... i'm just looking for some ideas of what YOU do when you ride alone? ... but are there things anyone/any horse can do? Should I just focus on lots of bending/transitions? Any excersises anyone can recommend?? ...
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As for exercises and what I work on here goes:
In warmup I strive for forward with rhythm first, bending second.
1.) For forward a 20 meter circle where on 1/2 the circle you're riding a lengthened (extended) trot, second 1/2 of circle you're riding a working or collected trot. On young/green horses I like to sing "Jingle bells" so I can see if horse maintains a nice steady rhythm. Idea is a steady rhythm in a relaxed manner.
2.) Then I add in bending to help establish more relaxation and a connection between my inside leg and outside rein. I do that when I ride a 3 loop serpentine(s) to start, 6 loop serpentines once bending has been established. Once we have a steady rhythm in a relaxed manner and have established a good connection I work again on forward but ask for more "sit".
3.) To have good impulsion means my Half Halts (HH's) MUST work. So I start with a trot to Halt transition - keeping BOTH legs on the horses side, pressing down equally with BOTH stirrups, and asking horse to step his hind legs together directly underneath his hips - stepping into a square halt. Goal is trot to halt with ZERO walk steps. It helps to have either a spotter or a mirror (I use shadows) to judge the squareness of the halt. Hind legs together and underneath the horses hips is the MOST important. You can easily fix the front legs (shoulders) but fixing the hind legs takes more effort and many times the trot halt must be repeated MANY times to get it correctly. Once you can repeat trot halt correctly then ask for halt, and as horse steps beneath itself and start to sit for halt, soften your ELBOWS and allow then to come forward about 1/2 inch while at the same time you stop pressing down on stirrups and tilt your pelvis (hips) forward and push with hips so horse KEEPS trotting. That is a half Halt - horse was starting to halt, you changed your mind and told him "trot on", and he did. The HH helps the horse start to sit (start of collection), rebalances them, and helps if a horse is trying to fall on it's forehand and/or run.
A great impulsion exercise is as you ride around the rail of the dressage arena (or in a field) you do either a HH or a full halt (SQUARE) at every letter. As horse starts to anticipate add things like HH to 10 meter circle (1/2 the arena width) or 1/2 a 10 meter circle and back to the rail in the opposite direction.
Once you can do all that well and properly you'll progress up the levels MUCH faster than someone trying to teach their horse the "tricks".