Originally Posted by Equestriun
If you use the martingale correctly it by no means is a "cover up". It can teach your horse where to position his/her head correctly and keeps them from raising it too high or tugging.
Good riding and keeping a correct contact do the exact same thing, and martingales are illegal in many show rings, can get caught on things and don't know when to release if the horse is about to flip over. Three pros for riding without gadgets.
I agree with doing a lot of transitions, and I disagree with what many people have said about fixing your contact issues. Your horse doesn't know how to keep a contact, meaning you have to teach her. This is not accomplished by pulling, throwing the contact away, etc. It is accomplished by sitting in your center and not allowing her to pull you out of it and staying steady no matter what. You need to keep your hand and forearms soft and feeling never pulling and your upper arm needs to stay a part of your upper body, meaning that it is "attached" and doesn't move anywhere your body doesn't. From there, rest your hands on the withers so all temptation to pull is completely gone and adjust your reins so they are just barely taught, not tight and never looping. Then ride the horse in a good active rhythm. Don't pump or push with the body and don't pull with the hands. Leg means go, end of story. A light tap with a dressage whip should be all you need to enforce this. It is preferable to use a whip that is long enough so you don't have to disrupt the contact that you are trying to create by letting go of the reins to tap behind the leg. And unless you are handy with spurs and can stay in your center without moving while using them they are going to cause more harm than good.
Once you get the horse forward in a correct active rhythm then she should begin to stretch into the contact on the conditions that you never pull, don't allow her to pull your body out of center or the reins from your hands and keep her in her active rhythm no matter what gait or how fast or slow you go. In your lengthen and shorten stride the rhythm of the horse should be no different. When you are in trot there is one rhythm that can have a metronome fit to it and you can shorten and lengthen the stride, same in canter, same in the walk. Having an active marching walk is so often overlooked. This is achieved by you never pulling and riding to the contact and will develop her stretch to the contact.