Our warmup currently consists of a lot of walk work, getting him moving both his shoulders and haunches away from my leg, and getting him to halt off my seat. We often spend 20-30 minutes just walking, trying to get him to listen to my leg and seat to a point where trot work can be productive. We're working on ways to make our warmup more productive, but Trainer keeps telling me that some horses require 2 hours to warm up and not to be impatient. Eeek!
Eventually we start with the trot. We stay on a 20 meter circle, and work on a few steps of trot, transition to walk. Over and over again. If he stays balanced and not rushy, he can trot a few more steps. The moment I feel him try to speed up, take the bit, etc, that's the moment I ask for the downward transition. The goal is to get him balanced and listening to my seat, so that I can just THINK downward transition and he'll balance back. This is the critical part - I CANNOT pull on him. He's got to be listening to my seat, and the hands/reins are just there for steering. If I start pulling at this stage, he'll just get heavier and heavier as the ride goes on, and ignores my seat more and more.
Usually during this stage, he decides to get with the program and really go to work. For the next 10-15 minutes, we work on keeping him on my seat aids, not pulling on the reins, keeping him on my leg aids (or rather, off my right leg lol!), and not pulling on the reins. If I've done it all right, we end up with him being really up into the bridle, balanced, and suuuuper flexy-bendy. This is where we do our best work - we can work on leg yields, shoulder in, and baby lengthenings. Of course, if I start pulling, I can undo all the work we've done to this point in a matter of minutes. It's a good incentive to keep my hands still!
If we haven't fallen apart yet, we move on to canter. In our last lesson, we did a TON of trot-canter-trot-canter transitions on a circle. It's easy for him to get flat and rushy at the canter, so this really helped us both work on staying balanced because everything came up so quickly. It felt awful and I was exhausted by the end, but looking at the video, it's not as bad as it felt.
I was really happy we had schooled all the canter transitions in the lesson (despite my legs feeling like Jello after), because at the show, Paddy broke to trot in the middle of a canter circle. No biggie, we quickly reorganized and got back to it.
I'm starting to collect so many little nuggets of riding wisdom in these lessons that I've started a new page, "Dressage Wisdom," to track them all. What are the best dressage tips you've gotten?