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Dr. Deb Bennet's article : True Collection

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  • Dr. Deb Bennet's article : True Collection

    I'm sure many of you have seen this. I had not and found it very interesting and thought provoking. I thought maybe those of you that had not seen it might enjoy reading it. Dr. Bennet discusses the biomecahanics of collection and touches on contact, and jaw relaxation as well .


  • #2
    Unfortunately, the pictures of her "in collection" are not collection. There is no recycling of the engergy, just a slowing. I don't agree with her discussion nor methods.


    • Original Poster

      Mickey, could you be more specific regarding her '' methods and discussion '', please ? I've been in the process of trying to learn more about collection , contact and how they relate to one another. Since she is an expert on biomechanics, I thought the things she wrote in the article made sense from that perspective.Thanks in advance !


      • #4
        Which picture(s) shows her in collection? If you are speaking about the very first photo, I'd say that one is more like "bit acceptance," and it would be for what I look in a Training Level horse. You have the relaxation of the jaw needed from which to develop collection...but no collection yet there. If her position was where it should be, I think you would see the horse fall even more on the forehand. But, the words in the article are good. Perhaps, the problem is that many of us articulate better with words than we do with the saddle!


        • #5
          Don't know what her PhD is in.......

          but for those of you interested in science and what they say about contact forces and their effect on the horse, get to a library with full access to pubmed and read:
          Kinetics and kinematics of the horse comparing left and right rising trot.
          Roepstorff L, Egenvall A, Rhodin M, Byström A, Johnston C, van Weeren PR, Weishaupt M.
          Equine Vet J. 2009 Mar;41(3):292-6.

          Equine Vet J. 2009 Mar;41(3):280-4.Links
          Basic kinematics of the saddle and rider in high-level dressage horses trotting on a treadmill.
          Byström A, Rhodin M, von Peinen K, Weishaupt MA, Roepstorff L.

          The effect of different head and neck positions on the caudal back and hindlimb kinematics in the elite dressage horse at trot.
          Rhodin M, Gómez Alvarez CB, Byström A, Johnston C, van Weeren PR, Roepstorff L, Weishaupt MA.
          Equine Vet J. 2009 Mar;41(3):274-9

          Makes one think about the "why"...........

          Medical Mike
          equestrian medical researcher


          • #6
            To twirl the head is to cause the skull to swivel as illustrated around an imaginary longitudinal axis. Externally, this makes it appear that the horse’s inside jowl is tucking under its throat. Baucher, in the nineteenth century called this maneuver a ”jaw flexion”. But it is not itself a movement of the jaw, but of the skull at the joint that connect the skull to the neck. The purpose of twirling the head is NOT to show how far around your horse can swivel its head, and NOT to stretch the muscles in the neck. Rather, we twirl the head in order to provoke or obtain release – the turning “off” – of unnecessary contractions or bracing of the muscles of the neck. When the neck stops bracing, very often the muscles of adjoining body zones, such as the back and jaw, also “turn loose”. The horse must release the muscles all along the topline, from the jaw joints to the soles of the hind feet, before it will be easy for him to achieve or maintain collection.
            Sounds like Bennet has been schooling with Sjef.
            See those flying monkeys? They work for me.


            • #7
              Not even.

              This is going to be a 'classic 100 mile slicky rant'.

              'The horse has to release his muscles (from nose to toe)'

              Just how this really happens is not discussed, LOL.

              Which means, I write until the buzzer on my dryer buzzes.

              This is similar to Bennett's approach to everything; obsessing on one tree (one concept, one detail) and missing the forest. As if I said, 'To get an advanced degree physics, you need to buy pants. Then just get a belt and you will have learned physics'.

              Bennett completely misses the concept of collection; she invents her own version of dressage and of collection. She has no experience in it, and no training in it, and ulike most mortal human beings, has never accepted any instruction, feedback or criticism from anyone WITH experience or knowledge, so can't come up with anything related to actual collection.

              She's another one of the 'Xenobunnies', I call them, and the sword they righteously bear is Mr. Xenophon's bookie wook.

              Xenophonia - a neurosis characterized by the avoidance of dressage instruction.

              Xenophon, conveniently dead, won't tell them when they're wrong, so is the ideal Guy To Quote. Additionally, quite a few question the ancientness of the Xenophon text; some accuse it of being a modern invention. Whether or not, it's quite doubtful that Xenophon really rode like Steinbrecht or any of the other great masters of the last 400 years that we are closer to. Dressage has gradually evolved, and the schooling of Xenophon's, as well as that of a few hundred years ago, as well as the riding, would probably have turned our stomachs.

              Collection, however, isn't a complex concept and there is no need to beat one's chest about 'true collection' - it is not brain surgery and it is not a difficult thing to understand or to spot.

              Bennett's website is fascinating for the degree to which she shuts down all dialogue except that which agrees with her.

              And she needn't be on an Olympic team to figure this out, but fact is, she hasn't figured it out. And the criticism against her wasn't that not being on an Olympic team she had no right to know this,, the criticism in fact was that she didn't know it.

              1. Levels are traps. You don't need levels.


              1a. Except for some 'very broad guidelines' (which are never spelled out) there is no real order in which you have to train a horse.

              Yes, and I have some ocean front property in Iowa to sell you, but so does Bennett.

              2. You don't need a trainer.

              Wrong. Whenever you don't want to know what you're doing wrong or want to feel you know it all (like Bennett), you don't need a trainer.

              News: everyone has problems learning and improving in dressage, and the more they work alone (or 'with their girlfriends who love them' and ALSO have no training, no experience and no knowledge) the more entrenched those problems get. The creepiest thing about dressage (and especially about say, straightening your horse...ahem....) is that what feels comfortable and right is - it's wrong. It's familiar, but it's wrong.

              Our bodies, just like our horse's bodies, love what is familiar and comfortable. We who work without trainers want to delude ourselves into thinking that's what's right....it isn't.

              3. "My horse is collected"

              Nope. Once again, the Legendary Painty, the Horse that is not only used to model perfect conformation, but also perfect dressage. Her 'slow relaxed canter' is what's called 'patting the ground on the forehand' and is not collection. There are certain prerequisites to collection - contact, straightness, etc.

              4. Collection is the arched neck, shortening of the body

              Collection is first and foremost about a change in the shape of the stride, at the very lowest levels, (which it is my guess what she is trying to achieve) before any change in the body or neck is shown. Going for the change in the body and neck first is what causes the false collection. Going for the 'slow' gait is what leads to contraction of the body, rather than the athleticism and full range of motion of the hip, shoulder, back.

              Collection is a holistic activity in which all parts of the horse and rider contribute, and its foundation is the thrusting power developed in the earliest levels. THe horse, in a round, active posture, goes freely forward, learning the basics of rudimentary half halts and having a supple, active, strong body. The back rounds not because the head is turned from side to side, but because of dozens of things the rider does in concert, which have a cummulative effect. The horse's topline muscles develop strength, and his hind legs can thrust equally because he is straightened, otherwise the energy does not meet the bit evenly, and no 'circle of the aids' is possible.

              As the half halts are developed over time, along with the suppleness and activity, the horse gradually learns to translate that 'thrusting power' into carrying power. His back and hind quarters, the largest, strongest muscles in his body, gradually are increasingly strengthened and suppled, so that the circle of the aids meets no resistance, and flows forward to the bit, and is recycled by half halts, back to the hind quarters, causing the hind quarters to 'engage' and 'carry'.

              It is this gradual strengtheing of the hind quarters and back via the circle of the aids that both balances and straightens the horse, that free up the base of the neck to rise between the shoulder blades, because the forehand is unburdened...and it is something that can both be felt and seen.

              At first, there is no shortening of the spine, tucking of the haunches, or lifting of the neck. The first collection is a result of the very slight change in the balance of the horse, which is virtually invisible, and produces a change in the shape of the stride - the knees and hocks are the most obvious markers to look for. They will bend and lift slightly more. It is only far further down the road, when the outline of the horse seems different, at the top levels, and even there, it is only the slightest raising of the neck beyond the 'natural comfortable' position of the horse, so the nose is level with the hips or there abouts.

              And the top levels will be achieved, NOT by tricks and standing on drums or by twising the horse's head or raising the hands of the rider at all, but by a gradual improvement of the simplest basics that are the true basis of collection - straightness, throughness, suppleness, acceptance of the bit.

              5. Collection equals moving fluidly while carrying weight on his back.

              Collection is first and foremost about a change in the shape of the stride from the working gaits. It starts with infinitesimal deviations from the working gaits. To create it, one needs to first have some sort of working gait.

              Collection is not 'moving fluidly while carrying weight on his back' - that is not even a working gait, but it sure is not a collected gait. To be a working gait, contact and activity is needed - that's not shown.

              A horse cannot be collected until it is ridden straight, forward. The degree to which it needs to be straight, the degree to which it needs to be forward, is what most people miss - I'm not at all sure why she has always evinced such a determined blindness, with all the knowledge of centuries of horsemen like Steinbrecht, and all the effort of great skilled trainers like Podhajsky at the Spanish Riding School, chucked out - you don't need to be straight. You don't need to sit well, you don't need to train your horse up through the levels, you don't even need to establish the basics of the training scale, and you SURE don't need anyone telling you that you're not straight or not sitting in the middle of the saddle, just shuffle along, bend that horse's neck this way and that - voila. Collection. TRUE collection.[/I]

              Without actually, straightening the horse, so his hind legs are capable of carrying or even first, thrusting forward.

              Balderdash. Dr. Bennett has always had an incredible blind spot where dressage is concerned. It's a blind spot many people have, and it comes from not getting instruction, not having an open mind, and not getting out there in the world and getting an understanding of it.

              6. Relaxation of the topline allows collection.

              Many horses have a great deal of 'relaxation of the topline' without ever afterwards, developing any collection. There are many other prerequisites, relaxation of the topline', well not really the kind of relaxation she's talking about, but a very active relaxation that goes along with a great deal of suppleness and strength and activity - the slack shuffling she declares is relaxation isn't the relaxation the great masters intended.

              But that's all you need! Because Bennett believes you don't need any trainer Except of course, her, and your 'girlfriends who love you' (what's that island off the coast of Greece?)

              7. Collection is complete when the horse raises the base of his neck

              Yeah, but what is happening, is that people are trying to lift the head, or praising the Lord when the horse happens to chuck it up in the air, out of annoyance over this training method, or due to a fly on his ear, LOL.

              8. (Baucher jaw flexion) 'I prefer the term 'head twirling'

              So do I! It sounds so - 'twirly'!

              This method is certainly likely to get the head of any experienced dressage trainer 'twirling'! LOL!

              9. Diagrams of muscles.

              Beware, my dears, any time someone tells you that relaxing the back automatically raises the base of the neck, without anything else happening. My horse's back is relaxed when he's eating grass in the field, and he ain't raising the base of his neck.

              If it were this easy, everyone would be doin' it, and they ain't.

              10. Muscles in the neck raise the base of the neck.

              In fact, their role is miniscule. It is the even action of both hind legs and the circle of the aids that raises the base of the neck.

              It is as if she were saying, 'to do ballet, get a tutu'.

              She is talking about doing only ONE of the 10 things that is part of the most very basic dressage at intro and training level, and saying, 'then just twirl that head, and voila, collection'.


              There is a wee bit more to it.

              As Atticus Finch said, 'It is a lie'.

              Collection is NOT 'complete' when a horse with a relaxed topline raises 'the base of his neck' (note that telling the difference between 'raising the head' and 'rasing the base of the neck' is conveniently eleded).

              I like the part where she excoriates the dressage rider for having 'grotesque muscles on the horse's neck' and then carefully outlines the 'muscle' which is actually a pad of fat on a mature horse.

              I also wonder if the riders she singled out for damning realize they're being accused of destroying their horses with draw reins, or if they actually used draw reins - ever.

              Of course the overflexed pony in the side reins (at first I thought it was 'Power and Paint' from those legendary 'warmup' pictures, the side reins were so short) is doing something VALUABLE because he's overflexed behind the vertical with a borken neck on short side reins while he's standing on a drum, hallelujia. So THAT'S valuable shortening and cramping of the neck, but the dressage riders and cowboys, whose horse's necks are far LESS shortened, are getting trashed.

              And of COURSE...standing on that drum raises the base of the neck!

              Only in relation to the hind legs, which are not standing on the drum, and only because the base of the neck is attached to the shoulders. In fact, no actual raising of the base of the neck is shown at all on the horses standing on a drum, I don't think Bennett understands the concept of raising the base of the neck at all.

              11. 'Lightness is the decontracting of the vertebral column and topline'.

              Ok....it's starting to get funny....I think the idea is to just keep repeating over and over til it is believed.

              12. The photo of the cobby horse shows raising of the base fo the neck.


              13. The base of the neck is raised by raising your hands and pushing the reins toward the horse.


              14. Use the inside rein to turn in a circle.

              Nope. Not by itself, not after the 3rd week the horse is under saddle.


              'I am riding Painty in 'relaxed collection''

              Doesn't look like collection.

              16. Next photo. Collected trot.

              Without the hind end of the horse, yeah.

              17. The saddleseat horse with its neck crammed into its chest and its hind legs trailing back a mile, is going better than the little app doing a working trot.

              Actually the little appy has far, far more correct stuff going on than the saddleseat horse. He's moving into the bit and his rider looks like she's sitting securely and in the middle of the horse. He's much more in balance than the black horse, and much more correct. Perfect? Nope. But I'd bet he and his little rider are just about where they're supposed to be based on their level and experience, and are about 200 times better than the other one.

              18. 'One could hardly be any rounder'

              In fact no roundness is shown, but the head is down, by George.

              I respond at length because of concern that this article will mislead aspiring dressage riders, and take them down an incorrect path.

              The training scale despite how it is so often misinterpreted IS necessary, and unless one is not a normal mortal human being, so are some riding lessons, at least from time to time, and so are levels. The worst mistake is to work in isolation, and try to avoid the work on one's position, straightness and forwardness of the horse before working on collection.

              First develops thrusting power, then carrying power.

              Collection is not a mysterious circus trick developed by having a horse stand on a drum, pulling its neck from side to side, or skipping basics

              So get out there, 'Girl friends who love you', and start twirling that horse's head, and you'll have 'true collection'!

              Barf bags at the ready.....Go!
              Last edited by slc2; Jun. 19, 2009, 09:27 PM.


              • #8
                O, just my 2c.

                I only briefly looked at photos A,B,C & D, and the text to go with it.

                Photo A & B: That 'false crest' could EASILY be a build up of fat, since the horse looks quite small and chunky. My sister horse has NO collection, what so ever, and she has the same thing. It's from glucose. She cant process it properly, and stores it around her body. It's also know as insulin resistance, which leads to founder.

                Photo C: She is full of crap. She has obviously never watched an REAL roping, or done roping, because she would know it is quite hard to pull up a horse going flat out so it doesn't squish you steer, and so you can land on it easier.

                Photo D: Horses do naturally have short necks. Gees

                The white horse further down, hasn't been worked to get into a frame, and the shire, well, I think his neck is just to fat. I've seen beautiful Clydesdales, with a beautiful frame, except the neck,because it is just to hard for them to bend it like that.

                I agree that in HER pictures, that none of her horses are truly collected - they really only have their head down, and their necks are long.

                And what's with the picking on reiners? We're supposed to have our horses somewhat 'strung out' - that's how cow horses are ridden. All western disciplines are based on ranch work, where the horse was really only ridden at a plod, walking behind cattle, with the occasional lope or canter to catch a herd of unruly cattle.

                I can tell you know, if I know this stuff, than anybody should, because I am not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed.

                ETA: I just remembered, what was that with having RACEHORSES collected? Yeah, lets see how fast we can get out TBs to run around the track with a nice short stride. Seriously !


                • #9
                  I thought the same thing about the pictures of the cresty-necked horse. I have seen plenty of horses who have never worn draw reins in their lives who have necks like that. It's more a sign of impending founder than it is of gaget use.

                  Overall, I thought the article had little factual basis, and her thoughts on "twirling" the head could lead people who don't know any better to seriously confuse their horses.

                  I'll stick with Dr. Hillary Clayton if I want to read about biomechanics.
                  Amateur rider, professional braider.
                  Save a life, adopt a pet.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Foxhound View Post

                    I'll stick with Dr. Hillary Clayton if I want to read about biomechanics.


                    • #11
                      While I don't agree with all her premises, or her interpretations of her photos, I do have to laugh at her introduction. And I will say she has some points.

                      "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater".
                      Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

                      Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Foxhound View Post
                        I'll stick with Dr. Hillary Clayton if I want to read about biomechanics.
                        Thank you.
                        Ainninn House Stud
                        Irish Draughts and Connemaras
                        Co. Westmeath, Ireland


                        • Original Poster

                          I really appreciate ALL of your input, especially SLC's specifics. I've been on the right path so far and will continue with it.
                          I had some questions in my mind too regarding the pictures she was using. In one photo the hands of the rider look way too high and she does not address that, for just one example .
                          Great discussion, thanks again !


                          • #14
                            I think Collection to her equals Balance. I think she does understand that Collection involves a lowering of the haunches and a lifting of the back via the belly muscles. But it ends there, for her. What she doesn't buy into is the 'connection' that is required that ultimately produces the cadence, power, and throughness needed for top dressage. Could she extended Painty's canter and transition it back again? I dunno, but I doubt it.


                            • #15
                              What on earth is going on in the picture with the Fresian?

                              "The present tense of regret is indecision."
                              - Welcome to Night Vale


                              • #16
                                It looks like it's being ridden as a saddle seat horse. I think the Friesian breed shows feature saddle seat classes.
                                Amateur rider, professional braider.
                                Save a life, adopt a pet.


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by Foxhound View Post
                                  It looks like it's being ridden as a saddle seat horse. I think the Friesian breed shows feature saddle seat classes.
                                  I meant on a more basic level...I can't even tell what gait that's supposed to be?

                                  "The present tense of regret is indecision."
                                  - Welcome to Night Vale


                                  • #18
                                    i agree w/ToN - i think she is talking about the basic concept of the horse lifting its withers and "coiling" its loins... not "collection" in the dressage sense.

                                    so using her definition all horses should be able to "collect" even Western horses as it is just the basic concept of the horse using its properly to be able to carry a rider.

                                    hopefully Karoline will chime in as she has studied with Dr. Bennet I believe and may have some insight.


                                    • #19
                                      I think I get what she's trying to say in the first few pages. That's about it though, when she started babbling on about cresty necks coming from side reins, and necks being made physically shorter, I just had to stop.


                                      • #20
                                        If you have ever had the chance to work with someone who really understands the "Sjef method", you will find that that the Bennet quote I referenced is a decent, though quite cursory, outline of what this method is and it works in the right hands. I think Bennet is woefully short on actual practical knowledge about to actually achieve the release and seems to totally skip the element of engagement, though.

                                        My point is;
                                        classical training is in the eye of the beholder - it is not so much about what is done but rather who is doing it that defines whether it is classical or not
                                        See those flying monkeys? They work for me.