According to AQHA Professional Horseman, Ken McNabb, collection is more important in a trail horse than almost any other. Generally, most people associate collection with dressage. McNabb is correct that a good trail horse needs to stop on a dime. You can find yourself in situations where you need the horse to stop immediately to avoid an accident or injury.
Collection starts in the hindquarters as the horse learns to pull his legs underneath his belly. This is important for a trail horse because the “best brakes” on a horse come from the back feet, not the front. If you don’t believe this, see what happens when you bring a running horse that hasn’t learned collection to a fast stop using his front feet. As those front feet really start to dig in the ground, you will find your body coming up from the saddle. When this happens, be sure to give the horse a quick pat on the head as you fly over.
Some people get the mistaken idea that collection starts at the bit and you train from the nose backward. This is entirely wrong. Just like McNabb, our horses are taught collection from early in their training and from the walk. The horse is asked to pull his hind legs under his body. It is a necessity when you need to back up a hill or back out of the mud. These movements are far easier if the collection has been underway over a long period of time and the muscles slowly acclimated to the movement.
We concur with McNabb, a trail horse needs to stop on a dime to ensure the safety of the rider. He also needs to stop smoothly to keep the rider in the saddle. If you are working with your horse trying to get collection, be sure you remember to begin at the back and work your way to the front. You’ll be far more successful and your horse will appreciate the wear and tear on his mouth.