse respond immediately? Does he or she feel dull or late to respond? Does it take a couple seconds to go from a stand still into a walk trot or lope?
When I am first starting a two year old, they can be so awkward with their movements and how they carry themselves. They are usually in somewhat of an awkward growth spurt and they are trying to figure out how to carry a rider around. When I ask them to go forward it feels like the tumble forward on their front end. They kind of fumble around to get into a lope or coming back down to a walk. They aren’t really carrying themselves in a prepared way, they are more so just cruising around all strung out for the first few weeks of riding. All of this is normal and part of them learning to have some cadence and rythm in their feet.
Once they have confidence and rythm at the walk trot and lope on a loose rein I start working on a lot of transitions. With a young horse I do this all with one rein for a while. I don’t start pulling on two reins until later in their training. I will do one rein stops, or spiral down from a lope to a trot then a walk then right back up to a lope. The more changes in direction and speed, the better. I teach my horses to read my body language when I’m in the saddle, they can feel when I raise my energy level a bit and ask for a faster pace or when I relax back down and sit deep in the saddle for a downward transition. They figure it out by repetition. I always ask with my body language first then apply the next aid (legs, spurs, bit pressure) in a sequence. Eventually they respond off the first signal from my body instead of waiting for the next aid.
This probably seems like really simple/boring stuff. But it is a really important piece of a horse’s training. If they don’t have these basics mastered, it will be really hard to advance past these things later on.
With the two year olds I notice that around the third or fourth week of riding them that they begin to carry themselves with a little more purpose. They understand that at any moment I could ask them for an upward or downward transition or change of direction. They stop guessing what I’m doing next because I constantly keep them wondering. I do the opposite of what they are anticipating so that they learn to wait on me. At that point they start to ride around with responsiveness, rhythm and suppleness.
This is the bottom two tiers in the pyramid of collection. Your horse needs to be able to travel with a relaxed, supple rythm at every gait and wait for you to signal for a change in pace or direction before you move on.
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