What is collection?

Last days I have thought a lot about this. Let me tell you a little anecdote that brought me a step closer to understanding collection:
When I was a working student at Bent Branderup’s place, he was talking about collection with one of the week students. I was sitting in my armchair, wrapped in a blanket, and being relaxed and enjoying my break. Then Bent asked me to stand up. So I stood up, most weight on one leg and the other leg bend slightly in the knee, one hip hanging. He asked me to sit again. So I sat, making myself comfortable again. But he asked me to stand up again. This time, when I was standing, I left the weight on both legs, waiting what would happen next. As I already half expected, he asked me to sit down. Also while sitting, I half expected to get up again, so I didn’t sit like on the couch but with weight on both seat bones, balanced, ready to get up. Then Bent said: “And this is collection. When you are standing, you are ready to sit, and when you are sitting, you are ready to stand. When the horse canters, he must canter in a way that at every moment he is able to do something else. He expects to go to trot, to the halt, to the piaffe. In the same way, he must be able to do piaffe in a way that he can go forward any time.”
This is how we teach collection in the academic art of riding. Already on the circle, we ask the horse to move his shoulders – a bit in, a bit out, a bit in, a bit out. Just a bit, slightly increasing and decreasing the circle. The horse will find it’s balance in the middle after a few times and will also be less heavy on the shoulder, as it all the times expects to move it this way or that way (it’s important to keep the bending during this).
Then we do the same with the hind legs. We do a bit shoulder-in, asking the inside hind leg to step under more, then a bit quarter-in, asking the outside hind leg to step under more (without losing the inside one). Moving one hind leg under the center of mass, then the other one. The horse starts to be flexible in both hind legs and having his weight equally on both hind legs. Also here it is important to keep the bending and in addition to watch out that the horse is still well balanced on both shoulders, so it must be possible to increase or decrease the circle at any moment without losing the shoulder-in or quarter-in. If we are successful, we have a horse in a horizontal balance that can easily turn and go from one gait to the other.
Next, we start moving more weight to the hind legs. Just like we did with the shoulders and hind legs, we start to collect and extend, moving weight to the hind legs and releasing the horse again into a forward-down. We use the shoulder-in for forward-down – the horse can step under with the inside hind leg and lengthen the top line. Then we ask for some steps of quarter-in collection, giving half halts with our seat, bringing more weight on the haunches, without loosing the shape or having the horse drop his back. Then we release into a shoulder-in forward-down and again for quarter-in collection. The circle helps us to keep the bending and to keep equal weight on both shoulders. We play with shifting the weight back and forth, naturally, without pulling or tension. On the contrary, if there is any tension building up, we go back to moving shoulders and hind legs, until the horse becomes soft again.
That’s how playing with the horse’s balance eventually leads to a higher and higher degree of collection.
In the pictures you see me and Weto playing with shoulder-in forward-down and quarter-in collection, during the course with Marius Schneider in April 2017 in Warsaw.
Photos by Pawel Siwek.

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