I am not sure where this certainty has come from, but it seems as though I just woke up one day and thought, my horse needs to lighten up his front end. I think I might have started feeling it when we were schooling the leg yields. Speedy can move pretty freely off my left leg, but off my right, he really struggles.
To the left, he can't/won't get his left shoulder straight and he falls onto it. It occurred to me that if I could get his shoulder in line with his hind end (better straightness), he might be able to pick up his shoulder with more ease. That's when I realized that would require him to carry more weight behind.
When I shortened his frame, I also realized that he needs to go more slowly in order to balance himself; he doesn't have the strength to carry more weight with a bigger stride ... yet. That's the big AHA that I've had, but it's been a theoretical epiphany and not one of feeling. I like the latter better.
When I went back and read the purpose of the First Level tests, I saw this: ... in addition to the requirements of Training Level, [the horse] has developed the thrust to achieve improved balance and throughness ..." And there it is - thrust. That's what Speedy and I have been working toward. I don't know if I am schooling him correctly, but JL said that first we get him on his butt working, and as he develops strength, I can ask for a longer stride.
To achieve this, I chant over and over slow motion. At both the trot and canter, I have my reins much shorter than I would for a Training Level frame, and I am using a TON of half halts with a boat load of leg to keep him moving forward without throwing him away.
Trotting the poles has really helped me feel that I like to throw away my reins. To help me feel it, JL had me set up my poles three feet apart, I am now using three in succession. As we approach the poles, I am to keep Speedy straight and most importantly, I have to help him keep the rhythm; he wants to speed up and dive over the poles.
When I keep him straight and rhythmic, and when I don't push my hands forward, he has to really lift and lengthen to clear the poles without tapping them. It usually takes him two or three passes before we get it right, but when we do, even he knows he's done it right.
I read a great article in the December 2014 issue of Dressage Today by Laura Graves (with Beth Baumert). Laura compared connection to a shape that's suitable for the work the horse is doing. For horses at Training and First Level, the shape is more like an oval. At Third and Fourth level, Laura describes the shape as a circle. And for horses working really well, the circle might become a box because the motion is crisp and clean.
This visual image has really helped me see that a longer frame is suitable for a lower level horse, but as Speedy bears more weight on his hind end, the oval will compress into a boxier shape like a circle or square (someday).
So right now, I feel like we're regressing, but I am trying to remember that what I am asking for is very difficult. Speedy isn't really built super uphill. He's built for covering the ground going forward with a long stride. You can see it in this photo.