How to Achieve Natural Collection
by Pat Parelli on Feb 08, 2023
Although every horse is unique, one of the most exciting things is what's similar about every horse.
Four systems make up their behavior—the rapport system, the respect system, the impulsion system, and the flexion and yielding system. One of the easiest ways to think about this is to make an analogy to a car. A car has an engine and drivetrain, a steering system, a braking system, and a suspension system. So as we drive our vehicle, we let go of the steering wheel to check if the alignment's right.
We need to check something in that system if it swerves to the right or left. If it doesn't start, we know it's something in the drivetrain. We know it's in the braking system if it doesn't stop. If it's getting rattly, bumpy, and stiff, then we know it's in the suspension system. When a car works beautifully, everything gels together, and it's all in one nice unit. In other words, it's collected. I like to use the word collected so we think about horses being gathered together as a unit.
If we think about the rapport system, that is heart collection. How much does the horse like us or like what we were doing? The respect system is a horse’s mental collection. When we think about our horses emotions or their impulsion, that is their emotional collection. And the physical collection involves flexing, yielding, and bending.
Many people who own horses have heard of the word collected, and they think of the horse tucking his nose and carrying his body, shortening his body, and carrying the rider's weight back farther on the haunches. This is all true. But if the opposite of collected is scattered, then a horse without rapport collection is scattered. Ronnie Willis would say, “you got to be careful with that dog because if you let everybody pet it, pretty soon it's everybody's dog, and then it's nobody's dog.” And that's like the dog is scattered. It needs to know where to run, who to obey, and who to be loyal to.
So that's where rapport collection is really important. Most people don't realize horses don't just run to other horses. They only run to their herd, just like people. If we went to a park where several other families were having picnics, we would sit with our family, not with some unknown family. It's really important to think about how natural and beneficial it is for a horse from day one to know to run to its mother, to run to its herd, and then to run to its human.
Next, there is mental collection. If a horse is mentally scattered, he doesn't know or understand what he's supposed to be doing. He's got his brain all over the place. How about a horse that is emotionally scattered? His impulsion is all over the place. And a horse that physically scatters will physically scatter us.
If we think about how to assemble the horse, we think about rapport, respect, impulsion, and flexion. So what can we do to get a horse to like us and like the things we're doing but still respect us? How can we get a horse to respect us and not lose rapport? This is where the carrot stick person comes to my mind. The carrot stick person wants rapport and doesn't want to risk anything to get respect. The respect person doesn't care as much about rapport; they just focus on respect. We've got to find a balance.
No bit in the world can control a horse's emotions. So, how do we help a horse become emotionally collected? It's a simple secret. We must be make-my-day riders if we want our horses to be calm, cool, and collected. Horses synchronize with the herd. This is the emotional part. All it takes is one other individual for them to link to and they can feel if the herd is nervous then they should get nervous. Therefore, if the rider's nervous, the horse will get nervous. If the rider's confident, it will help the horse be confident.
Now we can talk about the mechanical side of things. The flexion, bending, and yielding systems make sense to horses if we think about this as the icing rather than the cake. Remember, there are a lot of people with more dollars than horse cents. So if we want some real horse cents, we need horses to do things out of heart and desire. The more we think and act like a horse, the more they'll respect us. The more respect we gain, the more our horses will be emotionally connected.
Then we put the icing on, which is the flexion and the yielding system. I want to remind everyone that a yield should weigh a few ounces. If you're pushing your horse along with your leg or spur, that's not a leg yield; that's a leg push. We must understand horses need to yield to and from pressure, both steady and rhythmic, in a wanting, willing, respectful, and knowing way.
The way to measure this is to test if your horse can do the things you ask with rhythm, relaxation, and understanding. When we get those three things, we can start asking for speed control and keeping his body straight. Then he will be mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually collected. You and your horse can have true unity and achieve something I call Equus.