Round - note the deep stepping hind legs, lightly lifted back, and general forward flow to the movement.

Which shall it be? Do you know the difference, and in a pinch, would you be able to identify it in a moving horse? Better yet, can you feel the difference when you are riding?

We use these words all the time. We "frame" our horse, we get him to "round" and we regularly work on "collection". But often, although we're sure we are working on something, we don't really know what to call it. We throw the words around randomly, seeking to describe the feeling we know exists, but not knowing the nuances between the three.

To be perfectly honest, most of our horses are rarely, if ever, collected.

(Click here to tweet that.)

These words are not interchangeable.

HL Five Years
HL Bundle
HL Goal Setting
HL Book 3
HL Book 2
HL Book 1

The three terms are distinct in meaning, appearance and feel. Knowing the difference between them helps you to distinguish between the level of engagement your horse is working at.

The "Frame"

Simply put, a horse is "framed up" when it is travelling in a pre-determined outline. 

There may be the high frame, which essentially means that the neck is higher than the withers, and there may be the level frame, where the neck is at the height of the withers. In either case, the frame is usually being held in place by rein action (the hands). In comparison to no frame at all, riding in a frame might feel more comfortable and easier on both the rider and the horse.

The dilemma is that regardless of the placement of the head and neck, the back continues to be hollow and the hind end is disengaged. The horse moves on the forehand. The hind legs do not track up to the front footprints, and the front legs stride larger than the hind legs. Often, this body position is held in place by the hands. There is little or no release of the reins and the frame is being protected by a backward pressure that traps the horse's front end and restricts the hind end.

The best giveaway to a frame is that the horse falls out of the frame - either farther forward on the forehand, or the head and neck arches up and the back hollows even more. The claim to fame of the frame is that it does not maintain itself without either constant pressure from the hands, or momentary "jerks" on the mouth to communicate to the horse that it should keep its posture in place.


 A horse travels "round" if there is a certain level of engagement from the hind end. The hind legs reach further forward underneath the body, and the hind stride length approaches the same distance as the front legs. Due to this reach, the hind end dips down slightly while the front end levels out or rises slightly higher than the withers. A round horse is bearing its weight more on the hind end, freeing up the front end to be more expressive and fluid. The rider's weight is carried more evenly with a mildly lifted back.
release of the reins allows the horse to stride "forward" toward the contact. There is a better sense of freedom in movement than in the framed up horse. To be round, the horse must be "on the bit" (go here for an excellent description),"on the aids" and moving with better "connection."


Typically, horses in collection move up and down more than forward, so collection is desired especially in events such as reining, western trail and dressage.

In dressage, collection is the highest level of training for the horse. In other words, travelling while collected is difficult and requires a sophisticated level of balance, mental/emotional control, and understanding from the horse. The collected horse has developed the strength to tilt the haunches so the hind legs are far underneath the body, and the front end (head and neck included) are at the highest point. The horse moves in an "uphill" manner.

Collection is achieved primarily by the seat and legs. The hands are the last to act, and ideally, serve to "catch and recycle" the energy produced by the seat and legs. The horse is not kept in place - the collected appearance is the result of the activity of the hind end. Let go of both reins, and the horse should stay in collection for several strides.

"Collection itself, however, is a state attained only after many years of patient, systematic, gymnastic work, which is made evident in a shorter, higher, rounder, more active stride. It is to be attained solely through greater balancing of the horse on the hindquarters, based on forward impulse - and not merely by shortening up the horse from the front. The horse's motion must remain forward, fluid, and energetic, and must always continue to show the correct footfall in all gaits. The hallmark of true collection is a clear lowering of the croup, brought about by the deeply bent, engaged haunches that carry more weight." (Herbermann, 1999, p.67)

To be perfectly honest, most of our horses are rarely, if ever, collected. Much of the time, we are working in a degree of roundness - whether more or less round - rather than in collection. 

All this talk begs the question:

Why bother?

That shall be a topic for another day!


Herbermann, E., (1999). Dressage Formula, Third Ed., J.A.Allen, London.  p.67

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If you enjoyed the above post, you might also like:

From A Whisper to A Scream: How Loud Should Your Aids Really Be? Should we be “loud” in our aids, or should we be working as softly as we can in hopes that our horse can respond to lighter and more refined aids?

When Do You Start Riding Your Horse? This question was being posed to me by a very respected and horse-wise mentor.

Do You Make This Timing Mistake When Riding Your Horse? The timing of the aids has to do with everything.

When “Good Enough” Just Isn’t Good Enough In Horseback Riding: Hate to tell you this, but you DO have to get out of your own back yard!


  1. Loved that you quoted from the Erik Herbermann book, “Dressage Formulas”, correct? He writes wonderfully about the correct way to get a horse moving properly, and how a rider should use his/her body. We need to be reminded constantly that true impulsion comes from behind!

    1. Yes, the quote came from that book. It is often sooo hard to feel (never mind be able to initiate) the energy coming from the hind end (and so easy for us to think only about the front). Thanks again for reading!

  2. When my young horse is “round”, I really feel he’s found his happy place. We’re trotting along and his tail swishes back and forth with his movement, his bum has that lovely rythmic side to side wiggle, I feel those hind legs coming right underneath him, and he’s comfortable with the bit. We don’t get this all the time yet, (the trainer gets it more often than I do) but we’re working on it .

  3. Hi, the training scale or pyramid of training can be found in many places, including Equine Canada Rider Level Manuals. I find it difficult to believe the USDF could copywright a scale that has been used by equestrians the world over for decades.

  4. Excellent explanation! I really appreciate your ability to define so many of the parts and pieces that we have all struggled with over the years. Love your blog!

  5. Pretty good explanation. I like it, however, this excerpted statement is illogical: “The hind legs reach further forward underneath the body, and the hind stride length approaches the same distance as the front legs.” The length of stride of the hind legs must always match the front, otherwise the number of strides behind would also be different from the front. Perhaps the author meant to say that the hind leg reaches forward and steps into the spot left by the ipsilateral (same side) front leg.