The stages of Training to Reach Collection
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. While the horse depicted is a dressage horse, make no mistake.. training a horse to have the balance and muscles to collect will improve that horse for ANY discipline.. from trails to reining to barrel racing to jumping.
This diagram shows the stages of training to go from a green horse with rhythm to a horse that understands how to raise the root of his neck and get his hind quarters under him. This cannot be achieved through artificial head sets or riding front to back. This can ONLY be achieve by training the horse to first go forward and riding back to front. This is why the rein back (backing up) is best taught only after the horse reaches about the middle of this chart (stage 4). Through forward movement the horse actually does a rhythmic rein back that is balanced.. not rushed.
I hope the image comes out large enough to be seen here.
Momentary collection is fairly easy to teach. True collection is quite difficult, which is why dressage has worked out a system of training to teach it. Dressage is appropriate for dressage. It is fine as cross-training for anyone who likes it. But, for example, lots of horses ride fine without being ridden in contact. May ride fine bitless. But most horses have no need for anything but brief periods of collection, and they need a much milder degree of collection.
I'm not criticizing dressage. I'm just saying its training scale isn't appropriate outside of dressage.
Impulsion Thrust. Releasing of the energy stored by engagement. In dressage, impulsion is associated with a phase of suspension such as exists in trot and canter, but does not exist in walk. Therefore, impulsion is not applicable to the walk. [Note: It may be enlightening to compare the original French with the later English translation of the FEI scoresheets under "Impulsion." The English translation translation of the French reads, "the desire to move forward," whereas what the French actually says is, "the desire to carry himself forward" ("Le desire de se porter en avant").]"
USDF Glossary of Judging Terms
While a horse needs thrust to move forward, it does not need the desire to carry its weight with its hind quarters.
My horses have no trouble with "the desire to move forward", but lack "the desire to carry himself forward". The former is pretty natural in a horse, while the latter requires a lot of training to achieve, and many horses are not built to achieve it well.
The only thing I don't like about these scales and pyramids is that they show the levels as kind of static, when in real life I believe there's a lot of mixing: between contact, say, and rhythm; and the effect relaxation has on everything, especially suppleness.
There's a Training Circle diagram somewhere.
As bsms says, a maintained state of collection is a dressage thing; or highly stylized kind of riding. Nevertheless, I feel even the momentary collection before a jump, say, or in maneuvering through a crowd of cows, is something best trained LATER than from the first, to avoid hock injury, and to keep the horse from learning to brace his back (hollow out).
To me, what's most important isn't bringing the hindquarters under, but the lifting of the back, using belly-muscles. The hind comes under enough to make this lifting easier.
I think most horses need to learn the first four steps. I think the last two steps are the difficult ones to achieve and to obtain for long periods (such as the length of a dressage test) you absolutely train for years.
However, whether you are running barrels or herding cattle or jumping.. you need to be able to transition from extension to collection and back again. And the horse needs to do it in a balanced manner. These are the moments of collection you describe and I do not disagree. Unfortunately, many horses out there do not have enough training to do even this. They are rushed or simply not trained at all.
If you watch a good barrel horse or a good jumper.. they move like an accordion extending and collecting and extending and turning with suppleness.. and doing it so efficiently. Not all horses can do this well.. they may be built long backed and down hill with straight hocks and ewe necks.. but every horse can be improved by training.
My first horse was a steep shouldered, low necked, short pasterned, long backed Heinz 57 varieties horse. He had a great hind leg and plenty of bone. I trained him to do all sorts of things, including dressage. He was NOT a dressage horse at all, but I did get him trained well enough to collect and do 1 tempe changes. He even would do a Levade and hold it. Would he have won a test? NO. So why train it? Well because I thought it would be interesting to try. It made him a wonderful ride!
This same horse was a wiz on the trail and was a good competitive trail ride horse.. made ever so much better for his dressage training. He had rhythm and balance and you could achieve those moments (and more than moments) of collection. He would take either lead and down hills he was balanced and sure footed.
Anyway.. the object of the diagrams is to show how the training evolves.. what comes before the next step and what each step looks like.
Not everyone wants a Grand Prix Dressage Horse. However, I have never run into anyone who doesn't want a better trained better balanced and easier to ride horse. Understanding balance and collection through the diagrams above may help achieve that.
Define better balanced. Training a horse to support weight on the rear is appropriate for dressage. It isn't needed for momentary shifts in balance, because those are much easier on the horse. Rhythm is largely instinctive. Suppleness needs some work, but most can easily work on both suppleness and impulsion in the same workouts. Neither needs contact, unless you define impulsion in the dressage sense.
That doesn't make dressage training bad. It is fine, if someone wants to do it. But the dressage scale of training doesn't apply to normal riding. I can teach a horse to back up fine without first trying to teach impulsion or even suppleness. As the horse gets better at backing up, or in doing tight turns, they will get good at the underlying physical requirements.
Here is an analogy: Suppose you want to throw a baseball well. If you have some underlying problem with strength, then some weight training can help. But the weight training does very little in helping you throw a ball well. The motor skills required are too complex for a simplistic analysis that says you throw with your arm, so lift weights with your arm. Swimming is a great exercise, but it isn't the key to throwing baseballs well. If you want to get good at throwing baseballs, throw a lot of them.
The studies I've seen indicate the motion of a horse is far more complex than the normal analysis. There is some good reading here:
Equine Back Research
I agree totally Elana, dressage I take as "dressing" the horse and make him able to carry out his work more easily and in a better posture. I also agree higher level stuff may not be needed for trails etc, but all horses should be able to leg yield, for example.
Thanks for such an interesting topic to debate!
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A better analogy, bsms, would be Yoga. learning yoga will not help you be a better ballet dancer, or cellist, or computer programmer. No, not directly. But, it will help you learn to stand and walk in a way that keeps your spine healthy, and everything else hangs off of the spine, so you are better able to do other things when you have learned how to stand, move, and engage correct muscles, through yoga. you have a better chance of being physically useful in your life if you do yoga. it is one of the very best foundational trainings a human can do.
Dressage is like yoga. it makes the hrose engage muscles on command that are needed to support the pelvis and back and keep the horse better prepared to carry the weight of the rider.
Can he do all that (barrel racing and all the other disciplines you mentioned) without dressage? of course. But, dressage training can defininetely help.
When you back up your horse correctly, what about that back up makes it "correct"? is it that the horse flex at the poll, lift the base of the neck and bring the feet backward by lifting them and carrying them back, rather than dragging them back with a ton of heavy weight falling out the front? because that (the first description) is how you'd want a horse to in dressage to back up.
Maybe, your seeking that level of correctness in her back up means that in a small way, you are doing some dressage with Mia and didnt' even know it!
subbing as I haven't had my dinner yet and I'm starving but seems like an interesting thread
As some point, if yoga was truly "one of the very best foundational trainings a human can do", there would be some evidence for it. I'd be curious if there is any. I'd bet walking regularly has a better record of extending life and health than yoga does.
Dressage is the same way. There is no evidence that I've ever seen that a horse trained in dressage is healthier than a horse who is not. The studies that exist for how horses respond to carrying weight on their back would indicate, if anything, that dressage has nothing to do with it. A horse does not round its back to carry the weight. It may feel like that, because of other things the horse is doing, but the back itself does not lift, let alone round up.
Effect of weight on the horse's back - Part 1
Shifting weight to the rear is something any horse will do if needed, with minimal practice, but it doesn't increase longevity, riding lifetime, etc.
If anyone has studies that show dressage increases the useful lifespan of a horse or make a horse healthier than a non-dressage horse, I'd love to see them.
I am not objecting to dressage. I enjoy watching dressage videos. I think both horse and rider are impressive. However, it is often oversold. Our understanding of how horses actually move and how they respond to loads is still primitive, but there are certainly indications that collection doesn't play a big role. When horses carry a heavier rider, they leave their feet on the ground longer:
"On a level surface the forelimbs consistently supported 57 percent of the forces while the hind limbs supported 43 percent. Going uphill, this pattern of distribution shifts, with 52 percent supported by the forelimbs while the hind limbs took on 48 percent. Time of contact also varied. At higher speeds, the two feet were on the ground about the same amount of time, but at slower speeds, the hind limbs tended to spend less time on the ground--an observation that had never been made before in quadrupeds, according to Wickler. For the front limbs, time of contact didn't change significantly whether on the level or on the incline, but the hind limbs tended to be in contact with the ground longer when going uphill...
...In short, explains Wickler, carrying a load causes a horse to shorten his stride, leave his feet on the ground longer and increase the distance his body travels (the "step length") with each stride. All of these gait adjustments work together to reduce the forces placed on the legs with each step."
How Much Weight Can Your Horse Safely Carry?
Here is a discussion that rejects an idea I've read about in a variety of books:
"The thought that the lowering of the neck does increases the range of motion of the horse’s thoracolumbar spine is also inaccurate. "
Stretching the Neck
This is another I found interesting:
"Simplicity is the greatest achievement of knowledge but simplicity without knowledge is the greatest cause of equine injuries. “The horse’s hind legs need to track up at working trot”, is the type of simplistic formula which, if applied without sound understanding of the horse’s vertebral column mechanism and pelvis rotation, is likely to cause injury."
Hind Legs Engagement and Stifle Problem
Again: I think dressage is an interesting sport, although all I ever do is watch it on YouTube. But I think it is oversold as a cross training event. Like yoga, I don't think there is evidence it is the best thing since sliced cheese. I could, however, see it as a great way to make a horse a more all-round performer.
I've noticed that jogging tightens muscles that need to stretch for riding, and riding seems to tighten muscles that stretch for jogging. I consider riding and jogging to be excellent ways of improving my overall health in complement to each other. But riding will not make me a faster runner, just as doing pushups don't help me run faster. They just makes me look slightly less like a dork, and help when I need to move around under our kitchen sink to replace a faucet...
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