How to Collect a Horse:
The collecting process is applying finger pressure to the reins, in a round circular motion, which will round the horse's neck and lift the horse's shoulder, while at the same time using your legs and seat to lift the horse's back and lower the horse's hip. This mental and physical change in design takes years of development and should never be rushed.
The first stage of collection is to lower your hands and create downward pressure to the bit while using your legs to lift the horse's belly. This lifts the back of the horse and lowers the head and neck into a position of power like a swimmer keeping his head in the water to engage his shoulder and back muscles, creating a more powerful swim stroke. This can be seen in a plow-horse or carriage horse pulling against the yoke; and in Dressage, this is called moving long and low. If this position is overused the gaited horse will become unanimated and shuffle keeping his leg movement very close to the ground.
The second stage of collection is to draw the rider's hands softly back a few inches toward his belly creating pressure between the horse's mouth and the fork or crotch of the rider's seat while applying supportive leg pressure. This will create compression which will rotate the horse's head inward drawing his chin more toward his chest which will arch his neck and also further round his back which will rotate his hip downward into a position of balanced supportive power. This is a driving seat but does not require the rider to lean backward which would create an unbalanced position. This engages the horse's hip into a position of power and balance like a baseball player standing in the outfield in a squatted position so he can be ready to immediately move quickly in any direction. The rider's legs are supporting this movement holding the horse's belly in the lifted position found in stage one of collection but the drive creating the roundness is coming from the rider's seat. The pressure applied to the bit should be felt equally in the rider's seat and directly cause a rotating feeling in the hip of the horse. In an extreme example this can be seen in the movement called the levade. If the horse is held forcefully in this position while moving in gait he will become choppy and stiff and he will become hard in the mouth. The horse will eventually hesitate in the front leg action in a marching step and completely loose all flow of motion.
The third stage of collection is to slightly lift the rein to draw the horse's chest up and create animation while supporting the horse's back and hip placement with gentle pressure from the rider's seat and legs. Think of a military recruit learning to stand at attention, the chest is lifted to create a position of readiness but the recruit's legs are slightly flexed to create balance. The horse's nose is still drawn inward as in the second stage of collection but has now been slightly lifted to draw the horse's neck and chest upward. The upward lifting action of the horse's chest opens the angles of the shoulder and elbow to allow more animation. A small increase of leg and seat pressure may help the horse to not loose his hip position that was developed during the first two stages of collection. Use enough pressure to create balance without binding the horse up with too much force. If this position is held too long the horse will become foldy and loose his hip engagement, and he will eventually drop his back creating a very hollow inverted racky look.
The forth and last stage of collection is to release the rein slightly forward to create reach and stride. Think of a person speed walking, they are relaxed and balanced but they are taking very long strides. Their speed has slightly increased but only because of the stride, not the tempo of their leg movement. As the horse reaches for the bit his front and rear legs will follow into a longer movement. The leg and seat pressure is released to a soft resting pressure yet still having slight contact to maintain the horse's form and balance. All of this release in pressure should be a reward for holding this much more physically difficult position that has been developed through the four stages of collection. You have developed power, balance and animation and you are releasing it to go forward. The horse should not go faster because he is balanced, but instead the horse has become more athletic in his new position and will stride and reach farther while keeping the same tempo of leg movement. At some point the horse will become lazy in this position and he will get heavy on the bit and loose his form which creates the need for the half-halt.
The Half-halt is a small and light reminder using the second, third and forth stage of collection's cues. As a reminder, draw the horse's nose inward while feeling the pressure in your seat, lift the head and chest while supporting the back and hip roundness with your leg cues and re-release to a soft rewarding pressure after the horse has re-submitted to his correct form. All of the hand and finger movements are slight. There is no need for large motion and over dramatic movement. There is only an inch or two of movement necessary during any of the stages of collection. Be subtle yet insistent and the horse will comply much faster.
Think of the four stages of collection as a frame or boundary. The horse is being shaped to fit in this boundary. Stage one is to lower the horse into a working position to push, so if your horse's head is too high use the stage one cues to lower his head back into the frame of balance. Stage two is to compress the horse, so if your horse is strung out use the cues in stage one and then stage two and bring him back into the frame of collection. Stage three is to animate the horse while maintaining the power found in the first two stages. To animate, it is still necessary to apply the first two stages in order before moving forward to the third stage and fitting the horse into this new boundary. Lastly, stage four is a release to create reach and stride but the horse must remain within the frame or shape of collection.
The half-halt is a resistance to loosing this design, it is not a jerk, it is the application of soft reminding pressure to re-adjust to the correct boundary of proper collection. This pressure will be applied as necessary to the offending part of the horse by using rein, seat and leg pressure. You push with your legs and seat and you resist with your fingers and hands. The hands stop forward movement as your legs lifts the horse's back by raising his belly and your seat presses the horse's hip down to support his movement and create balance. Only then will your hands slightly lift the shoulder and slowly release the pressure as a reward. Feel for the horse's adjustment in your seat, it is a tipping backward of the whole horse and then release the pressure to allow the horse to move forward and relax his tension.
When applying all the stages of collection or using the half-halt it is necessary to relax and be calm. The horse is learning without speaking our language so be patient. There are months and years of learning involved in developing collection. Most horses are ruined because this process is rushed. The shortest time it should take to develop all four stages of collection properly is three years but if you take the time to develop proper muscling and mental skills you will have a fun light animated powerful horse. This is the type of horse that people admire and this is the horse that will succeed.