Balance and Collection - Confusion and Misunderstanding

   Question:
   "Dear Mr. Stanek, First, I want to say that all of the questions I've previously asked you no longer need to be answered. Now, I ask for clarification on nosebands harming the horse's balance. I understand that the free movement of the head greatly helps a horse to balance, but isn't it that the free movement of only the jaw itself has a negligible effect? For instance, horses playing at liberty don't seem to open the jaws to help themselves balance.
   So, am I right in saying that it's the restraint of the head itself, via the noseband, (& not the jaw) that adversely affects the balance? Thank you. (I also wish that I could see what you are describing as the differences between "in contact" & "in hand" riding, but will be satisfied for now with clarification on the effect of the jaw on the horse's balance.)"


   Answer:
   I have said in the past that the understanding of equestrian literature presented by horsemen is limited to one's experience with horses. In other words if you are not able to do it you cannot understand it, hence reading about "how to" with horses will only make one worse since he will misunderstand the writing.


   First of all in this case you are totally confusing the natural balance with the riding balance where the latter has to be introduced (trained) to majority of horses by the rider. I do have the entire article on that, but I will sum up here the obvious. The riding balance is all about the horse adjusting his natural balance to the additional weight of the rider, and that by lowering the angles of the hind legs, in which case the animal will also set them more under. This will result in the rear legs partaking more in the carrying function in which case they lighten the burden of the front legs. If the animal is left in his natural balance it will in time overuse its front legs and will not last for any significant time as riding horse.

   I have said that collection and balance are two factors within one, as the horse is set in the riding balance the horse also collects more energy in the hind legs, in which case the animal becomes not only safer to ride but also much more maneuverable. If I would present the antonym of "collected" it would be "fallaparted", where we would speak of the horse "falling apart", hence in the old days the master rider/horseman would call upon the greenhorn saying things like "gather the horse", or "collect the horse", or "put the horse together", etc.
   This has nothing to do with the head or the neck of the horse, though the lowering of the hind legs angles/joints and the setting of the hind legs more under will influence the position of both, the head and neck more erect and flexed at the poll. To the fool a collected horse is a horse that flexes at the neck, drops its head and puts its head on the vertical, while literally dragging his hind behind, in short the opposite of the former.


   Horses by nature attempt to move with least effort as possible, as it is in their instincts to reserve enough energy for possible emergency so they could escape. For this reason most horses, especially when relaxed under the rider, will have the tendency (will favor it) to go more on the forehand with the head lower to the ground, hence we rest horses like this at the walk. Resting more of the weight, especially of the rider on the front is easier on the horse, because no energy (muscles are required), as opposed when we ask from the horse to share the weight of the front with the rear, where he needs to use more energy since it involves the hind muscles.
   Of course the horse is often not willing to do it, as it goes against the animal's natural instincts, but riding a horse is not natural, hence no such instincts in the horse. The animal is simply not aware of the consequences of carrying the rider on the forehand, which often results in pain and lameness of the horse.
   This is why the riding balance is very much related to fitness hence any decent rider in the past would not turn out his horse lose anywhere, but rather rode the animal every day, all for the benefit of the animal, as well as the rider. Most people today are inconsistent, undisciplined and lazy, hence many prefer to turn horses out, since they either do not ride them daily or do not want to ride fresh horses and prefer dull ones, in which cases achieving the riding balance on the unwilling horse is simply impossible, since going in the riding balance cannot be demanded but rather given freely to the rider by the horse.
   Once you turn a riding horse out, the natural instinct of reserving energy sets in, and there is no way to accustom the horse to the riding balance, hence only fools and greenhorns turn out riding horses.


   The setting the head low also contributes to relieving the rear end from the carrying effort, while it also makes it easier on the horse to pop its back up against the rider's weight via the leverage of the neck on the opposite end.
   Once the horse's back pops up against the rider it will partially disable the function of the loins, which are the most important part in lifting the frontend/front half of the horse, where also the rider sits.
   People today misunderstand the concept of the horse arching its back, it is not about hunching the back up, but rather about arching the back in a similar way as a weight lifter does. When a weight lifter lifts the weight he does pretty much what a horse should do in his riding balance, but much more extreme. In short the head goes up, so does the neck, the chest goes out, the "hind legs" lower and the back is arched from the loin up. Arched not hunched, get it! (One should not confuse arched with hunched or concaved!)


   To get the horse into the riding balance requires systematic daily training and conditioning, and should be easily and gradually introduced. This cannot be done by any rider that does not have a decent hand on the horse, and of course without the horse having a supple jaw and mouth that accepted the bit, it also cannot be done.

   Just like you are confusing the natural balance of the horse with the riding balance, most today also confuse the collection of the horse, and this because they first read and then they of course misunderstand. A typical misunderstanding of the equestrian literature of yesterday can be today read or heard by today's fools' explanations of balance and collection.
   These fools THINK when the writer is referring to the back of the collected horse going up, or being up, that it refers to being hunched rather than lifted up by the means of the loins. In short it goes up from the loins. Now the nincompoops today think that it is referring to the back being up due to the neck being set low, which results in the hunching up of the back, hence my term "the hunchbacks" referring to such way of going.


   You cannot learn or understand riding or the riding principles from reading books. No one can! In short, the writings merely serve as explanations/enlightenment of what is happening when we do this or that, and in no way it should serve as some instructions. You could say that one can only understand the writings via life's revelations. And so as I have said, one has to live it first before he can understand it.
   You have the same done with the bible, where you have all these experts misunderstanding the writings in that book, and as consequence all the religious nonsense is born, just the same way as all this equestrian nonsense was born. I compare the bible to the horsemen's writing because both speak of life, and as much as one learns horsemanship by revelations so the same way the bible is revealed only to those that actually live it (live the word) and not just believe it.


   And so since both of these writings are about life, it is your life that is your teacher, and in the case of horses it is the life with horses that teaches you not only about the horses and their nature but also about your nature. Reading and thinking in both cases is of no use, as a matter of fact they are detrimental to one's growth in life as a person or just horseman.

   For those less fortunate that do not receive any divine/life revelations I have a simple advice, when reading the bible replace the word God with the word Life, and things will become palatable even to a simpleton. It is not for nothing that Christ said "I am the Spirit and Life", hence it is not out of place what I am writing.

   And so in conclusion the tight noseband simply prevents the jaw to be supple and mainly responsive to the rider's hands since it is literally tied to the nose/head. This will have very adverse effects, because the rider can no longer ride/lead/train the horse to collect itself into the riding balance, while at the same time any pulling on the reins/head/mouth will disturb the natural balance of the horse during motion, hence many horses end up pulling even more trying to overcome the unstable/annoying/destabilizing hands of the rider that disturb the balanced/safe going of the horse.
   In other words the tight noseband not only prevents the rider to get the horse into the riding balance, but will in addition disturb the natural/safe balance of the horse.
   At any rate the greenhorn that leaves the horse's head alone will at least leave the horse alone (in its natural balance) to deal with the rider's weight on his own, though he will never be able to teach/train the horse to move in the riding balance, the latter should be left only to experience riders. Therefore the greenhorn is better off not reading anything about riding or horsemanship, lest he does more harm to the horse or himself.


   As far as the difference between riding in contact or in hand goes, it is more pertinent to the misunderstanding of the term "in contact", which often results in people doing stupid stuff like "riding the horse into the bit". The riding in hand and in contact are two factors in one, the same as collection and riding balance are two in one. Of course without the supple jaw of the horse neither is possible. Most people today think of riding on contact when the reins are straight and not lose, where the former in the hands of a fool is much more detrimental than the latter.
   On the same note one can ride in contact (not in hand) even on a lose rein like in the case of western riding, especially if he uses heavier reins. The riding in contact means to be in touch with the horse as far as requests go, while the riding in hand is more or less about supporting the horse in that what we have requested from him. The riding in hand belongs to the more advanced riding and one is better off staying out of it.


   In the case of a rider one rein (usually the inside rein when in the riding ring/arena) is often called active, which too is misunderstood by the greenhorns and fools. In reality the inside rein should be called "requesting" or "leading", while the outside rein is supportive in whatever the left reined asked for. In short we could say that we ask the horse to do something and then we support the animal in doing it.
   This is why the command on the riding arenas used to be "change hands", by this meaning changing the "leading" with the "supportive" hand and vice versa, which of course included the change of direction obviously. Outside the arena, especially in the fast gallops both reins are supportive, which is the ultimate riding in hand.
   It is best if a greenhorn ignores this paragraph and tries to do his best not interfere with the horse's motion once he asked the horse to do something, which should be sufficient. The greenhorn is best off to ride on a lose rein if possible, as riding in hand is reserved only to the very refined riders, which you will hardly see anywhere these days.


   I hope that my effort here will prove itself at least to some point fruitful.
   Regards
   Lee Stanek.

       The levade is the ultimate/extreme collection of the horse, please note the arching of the back up from the loins, no sign of any hunchback here, and of course no horse could do this possibly with its neck flexed and a low set head.
     The lump on top of the neck behind the poll is fat, common in stallions, and to some fool it could look a like flex at the neck, while the flex at the poll is more than obvious here, which is done by the horse to balance itself and not by the rider's hands. In short horses on their own will erect the head and flex at the poll to balance themselves in collection.
     The higher the collection the more flex at the poll and more erection of the head. This is not achieved by the hands of the rider, but rather the hands of the rider request/guide/support the horse in/to required collection and the animal adjusts its body balance, which includes the head and neck, accordingly.

      The rider does not do some nonsense like setting the horse's head and neck or frame as the fools understand it under collection, but rather the horse sets its neck and head in order to balance itself in the collection, as in this case of the levade, the ultimate/extreme collection of a horse.

     On the other hand the whole point of riding balance is to have just about the right amount of collection so the weight of the horse and the rider is equally distributed on all four legs. Since we are talking about "just the right amount" of collection we are talking about balance, hence there are two aspects to the riding balance, the equal/balanced weight distribution on all four legs achieved by the balanced level (the right amount) of collection.

     The collection of the horse of course changes according to the task at hand, obviously. Many horses will do that latter on their own, once they know what is next e.g. racehorse leaving the starting gate, where the rear drops about one foot and the front literally comes off the ground, and for several steps only the toes, not the heel, of the front hooves touch the ground until the horse reaches full stride . The horse literally runs on his toes in the first few steps out of the starting gate, which often contributes to the so-called bucked shins in the improperly conditioned horse.

 

Written by Ludvik K Stanek a.k.a Lee Stanek