Collection versus Extension
Terminology & Understanding

    The purpose of this article is to clarify the terminology in today’s rider’s (trainer’s) vocabulary. Unfortunately the English language does not have sufficient words to translate many of the books about riding from the foreign languages. Consequently, this often leads to confusions and misunderstandings. One of the confusions is the concept of extended gaits versus the collected gaits. Well, in reality there is no such thing. For example the terms that are used in other languages to describe the same in the trot are the long trot (extended trot here) and the short trot or school trot (collected trot here), henceforth there is no such thing as collected trot versus the extended trot.

Note the even height of the hind leg with the front in this well balanced piaffe. Nice straight tail, obvious contentment of the horse.

Horse off balance, the bit below the hip. Unsuitable horse for riding, too much cold blood in the horse, which makes up for the higher action in the front, despite the horse being off balance. This type of horse is very popular in the dressage these days, because it seems to compensate for poor riding in the appearance only (higher action, shorter stride - easier to collect in false appearance).

Too much on the hind end, horse appears cramped up in too much collected energy with no outlet for it. The tail is swishing, showing obvious discomfort of the horse. (note the incorrect bandaging)

     As it is written in our article on “collection”, it states that the term “collection” describes the collected energy in the hind legs. The level of the collected energy must equal the output. In other words, if we collect more energy in the hind legs and we will not let the horse release it in some way at least to 90%, it will lead to the most common problem in today’s dressage, which is the so-called “bounding - cramping” of the horse. Other term for it used was the “riding on the rear end”, which is a common fault of the dressage rider that finally managed to get his horse off the forehand.

     The collected energy equals the output, henceforth it has to be present in the long (extended) gaits even more so than in the short gaits. Example, compare the trot of a western pleasure horse with the short trot of a decent dressage horse. Both are going about the same speed (difference in cadence), but the western pleasure horse is running on so-called “empty tank”. No energy in the hind (no collection), since he actually drags his hind legs behind himself, while he is generating the movement forward by his overweight front end (head low to the ground with extended neck), like a plow horse that is leaning into the harness with his weight, head down, rolling over etc.

     The word collection more or less refers to “gathering the horse”. The same terms are used in racing, especially in the steeplechase, where it is of great importance, since failing to reach required collection of the horse before the jump will usually result in the fall of the horse. This usually happens towards the end of the race, when the horse is getting very tired, does not want to put his legs under, thus lacking the energy for the take off. If you will ever see any steeplechase racing, you will see that the rider will often resort to whip at the last two jumps, even though there is no threat of other horse nearby. I am sure that many of you have experienced a similar thing in eventing.

     The common mistake seen in today’s dressage is in the "extended trot", when the horse fails to generate – collect enough impulsion (collection) throughout the long trot.
    Usually the horse looks well for 4 or five strides and as he levels off, he so-called “flattens out, falls apart” (below pic. 1), gets off balance and the rider has problems with the transition “downwards” or slowing down, as the horse usually leans into the bit by lowering his head (below pic. 2).

Pic. 1  Pic. 2 

     In piaffe the most common mistake is with collecting too much energy without giving it sufficient outlet (in cadence). As a result, the horse overweighs his hind end, which will demonstrate itself in uneven action of the legs. The front legs are coming up off the ground much higher than the hind legs. If anyone of you worked on a breeding farm you have more likely seen the natural “piaffe” by the stallion coming out of the barn to breed. If you will pay attention next time, you will notice that it is in prefect balance.
   The collected energy finds its outlet in cadence and the action of the rear is equivalent to the front. The same thing can be seen in the natural passage versus the “artificial” passage. The passage in dressage today is complete disaster because there is simply not enough energy collected to lift the horse off the ground. All they do is lifting their legs, but not their bodies (sort of like circus horses trained by whips to look high stepping).

    The function of the rider’s hands, among other things, supposed to help - motivate the horse to collect energy in the rear, especially when he is tired, thus the hands also control the outlet. The rider feels the collected energy in his hands, in the less willing (tiered) horse more weight in his hands. Henceforth, in the short trot is needed less energy, thus usually less weight in the hands as against in the long trot more energy (collection) is needed thus usually more weight in hand. (In more fit, balanced and willing horses it will even up and lighten up).

  As you will see, most folks have it backwards, not only in the dressage but mostly in racing, when at the beginning of the race the horse is very much "on the bit" and at the end rider has "empty" hands. A decent rider would have it the other way around. Unfortunately, you will not find such riders in racing anymore. I’ve seen very few here and there in my younger days, but now no more.


Note the strong pull on the horses mouth to re-collect (give & take = release & gather) the energy so the horse will pull up his hind legs and land on them again in the levade. (One cannot release any energy if the horse failed to collect it). The Courbette is one of the most difficult figures in the High School riding.

     In reality there are two types of balance. One speaks of the balanced horse for the riding purpose and another speaks of the balance between the collected energy and the output. The latter will require much more expertise and experience and since it is purely related to the ability of the rider to feel, as well as to the soundness of communication between him and the horse, it cannot be taught by anyone, but by the horse alone. More on this coming soon.

     The genuine communication with the horse is not founded in some aids, commands or cues but in between the hearts (spirits) of both, the rider and the horse. Hence remember, whenever you want to generate more energy by the horse under your self, you have to generate it within yourself first. I am sure you will find it when looking in the right place.

    One does not have to be an expert rider, to judge the riding ability of anyone. All he needs is the understanding of what is going on. Think of the collection as RPM of an engine. low RPM the engine stalls out, sufficient RPM you go just nice, too high RPM will burn out your engine and by the horse often his mind. (RPM = revolutions per minute)

    The correct terms:
Piaffe versus Passage (speed)
Short trot versus Long trot (speed)
Collection versus Release - Output (energy)

    A sufficient collection is required to provide adequate impulsion for every gait and speed/tempo, which will guarantee the lightness of movement and flawless execution of a needed task. Henceforth, Collected Gaits versus Extended Gaits is down outright a confusing concept to many people.

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.