A number of days ago, Allanna posed the following question

 Thought question.  Is it appropriate to apply the term “collection” to the optimum balance and development of the 4-beat intermediate gaits?  When done in their best and purest form none of them are collected as the term is applied to the trot and canter and none of the 4-beat intermediate gaits can be fully collected since doing so turns 4-beat gaits into trot.

Thought Response:

This is a most interesting question and certainly not one that can be answered in a few words.  In my opinion, the basic premise of the question has to do with the word collection – by definition and by what people think it means.

 Collection is used in many aspects of equine sport and the meaning may vary with the discipline and the person.  For example, to some collection means head set, a round back and to others it means a tight rein.  However, this page is Fundamentals of Dressage for Gaited Horses, it is assumed the question applies to the discipline of dressage.  We must always remember that “the object of dressage training is to develop the horse physically and mentally, in harmony with his own natural way of moving and thinking.”

 The following definition or description is taken from the USDF Glossary of Judging Terms.

 COLLECTION/COLLECTED (WALK, TROT, OR CANTER)

At trot and canter, a pace with shorter steps and a more uphill balance than in the working pace, without sacrificing impulsion. The horse’s frame is shorter, with the neck stretched and arched upward. The tempo remains nearly the same as in the medium or extended pace

At walk, a pace with shorter steps and a more uphill balance than in the medium walk, without sacrificing activity. To be shown with a steady neck (relative to the oscillation of the neck appropriate to the medium and extended paces) and frame same as above. The tempo remains nearly the same as in the medium or extended pace.

(Note: It is a common misconception that the hind legs step further forward under the body in collection. This is not consonant with the shorter strides required in collection. At the trot and canter, the hind feet are picked up relatively sooner after passing behind the hip and spend relatively more time on the ground [support phase] than in the other paces of the gait.)

 To paraphrase, the balance is more uphill, impulsion is maintained, the frame is shorter, the tempo is nearly the same as the medium and extended gaits, the steps are shorter, and the feet are on the ground longer than in the other paces of the gait.

 With considering gaited horses, the intermediate gait is not the trot, a two beat diagonal movement.  The intermediate gait is a four beat gait which may be lateral or diagonal, may be even or uneven with a length of stride that varies for each gaited breed.

 The question is at a minimum a two part question:

  •  can the intermediate gait be collected without losing the aspects of the gait that make it unique to the gaited breed?  Can the intermediate gait for the gaited breeds become more uphill, maintain impulsion with a shorter frame, maintain the same tempo as the medium and extended gaits and keep on the ground longer than in the medium or extended gaits?  Yes, the gaited breeds are all capable of a collected intermediate gait that fits the above description.  The degree of collection desired is dependent upon the unique qualities of the gaited breed and the ability of the individual horse.
  •  can the intermediate gait be considered the optimum in collection as applicable to dressage?  Is any gaited breed capable of performing the intermediate gait at the highest level of collection?  If by definition or assumption the highest level of collection is the piaffe, then no the gaited breeds can not perform the intermediate gait as defined by the piaffe which is performed at a trot.

 Dressage as a training method is for the benefit of the overall well being of the horse.  Again it is important to remember “the object of dressage training is to develop the horse physically and mentally, in harmony with his own natural way of moving and thinking.”

Dressage training is not limited to the development of the optimum intermediate gait of the horse.  It certainly helps in that development but that is not the only goal of the training.    There is a progression of tasks in Dressage whether ones’ goal is training or competition.  The order of progression from the bottom is Rhythm, Looseness and Relaxation, Acceptance of the Bit, Impulsion, Straightness, and Collection.  Note that Collection is the last task to be addressed.   If the individual’s purpose is to use Dressage for training, there are many things to address before collection is encountered.  If the individual’s purpose is competition, the collected movements are not required at the lower levels.

 I do not have enough knowledge of biomechanics to know if optimum collection of the four beat gaits results in a trot.  This would be based on the assumption that when the intermediate gaits of any gaited breed is in the maximum collected state, the default gait of the gaited breeds is the trot.  If I am not mistaken, even at the highest levels, one fault of piaffe is that it is not 2 beat but rather 4 beat.

 When one applies the use of collection in Dressage, one is not using the same terminology as would be used in the gaited breeds.  The optimum description (not necessarily balance and development) of the four beat gaits is described by each individual breed.  It is my personal opinion that Dressage Tests that respect the unique abilities of the gaited breeds would consider the abilities of the breed as well as the ability of the horses.  Collection at the walk and the canter, gaits that are common to all breeds of horses, should be the same for the gaited breeds as it is for the trotting breeds.  Collection at the intermediate gait should be unique to the gaited breeds and should be what is appropriate to the gaited breeds rather than what is appropriate to the trotting breeds.

 Now if you want to discuss balance, that begins another discussion.