When it comes to the elusive concept of collection, it’s really all about the neck.
Article by Kalley Krickeberg
Photography by Caralee Gould
Collection is a hot topic from many of my clinic attendees, and I often hear them say, “Kalley, I want to start collecting my horse; I’d like him to learn to use his hind quarters and round his back more.” Or, “My horse has such a choppy stride: is there anything we can do to make him move better and be more comfortable?”
Almost instantly my mind and eye go to what the horse is doing in his neck—specifically, the base of his neck, where it attaches to his withers. This is the root of collection, and if you’re wanting the horse to collect and use himself better, you need to understand the basics of how his body works in a mechanical fashion.
A good trainer needs to be able to break things down into components. I study what others are doing, how they are doing it, and if it’s working for them or not. What are they doing to achieve their end goal? How do they keep the horse from learning something they don’t want it to learn? Then, I watch what comes out of the horse as a result. Sometimes, there’s a successful transfer of information, where the horse completes the task well. Other times, well, not so much.
When talking about collection, there are multiple things to keep track of—various parts of the horse’s body need to be collected, so it can get complicated quickly. And though it’s better for the horse physically, it’s harder work to move that way; because of that, we run into resistance, whether it’s done properly or not. It’s here where confusion starts.
When it comes to collection, I have adopted, adapted and collected concepts, theories and techniques throughout my life that I have found work well for the horse, and I have distilled it down to a few key tips I’ll try to get across in this article. I’ll go through how and what I focus on for the horse, to keep it as simple as I can for him so he can more readily figure out what I am looking for or asking for. In the end, I want the “communication” to be as successful and quick as possible.
A lot of books and articles have been written on collection—most just make me cross-eyed, and I get bogged down in details. I am a firm believer that you should not over-simplify, nor over-complicate, anything that has to do with training. By over-simplifying, you’ll miss important nuances and end up with a crude result. If you over-complicate things, you’ll miss the forest for the trees and end up with you and your horse tangled in a mental knot. My solution is always to try and stay somewhere in the middle … seeing enough of the big picture so people know where they’re going, yet with enough nuance to know why.
When it comes to solving issues of a horse moving well, the spot I focus on is at the base of the neck and how a horse is, or isn’t, using it. I know it might sound odd to focus on that spot specifically when we want the horse to use his hindquarters and back better, but that is where it all begins. The horse can carry this part of his body in three ways: “broken up,” where the horse has a high head carriage and low withers, commonly called “U-necked” or “upside down neck;” “broken down,” where the horse has a low head carriage and low withers, with the neck appearing disunited with the body and its movement; or “engaged,” where the horses lifts at the withers.
Three components are key in helping the horse figure out how to use his neck and body.
The combination of these three pieces are the ingredients for successful collection and good movement. One without the others will not yield the correct result.
I often see the rider trying to “collect” her horse, and all that comes out of it is a vertically flexed poll with a “broken up” neck, creating a high head, stiffness in the body, a flat or hollow back, and the hindquarters trailing out behind. Alternatively, I’ll see a horse with an overly flexed poll, a neck that’s “broken down” with a low head, and movement that’s just “jigging” along, barely getting anywhere because there’s no impulsion—the movement is all in the legs instead of incorporating the back and topside of the neck. In my mind’s eye, two cartoons pop up. One is of a horse that has all the angular creases in its body parts like an accordion: flat, angular and sharp, instead of having one long, smooth arch from poll to tail. The other is a horse built like the Nike “swoosh:” high in the rear, low shoulders, low in the front and scuffing its toes in the dirt instead of pushing out of the ground with suspension in his gait.
This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Spring 2017 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.