Our evening dressage lesson this week brought an aha! moment: encouraging a downwards stretch before asking for *any* gait transition.
In lessons we have asked Hemie to stretch down while in the trot before asking for the
upward transition to the canter, but for some reason I never asked for this in the other gait transitions, upwards or downwards. This past lesson, Laurie had me ask for stretch before every transition - including downwards from canter to trot, which is when the light bulb turned on. It resulted in a lovely floaty and uphill canter with his back way up while his his head stretched down.
This is definitely related to my increasing ability to maintain a connection at all times. The key has been to stop thinking of contact as all-or-nothing, of either having it or not having it. Rather, the idea is always having it but to differing degrees - such as light, medium, or heavy. But more like having a long scale that ranges from 1/2 lb of pressure to arms-falling-off-pressure.
We have been working on Hemie's throughness: coming forward into the bit and maintaining a good contact while not backing off impulsion-wise. Once we have a good forward feeling and are well connected to the outside rein, we ask for him to stretch down and offer some shape and lift his back. As Hemie
gains better control and body coordination he has been more and more
able to stretch his head and lift his back on top of everything else
(steering and keeping body straight and such). He loves to lift his back so this has actually been improving quite dramatically lately.
Images from article at US Eventing: