Collection, Engagement and Headset.
What is What in the World of Cowboy Dressage?

One of the things I most often find myself doing at clinics is talking a lot about Collection and defining it. There are so many misconceptions that it always needs clarification.

For some Collection is determined by he headset of the horse. They believe that if the head is perpendicular to the horse that it is “Collected.”

Many riders confuse Engagement with Collection. For me they are two totally different things.

In this article I will discuss what each one actually is in hope that many of you will understand the difference between the three. I will keep it very simple and basic so that it is easy to understand.


Engagement is not to be confused with Collection. Engagement is when the horse steps deeper under himself towards his center of gravity. Disengagement is where the horse’s step that falls behind the hip/tail is longer than the step taken under the horse towards his center of gravity. This is also considered a “Hollow Back” horse. An easy way to determine if a horse is Engaged or Disengaged is to draw an imaginary line from the top of the tail to the ground. When a horse takes a step the ground covered in front of the line should be longer than the step behind that line.



Breeds such as Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods are as a rule naturally Engaged due to their conformation and strength of their back.


For a horse to be truly “Collected” he needs to lower his croup by bringing his hind legs forward and as a result the withers will elevate. So a Collected horse moves with an elevated withers and a lowered croup.

Saddlebreds, Morgans, Arabians and similar breeds are often horses that must be schooled and developed in Collection to achieve it.

The whole goal of Engagement and Collection is to re-distribute the weight of the horse to keep him in balance. By moving some weight to the hindquarters it frees up the front end of the horse and takes some of the weight off of the front legs helping him to stay sounder longer.



If the horse is Collected or Engaged properly the horse will carry his head in the right place. The bit alone does not determine where the head of the horse will be. It is the Engagement or Collection of the horse that allows the horse to put his head in the proper position. To do this the rider must use their hands, legs and seat to encourage the horse to move up under itself (often referred to as riding the back leg of the horse) allowing for more weight to be carried on it’s back end thus freeing up the front end to move freely and in balance. In simple terms you want to ride your horse from the back end towards the front end, not the other way around.

You can have a horse’s “head set” but he may be Hollow Backed and Disengaged and not Collected at all.  This is considered a “false headset” and not desirable.