Ok.. Morning again.. I'm loving this discussion. Very edifying!
I removed the photos and posted a link to the album instead. The photos are in the order that I wrote about them. I added in another of Rosie, a year ago, beginning to pick her back up and flex her neck as she was finally healthy (although she didn't yet look it.
) If I got on her at that stage, she would hang her head down and stretch out, as her back was not yet strong enough, nor her balance good enough.
Her position is the kind of collection I'd like to see for relaxed riding work at a trot. It looks exagerrated because she's still recovering from emaciation in this photo, and going over the pole. (Now she has nice muscling covering up that bony neck!)
Your comments on requiring weight to strengthen are interesting Miriam. I can see that this would be true.
I've spent a lot of time watching horses roaming together in natural environments, and it often strikes me in the discussions of collection, and natural collection that there seems to be a belief that it needs to be "taught".
Horses when they're relaxed and covering distance, at an active walk or gentle trot, trekking to the water hole for example, will show the same kind of relaxed collection that we're talking about.. neck slightly above horizontal, slightly curved, head low, backs raised.
SO when you say this:
So, now I'm thinking it over, this could very well be a natural way of moving or the horse. Because when watching good classical dressage trainers working with young, unspoilt horses, you see that these horses take up this default position within a single training session, just because it makes sense to them. So when they slowly start to collect out of it (at liberty I mean, not with reins), it can be called natural collection too...?
YESYES AND YES!
It's always been very hard for me to accept the one very high head set, very flexed position as being the epitome of "natural" collection. This is only ONE type of collection that horses show in nature, in extreme circumstances, and it's most often associated with stressful situations, which call for extreme short bursts of power... Fighting,mock fighting, play that practices for fight or flight, the first moment of fright and flight, arrival of an unknown horse etc etc etc..
Of course, I can see that when you want the horse to perform airs above the ground, this is the kind of collection that would be neccessary for the extreme burst of power. But for flatwork?
And whether the horse is in extreme collection and performing airs, or in relaxed collection and moving easily, the same need to gradually strengthen back muscles through adding weight in increments of duration would apply wouldn't it?
To my mind, provided you apply the same principle of care for all parts of the horse , and train the horse's body to gradually be able to carry more weight, there should be no more likelihood of damaging a horses back through "trail/pleasure/field" riding ijn the relaxed collected stance, as there is in airs above ground in extreme "natural" collection. And then, the stipulation to only do ten minutes at a time would not be applicable.. In nature, a horse only holds the extreme collected pose for very short periods, but the relaxed collection they can do all day.
If horses don't know how to stretch out and down, or take the relaxed collection posture, (or even extrem collection) I wouldn't assume it's because they haven't been taught it. I would imagine that it's because this natural behaviour has been stamped out of them, through UN-natural management practices.. Lack of natural exercise over varied terrain, improper ways of feeding and watering, lack of horse company in a free and stimulating environment, stabling, overfeeding/underexercising, improper hoof care, rigid training practices that don't allow for the natural self expression of the horse, poor riding, forced head set, discomfort from saddle and girth, pressure and fear, learned helplessness... and then of course into the pain and discomfort problems that these things generate.
So yes, I agree with this statement..
My ideal is that when I don't give cue or an assignment for the horse to do, he goes back to the 'default posture' that costs the least energy but also is the most healthy. But the horse has to learn which position that is! If not, the default position is the one that horses take in when not thinking it over or having a history of moving in unhealthy waus, when stressed or sore: head high, neck and back hollow and head turned out and away from the center of the circle (if you're lungeing that is )
when you are working with a horse who has already experienced the loss of it's natural movement.
But, if conditions are good, and you have a young horse who has not been misused, I believe that all you will need to do is not interfere with it, and you will be able to keep all the range of movement, and then translate that to ridden work.
So.. to bring it back round to the starting of a young horses..
This has been my guiding light:
I don't attemtp to force anything on her.. not a particular gait, or posture or head carriage (even through positive reinforcement) in my rides (or sits
) on her. I let her take the position that she wants and that feels right for her. If I can feel or see that this is not sufficient for bearing my weight safely (for example, she becomes excited and her head goes up high and back hollows) I dont' attempt to correct it. I immediately get off, and let her continue walking with me, as she wants to. So.. this is how she is showing me how and when she is ready to ride.
Some might think that this will teach the horse that they can make you get off. This is not my experience. By getting off before things become a problem for her, she never experiences the feeling that she WANTS me to get off. So far.. she WANTS me to ride.