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Communication before collection aids the process

By RAY ARISS - Horsetrader columnist - August 16th, 2012 - Q&A Hey Ray!

HEY RAY: How do I keep a positive attitude in my horse while working on and teaching “collected gaits”?
Thurston Francers, Encinitas

HEY THURSTON: Your question seems simple enough. My answer is another story.
More often than not, when people first start a young horse, everything seems to go nice and easy because we ask for the bare minimum and we are grateful when it happens. Our expectations are low because the chances of things going wrong are high. At this stage of the game, the probability of danger keeps us careful and appreciative for anything positive that comes our way.

The relationship between horse and human is very much like that of the relationship between human and human. Problems seem to arise usually after our expectations rise. It’s often not until after the honeymoon when you begin to really see challenges. The important thing is recognize where and how you want the relationship to end up before you get started and work backward to the beginning.

An experienced trainer will look at a young horse’s potential and imagine him winning the National or World title if that is his goal before getting started. It is no different than a young man’s pursuit of an ideal woman of his dreams that he imagines growing old with even before he first asks her out. If you do this, the long-term goal helps you guide you. If there is no goal or plan, your chances of messing things up multiply.

Collection should be a process with a specific rider expectation. This could be a problem though, if you don’t have the necessary preparation and well established language and relationship to influence your horse. We all have a picture of what we would like when we ask for collection from our horse. If our horse does not clearly see that picture and buys into it, it often gets ugly quickly. If we try to take collection from our horse, we will encounter the same resistance and resentment that would come from pursuing a kiss on a date gone badly. Collection causes your horse to have to put out an elevated degree of effort, and this effort causes physical and mental strain if your horse doesn’t understand what you want or if he doesn’t see the value in it. It will more than likely alter the sweet nature of that once easygoing, naive, unworried mount. — collection will surely frustrate your horse, causing him to feel resistance, pain and resentment if you are not careful about when and how you present it to him. Anytime you introduce discomfort or pain into the mix you can be sure you will have a fight on your hands.

These points offer the best way to keep a positive attitude while you teach any degree of collection to horses of any level or discipline:

Establish a language and approach that the horse seems to understand. Be sure that the horse is clear about the function of the aids. He should clearly understand how to respond to your seat, legs and hands. Collection should be done gradually with many breaks in between sets, like working out with weights at the gym. You shouldn’t collect if your horse can’t easily follow his nose with a simple rein, flex to a stop, or give to the rein. Backing up in a straight line as well as in a circle should be easy to do before collecting. When you achieve this, it shows you have command of the aids. Initially, head positioning is not as important as lightness in your hands and the ability to move freely without resistance. I call this “A Backward Approach to Progress”. I don’t worry about going on the bit, connecting, stretching, or head setting, until I can get my horse to understand how to responsively move forward, backward, and sideways, willingly and with ease.

It is important to understand that collection is a function of gathering up a rein in order to elevate and gather up the poll, neck, withers and back of your horse. It has nothing to do with pulling, holding or pressure. A horse can self collect at will while free by simply raising his neck and back. So if your horse understands what you want and willingly attempts what he is capable of doing when asked, then the process of collection should progress gradually.

Thurston, every horse brings different degrees of talents to the table, and it is up to you to evaluate what he can or cannot do from one lesson to another. If you focus on your instincts and think safe, the choices that you make will help you and your horse.

Ray

Horsetrader columnist Ray Ariss, husband to Pippa Ariss and father of six, shares his insight into the relationship of horse-and-human twice each month, in print and on www.horsetrader.com. He lives and trains in “Horsetown USA”, Norco CA, at his bustling StarBrite Riding Academy. Does your “horse-human” relationship leave you with a question for Ray? Just go to www.horsetrader.com and click on the “Hey Ray!” section, then submit it!

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