Collection is the result of correct training, with a strong, supple, balanced horse that has self-carriage, can control his paces and respond instantly to his rider. It is developed over years from methodical training, starting with correct circles, where you begin to engage the inside hind leg and balance your horse, moving on to suppling the quarters and shoulders through carefully selected lateral work, and then developing strength and impulsion.
Classical collection comes from the horse engaging the hind leg under his body which results in a lightening of the forehand. The degree to which you can see this engagement depends on the level of training and the horse’s conformation. Some horses show a distinct lowering of the quarters, and the lightening of the fore hand is easy to see. For other horses, the change in the quarters is not so evident, but this does not mean that the horse is not collected; you can see the same qualities in both horses, just displayed differently.
A horse that is heavy in the hand and has weight in the shoulder is not collected, regardless of the perceived action in the legs. The hind leg should appear to be working under the hips, not out under the tail, the back should not be hollow or braced and the fore hand should have a lightness and freedom of movement through the shoulder with the neck stretching forward from the withers.
The ultimate expression of collection is in the “decente de main” and “decente de jambes”, most easily seen in piaffe, where the rider lowers the hands and releases the contact and lightens the action of the legs, while the horse remains in the same piaffe.
Collection is the result of the careful development of a horse through training, ensuring each stage is correctly developed, creating a supple, balanced, strong horse, able to control their impulsion and therefore able to respond instantly to the riders aids. If you rush the early training, you will have problems in the more advanced work.
Diane Followell Classical Dressage Trainer