Achieving Collection: A Series

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Once you’ve ridden a truly collected horse, you don’t want to ride anything but that. The first thing you need to know to achieve proper collection is how a horse physiologically gets collected, soft, and elevated, and how what happens physiologically, when it’s done correctly v. done incorrectly.  As I have mentioned before- softness in our horse is our horse reaching back for us- and putting slack in the reins. Luckily for me, I’ve got to hear Buck Brannaman explain it enough that I can see it and feel it and do it in my sleep. It’s something I’m constantly working on with my horses.

In correct softness, and collection, such as in classical dressage style (loose rein- think war horses)/bridle horse riding (and I’m aware, that I’ve not yet explained a Bridle Horse), a horse must be elevated in order to correctly shift their weight back to their hindquarters. For elevation, you need the poll of the horse to be higher than his withers, but you still need him to be soft in the face- so he’ll need have his face on the vertical as well.

If you were to take any horse, stand him on level ground and measure him, he’ll be his normal height. But sit on him, ask him to elevate and he will usually be an inch and half taller. Same thing is true when you ask your horse to collect up- they do get shorter, as I’ve explained before.  When you ride your horse with his head vertical and his poll below his withers, you actually close the shoulder blades and do not allow the ribs and back to raise up. But if you raise the poll above the withers, the shoulder blades do open up, thus allowing the ribs and back to come up and properly elevate the horse (photo examples of correctness below).

Buck on his horse, Rebel, showing us what it should look like (photos from a 2010 clinic – my second time to ride with Buck):




Me at the standstill:


Moving out – Dino could be a tad more elevated here:


Some of you are probably thinking to yourselves right now- do you want your horse to travel like this all the time? The answer to that question is, No. You do not. You want your horse to move as naturally as possible, until which time you reach for him and then you want him to reach up and back to you- because if you reach for him, chances are you’re going to ask him to do something, such as stop, collect up so he can turn around, or back up etc.


Stay tuned for the next two posts in this series as I’ll explain the finer points of achieving elevation and collection!

Happy Trails!

Posted in: Featured, Horse Training, Uncategorized

About Jenn Zeller

Jenn Zeller is the creative mind and boss lady behind The South Dakota Cowgirl. She is an aspiring horsewoman, photographer, brilliant social media strategist and lover of all things western. After a brief career in the investment world to support her horse habit (and satisfy her...

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