What Is Collection?

I was asked if I would post some examples of collection to help somebody develop a better awareness of what is and what is not collection. So here are a few photos with accompanying comments. I hope others find them useful.

First thing I should say is that collection is not all or nothing, but a progression of attributes that become stronger and more of a higher caliber as progression is made. It’s like comparing ballet at different grades. A student who has been studying for 2 years is still dancing ballet, but the quality and the movement is quite different from a student who has been studying for 20 years. Nevertheless, the elements that form the basis of the movement are always the same.

In this example, I’m riding my mare Six. At this stage she was very green with only a handful of rides. The horse is crashing on her forehand and is strung out and shows a tense top line. She is dragging herself forward with her forehand.
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The next photo was taken several weeks later with Six showing some softness through her body. This is the start of developing collection because a relaxed mind and body without trouble to reins and legs of the rider are a prerequisite for collection. Six is not yet showing collection. She is still heavy on the forehand (but not as much as the previous photo) and her hindquarters are not yet engaged enough. But Six is showing a level of softness that will allow collection to develop.
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The photo of the bay is a horse that is somewhere between medium trot and collected trot. He is still dragging himself on his forehand and the base of the neck is pushing downwards between the shoulders. The engagement of the hindquarters is just beginning to show, but not enough flexion of the hocks to qualify as a good example of collection.
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The following picture is an example of a more highly collected trot. The frame of the horse is highly contracted and he has raised the base of the neck and therefore raised his forehand. The hindquarters are well engaged. However, I find the horse to be quite tight in his body and a little heavier on the reins than I’d like to see in a truly soft horse. You’ll note that the highest point of the neck is behind the poll, which is can be an indication that roundness has been forced rather than offered by the horse. I have a feeling that collection has been forced on this horse rather than the horse offers collection.
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In this photo the grey horse is performing a piaffe, which is a highly collected movement and requires great strength and athletic ability to be spectacular. Notice the elevation of the forehand and flexing of the hocks. You can see the neck has telescoped up and round and the poll is the highest point of the neck. This is in contrast to the previous photo of the bay horse. Also you’ll see a very rounded back under the saddle.
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Now look at the photo of Totilas from his earlier days showing collection. The horse shows hyper flexion (or rolkur), the base of the neck is jammed downward, the back is hollow and the hindquarters are strung out behind the horse. All this energy is in the front end and not the rear end. You just know the horse is not soft and feeling okay - look at the pressure on the reins and the open mouth. Totilas is considered one of the best dressage horses in the last several years. He does not exhibit true collection, yet despite this he has achieved world record scores in dressage competitions.
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The next photo was taken at the National Arab Show in Stockdale, Arizona. The class is a western pleasure competition. The horse is considered collected by WP standards, but it is a false collection. The appearance of an over bent neck does not make a collected horse. Again you see the dragging forward from the forehand and the jamming of the neck and the back legs dragging out behind the horse showing almost not flexion in the hocks.
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This photo is a really good example of a horse performing levade. Levade is considered one of the highest forms of collection a horse can perform. It requires a horse to bend his hocks to an almost sitting position while his forehand is elevated above the ground. It is not a rear because a rear is an extended movement. Levade requires an extreme level of contraction of the horse’s frame and engagement of the hindquarters.
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Finally, just to show some contrast between good and poor examples of high levels of collection, here is another levade that shows less collection than the previous picture. In this example the horse shows more extension of the hocks rather than collection and it is closer to being a rear rather than a levade, but not quite.

I hope that helps a few people have a clearer picture in their mind about collection.
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