Duration, quality, neck reining
His bending on the circle has improved - though I am personally aware he still needs to work on it.
Neck Reining - I started doing this because I realized in some situations, like trail, where you need to open a gate, he was completely DERP about neck reining and I felt like I was having to haul his head around. Not nice. Hanna said to check out the video on counter flexions as that is how she taught neck reining. My approach was to lay the rein on his neck and if he didn't respond, guide him with the leading rein. Hanna said either approach was great but to make sure to open the leading hand, don't just cross the one hand over, this may help. Either way, he was doing well with it.
Riding with more body and legs: I've been trying harder to use less hand and more body/leg. Aslan doesn't always respond so I was getting frustrated. Hanna reminded me that some horses listen better to body cues than others. Just keep practicing, though he may never be as responsive to the body as some horses are. She even went back and taught her horse bridle-less riding using the starting course and a neck rope. Definitely less reins in that and more body! So this is definitely something we could try.
Duration and quality - I've been working on teaching Aslan to go longer without treats so he doesn't freak out at the show. But I was worried he would give up or get frustrated. Hanna said that these are actually separate items to teach, so don't get frustrated if when asking for duration, his quality slides. Try to work both at different times and eventually both will come.
Stretching - duration may work well here. Keep asking, even if you don't feel it or it feels like he speeds up. Focus on feeling for his shoulders lifting, and a reach/stretch out. If it just feels like he is plowing along, ask for head up, then ask him to stretch again. Maybe even record it, stop and watch and see if that is what you got.
Increasing the criteria - it's a good idea to always increase the criteria, but occasionally fall back and reward old stuff (intermittent reinforcement). Shawna is good at this, it looks helter skelter but she keeps asking for more and more, just in small increments.
For the show:
Be aware of the moment when his fear starts; try to do something right away. Don't let him go on and on. Start asking him to do stuff like flexion or bends. Get him connected again.
And keep in mind, I can treat him during the show if I have to, usually there are no rules against it! And at the lower levels they don't usually dock you for talking to your horse.
Other things to try: I can also give him a big treat before going in, use the word good boy, practice good boy with duration at home, (work on duration in general as part of the program anyway), other types of reinforcement including scratches, or just reinforce really hard tries if he has difficulty with something.
Squaring up - Ask him to lift his head and back as if you were asking for a tummy lift. Some horses will just naturally square up during this exercise. You can play with it.
If not, ask for a tiny half step back, just using your body language and rope to encourage a step back. (lift the head ask for a little step).
Yes you can use the poke the legs method; encourage half steps back and try the front feet first as they are easier.
Targeting a smaller and smaller item on the ground for each foot also works.