Written by  2013-09-14

Contra collection

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I am really delighted to see that more and more people engage with the Gymnasium of the old masters again, which have been forgotten because of the ‘meat for canon’ training since the 19th century. However – as with everything – here too a lot of problems occur and many people get disappointed and horses frustrated which leaves them often to abandon their attempts towards a healthy way of going for the horse and the pure pleasure of lightness for the rider.
The problem lies in the following: people copy the methods of the old masters to try and fix problems the old masters never encountered!
Think about it; when a master started to train a stallion (!) first and foremost he chose this individual for a lot of qualities that were already there! The masters chose young stallion that were already collecting a lot of their own accord because of their disposition and conformation.  The stallions that were chosen from were at least 5,5 years of age and had been with a herd the way it is supposed to be. So their upbringing had been impeccable, which accounts for impeccable manners towards humans. Masters, before they started training horses in their own ways often had 6 to 8 years of 8 hours training, 6 to 7 days a week from an older master. This is experience most of us never can catch up with in our lifetime especially because we can not spend 8 hours a day training horses. 
Stallion worked free, showing a higly collected move. By the colour we can judge the stallion must be at least 12 to 14 years of age.
There was no way, the chosen youngster could fail, he had everything: matured enough, been brought up by his own kind, the right talent, conformation and attitude and above all a human who knows how to train with the horse in  a heartbeat. As we know by studying the old masters, much care and time was given to gymnasticize the horse in groundwork first and only after the horse was strong and supple enough to at least move as if the rider was not there, the rider was put on as a passive passenger and worked on in hand until the horse could do all with the rider as he could without. This would all take years, and the training would not be complete until a horse was 14 to 16 years awaiting a glorious future for the next 14 to 16 years. Ready at 14 yo 16 years? Is that not considered old and done for amongst many nowadays? Yes, and the reason you shall find next.
The problems today 
Now, compare the old master’s training to what happens nowadays. Horses are often not brought up within a family band or a herd with more bands. They are lucky to be with youngsters of their own age. But of course, that is no upbringing. We do not lock up kids at kindergarten, throw in some food and say: “see you in a few years!” What sort of social being with emerge from that? Why do we it to horses then and act surprise when they have become dangerous and pushy anti social individuals? But that is not all. Now we take the horse out of the band (or paddock) at 2,5. 3,5 if he or she is ‘lucky’ and start riding right away! In no way is this horse strong enough to carry a rider as there has been no gymnasticizing. Put that besides the fact that the grow plates aren’t even closed yet and the bones are still full of collagen. Riding a to young horse will immediately make this horse go into a shape which we could best describe as the opposite of collection.


A young horse ridden, notice the already heavily developed shoulders and underline muscles of the neck. The withers are tugged in because the upperline is not functioning. There is no stretch whatsoever on the nuchal ligament. We can see already the deforming of the back by the stuck and weight carrting longissimus dorsi. The frontlegs are held far underneath the body: Contra collection
Natural balance vs. on the fore hand
We all know it, a horse is on the forehand and needs to be trained in order to lift the forehand and take up more weight with the hind quarters. The fact of the matter is that a young healthy horse is not on his fore hand, he is in horizontal balance, bearing a few percent more weight on his front legs because of his neck and head. From this horizontal balance a horse can collect of he desires for instance during play, fight or flight. But what about when you sit on a horse that is in horizontal balance without any form of training whilst being far to young, will he not go more on his forehand? And what about when you pull on the reins and the head is pulled down? Exactly, we produce a phenomenon not known to natural horses and nothing an old master had to work with! The whole structure of the horse will change and it will start the carry his weight and that of the rider with the longissimus dorsi, the shoulders, the lower neck muscles and the front legs. Exactly the opposite of what the old masters inspired, exactly the opposite of collection. Therefore I think it is time we introduce the new phrase: contra collection, or anti-collection of you will.
Now most of us have a horse that has been through the ordeal described before. We can easily recognise it by the human inflicted conformation faults: A bulging lower neck, really heavy developed shoulders, hardly any muscle development on the hind quarters, no development on the topline of the neck, tugged in withers and a longissimus dorsi so stuck all rhythm is lost in the gaits. Most of these horses are beyond being ridden, so destroyed are their bodies by the harmful unbiological work they have been forced to do since much to early child hood. And with such a horse, people try to start in the same way the old master did with theirs. I hope you see the problem!
Collected stallion
Body shaping
As many the latter described horses find their way to me, I had to find ways to overcome these problems. What needs to be done first is to help the horse to get out of the contra collection and back into natural balance. Easier said then done and for some horses the damage is so huge, we can never get it completely right again. Having said that, we can always improve the situation. To start to help the horse to regain his natural balance and posture we must engage the correct muscles, release the incorrect ones and reshape the whole body. That is what the Body shaping is for. With Body shaping we can help the horse seeking a healthy posture and start moving again from correct engaged muscles.
First lifting the shoulders, before anything else on a rehabilitation horse
Lifting the shoulders
For those exercises everybody engaged in the old masters way is seeking after; shoulder in, travers etc. the horse must lift his shoulders. Horses in contra collection can not lift their shoulders so they can not produce these exercises. I often see horses being dragged into the exercise with a bit, spurs or a serreta, but then the horse just walks sideways somehow still weighing heavily on his shoulders. The horse seems to produce the exercise but in reality is not. It is like bending your arm with a dumbbell to work you biceps but then never stretch your arm enough, you will get oddly shaped biceps which will no longer function correctly and also intervene with the correct function of your triceps etc. Thus, before we can even think of asking the horse to produce the gymnasium exercises, we first must help him retrieve his natural balance. 

When the horse is back in natural balance, shoulder in is easy and we do not need tack because it is a natural movement to the horse!
After that we do not need any painful attirement, a soft De Pluvinel Cavesson or a cordeo, or nothing at all even will suffice. After all, the whole clue of a correct moving horse is the fact that the horse moves his body himself, or else he will always remain on his forehand.
And that is why Equus Universalis is so effective: we inspire the horse to improve himself!


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