Collection & Extension
A Passion for Dressage
Collection and extension have in common a (1) slower tempo (i.e., the slowing down of the sequence of the steps at the given gait), (2) an increased engagement (i.e., the lowering of the hindquarters as the hind legs move further under the horse’s body), and (3) an increased cadence (i.e., increase in the moment of suspension at the trot and canter at which no feet touch the ground—there is no moment of suspension at the walk). When all three of these factors are obtained at the trot and canter—and two at the walk—and the horse gains less ground than normal, that is, the push of the engaged hindquarters is more up than forward, we have collection; when the push of the hindquarter is more forward than up, we have extension.
These positive characteristics are developed through four types of exercises: (A) suppling exercises, (B) circles and bending patterns, (C) lateral work, and (D) transitions. If the horse is not made supple and even, then the extension and collection will lack rhythm. For example, one diagonal at the trot will be better engaged than the other.
Practicing extension and collection, we have said previously, only partly help their respective development and improvement. The full beauty and power of the collection and extension may simply not be obtained, or maintained, without continual work on the four types of exercises that yield the three key characteristics (two at the walk) mentioned above.
A very effective type of transition—when the collection and extension have been sufficiently established—are collection to extension and extension to collection transitions. Finally, Decarpentry’s principle, when hands no legs and when legs no hands should be carefully followed here as well as in other aspects of dressage riding. This simple but critical adage means that the rider does not increase the pressure with the legs and the pressure with the hands at the same time. Instead, the rider might increase the contact with the reins, and only after finishing such increase, would he increase the legs and drive the horse further into the hands.
The full beauty of the collection and extension should not be expected immediately, but gradually the requirements are increased. If a rider pretends to develop either extension or collection and skips these preparatory efforts, he is likely to reap a horse taking more and faster steps in the first and merely slow work in the latter. In neither case, the horse would not be engaged.
In collected work (Figure 11-1), the horse will lift the head and neck in order to put more weight onto the hindquarter. The hindquarter is engaged under the horse’s body with the horse bending the joints of the hindquarters and producing strength and upward push, with the horse gaining less ground forward than in the working or ordinary work.
Figure 11-1. Collected trot
In extended work (Figure 11-2), the horse’s hindquarters are engaged just as much, but the thrust is forward. The horse obtains a better balance by lowering and extending the neck and head. At the trot the shoulders become freer and the forelegs extend forward. There are three levels of trot extension: (1) lengthening of the stride; (2) middle-trot (Figure 11-2); and (3) extended trot. The lengthening of the stride is the term used for the first efforts in extension. In the middle trot the horse is not expected to produce the maximum extension, either. The rider asks the horse to extend with a more elevated head and neck position. The extended trot is the ultimate trot extension, with the horse gaining more ground forward than in any other trot movement.
Figure 11-2. Middle (extended) trot
Regardless of the level of extension, the engagement of the hindquarters must match the extension of the forehand (Figure 11-3). The horse’s movement is not nearly as pretty when the forehand promises more than what the hindquarters deliver, or the head is behind the movement, that is, a line from the forehead down cuts off the foreleg (Figure 11-4). In extension, then, the nose will be slightly in front of the vertical in comparison with the collected work.
Figure 11-3. Extended trot, head needs to be slightly more forward
Figure 11-4. Extended trot (incorrect), with forelegs promising more than hindquarters; head behind the movement
At the trot, extensions can be developed coming out of (1) circles (Figure 11-5), (2) corners (Figure 11-6), (3) shoulder-in (Figure 11-7), (4) travers, and (5) renvers. In each of these exercises the rider is improving the horse’s balance by increasing the three characteristics mentioned at the beginning of the chapter (tempo, engagement, cadence). The horse is likely to give a few good steps out of these exercises before deteriorating into a choppy unengaged work. with time, the number of steps will increase. The rider, of course, needs to stop and reward the correct movement before it deteriorates.
Figure 11-5. Extension out of a circle
Figure 11-6. Extension out of a corner
Figure 11-7. Extension out of a shoulder in
The horse can be taken in a diagonal into the center of the arena or extended on the wall. In the latter case, in the shoulder-in, the shoulder is first returned to the track as part of the transition to extension. Likewise, the horse can be taken forward on the track or in a diagonal into the arena after the travers and renvers. In each of the cases the rider takes advantage of the better engagement of the hindquarter before asking for the extension. Eventually extensions can also be asked out of the working trot or collected trot on the track. The rider may prepare the horse with a half halt.
The horse can also be collected and extended at the walk and canter. It is essential to remember that the sequence of steps at the collected walk and extended walk is the same that as at the working walk. Likewise, the sequence of steps—maintaining a three beat canter—is the same at the collected canter as at the working or extended one. At a full gallop, the sequence becomes one of four beats.
The rider uses alternate leg aids against steady hands at both the collected and extended walk. The collection is different from the extension in that, once again, the rider converts some of the forward impetus into collection. The amount of energy remains high in both.
The aids at the extended and collected trot are very similar. The rider indicates impulsion with the legs and provides a steady hand for the horse to hold the bit—but not lean on it. The energy of the horse is thus conserved. The rider’s seat can further act to help transfer weight onto the horse’s hindquarters. If the rider does not have correct hand contact there will not be a full collection or extension as the energy created by the legs will escape, or turned into resistance. The hand, seat, and reins are used in a bilateral form (except for when half halts are employed). In extended movements, where the horse lowers the head and neck, the rider will move the hands forward allowing the horse’s neck and head to move forward and down. In the collected trot the rider will hold his hands closer to his body and convert some of the forward force into upward movement.
Both collected and extended trot work can be first practiced at the rising trot in order to free the horse’s back. The rider must have a good sense of balance to do so. Even after these movements are well established, the rising trot should be used to warm up the horse giving full freedom to the back. Transitions between extended trot rising and sitting can also be practiced to improve the balance of the horse. One effective way to do so, at first, is to sit one bounce of the trot (changing diagonals), then two, then three, and so on, and returning to the rising trot. Collected trot is also practiced every time the rider works on lateral work and can also be practiced on circles. It is an excellent exercise to practice a middle extended trot on circles, as long as the circle is large enough.
At the canter, likewise, the rider again will employ similar aids at the collection and at the extension. In the collection, the horse gains less ground forward than at the extension. Half halts with the outside rein are also very useful in making the transition into collection. The transition will not be correct however, if at any time the horse loses the desire to move forward. The collected work should not be confused with slow work.
It would be a mistake to think that one can either collect or extend a horse merely by the position of the head. The impetus for the movement must come from the hindquarter of the horse. If the contact, balance, and impulsion are correct and the horse has been developed in a correct and gradual manner, the horse will seek the bit and follow it. The horse will learn to enjoy and expect the contact with the bit. This correct contact in which the horse does not either lean on the bit or have a hollow position, but rather, is responsive to every subtle move of the rider’s hand is called mise en main, or balance in hand (Decarpentry).
As in so many exercises, work in the field tends to increase impulsion. This is true in the collection and extension, too. Further, the rider can utilize slight inclines to help the horse increase collection (going downhill, Figure 11-8) and extension (going uphill, Figure 11-9). Lateral work can be practiced on varied terrain, too.
Figure 11-8. Looking for collection out of a downward slope
Figure 11-9. Looking for extension in an upward slope
Another excellent exercise to develop the extension is to trot along with another horse side by side asking each to compete against the other. One horse cannot be allowed to get too far in front, however, or the slower horse will lose its desire to compete.
The rider knows he is approaching correctness when the horse responds immediately into extension, or into collection, when asked. The transition should make plainly visible the horse’s desire to move forward.
Collection and extension at the trot and canter have in common a (1) slower tempo (i.e., the slowing down of the sequence of the steps at the given gait), (2) an increased engagement (i.e., the lowering of the hindquarters as the hind legs move further under the horse’s body), and (3) an increased cadence (i.e., increase in the moment of suspension at the trot and canter at which no feet touch the ground. When the horse gains less ground than normal, that is, the push of the engaged hindquarters is more up than forward, we have collection; when the push of the hindquarter is more forward than up, we have extension. The full beauty and power of the collection and extension are obtained and increased out of other movements. Decarpentry’s principle, when hands no legs and when legs no hands should be carefully followed in the collection and extension work, as well as elsewhere in dressage. Regardless of the level of extension, the engagement of the hindquarters must match the extension of the forehand, and an imaginary line extending from the forehead to the legs should not cut off the foreleg. The nose will be slightly in front of the vertical in comparison with the collected work.
The sequence of steps—maintaining a three beat canter—is the same at the collected canter as at the working or extended one. The aids at the extended and collected work are very similar. The rider indicates impulsion with the legs and provides a steady hand for the horse to hold the bit—but not lean on it. This correct contact in which the horse does not either lean on the bit or have a hollow position, but rather, is responsive to every subtle move of the rider’s hand is called mise en main, or balance in hand. The energy of the horse is thus conserved. In the collected trot the rider will hold his hands closer to his body and convert some of the forward force into upward movement.
© 1999-2010 Gregorio Billikopf
All rights reserved.
19 May 2010