Today, collecting a horse is a highly misunderstood concept, even among the most famous riders in all types of riding. This article will simplify the concept to the point that anyone will be able to understand it, thus anyone will be able to evaluate the riding/training capacity of any horseman, rider or teacher.

    Collection and balance are closely tied together. The name collection often has other names, like gathering, or putting the horse together. The concept of collecting a horse is to put together not only the balance of the animal under a rider, but to collect the needed energy for the added weight of the rider, as well as for the upcoming task, which will give the horse the needed level of impulsion.

    These (below) three schematics of the horse's skeleton will explain and clarify the collection of a horse in the riding concept in the simplest way. They show the gradual collection of the horse, which means lowering the angles in the joints in the hind legs, while setting them more under. At the same time, it shows the gradual erection of the neck/head in relation to the collection, thus providing better balance of the horse.

  1. Young horse during the first stage of training: without the hind legs under him, hence his neck is stretched forward. This is called the natural balance.
  2. More of the lowering of the hind leg joints and setting the hind legs under. Because of this, the neck will be more erect (the principal of the two-arm lever supported at point A) and the head closer to the vertical.
        This is called the campagne balance (military/field). Every riding horse of any discipline should reach this balance level. Any horse that is referred to as a dressage horse starts from this point up to the higher collection in #3. Therefore, the idea of shows like "training level dressage" is the ultimate stupidity in the riding concept of dressage, since dressage starts at the point of the campagne balance.
    (Horses that are not collected at least to the campagne level cannot move soundly through the corners of the dressage arena, thus they get abused when forced into them. Don't be surprised when they do not want to go there! (cutting corners) In time, however, many of the good/kind horses will accept and come to terms with it, paying for it with injuries and pain.)
  3. This is a higher degree of collection, due to much greater lowering of the hind legs joints and setting the hind considerably more under. The higher erection of the neck thus follows, hence often nearing the vertical position of the head. This is called high level of the school collection, inevitably needed for the high school (piaffe, passage and eventually the work in the air).
       The purpose of riding the horse in this higher collection was to insure that the horse retains the campagne balance all the time when with the rider in the open fields, without the rider urging the animal to stay in the campagne balance. In short it was (not any more) about getting the animal fit to carry the rider, while insuring the safety of both, the rider and the horse alike.
       This is why the dressage at one time (not anymore) improved any type of riding horse. Needless to say that horses unsuitable for riding purposes (horses bred for draft, coldbloods, heavy warmbloods etc.) would only suffer in such training and usage and no decent and sane horseman ever done that.

The schematics above show the importance of the relationship between the erecting of the neck to the lowering of the hind joint with setting the hind legs under. Not even in the beginning stage of the young horse is the bit below the horizontal line in relation to the hip. The straightness of the red line (impulsion line) guarantees good impulsion/forward swing of the entire body.

The schematics above show the center of gravity moving gradually toward the rear and more to the center of the supportive structure of the horse, thus equally distributing the weight of the rider and the horse on all four legs of the horse.
This is what the riding balance is, or the concept of balanced riding horse. It is about the weight distribution and the energy of the horse.

    Collecting the horse is about collecting the needed energy for the upcoming task, as well as about the balance. This can be accomplished only through the lowering of the hind leg joints (it’s same in people, like a sprinter in the starting blocks, or a person before taking off on a jump, or just simply squatting before jumping up). By lowering the angles of the joints in the hind legs, the horse's head/neck will automatically go up (mechanics). This is why it is so important that the balanced riding horse flexes its neck at its highest point (the poll).  

    If the horse flexes in the center of his neck, the bit ends up below the hip line (breaking the horizontal/straight line in relation to the bit through point A to the hips, thus losing the forward swing/impulsion) and there will be inevitable problems. Hence using any equipment (other than the bit, plain reins and mainly the rider’s hands, seat and leg aids) to flex the horse’s head will ultimately throw the horse off balance, as well as out of collection.

   When we are talking about the horse’s head being on the vertical, that alone does not collect or balance the horse. The so called vertical position (it should never be in it when in motion) of the horse’s head mainly relates to the acceptance of the bit by the horse, as well as its ability to find the most comfortable position for taking the pressure of the bit in relation to the rider's hands.
   Today’s riders are primarily concerned with having the head on the vertical and just about all of them accomplish this by forcing the horse’s head down, which actually throws him off balance even more than if the horse were to be left alone in his natural balance. Hence it is the so-called more "
advanced" riders of today, who know enough to lower the horses head (usually using some form of restrains, nosebands, draw reins etc.), putting it on the vertical (or even behind), that cause pain and injuries to horses in time (mainly to the front legs).
    On the other hand, for example, the less influential or less effective riders that just jump on the horse and ride it through the countryside, while leaving him alone in his natural balance, cause much less damage
(providing they do not travel in too high of speeds in particular gaits).

    Since the vertical position of the head alone does not balances or collect the horse, it proves in itself the misunderstanding of the whole concept of collecting a horse by many riders, because most of them are too concerned with that and think that it actually shows a more collected horse.

   Collecting a horse gets done from both ends equally, but as it is, most reputable riders today cannot ride the horse as a whole, but are capable only of riding the front end of the horse; hence we have today just about all horses in all levels of riding on their forehands.
   Various illustrations in this article will explain much better what the concept of collecting a horse means, as well as showing the incorrect positioning of the head in relation to the hind end/hips. The most important thing to remember is that above all, the bit does not fall horizontally below the horse’s hips, because once this imaginary straight line is broken at point A, it will have negative effects on the horse’s back, causing him much discomfort.
    Through the bit, the rider manages (not engages) the hind end/hips, or in other words the balance of the horse as well as the collected energy, which is tied with the concepts of getting the horse on the bit as well as together.
    For example, if the bit is below the hips and we ask the horse to engage/lower/put under his hind legs, it will result in pressure on the
horse’s back upward, thus the hind end is actually lightened while the front end is greatly overweighed; the horse is then so-called running out of ground with his hind legs, reaching for the ground and losing much of the power/impulsion as well as its balance, and the animal will be harder to stop or direct.
    Such horse is physically unable to lower its joints for the needed impulsion to perform the next task. This is also one of the reasons that many folks believe that when one trains a horse for “
dressage”, such a horse will not jump well, or will even refuse to.

   On the other hand, when we ask the horse to erect its head (often seen by jumpers), without adequately lowering the angles of the hind joints, the pressure downward on the back increases immensely and again causes many physical as well as mental problems for the horse. Both incorrect forms of riding not only cause injuries (sore stifles, sore back, front end problems associated with navicular, etc.) and pain to horses, but they also demonstrate themselves in the mentality of the horse, who is then more nervous, anxious and/or less willing to go to work.


This schematic shows the downward stress on the horse’s back, when the neck is raised without the lowering of the angles of the hind joints. This is commonly seen on horses who carry their heads high. It’s also very often done by jumping riders when they yank the horse’s head up before a jump, thus falsely trying to engage the hind, or collect the needed impulse for the take off.

This is very common in dressage today, as well as among western pleasure horses (among others). The difference between the two (dressage and western pleasure) is only the fact that the western pleasure horses go even more out of balance due to the straight forward, extended necks, while the inadequate dressage riders manage to flex the horse’s neck and put the head on the vertical, while dropping the head below the hip. This schematic shows the stress upward (hunch backs) against the back, while disengaging the hind legs (the motor) to a bare minimum.

    Both schematics above show the break (loss) in the impulsion/swinging-forward motion of the horse's body, generated by the pushing-off/impulse of the hind legs.
    The saddest part is that the riders who cause such pain and sorrow to these animals will actually state that they love horses, while they care more about their reputation/their looks than the horse’s well-being.




    All the horses in the above photos show certain discomforts demonstrated in the swooshing/swirling of their tails. The way in which and how the rider achieves the collection will show in the horse's willingness to perform/give it.

  1. A crippling frame of an unbalanced horse, over-flexed (behind the bit), heavy on the forehand, bit below the hips.
  2. Horse is engaging the hock relatively well, but failing to bring the hind end under himself. Not low enough in the hip, bit slightly below the hip line. An unsuitable horse for riding purposes, obviously.
  3. The other, way-off-balance piaffe with less engagement of the hock (too much on the hind end). The bit is nicely above the hip line and the head is slightly above the vertical, which is OK. It is better to be ahead of the vertical than behind (behind the bit).

[French campagne, from Italian campagna, military operation, from Late Latin campania, open country, battlefield, from campus, field.] (back where I was)

Edited by J. G. April 19th, 2006
Written* and translated by Ludvik K Stanek a.k.a Lee Stanek
*The technical aspects of this articles is a translation from the 1953 Special Zoo-Technique - Breeding of Horses
Published in 1953 by the Czechoslovakian Academy of Agricultural Science and certified by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Written by: MVDr Ludvik Ambroz, Frabtisek Bilek, MVDr Karel Blazek, Ing. Jaromir Dusek, Ing. Karel Hartman, Hanus Keil, pro. MVDr Emanuel Kral, Karel Kloubek, Ing. Dr. Frantisek Lerche, Ing. Dr Vaclav Michal, Ing. Dr Zdenek Munki, Ing. Vladimir Mueller, MVDr Julius Penicka, pro. MVDr Emil Pribyl, MVDr Lev Richter, prof. Ing. Dr Josef Rechta, MVDr Karel Sejkora and Ing. Dr Jindrich Steinitz.