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The Scales of Training: Scale 6 – Collection

The Scales of Training Scale 6 Collection how to dressage


Collection is the last of the training scales and is dependent on a fair degree of accomplishment of the earlier scales, i.e. rhythm, suppleness, contact, impulsion, and straightness.

If there are any missing links in the earlier stages, achieving true collection will not be possible.

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What exactly is collection?

In a nutshell, collection is the re-balancing of the horse carrying the foreign weight of the rider teaching him to carry more of the (combined) weight on his hind quarters than on his shoulders.

This makes him more balanced and able to perform ridden movements with ease and in a beautiful and biomechanically functional carriage that gives the appearance of traveling uphill.

The degree of collection required in tests at each level must be sufficient to enable the horse to perform the required movements with ease and fluency.

Insufficient collection results in a loss of submission, because the horse is not able to perform the movements with ease and fluency.

The neck frame of a collected horse is dependent on the degree of collection, and also partly on his confirmation. The neck will be raised without restraint to form a harmonious curve from withers to poll (which is the highest point), with the nose slightly in front of the vertical. In the moment of half halt, the nose may come on the vertical but should return to its ideal position as soon as the half halt has achieved its purpose and the aids have been discontinued.

What is the purpose of collection?

Quoting the FEI (and British Dressage), the aim of collection is:

To further develop and improve the equilibrium of the horse, which has been more or less displaced by the additional weight of the rider. 

To develop and increase the horse’s ability to lower and engage its hindquarters for the benefit of the lightness and mobility of its forehand. 

To add to the ‘ease and carriage’ of the horse, thereby making it more pleasurable to ride.”

Further benefits of collection are:

  • To enhance the quality of the horse’s natural paces
  • To limit wear and tear on your horse’s limbs (muscles, ligaments and joints), and so improve his soundness and prolong his working life, by transferring more weight carriage to the stronger hind limbs and reduce weight carriage on the weak front limbs. (Bear in mind that around 90% of lameness occurs in the front limbs.)

How do we achieve collection?

As already mentioned, before you can ask for a degree of collection (and it’s important to realize that collection comes in degrees and isn’t either there or not), you must have already achieved a fair degree of:

  1. rhythm
  2. suppleness (both mental and physical)
  3. contact
  4. impulsion
  5. straightness

Your horse must also have relatively well developed:

  • muscular strength, especially in his postural muscles
  • balance
  • understanding and acceptance of the aids for positioning, transitions and half halts

As in all things training, developing collection is a combination of aids and patterns, through the use of half-halts and lateral movements, i.e. shoulder-in, travers, renvers and half-pass.

The end goal is to have your horse’s hind legs working with plenty of activity, with supple bending in all the joints, and as well engaged beneath his body as his conformation allows to produce that image of the horse ‘sitting’ that you see in the ultimate expressions of collection: piaffe, canter pirouette or (in classical high school), levade.

NOTE: it is possible for the hind legs to be too far forward beneath the body, with such a short base of support that the balance is impaired.

In Conclusion

Collection is the culmination of training.

Once again quoting the FEI:

Through the systematic development of collection, the horse will show an enhanced quality of the natural paces. Through the increased engagement of the hind legs and lightness of the shoulders, the paces will appear lighter and freer. Through the development of impulsion, they will show more cadence. It is only through true development of collection that breathtaking extensions can be produced correctly.

The collected horse gives the impression of moving uphill. The steps become shorter but activity/impulsion is sustained and makes the horse’s movement appear more cadenced.

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