First things first: BEST PONY EVER.
He was a little stuck in the warmup last night, didn't want to move out, and I could feel the right hind lagging. So we marched, alternating leg pressure to time with his hind legs, asking for nothing more than a teensy stretch and bend in front. He was still sluggish moving into the trot, and we finally had a discussion that led to a bit of a hand-gallop, and after that he was easier to work with.
Lots of changing bend in the trot, and he's really coming into that nicely, switching over smoothly instead of going flat and hollow for a few strides of don't-wanna. I think I've gotten the knack too of supporting with the outside leg while switching to a new inside leg to really clearly tell him what I need.
Canter was really our shining moment, though. Once I found a good 20m circle to work (jumps are set out in the course for Sunday already, a bit tough to navigate esp. when L. was packing up the leftovers in the truck and was a moving target to avoid), he came into my hands beautifully. Downhill, yes, but not nearly as heavy as he could've been, and amenable to at least the suggestion of lifting his withers. He's coming sooner and sooner after the transition, too; used to take several strides to re-organize, and now in the first or second after a head-flinging transition he'll settle in.
Part of the transition is my difficulty: I really, really need not to give in to the temptation to tip forward and "help" him into it, putting my outside leg too far back. It feels like it works, but it just works in the wrong way. Sitting reallllly up straight and back gives him no options but to add more power and straightness to the transition to make it work.
I was happy with my body (straight and following) but NOT my seat and only occasionally my legs. I was asking him for difficult enough self-carriage that I had to keep leglegleg, and while on the plus side he was responsive to that and trying his heart out, on the minus side I got my brain tricked into inching my legs up and up and digging heels in, my old bad habit, instead of wrapping them down and around and supporting that way. And when I really SHOVED my legs down, I lost my seat. It was really hard to get that balance just right.
He was going so well, so quickly that after 10 minutes or so of working the canter, I put him on a long-rein stretchy trot. He was powering around so beautifully, and so clearly not yet tired, that I thought...well...and sat back and asked for the canter on a long rein.
And he gave it to me.
He just balanced almost on the buckle, reaching his hind legs under him, not flinging his neck up, not hanging on to the reins, just lightly and perfectly there in my fingertips. And every time I just twitched my fingers and gave a half inch, he took it eagerly, and oh, that canter - it probably didn't look like much, but I could feel, deep down inside it, a beautiful smooth rocking. And he was keeping it happily and easily, with only a little leg, and all of a sudden it was easy to sit, and my legs were long, and I had this almost-scary moment where I thought that this must be why people like hunter-under-saddle.
Didn't quite nail the down transition, but we made up for it in the change of bend and picking up the canter again going the other way: he came through instead of up, and was if anything even lighter and smoother. It was just so much FUN. We went around the ring just maybe twice, with a few 20m circles, and then he was done. He was so pleased with himself, and I couldn't have been happier. We went for a very short walk out back, he drank half the stream dry, and got a good rubdown and many many peppermints.
So, in summary? Best. Pony. Ever.
(I almost want to push the show forward just one week - look what we're working on, look what we could bring next week! - but that's part of the point of a dressage show, isn't it? A moment in time, and then you get another snapshot a few months later, and you compare them and are blown away. So the temptation to put it off until you can really nail it is kind of avoiding the whole lesson. But still, damn, for just a little longer...!)