You are here: Home Blog Part 2 - "Thicket Riding": Collection and Beyond?

Part 2 - "Thicket Riding": Collection and Beyond?

I promised to write about another thing that revealed itself in the "thicket-ride" in that last blog post... 


While we were riding around in the woods, it started to feel a bit claustrophobic as we kept 'bumping into' blocks across the trail. Chase's life was 'up' in a way that felt super-charged with impulsion - any maneuver possible sort of feeling - and yet curiously (and delightfully) grounded at the same time. Having said that, the grounded feel felt like it could slide out from under us without too much trouble. Naturally I did not want to trigger Chase into his previous overload or 'overexposure'. 

We came to another fallen tree. It was not huge, but definitely a jump and it had a branch sticking out at an angle one would need to avoid getting caught on. I couldn't see if there was a sensible place to land on the other side nor was I 100% convinced we could stop within the short distance to another 'squeeze' between trees! On the other hand, I did not want to turn around again and the 'life' in him meant another 'thicket ride' on top of the others might have sent him over the edge. A 'tight rope' moment, you could say.

"Well Chase, how about we just go and see if there is a somewhere to land the other side". He walked on in the most collected walk he's probably ever offered (I note in hindsight), went Precisely where I assessed a plausible angle to be as we approached to avoid the poky branch, stopped when I thought we needed a moment to look, waited like a rock while I scoped out the other side. Then I held his mane, in anticipation I suppose of a less than comfortable jump from a standstill, and thought "Ok Chase, go for it" at which point he cleared it by a margin in the most yummy, smooth as silk jump, landed softly and stopped in the next stride as we pondered where exactly to go next. 

As I follow my own advice and "replay the good tape", it is sinking in why I was so buzzed about this otherwise simple ride in the woods: Unity under 'edgy' circumstances at best. And also because it inspires another topic to noodle on: 

Leslie talks about collection in the sense of 'natural collection' - the kind you see when a horse collects himself to come down a hill. I've also learned about collection defined as mental, emotional and physical balance. And collection as a function of relaxation, straightness, balance and impulsion from the classical world. I believe I've experienced these along the way at different times. Never though, have I experienced the collection Chase offered so effortlessly on this ride. I don't mean the halt, jump, halt in itself - we used to do things like that in Pony Club to prepare for the more challenging turns in a jump off. It wasn't like that either. 

It was weightless, yet grounded. He wasn't thinking ahead of me (like my eventer mare lol) or behind or away, just, well, a mind meld!  His full athletic capacity in 100% readiness yet ready to wait - available to unleash into the air or into a stop with a simple, clear thought. Oh my. Exquisite. I don't know what other word to use. There isn't one. 

We weren't travelling 'with the hand-brake on'  (as Kate Sandel so aptly puts it) or with hand hovering over it lol - and that was true of both of us. There was a pure feel somehow of no reservations from either side. 

I'm newly inspired to think that this effortless and truly out-of-this-world feel of collection felt rooted in something very simple: unreserved trust (I'm reminded once again of the ease Ginger has in following Fred's feel ref: photo on my home page) + open spirit (as in "the other 80%" as it relates 'right brain' and instinct, session 3). Yum.

I wonder, given that the third key of 'The 4 Keys to Harmonic Flow' is to carefully 'meld' to that same source - open spirit - while building a new depth of trust that becomes feasible with our "inside-to-inside" feel, are we 'freeing up' a different kind of 'natural collection' under saddle? Imagine if trust, lack of reservation and spirit were the underlying qualities of collection in the arena, as we had there in the woods. It seems entirely plausible suddenly.

It seems that as we travel along the pathway of "refining our own patterns" and flip our role from being 'the reliable source of pressure' to 'the reliable source of a good feel', it frees us up on both sides in ways I had not really thought about before.  

I took that pic of Chase a few hours after the ride. I admit I was still basking in this fine experience and wandered out to him. That look he has? He's gazing over to the woods. He seemed to be glowing about our little 'adventure' too! He's been 'lingering' differently ever since. How far this is beyond what I imagined could be in our partnership from the vantage point of our journey down the rabbit hole to "The Abyss". And yet here we are.

What's next, I wonder.

Happy dance.


Mark Rashid


"I see an 'opening' as anything that allows us to help guide, however briefly, an individual in the direction we ultimately would like to go. An 'opening' can be, and often is, a very subtle form of communication between horse and rider that can easily slip past us if we're not paying attention. 'Openings' can and do work both ways. [...] It amazes me just how small an 'opening' can actually be, whether working with horses or with people, and how easy it can be to create an 'opening' when one is needed."

Mark Rashid

"I truly believe developing the ability to see and use 'openings' effectively is only one piece of what one might refer to as the 'harmony in horsemanship' puzzle. When this idea of understanding 'openings' is brought together with the understanding of two other simlar ideas - making a connection with another indvidual, and the role distance plays in overall communication - I believe it is then that harmony in horsemanship becomes a much less daunting concept for us."

Mark Rashid

Leslie Desmond


"Bill knew about a place I did not know existed, or could exist, between a horse and a human being [...] Bill included each one of my horses in that information exchange. Over the course of many months,... he took each one by its lead rope and, later, by the bridle reins. Using what he called his 'better feel', Bill showed me and each of them exactly what he meant by what he did [...] It was not long after I made the switch from force when needed (often) to always customizing the feel I offered to a horse, that two tough horses I had misunderstood for years developed into my most reliable mounts."

Leslie Desmond

The lightest hands carry intent that is recognized instantly by the horse, as seen in the maneuvers he chooses to make with his feet. Whether that horse is ridden or handled, the lightest hands can purposefully influence the speed, direction and sequence of each foot with accuracy, in a manner that is reflected in the horse's body and on his face.

Leslie Desmond

Bill Dorrance


"The Real Masters Understood Feel [...] For example, De Kerbrech, (French officer in the cavalry of Napoleon III) really understood horses. He had it fixed up so the horse could succeed. [...] The first time I read Beudant's book was in the 1950s. The way he explained things, there was no doubt in my mind about what a person needed to do to get these little things working for them and their horse."

Bill Dorrance

“Feel, timing and balance: sometimes it’s best to talk about feel, timing and balance separately, and to learn how to apply each thing separately on the start. But when you apply these three things a little later in your training, then you see that each one of these things supports the other. They are interconnected and all three are real important. You really can’t get along without all three.”

Bill Dorrance

Faverot de Kerbrech


“ le deplacement du poids est facile dans tous les sens, plus l'equilibre est parfait. En vertue de ce principe, on dit que le cheval est 'en equilibre' quand de simples indications suffisent au cavalier pour modifier a son gre la disposition du poids sur ses colonnes de soutien”

Faverot de Kerbrech

[Translation: ...the easier it is to shift the weight in any direction, the more perfect the balance. By virtue of this principle, the horse is 'in balance' when a simple indication from the rider is sufficient to modify the distribution of weight across the columns of support (four quarters) accordingly]

Duke of Newcastle


"You must in all Airs follow the strength, spirit, and disposition of the horse, and do nothing against nature; for art is but to set nature in order, and nothing else."

William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle

"A confrontational approach ‘Astonishes the Weak Horse […] makes a Furious horse Madd; makes a Resty Horse more Resty […] and Displeases all sorts of Horses’. The alternative however is not ‘to Sit Weak […] but to Sit Easie’, in the understanding that ‘The Horse must know you are his Master’"

William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle