Friday, June 5, 2009

Impulsion Understood? So what of Collection?

The next thing to fully understand before delving too deeply into the subject of Collection is a bit of anatomy. A full course in anatomy is not necessary but some concept of it is required if one is to understand the physiological effects of Collection.

First it is important to recognize that the average horse carries about sixty percent of his weight on his forehand. An untrained horse will generally travel with his withers relatively low and his shoulders rolling over his grounded fore limbs. Collection will require a horse to lower his croup by compressing his hind quarters and elevating the forehand by pushing upward through his shoulders. Essentially, Collection lightens the forehand by shifting the bulk of the weight onto the hindquarters. Understanding how a horse can do this is where a small knowledge of anatomy will be helpful.

I shall start with the vertebra. The vertebra in the neck are called the Cervical Vertebra. The first Cervical Vertebra which is connected to the skull is called the Atlas. This allows the horse to nod his head in a motion referred to as breaking at the pole.

The next Vertebra is the Axis and it, along with the rest of the Cervical Vertebra, allows the horse to swing his head from side to side and bend his neck.

After the neck, the next set of vertebra is called the Thoracic Vertebra. These are weight bearing and carry the rider. It should be noted that there is generally very little movement in this area compared to others. These Vertebra are extremely stiff in their articulations and offer almost no flexion at all.

The next set is called the Lumbar Vertebra. The first joint in their union to the Thoracic Vertebra is called the Thoracolumbar Joint. The next set of Vertebra is behind the Sacrum. The joint between the last Lumbar and the Sacrum is called the Lumbosacral Joint. The reason it is important to know about these vertebra and their joints is because the way the individual portions of the spine flexes and articulates is an essential part of Collection and constitute the process of what is known as Rounding the Back.

The Cervical Vertebra have a great deal of flexion thus allowing the neck to bend. The Lumbar and the Thoracic have very little. The exception is the Lumbosacral joint. The ability of the Lumbosacral Joint to articulate as much as thirty degrees is what allows the horse to tuck his croup and load the hindquarters. It is what makes Collection possible and in particular, the extreme examples of it, as in the Piaffe for Dressage or the Slide-Stop for Reining. It should be interesting to note that cattle do not have a Lumbosacral joint and therefore are not capable of Slide-Stops.

The next area to examine is the shoulders. The horse does not have collar bones. The thorax is carried in a cradle of muscles called the Serratus Ventralis. Contracting these muscles can cause the Thorax to rise between the shoulders thus causing the withers to rise.

So ultimately, Collection is effected by the horse when he performs the following:

  • Articulates the Lumbosacral joint in order to tuck his croup and round his back
  • Flexes the Serratus Ventralis to raise the withers
  • Flexes the Cervical Vertebra to arch his neck
  • Flexes the Atlas in order to break at the pole

All these movements require a great deal of coordination and an entire set of muscles that are generally not used for anything else. Consequently, collection is not only something that needs to be learned from an aspect of coordination and dexterity, but also something that requires conditioning over time. The Enlightened Rider will not ask for all of it at once; especially from a young horse. Nor will he ask for movements and performance that cannot be expected from a horse who is not collected before the horse has the coordination and the conditioning needed to deliver these movements without injuring himself.

Some might argue that horses perform many movements that require collection when they are playing in the pastures. While this may be true, a horse under saddle with the weight of a rider is a far cry from a horse playing in the pasture. The horse under saddle must make adjustments for the weight of the saddle and the rider. Furthermore, he is asked to engage in collection and then maintain the collected state indefinitely until the rider decides to release him. This could be a considerable amount of time and is never something that a horse in the pasture would elect to do. To fully understand what this means I suggest donning a backpack consisting of twenty percent of your body weight. For the average person, that would be about forty pounds. Then Squat down over a chair until your seat is almost touching the chair. Hover over the chair (without touching it) for about half an hour and you will understand what is being asked of horses in a typical arena training session.

By understanding these processes, you can make a much more enlightened, and reasonable request for Collection. Furthermore, you will be able to recognize your horse’s honest attempts to deliver this often elusive posture and thus be able to respond with more timely releases.


Post a Comment