Collection is Not About a Look

Courtesy of Downunder Horsemanship

Collection should feel light in your hands, not heavy. In other words, don’t worry about where your horse’s head is at; you’re only concerned with how he feels in your hands.

I tell people that it’s called a soft feel, not a soft look. That’s the difference between my method and some of the others out there. I’m not after a look; I’m after a soft feel. I’ll admit that I’d rather have a horse go around with his neck flat and his nose tucked in, but a horse’s ability to hold that carriage depends greatly on his conformation and natural talent. You’re not going to get a horse that has an upside down neck and a naturally high headset to carry his neck level by himself. However, you can teach him that when you pick up on the reins and apply pressure, he had better soften and give to the bit straightaway. When you pitch him away on a loose rein, he can carry his head wherever he wants.

Just remember, it’s called a soft feel, not a soft look. Just because a horse has his head tucked in, it doesn’t mean he’s collected and giving to the bit. Some horses are really good at tucking their heads in but are leaning on the bit so hard that they’re practically pulling your arms out of their sockets. When a horse is leaning on the bit and heavy on his forehand, his hindquarters are strung out behind him and it’s hard for him to do any sort of maneuver correctly.

When you’re working with your horse and teaching him how to collect, if he’s pulling on the reins, it doesn’t count; do not release the pressure. When he softens and truly collects, he should create slack in the reins. Wait until you don’t feel any pressure on the reins for a split second before you release the pressure. Only give back to him when he softens, and as soon as he does, instantly reward him. Don’t get hung up on where the horse’s head is; concentrate on how he feels in your hands.