From the dressage position, collection is a tucking under of the rear, a lifting of the withers, supposedly with a transfer of balance to the rear, with a vertical head. In a collected trot:
"The Horse, remaining “on the bit”, moves forward with the neck raised and arched. The hocks, being well-engaged and flexed, must maintain an energetic impulsion, enabling the shoulders to move with greater mobility, thus demonstrating complete selfcarriage. Although the Horse’s steps are shorter than in the other trots, elasticity and cadence are not lessened." - Rules of Dressage
"When riding the horse long and low, the back came up, the bow from hindquarters to mouth was put in tension, the entire muscle chain was stretched. There is no difference when collecting the horse, except the stretch is now directed upward instead of forward. This elevation against gravity, without getting tight in the process, requires a great deal of basic tension (and requires the horse to be closed in between the driving reins and restraining aids). The "rubber band" may never lose its arching oscillations. Especially during collection, the oscillations become rather pronounced, and the horse's back moves increasingly up and down as the horses steps and strides become loftier and more cadenced. This of course requires that the horse is well contained between the pushing aids and restraining aids, because this relatively high basic tension with is necessary for collection can only be obtained in this way...Prolonged collecting work is very strenuous for the horse." - Balance in Movement, The Seat of the Rider by Susanne von Dietze, page 120
There is a long and bitter discussion of rounding the back here: https://www.horseforum.com/horse-ridi...-round-674346/
My own take is much like Reiningcatsanddogs, I think: A horse who self-collects because he knows he can and wants to is a pleasure and it is good exercise. A horse who has collection taught to him - unless taught by a sensitive and expert rider - doesn't truly collect anyways. What Susanne von Dietze describes, accurately for many horses, is not beautiful:
"This of course requires that the horse is well contained between the pushing aids and restraining aids, because this relatively high basic tension which is necessary for collection can only be obtained in this way...Prolonged collecting work is very strenuous for the horse."
Unless one has the needed skill, tact and understanding, you get what is written above - a horse trapped between the "pushing aids" and "restraining aids" - which is why old texts showed a horse learning by restraining its forward movement by tying it to two posts while someone used a whip in the rear.
Thus Gen Chamberlin's comment: "For the most part, a high state of collection is totally unnecessary, and except with the most finished rider is the proverbial razor in the hands of a monkey.
However, even a simplistic rider like myself can easily work on encouraging self-collection. A horse trotting up a 10 deg hill automatically shifts it balance to the rear, from 57:43 to 50:50. A horse trying to turn without leaning - and leaning is a normal and acceptable way for a horse to turn - will shorten its strides and shift its balance on its own. A horse who transitions between gaits will often realize it does so easiest if it rebalances and momentarily collects.
Bandit gets hill work, just because there is almost no level terrain where I live. Transitions can be done while going down a trail. Since we often have smooth ground for 100 yards, then rocks sticking out for 30 yards, then smooth for 50 yards, then a sharp turn, etc - it is easy to ask for a trot or (if I trust him and anyone with me doesn't object) a canter, knowing that we will need to be walking in 100 yards to preserve his hooves.
All of this only teaches a modest degree of collection, and it has nothing to do with putting a horse "on the bit". VS Littauer was my first "instructor", and my favorite writer, but I've completely parted ways with him here. He said loose reins were for a beginning rider, constant contact marked an intermediate rider, and putting a horse on the bit marked an expert rider. I think every horse should learn to deal with near constant contact for short periods, for those times when things are tight and you need to be very directive. But I also think relying on constant contact indicates a poorly trained horse.
There, I said it. I might survive writing that on a journal page, but it would cause a meltdown anywhere else. I think relying on constant contact indicates a poorly trained horse. I think this is the primary difference between a western approach and an English one - although many "western" arena sports use intimidation instead of constant contact, which is even worse.
But if you accept that the horse has a mind, and that a horse likes to show off its powers, that they are social beings who love variety and amusement, and thrill to having a human team mate, then I do not understand how constant contact and worse, putting a horse on the bit, is higher riding. To me it is lower riding.
I accept, as Littauer did, that a tight show jumping course requires the rider control almost every step and movement. No horse, on its own, can understand a modern show jumping course and perform it to the maximum. But then, Littauer also considered a modern show jumping contest to be as much a circus trick as dressage became:
"But then there occurred in riding what has often happened before in other human activities - man's ambition to attain the barely attainable took over jumping; it forced many international horsemen to drop Caprilli's method and to search for other, more forcible means of making horses negotiate almost impossible combinations of obstacles. Today many of these horsemen will rightly tell you that Caprilli's basic tenet, that "there is little in common between ring riding and cross-country riding" could be altered to - "there is little in common between cross-country riding and international show jumping.' Show jumping has become a narrow specialty...Artificial jumping problems, and the corresponding artificial means of solving them, have placed such jumping just around the corner from the tanbark of the circus. Just as in former days our ancestors admired the particularly artificial feats of High School, so today many of us enjoy a new type of circus - unnaturally high obstacles assembled in tricky combinations..."
What the Cavalry taught, and Littauer strongly preferred, was that you taught the horse to jump, and then got out of his way. I would say you teach a horse to negotiate a trail, then get out of his way. You teach a horse to turn smoothly, then get out of his way. You teach a horse to transition gaits. And Bandit showed yesterday even he and I can transition from standing to cantering with little more than a thought - IF THE HORSE WANTS TO!
You present the horse with increasing challenges. The horse learns how to handle them. The rider gets out of the way of the horse, so the horse can handle the challenge for the rider, which makes the horse feel proud of himself.
That approach would never win a dressage competition, a reining competition, a WP show or a jumping competition. But to me, winning competitions has nothing to do with horsemanship. Maybe equitation, but not horsemanship.
And since many "for fun" riders are no better than I am, we should accept our status as "5 Ingredient Riders" and set goals within our grasp, ones we can reach without overwhelming the horse and without ignoring his mind.
< / rant >
This is one of the few dressage riders and horses I enjoy watching. I think she is brilliant. So is the horse. For the most part, I really enjoy watching them. But this canter has nothing to do with how I want my horse to canter, and I honestly cannot understand why anyone would admire it. This is an amazing rider and an amazing horse, doing something utterly worthless - in a record breaking performance: