I feel like Tris and I have finally settled back into a working rhythm. We're carrying through from a full warmup on to quality work, raising the bar each time. We work a little longer, a little harder, and there are small quality improvements even in our base work. He's getting a titch more forward, I'm coordinating my half-halts slightly better. Even with my job expanding through all areas of my life (3 hours of work on a Sunday night, yay) I'm finally able to capitalize on the proximity of the barn and spend long chunks of time with him each day.
One problem I haven't entirely solved yet, and it's really been an ongoing problem with us from day 1. When do I push him through and when do I back off? I am always keenly aware that he is not a horse who thrives on work; he's not a Thoroughbred who will pace the stalls unless he is ridden hard each day. Nor does he especially enjoy the challenge of dressage. I feel like I start with a shallower reserve of good will and cooperation than many other riders. And that's okay! I adore him, we work together, and he is so many other wonderful things.
However. After I've strung together three, four, five intensive rides in a row I start to worry about diminishing returns. I skip a day, or I go out and just hack him for 20 minutes. Or in the middle of a ride I feel like he's done well, and I don't want to burn him out, so I cut it shorter than I'd planned. Then I spend the next day castigating myself - how can I expect to get anywhere if I slack off like that? Couldn't I just plan better, or ride better so I don't frustrate him so much, and how will I ever measure up to what I want and hope for if we keep crawling along at this snail's pace?
I'm a high drive person, but I don't have a high drive horse. Besides and beyond that, horses are not like video games, which you can play endlessly and repetitively until you've mastered a skill. They're not books, which are happiest and best when you bury yourselves in them for unmoving hours.
Somewhere in here there's a balance. There's a combination of intensive work, hacking for fitness and strength, and plain old recovery time, physical and mental, that will give us the gestalt we need. I just wish I could find it instead of feeling I'm constantly playing pinball with it.