Icelandic Horse Connection

Collection and the Gaited Horse

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What is collection? Collection is when the horse gathers himself for action by engaging his hindquarters*, shifting his balance backward and lightening his forehand. His back rounds in a bascule and his neck arches and rises, especially at the base. His head is carried high and he flexes at the poll, which is the highest point of the horse. His movement becomes light and mobile, with shorter, higher strides and active hindquarters, and he is able to shift his balance instantly in any direction. If the hindquarters are trailing out behind, they are not engaged. A hind leg reaching under the horse is "reach" not impulsion or engagement.

*For more info on engaging the hindquarters, click here.

Collection has three independent motor functions that are linked together. It starts when a horse coils its lumbosacral joint. This coiling is engagement of the hindquarters. Collection continues with relaxation of the muscles of the horse's topline. This relaxation combined with loin coiling, raises the horse's back. Collection is completed when the horse makes a neck-telescoping gesture (picture below).

Collection gives the horse impulsion. Impulsion is controlled propulsive energy generated from the hind quarters. The horse's back is soft and swinging and there is a gentle contact with the rider's hand. Speed is not the same as impulsion.

If speed and suspension indicated collection, then Standardbreds in harness races would be collected, and they are not.

A characteristic of impulsion is increased articulation of the hock joints, not just upward, but also forward within the phase of the stride. The cannons should be parallel, showing equal forward 'impulse'. Collection, by definition, does not disconnect the pieces, but connects them in fluid forward & upward moving energy originating from the quarters and flowing forward.

Suspension is the 'hang time' when all 4 legs are off the ground. Suspension also does not determine collection. Many horses show tremendous suspension without collection.

The aim of collection is:
  • 1. To develop balance and equilibrium of the horse.
  • 2. Increase the horse's ability to lower and engage his quarters in order to increase the lightness and mobility of his forehand.
  • 3. To develop 'self carriage'.
The frame of a horse does not define collection. The purpose of the 'frame' is to better enable the horse to use his back. But to make the face vertical is NOT an indication that the horse is using his back.

OK, back to gaited horses: Due to the biomechanics of how gaited horses gait, it is difficult for them to perform true collection. Several people are in the process of attempting to obtain collection in gait, and hopefully we'll be the first to know to be able to present it to the gaited horse community.

With that in mind, gaited horses can be collected in walk, trot, canter, but not in gait (it hasn't been proven yet).

When a gaited horse performs any of the gaits in the chart below, from neutral, neutral to hollow, and hollow, it is doubtful that he has the ability to reach true collection.

That does not mean that we shouldn't strive to ride our horses as well as we can, but we should know the biomechanical limitations. Knowledge is power!

First, the horse, in order to perform the above gaits, has tightened his back. That tightening prevents coiling of the loins. This also prevents engagement of the hindquarters and bascule of the back.

In some cases, the frame and gait of the horse, actually make it look like anti-collection! The gait of tolt as performed by the Icelandic Horse is not in collection. A "collected tolt" is an oxymoron. The back is hollow, the head is more horizontal than vertical, the neck is braced, hindquarters are disengaged, hind limbs trailing.

As you can see, the term "collection" can not be used to describe these components, since they are, in fact, opposite to the components of collection. Some trainers, however, are mistakenly using the term to describe this type of "frame". In gait, the frame that the horse takes, can be referred to as a "shortened" frame, or "gathered up", rather than collection.

From a Dressage Judge, judging gaited horses:

We all see 'correct' in some context of what we are used to.

At the show, the horses were quick off the ground, snatchy, braced, tense... I doubt the riders could even feel the tension in their horses. It made me cringe to watch it, but I'm sure it felt perfectly normal for them. And they might easily be cringing to watch my horses go because the outline is different and the movement is slower and longer strided.

The thing is, I believe some folks think that relaxation, or maybe I should say too much relaxation, will spoil a gaited horse's gait. I would agree that some horses can't gait without a hollow type of carriage. But it seems like there could, in all cases, be some sort of compromise between totally rigid and just the right amount of ventroflexion needed to produce the gait.

However, it is easier to train with tension to produce the gaits than to find this compromise between tension and relaxation.

Lee Ziegler's Article: Collection and the Gaited Horse

Neck Telescoping

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