Collection. What is it and do we need it?

Here is one of the words in the equestrian world that has been thoroughly muddled over the years and seems to mean something completely different depending on who you talk to. This blog will explain the differences, what it means to Cowboy Dressage and the implications for your every day riding, no matter the decipline!

To most western riders collection means a gathering of the reins to achieve a certain headset and a rounding of the top-line.
For dressage it is the engagement of the hindquarters. Imagine the coiling of a spring. This allows the horse to create greater thrust/power to push forward and up.

You might wonder, “do I even need collection for Cowboy Dressage?”
For the current tests none or very little collection is needed, but as the tests continue to increase in difficulty, some movements will be harder and harder to perform accurately without collection or some degree of rebalancing the horse on his hind-quarters.

One of the movements in the current tests that needs at least a degree of collection to be performed well, is movement 4 and 16 in WJL Challenge Test 1. Here you are backing your horse up around the corner and then pick up the lope. If performed correctly the horse will engage his hindquarters during the backing and is then able to accurately and immediately go into the lope. Horses that have not adequately engaged their hind-end have to go through the walk or even jog first in order to create momentum and be able to lope. Whereas the horse that is engaged behind, remember the coiled spring, has enough power stored up to jump right into the lope.

Even if you are not interested in ever showing your horse, there are real world benefits to collection. The horse naturally carries about 60% of his weight on the front end. Now if all he does is graze and run around the pasture, this would be perfectly fine, but once we add a rider the balance changes again. If we allow our horse to travel on the forehand continuously or actually encourage this way of going, there can be wide reaching and detrimental implications throughout the horse’s body. The most obvious is more wear and tear on the front limbs, but it can also involve the spine, the hind-end and the horse’s overall way of going, evidenced in short, choppy strides. Without teaching the horse to balance himself adequatly underneath the rider, the hind-end cannot be correctly engaged and this often causes a hollowing of the spine and incorrect musculature throughout the body. Over long periods of time the incorrect pulling on the musculature will end up affecting the bones and once that has happened it is much harder to correct.

All this doesn’t mean we need to train our horses like high level dressage horses, but rebalancing the horse correctly to carry the rider can have amazing health benefits and could potentially add many more years of riding for you and your equine partner. Riding and developing a healthy, happy horse is what Cowboy Dressage is all about!

As always, Happy Trails