Originally Posted by JustDressageIt View Post
I am speaking from a dressage/english perspective here. I see the article is western based, but there are certain training terms that transcend disciplines.
It seems to me that there is a disconnect between "slow with a headset" and "round and collected." They are not equal. A horse can go around slow with his head down or avoiding the bit, and evading by dropping behind the vertical as shown in most of those pictures throughout the article, and look "pretty" but be functionally strung out and not connected whatsoever tail to nose...You don't want to be supporting the horse's head, but you do want to have that connection, bit to hand. I know this is not possible in the western disciplines, but I get very disheartened when it's suggested to encourage your horse to drop behind the bit.
I disagree. There is only one picture in the article of a horse in motion:
That does not look to me like a horse that is "functionally strung out and not connected whatsoever tail to nose". It isn't a dressage frame, but most western riders don't use 'collection' to mean 'collected for dressage'.
The Random House Dictionary defines collection as "
something that is collected; a group of objects or an amount of material accumulated in one location, esp. For some purpose or as a result of some process". Applied to riding a horse, it would mean all the parts of the horse are acting together in support of the rider's purpose.
I may not know how 'strung out' looks, but I know how it feels from the back of a horse - my mare will cheerfully drag herself around with her front legs at the trot, and the only reason her hind legs aren't left behind in the dust is because they are physically attached to her. She doesn't move like that alone, only with a rider - so my goal has been to teach her to stop relying on her front legs to balance me, and engage her rear legs.
As an added challenge, I ride her without a bit, and I don't want to ride her bitless by substituting the halter for the bit. She will never be 'on the bit, and I don't want her 'on the bridle'. I want her moving in a coordinated, balanced manner because she WANTS to move like that. As the article says, "Horses seek comfort by nature. Since he does not know how long he will have to trot, eventually he will realize that it may be best to slow down and conserve his energy. This is where the lesson is: when he decides this on his own without any help from you."
So I'll ask her to trot, and either post or use a two point position - after all, I can't invite her to lift her back if I bounce down on top of it in my typical stiff as a board sitting bounce. She'll start off strung out and hollow backed, but that gets tiring...and THEN she'll slow down a little, lift her back, engage the rear and lower her head. I'm a pretty green rider myself, but I'm beginning to feel when her back lifts. We'll go a little bit like that, then I'll slow her and praise her - but her main reward comes from feeling more comfortable trotting with all her legs.
I'm not smart enough about riding to know if this is correct, but it seems to be working. She is shifting into a balanced position sooner and holding it longer, so I think she is getting the idea.
I think it was an error for the author to include this picture at the start:
The western riders I know have no interest in getting their horse into that position. We want our horses to be flexible and soft at the neck, and to turn with her entire body and not just the front 18 inches, but the goal is an agile horse, not a dressage frame.
My mare is very stiff laterally (even without me - she can't even lie down and roll without looking like a board), so we are working on circles. Mia doesn't like circles - she prefers squares, or maybe hexagons on a good day! A local trainer had told me some of the same exercises mentioned in the article as a way of loosening her up and teaching her how bend her body and support a turn with all her parts - a 'collection' of parts dedicated to turning, if you will.
When my mare (Arabian) lifts her back in a trot, or turns a real circle for however many degrees she can sustain it, her head is down. The neck is almost level with her back. I can't see her from the side, but based on her shadow, I'd guess she looks like the horse in the top photo.
Our gelding (1/4 Appy, 3/4 Arabian) is very agile, and always moves in a balanced and engaged manner. I wish I could claim it was me, but I obviously have nothing to do with it. His rear legs are supplying most of the power, and he'll turn on a dime. And his neck is below horizontal, with his head at about a 45 deg angle.
As long as he moves balanced and coordinated, I don't care what he does with his head. And while we ride him with a snaffle bit, we rarely have direct contact with the bit. He rides best with just a little slack.
The goal of dressage is dressage. Using my definition of collected, a dressage horse must be collected, but a collected horse doesn't have to be doing dressage. The word is used in dressage with a more restricted meaning than is meant by many western riders.