Dawn and I had a good, intense work session this morning. It was already getting hot and humid, but it wasn't scorching, so we were happy with that. And we got a blessed 2+ inches of rain last night, which was wonderful - even seeing clouds was wonderful as we've had innumerable very hot, very sunny, and very dry days for months now. Our drought is still very bad and we're way behind on annual rainfall, but every inch helps. Dawn and I did a lot of work on a loose rein. This is really useful for both of us - she has to balance and carry herself without leaning on my hands, and I have to help her stay quiet and relaxed by keeping my body very quiet and relaxed and also breathing regularly and deeply in rhythm with her strides. If I start to tighten up, even to the slightest degree, or don't breathe properly, she immediately gets tenser herself and speeds up and gets strung out - I can tell how well I'm doing by the degree of her relaxation and rhythm. Also, if I'm not breathing properly or I'm doing too much, I get out of breath - if I'm breathing normally, and not out of breath, when we're back at walk, then I'm doing something right.
That part wasn't too hard - with Dawn the harder part is taking up rein contact again after she's really been moving forward at trot and canter. She immediately wants to brace and lean and starts to rev up - unless I'm able to establish a dynamic soft contact at the point of resistance, which means I can't brace against her with my hands and body. If I get it right, she's able to soften while still really motoring along in forward. Having her not anticipate canter while we're trotting is also hard - she's ready to leap into canter and starts getting excited about the prospect - the only solution is to keep all thoughts of the canter, or the rhythm of canter, out of my mind and keep my focus firmly on the rhythm of trot and my breathing in time with that. Then, once she's softer, all I have to do is just start to think 1-2-3 and she steps into canter.
Riding Dawn is like having a finely tuned instant feedback machine - this is really true of all horses but it's easier to feel with Dawn because she's always hyperresponsive to the slightest change in anything - thought, breathing, energy - physical cues are almost never necessary with her once she learns something. This makes her a real challenge to ride well where we both achieve softness, but it also makes her a wonderful teacher for me at this stage in my riding journey.