Yes, I know I just went cruising, but in this case I'm talking about a different kind: The Maddy Method :P (you can read more here). This kind of "cruising" involves maintaining continuity in your horse's gaits without constant bugging from the rider. The result is a naturally balanced and calm horse.
I loved this idea ever since Maddy introduced me to it and so I've been using some version of this exercise almost daily with Charlie and the other horses I ride. For those who aren't familiar, all you do is set your horse into a gait (walk, trot, canter, it doesn't matter) and once you get the pace you want you stop bugging. As my old coach used to say, "Sit chilly." Don't be a sack of potatoes but let the horse do his thing and don't get in his way. You don't even have to steer if you don't want to. If he starts getting slow, leg him up. If he starts snowballing and getting faster and faster, ask him to release his hindquarters and pivot on his forehand, effectively shutting down his engine (hind end), and send him out again at the pace you want. It's like a reset button, and it works great!
Although it's a particularly helpful exercise for the snowballers and speed demons, I've also noticed it helps horses who get nervous or throw their head up in the air. The reason, at least in my opinion, is because you give the horse a job to do (which they like) but you let them figure out the terms rather than "laying down the law" (which can sometimes overwhelm a young or sensitive horse). By leaving them alone when they are doing the right thing they are happy and you end up with a very soft and responsive horse. And they get a feel for what is "right." They ultimately teach themselves how to relax and go into this "zen" mode which is really awesome.
I've added to this concept by incorporating lazy looping serpentines and circles to help horses, like Charlie, get more bendy and supple (it's hard when you're that big!) and it's working great. There is no definite pattern, but through doing this Charlie is much more loose and relaxed, and more responsive as he waits for my next cue. He rides with his head lower and neck looser than he used to, uses his back more, and he stays easily between my aids (leg and hand). Yesterday I tried walk-to-canter transitions for the first time in weeks and where they once were non-existent we were able to get it on the first try with minimal effort.
I wish I had a video or photos of me working on this stuff but I rarely have anyone around to document. The best I can do is this clip Jan shot a couple of weeks ago showing some of Charlie's progress at the canter which is much more "zen" than it used to be. We even try a few flying changes but Charlie isn't so good at that yet. Now that his balance is better and he's cantering and counter cantering on cue, though, that's my next goal.