Honest answer to this photo, please
Well, I'll stick my neck out and might not be happy about what I hear, but I'll try to remind myself of that while reading the answers ;)
In the photo below I concider my horse to be fairly collected. I'm ''just'' a trailrider and he is ''just'' an off the track, gaited standardbred. I ride him in flatwalk, rack and sometimes trot (walk and canter of course) but in the picture he's doing a sort of gaited gait. He's moving forward in a slow manner and he's having a clear 4-beat (this I can hear and feel, but it was a bit on the diagonal, trotty side, rather than completely square or lateral/pacy). He's moving forward on a straight line.
It's a bad quality cellphone photo, I've removed the background (a road and some trees) and changed the levels/colors, but not altered it otherwise. I would love a better or more photos, but the truth is I can usually only get this from him when I'm alone on the trail and have bee working him properly for a good while. When I have company, I have diffiulties working and focusing on the horse as I like to chat with my friend on the ride, and therefore I rarely get pictures or even eyewitnesses when we do these kind of things. I was lucky this day though :) Hopefully soon I can get this mre often and easier as we get better.
Would you say he's fairly collected, and what in his body etc tells you he is or isn't? (I know my heels are op.. >_>)
Perhaps it's easier if you compare with a ''natural'' photo of him, I mean... it might be easier to see how he has changed his frame if you know how it's normally.. a heavy, short backed horse might give a different impression than a lean, longbacked one, if you see what I try to say.. can't hurt at least...
(and for those suspicious of any kind of edited photos, here's the original: http://www.elftown.com/stuff/12062011090.jpg )
Well, you can clearly see a downward slope to his body, I mean upward, sorry. His haunches are lower than his shoulders, which is a sign of collection and engagement. His poll is the highest point and he seems to be holding this on a loose rein. his lower neck is nicely lifted up into the shoulders. I think that is an engaged, collected horse.
The only thing not looking collected is that he doesn't step under himself very much. His weight bearing rear leg is not very far under and his unweighted leg is kind of hanging out the back.
However, gaited horses do move differently and if he was gaitin or half gaiting as yoiu desscribed, he may not be weighting his feet in the same order as a pure walk.
I think he's a lovely horse and you seem to sit him quite well!
Thanks, that and the angle in the hocks (although I gues the carrying/pushing one isn't necessarily at the straightest yet in the photo..) is what I try to judge from. And of curse how he feel, the rythm and flow, but that's hard to get in a picture :3
I would like to get his feet more under him, and when he's excited he'll do a piaff (aka pure trot without moving a lot forward) for me when I ask like this. Then he's even more uphill to sit. I imagine he gets the legs more under him then, but I don't know since I have no picture or video of it, yet..
It's difficult to be sure when he's gaiting, as gaiting in itself isn't supposed to be collected.. but the more I ride him the more I think that collection is possible also in a gait. And the more collected he feel in the gait, the smoother and easier he is to sit or maneuver..
He has a sort of passage-walk too that's quite interesting. Always on a lose or next to lose rein and cued by my seat. He'll walk but rest in the step and be softly bouncy, if you can imagine that.. if I push him he'll get a nice, huge trot, resting in the step and feelig like a passage (according to my instructor) however he'll step outside the center of the weight and that makes his hind end float away in a weird leg yield or something. Guess he's trying but isn't strong enough. In the ''passage-walk'' however, he walk straight and put the legs under himself properly, so I kept working a bit on that. He's not as lowered at his haunches as in the photo above, but he's definetly not hollowing out either..
The picture doesn't show much of it since the funny thing is the motion and how he rests in the step and pushes his fore up a little in every move of the hind legs.. but it's what I've got. :3
He's a very interesting horse to ride.
I think he's collected too, and I like it that he looks stretched along his topline. That said, what might confuse the issue with some of us dressage students, he doesn't look to be on the bit -- not stretching into your hand, but just being beautifully collected all by himself-- is that wrong? Well, I hope not! And your seat could be accepting the energy; anyway, it's a different look.
See? Now we get a little feed for discussion :P
In ''my'' world, ''on the bit'' means that the horse is responsive to the cues, not necessaily that he leans onto the bit/hand. Since I ride with a western curb (and beside that generally dislike too much contact) I wouldn't want him to put preassure in my hands. The leverage would make it too much. However, if my hand gave him all of the rein and my seat allowed it, he would stretch forward and down. Like here; still little to no contact on this urb (hackamore) but here my seat and weight ask him for a regular trot with longer strides and less collection.
He does however have a high headcarriage and we have had some issues with getting a really low headset in other gaits than walk. (perhaps because I'm reluctant to give his as much rein as he wants to keep a low headset in a faster gait, since I'm a little chickenish that he'll run and I won't get the rein back in time.. it's silly really since he stops on voice and seat, but.. I'm a control freak) it is much better since I switched to a curb though, believe it or not. He relax better in that and will seek forward much easier without curling up or tucking the nose in. He stops on voice and I sometimes ride in either a halter or completely bridle-less, so it's not that I need the leverage.. but he's more relaxed with it.
I do definetly ask/cue him to slow down his forward movement and direct it more up, but I don't do it with my hands as much as my seat. I sit back, ake a deep breathe and pretend I'm already riding the move, gripping some with my thighs and gently squeesing with my lower legs. My hands only stop him if he tries to run out of the cue instead of listening to it.
As I mentioned, the really low frame is difficult, but we're getting there and working on it. If I'm not asking him to ''work'', he'll be a star gazer with a deer neck and hollow back, or stick his nose and neck straight out. That I use my seat rather than my hands to get his nose down isn't really an issue with collection from my point of view.
An example of ''natural'' to him, vs when I get myself together. Also two gait-pictures, and these are not really collected as such, he's running the fastest he could withut starting to pace, at that point. The rein preassure is about the same, the differense is that in the first picture my body was stiff and braced and in the second I ''held'' him between my legs and directed my own energy. But I think they show the differense between ''sitting on'' and ''rding'' him :)
Not that any of these pictures show anyting about how collected he is in the first one. Quite the opposite, the background story could influence with how you judge the picture, and this was all about judging that picture.
But if he's not ''on the bit'', at least he's ''on the cues'' ;) He's not a well schooled PRE that will just collect himself naturally just from getting a little energized.
Was he a pacer?
If so, then in the first photograph, he could have been contemplating going from the trot to the pace (or vice versa), which means his gait does a weird shuffle so that he can swing into it. That is most likely what you heard when he was 4-beating.
It happens quite frequently when we are jogging without hobbles. The horse chooses to go into/out of the pace when they feel like it.
With him being just off the track, I am surprised at how well he goes in a nice light rein and little contact.
The higher head carriage you are seeing is related to him being a Standardbred, and being race trained. He is used to having his head checked up. But I see a horse who is willing to stretch down, so he (and you) are on the right track. Pun intended. LOL
The photo, to me, looks like it was taken at a point where the horse was jigging, or in a transition. The horse is moving uphill, yes, but it isn't a "traditional" photo to respond to. I will try and look more on my laptop, and offer some sort of discussion.
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I said that wrong.. I didn't mean he's just recently taken off the track, but that he's ''only'' a standie as I'm ''only'' a trailrider (rather than a rider that's proved my skills in shows). He was never started, just trained for racing, and that was trotting, not pacing. We don't have pace-races in sweden :)
He is most definetly not switching between gaits as he pleases. :) He will trot when asked, flatwalk when asked and rack when he's asked. And do this uphill-thing when asked.. If he's not ''warm'' or worked through enough to do it, he'll do a passage-like trot instead, but not being strong enough he'll float away with his butt sideways and put his hindlegs broadly apart rather than under the center of his weight. He also has a passage-ish walk in which he is strong enough to walk straight and put the legs under himself rather than beside himself. I can get a sort of slightly uphill, semi-slow saddle rack but not always this quite uphill, really slow saddle rack-thingy as in the photo. And he kept doing it in the same tempo and rythm across the road, and then a good while along the road.
The lack of a full stretch down-forward is a little breed-related but in my mind also shows a hole in the training. We are getting closer to fill that hole, he will most of the times put his poll just below the withers now when I ask him. For a long while he wouldn't go lower than in the good rack picture, except in a walk on a completely lose rein. Unless I asked him with the reins to overbend and go far btv, but rarely even then. And I didn't want to work in that manner so I didn't ask him more than a few times to check if he'd pull the nose forward-down in the release at least, but it just didn't feel right.
May I try to interject an open eyed perspective?
The images you presented show a 'gaited' horse in self carriage.
When his head goes high without contact as in one image, he shortens the forehand.
The term 'on the bit' does not mean that the horse has firm contact with the bit....it means that the head is in front of the vertical and poll high. This engages the muscles across the withers. When the withers are in use you can feel the wither rise and the shoulders engage.
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