It's been a marvelous few days. Today was the second day in a row that I've ridden Dawn and the third in a row that I've ridden Red and Pie - that's 8 rides, which is a big improvement over recent days. All three horses have been absolutely splendid.
I rode Dawn early this morning - it was snowing hard when I got to the barn and I was the only one there, which is just how I like it in the morning. We had what was probably one of our best rides ever, in the 4+ years we've been together. She was delightfully forward, and responsive and soft as can be. We concluded with some shortening/lengthening work at trot - my only change was to slightly engage my core for shortening and put the feel of my shortening "my" trot into my own mind and body - and Dawn just lifted up under me and rounded and engaged, and it was just marvelous. I had a whisper of contact on the reins, but there was no pressure, and I used no leg or seat aids. (Anybody, dressage "master" or not, who says that you have to push/drive the horse into a resisting contact in order to get self carriage is just talking hooie, in my book - horses in the pasture are capable of self carriage with no rider at all, and all you do when you push/resist is create braces from both ends).
Red and I have been working on something I call "trot to the spot". It's really about changing what I do, so that he doesn't feel the need to brace and can make excellent transitions. Variations of this exercise can be used for all sorts of purposes.
The basics are this. I pick out a point in the arena - a dirt spot on the wall, a barrel, a cone, a door, the mounting block, it doesn't matter. Then I "trot to the spot". This means that I keep my focus up and out - on the spot we're heading towards - this means I have intent, and don't drive the energy down by looking down or at his head. And here's the key - it's a bit hard to describe but it works amazingly well (again, for all sorts of purposes) - don't say "trot" verbally or in your mind (horses don't speak human), just, in your own mind, take yourself from walk to trot - feel it in your body and mind - but without doing anything physical at all. Horses are incredibly sensitive and can connect with this feel - that's what connection and feel are.
When I do this with Red, his transitions are flawless - the bracing is pretty much entirely gone, since he can join in my feel and do what needs to be done so we can "trot to the spot". We also did a lot of trot/walk a few steps/trot transitions, including a bunch on the long sides (which have been a problem for him), as well as some shortening/lengthening at the trot, again just off my putting the feel into myself and asking him to join in. And then, when we were halted on a loose rein, all I had to do to get backing was to barely put my hand on the reins - there was no contact at all, just the slightest lift of the loose rein, and he would softly back.
Pie's trot work today was wonderful, too - but again, I had to ride properly, with good posture and focus, and offer him the feel I wanted.
Just marvelous . . . there's nothing that can beat a day like this. Tomorrow we have a day of rest.