What is collection in horses?

What Is True Collection In Horses?

In today’s modern world of technology and horse training tips and tricks it’s hard to know what is and isn’t collection.

Fads are taking precedence over true collection and strength.


Hello and welcome to today’s article!

We are going to be discussing what makes up true collection, and how to tell between false “collection” and a horse that truly can use its body to its full potential.

In today’s world of training, riding, and even showing, most horses you see do not have the strength and training needed to be capable of using their body and maintaining collection. 


What IS collection?

First, I think we should start off with the definition of “collection in regards to horse training.” Collection is one of the most commonly heard yet grossly misunderstood words in the entire language of “horse people terminology.” Most everyone you talk to who has ever seen a horse, or ridden one, will have some sort of idea of what collection is but very few riders truly understand collection and the biomechanics that stand behind the actual operation of collection. 

“Collection occurs when a horse’s center of gravity is shifted backwards. Energy is directed in a more horizontal trajectory with less forward movement (limbs generate higher vertical impulses). Biomechanical markers include: increased flexion in the lumbo-sacral joint, stifle, and hocks of the horse; increased engagement of the thoracic sling muscles resulting in the withers rising relative to the horse’s scapula; and reduced ranges of limb protraction–retraction.”

This quote surprisingly came from Wikipedia of all places, but as a horse trainer, I couldn’t agree more with this quote… -Jamie

Now, I want you to stop for a moment and take a minute to think about that, visualize it, and try to play it out in your head.

I know this probably sounds funny to some people, but being able to visualize things out in your head can be a really valuable horse training tool to have. 


Collection stems from gravitational shifts, backward in nature and an increase in flexion of the joints within the horses body during this process. 

It is important to know which areas of the horses body have the greatest impact and load.

This is in order to plan and pick which exercises you will use to perform and train the horse to prepare for collection.

When we understand our horses bodies and ride them in a manner that works WITH their body and not against them, amazing results can happen.

Not only that, but, they are going to have a much greater chance of staying sound for a much longer period of time.

Improper riding, training, and conditioning can do a lot of damage to your horses body. 


The training building blocks (typically used in classical dressage training)

There are six main phases in the training pyramid, they are:

  • Trust, respect and rhythm
  • Suppleness and relaxation
  • Contact and connection
  • Impulsion
  • Straightness
  • Collection


When it comes to collection, there are very few topics and concepts that are drilled into your head and more highly thought of than collection. 


“Collection naturally grows out of the mastery of the longitudinal field of balance. It is difficult and strenuous and needs a lot of preparation in order to be correct. Modern riders are apt to dismiss Grisone’s advice on the qualities of the backs of horses. When he talks about a back that is “firm, steady, flexed,” “an iron horse,” and then the best quality of all, not only firm and flexed and steady but always collects his hindquarters. Today as soon as riders feel the backs of horses firm up, they panic, come up in the rising trot, lower the neck, and are told to ‘ride the horse over the top.’

Yet it is precisely this core strength that Grisone is talking about that is lacking in so many modern dressage horses and training systems. It is why we see so many upper level horses which roll or balancé, or which show axial twisting along the spine when asked for high collection. (for more about the concept of Balancé see Paul’s little video here)

Collection should not be misconstrued with rhythm. Just as vibrato is a quality of music or voice, it is useless if the singer is off key. Rhythm is a quality of collection, but it is useless window dressing if the balance in incorrect and there is no shifting of weight or ‘sitting’.”-Horsemagazine.com “ Collection The 4th Building Block Of Classical Dressage (video link can be found within the original magazine.)


While this quote is specifically talking about dressage horses, it applies to horses within every industry.

There needs to be less of a focus within the industries on styles of riding but a focus on biomechanically sound and correct riding. 

If there is no demonstration of mastery of balance, collection, straightness, propulsion, suppleness, contact, and connection along with rhythm  then the riding is not true or correct.It does not matter what your goals are with your horse, these skills are necessary for properness in every discipline. It changes everything from your horse’s movement all the way to their posture and strength. 


Now, to take a closer look at what happens within our horses body when we as for collection. 

When we ask with our horses to begin collection and driving forward using our aids, the muscles within our horse’s hind end will begin to flex and actually extend within the hind legs. This action could be thought of similarly to the power and action of a piston. You can also think of this as the power source or even motor if you will, of our horse. 


What controls this movement?
  • The gluteals
  • The biceps
  • The quadriceps femoris


“This great motor must be swung forward and brought under the mass of the horse in order to lift it and propel it upwards and forwards. Otherwise, the hind legs could simply pump up and down working like mad but to no avail. In the horse’s skeleton, the lumbo-sacral joint is a hinge point. Perhaps the most important muscles for collection are the iliopsoas and psoas. These muscles work deep inside the horse’s body and operate that hinge. With the help of the abdominals, they will lower the pelvis and bring the great motor of the hind legs under the mass and then when these legs drive off the ground, the iliopsoas and psoas will again brace so that the lower back and stifles don’t get overextended and end up bearing all the force or letting the power escape.”- Horsemagazine.com “ Collection The 4th Building Block Of Classical Dressage


What happens within the front end?

When we traditionally think about collection, after the hind end starts engaging so does the front end. Almost simultaneously, but always after the rear end. The horse essentially, while shifting the weight back onto their hind end and rounding their back out while driving from behind will create a tremendous amount of lift and propulsion during the process. The amount of lift and propulsion will depend on the strength and stamina of the horse along with biomechanical structuring of the horse during the process in relation to balance. 


At the front end of the horse, the brachiocephalicus and omotransversarius the big throaty muscles on the underside of the neck help to pull the forelegs up and forward. They connect from the shoulder area towards the head. If the neck is not fixed up and forward, they will overpower the neck and pull the head down. When the neck is fixed in a strong upward arch, when the horse is correctly on the bit with the poll at the highest point and the face about on the vertical or slightly ahead, then they forelegs can be lifted. The secret is that the base of the neck must be up.


Finally, no matter how much the hind end curls under, no matter how perfect the neck position and how perfectly the front end works to elevate the forelegs, you cannot have collection until both ends are connected. Traction and connections of the longissimus, latissimus, psoas, multifidi, spinalis, and splenius draw the topline together but this action must be counter balanced by the abdominals.”Horsemagazine.com “ Collection The 4th Building Block Of Classical Dressage


One thing that we need to be very careful of when it comes to the work that our horses bodies are doing during riding is that we can very easily throw off their efforts for balance, harmony, rhythm, and collection. This can occur with poor use of our hands, roughness, a rough or poor seat, a rider lackin balance and strength, and many other reasons. To truly be a strong and diligent rider, it takes hours upon hours of strength, stamina, and even mental training. 


Rushed collection in show horses vs. true athletic development of true collection

The other thing I want to briefly discuss today is the difference between true, curated, specifically conditioned for collection and what is often seen in the show pen. Due to the rise and flow of different styles in various horse industries, true collection and honoring the time and dedication it takes to curate a strong and well rounded “bridle” horse (if you will- and want to use a Vaquero term!)  has long been forgotten. 


A truly well trained horse will be proficient, graceful, patience, well-mannered and natured, and precisely trained with the most subtle cues in rhythm, suppleness, contact, impulsion, straightness, and collection. (The training scale) although many of these things are lightly manipulated and strength trained to obtain optimal performance in. 


Horses mature and grow in understanding, training, knowledge, and ability over the years. Letting a horse gradually and properly mature into the horse they were meant to be is one of the best things you can do for the horse. Most horses are rushed and just practically shoved into “looking a certain way” for the show pen, when in reality they (while they may be really wonderful horses) they are not truly trained, nor finished, nor conditioned in a lasting manner. 


What does proper collection look like in the performance horse?

No matter what style of horse you are watching, no matter if it is a warmblood that is jumping or a western pleasure quarter horse, a horse that is exhibiting true collection is going to have that countable beat and action to their movement. Their front end will look in a sense, lifted up or almost elevated in comparison to the hind end. 


What is really going on is that the weight distribution taking place is causing weight to be taken off of the horse’s front end and moved backward. 


Are there any concepts I should be keeping in mind while working on collection with my horse?

I’m sure it does not come as too much of a surprise, but when you are working on developing collection you need to focus on balance. Keep in mind that balance and collection for all of the gaits is going to be slightly different, since each gait has its own rhythm and balance/ center of gravity. 


Jamie’s training notes on collection:

“One of the things I try to help people keep in mind while trying to help a horse build strength and stamina for long-term collection is that there is a balance between holding your horse between your hands and helping them keep themselves collected during training sessions and creating a horse that is going to become very “bracey” and want to lean on your hands. This will then lead to the horse dropping onto their front and and becoming very heavy. This squashes and chance of the horse utilizing its body correctly, at all. This is commonly seen among pleasure type performance horses. Even the issue of softness can be addressed by first addressing this issue first.”- Jamie 


Makala’s training notes on collection:

“Collection begins in the building of the foundation. On the ground, the horse must develop the muscles he will need to carry out proper collection, also an awareness of his own body. This is done over time of course. A horse will gladly do what you ask of him, if you set them up for success by taking the time to teach them to do things step by step. The most important step in asking for collection is for yourself to be well educated in the subject enabling you to look at your horse and see the strengths and weaknesses of each point used in the body. Then you need a game plan on how to improve those areas. Remember this is not an over night fix but a project that requires dedication, time, and a keen eye.” 




Thank you for tuning into this week’s article/ blog post and we would love to hear from you. Did you learn anything? Did anything stick out to you? Is there anything you are wanting to learn?


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Today I want to finish up our article with a prayer and a bible verse.


“O Lord, thank You for this day, thank You for the wonderful listeners/ readers/ viewers following along who share the love of Your Son and horses. Thank You for the guidance You give us and all the blessings that have crossed our paths. You have given us this incredible platform and I pray it blesses many people. Thank You for saving us and loving us so much. I pray over everyone reading this or listening to this, may the Lord bless and keep you and make His face to shine upon you. God bless you all.”


For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
Galatians 5:17


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