This is the second of my blogs looking at the interpretations of dressage terms. Last month I looked at Rhythm, Impulsion and Engagement and in this blog I’m looking at two often misunderstood terms, Cadence and Collection.
Cadence is the most important quality of a pace. It requires balance, impulsion and rhythm all at the level appropriate to the individual horse at that time. The dictionary definition refers specifically to voice or music, but we can draw a meaningful conclusion if we combine the dictionary meaning with the description in the FEI guidelines.
A modulation or inflection of the voice.
A sequence of notes or chords comprising the close of a musical phrase.
From the FEI dressage hand book guidelines for Judging
The marked accentuation of the rhythm and (musical) beat that is the result of a steady and suitable tempo harmonising with a springy impulsion.
However, these two definitions alone don’t convey the precise meaning of cadence when applied to dressage. Arthur Kottas Heldenburg and Nuno Oliveira expand the definition further in their books
Kottas on Dressage, page 100
Even assuming the basic rhythm is good…..the hard part is to find the correct cadence. To do this first find the best possible posture of the horse: more or less on the bit, neck more or less elevated, degree of bend controlled in the circles..
It is for you to feel and choose what balance to give your hose. Start with minimal forward thrust (impulsion), go with the essential relaxation of the trot. When the horse is on the bit and relaxed, progressively ask for more impulsion.
…When your horse feels good and does not alter anything in his balance, his impulsion or posture on the circles and changes of bend….you have found the cadence that suits your horse. You can validate this by reducing the effects of your hands and your legs. The horse should be able to carry himself in the trot without your rein aids.
Nuno Oliveira from the Truth in the Teaching of Nuno Oliveira page 77.
Cadence is rhythm and energy combined, resulting in more suspension in the horse’s movements.
It is precisely in the maintenance of the appropriate cadence in each movement that one maintains the lightness, the weight on the haunches and one achieves collection.
And from the Wisdom of Master Nuno Oliveira, page 67
The cadence is something very important, more important than people think.
The cadence is rhythm [tempo] with energy.
These definitions give clear indications of how important it is to have the correct cadence for you horse, and how to achieve it. It is specific to each horse and if the horse loses their balance they lose the cadence. Often today, horses are ridden too fast at trot, and this results in a stiff unbalanced horse without cadence. Good cadence is when the horse remains in the same balance, with the same impulsion and rhythm and with minimum aids from the rider - who must have perfect balance too!
The dictionary definition of Collection does not directly relate to the dressage interpretation, and this can lead to an incorrect understanding of collection in dressage terms.
The action or process of collecting someone or something.
A group of things or people.
The description given for collect is a more relevant definition for dressage
Bring or gather together (a number of things)
Regain control of oneself, (typically after a shock.)
Both the idea of bringing a number of things together and to have a level of control over oneself can be used to infer that the rider needs to bring the horse together from the haunches with impulsion (link) whilst both horse and rider maintain their self-control.
The definition of collection from the FEI Dressage Hand Book Guidelines for Judging gives a good description of the physical characteristics that the judges should see from a collected horse:-
Collection is the increased engagement and activity of the hind legs, with joints bent and supple, stepping forward under the horse's belly.
However, collection is more than simply increasing the activity of the hind legs. It requires strength and suppleness which is built up through correct gymnastic exercises, whilst keeping the horse light in his mouth and appropriately flexed at the poll. The degree of collection will depend on level of training, the horse’s conformation, strength and suppleness.
Arthur Kottas Heldenburg gives a good description of collection in his book Kottas on Dressage (page 202)
Collection describes the state in which the horse, having developed the strength in the hind quarters through correct, progressive training, uses the strength in this area to carry a greater proportion of his and the rider’s weight, thus improving his balance and poise. The altered balancer and lowered hindquarters increased the ratio of lift to thrust in the hind quarters producing characteristically elevated, animated steps. There is a lightening of the forehand, with the poll at the highest point, and the horse flexes readily at eh poll and jaw. .. attempts to force a partly trained horse into a ‘collected’ outline are counterproductive and may actually cause damage. The development of collection is a long-term process.
Developing a truly collected horse has been an issue for as long as dressage has existed. As you can imagine the classical masters have a great deal to say about collection, from describing the method of collection;
The basic principle of that work is that of gradually increasing the action of the hocks to engage just a little further under the body; it implies the shortening of the base whereon the horse moves just a little; the horse brings his rump and quarters a little nearer to his head; to do so, the horse must of necessity lower his quarters a fraction, resulting in a relatively higher position of the head.
…It must be clearly understood that in all the work undertaken to reach … ‘collected movement’ we must pursue, and can not do other than pursue, two aims simultaneously: that of increasing the energy of the horse’s action on a shorter base and that of creating a happy mouth; the two are inseparable. Henry Wynmalen “Dressage A Further Study of the Finer Points of Riding”
To counselling about obtaining collection incorrectly;
Proper collection is the result of a long process of education through various stages that allows not tricks, no short cuts. Alfred Knopfhart “Fundamentals of Dressage”
… The rider cannot hasten the improvement of the neck carriage by shortening the reins, but must adapt the length of the reins to the horse’s improvement. The difference between following and initiating the shortening process is considerable. It is bad practice not to follow this natural improvement, but it is even worse when the rider tries to enforce it arbitrarily by shortening the reins. From such an attempt originates the greatest fault in riding, namely the forced compression of the horse. Lt Col. A.L.d’Endrödy from “Give Your Horse a Chance”
Diane Followell Classical Dressage Trainer