Replying to my own thread again today... I've had some new horse experiences to mull over. Sorry that these thoughts are a little bit all over the place!
I had a wonderful opportunity to interact with some working cow horses. They are quite a different feel then the horses at my barn! They were very responsive to seat cues (vs lower leg cues), and not at all spooky. Very fun to watch them interact as a group too. It was illuminating to ride a couple of horses trained and doing such a different "job". I had the best time with the ones that were very eager to go, that would "ask" if it was time to GO FAST yet.
There was a time where I was on my own for a few minutes, and my horse didn't like being left alone (his breathing sped up and I felt him get tense). I tried to keep his attention on me rather than looking for his buddy (rein wiggle, ask to move forward), kept him no faster than a walk, and took deep breaths to keep myself calm, spoke to him in a calm voice, and he relaxed a bit (breathing slowed back down, and a little less tense) but he still wasn't as calm as I'd've liked. Any advice on handling that sort of situation?
I also learned what a really good seat looks like at a trot and canter (or "lope" I should say). Very eye opening as to how far I have to go! I was trying to practice sitting the trot, but when I got too bouncy I'd resume posting. Unfortunately the horses were extremely sharp, and quickly figured out that a more lively trot got me off to stay off their backs, oops.
Something I've started to notice is that for each additional time I ride a given horse, the ride goes better than the last time I rode that same horse. I suppose each rider must feel different (and particularly a newer rider with muddier "asks").
I've also observed the "unblinking one eye stare" (one eye then then other) a couple more times, and I'm starting to think it's the horse trying to figure me out or get a thorough look at me? I see it the first time I meet a horse, but not so much on subsequent times.
Last thought it about lunging (in a round pen, no line). I feel super awkward, it's a lot to keep track of at once. Where I am with respect to the horse, what the horse is doing, keeping rotating (dizzy!), what signal is my body language saying, not stepping on the whip end, and actually wielding the thing with confidence instead of a half-hearted wiggle. There's a lot to learn...