In which Biz uses a tiny plastic pig, a slinky and a live rabbit to explain one of dressage’s most sophisticated concepts.
One of my biggest pet peeves is the misuse of the word “collection.” All too often the term is used to describe attaining a certain headset, or a general shortening of the horse’s frame. These simplistic applications of the term often lead people to believe that collection is something that can be taught quickly by pulling and kicking at the same time instead of something that must be developed through hours upon hours of correct and sequential training.
Horses naturally carry ~60% of their weight on their front legs. When we ask them to collect, we’re asking them to shift their center of gravity backwards and bear more weight on their hind end. We are also asking them to lift their shoulders and lighten their front end.
A little while back, on a quiet day I was spending at home watching my bunny, Pi, scamper about the house, I noticed that he was in fact, very collected, and that rabbits in general tend to move in a very collected fashion. With a little prodding from Pi (he really misses being famous) I decided to use this perfect example of collection to explain all of the components involved to my fellow equestrians.
The first component of collection is a round back. A round back is achieved when a horse contracts his abdominals, pulls his hind end underneath himself, and relaxes over his topline.
As you can see, Pi’s back is nice and round, but why does that matter? Well there are a couple reasons. First off, if you were paying attention in high school physics class, you might remember that a convex arch (round) is much stronger than a concave arch (hollow). By asking our horses to travel with a round back, we are allowing them to distribute our weight over the entirety of their back and down their legs leading to a relatively small amount of pressure per square inch. If a horse is traveling with a hollow back, all his riders weight is concentrated directly under where the rider is sitting leading to a much greater amount of pressure per square inch.
Secondly, a round back positions the horse’s hind legs underneath him, making it possible to drive from behind.
Next, in order to collect, your horse must lower his haunches by closing the angle of his hocks and stifles.
This shifts your horse’s weight backwards and positions the hind end so that it pushes more up than forward. This shortens the length of each stride and increases the amplitude.
OK, OK. My diagram might be a bit exaggerated, but you get the point.
The final component of collection is contraction of the loins to lift the shoulders. This shifts the horse’s center of balance back and lightens the front end.
Once your horse is truly collected, you can do fun things like aires above the ground…
… and levade.
Picture by www.myhouserabbit.com
Pi is currently working on compiling some exercises that can help your horse collect as well as he does. Look for it later on this summer!!!
Biz Stamm is the 29 year old trainer and instructor of Stamm Sport Horse, LLC, specializing in pure dressage, as well applied dressage for riders involved with other disciplines. Originally haling from Hudson, NH, She is now living in Corvallis, OR. Biz started riding lessons at the age of 6 years old when the Dr. recommended that it may help with her bad balance and lack of coordination. While she is fairly coordinated and balanced on a horse these days, she is still somewhat of a mess on her own two feet.
Biz currently owns two horses: her lesson horse, Kalvin, a 7 year old half-Arabian gelding…
… and her personal horse, Alpha Helix, a 2 year old Kiger mustang gelding. Biz has had Helix since the day he was weaned, and considers him her “heart” horse.
Biz is also the proud owner (more like ownee!) of a 5 year old standard rex bunny named Pi Rex Rufuse (Get it!? Pi r-squared!!!). Biz has always wanted to have some sort of mini horse to live in the house, and since the current landlords won’s allow any kind of equine on the property, Biz opted for a rabbit, which evolutionarily speaking, is very closely related to the horse.
After getting a Masters degree in Plant Pathology, and pursuing a career in the scientific world, it became clear to her that she was only truly happy when she was interacting with, or talking about horses (and sometimes rabbits). Now that she is riding full time, Biz still keeps her scientific training close at hand, focusing on correct biomechanics and physics involved in riding.