I forgot to write: there were some very useful things that clicked for me in these lessons.
While focusing on not gripping with my thighs, I had unconsciously let them relax TOO much, except when using my knees to apply an aid. In these lessons, I was reminded that the thighs area a crucial extension of the seat. By engaging the muscles in the backs of the thighs (as opposed to gripping inwardly) I was able to significantly improve the stability of my lower leg, deliver my seat aids more effectively, and ride the motion better by stabilizing myself and absorbing some of the motion there. By thinking of pushing my knee down and back a bit, too, I was able to get my lower leg further back under me, which helped with... pretty much everything, actually.
I've always known my thighs were part of my seat but in my effort to disengage any tendency to grip, I stopped using them as the very effective tool they are. Glad to have had that click!!!
In my first lesson there, I was having a lot of trouble trying to get a solid contact on the horse. It was frustrating me, and the instructor telling me to loosen my reins and soften my contact was also frustrating me... It became apparent by the second lesson that I was misinterpreting her instructions, though. Just to prove to her and to myself that I could, though, I went around on a very loose rein for pretty much all of lesson 2. I used my seat and legs to ride and barely touched them and... it actually worked very well. I picked my rein contact up more solidly towards the end of the lesson, but that time on the loose rein was extremely helpful. I felt, after that, like I was riding the horse's body with my body, and that the reins where a helpful supplement to that. I think that, because M is so heavy in the contact, there are times when I emphasize the reins and get lazy with the rest of me. By the final lesson in North Bay, I had the contact I needed but was barely thinking about it. 95% of what I was doing was happening with the rest of me, and the contact was going with it rather than trying to direct everything from the front of the horse. Great feeling!
That fall I had:
It's not just me putting a positive spin on it when I say that I'm glad it happened. I had actually been wanting to fall for a while now, in a weird way -- mainly to get rid of the fear of it happening. Falling off had become a big deal in my head, and I knew that was a problem, but the only way to get past it was to have a fall. And this was just such a non-event of one. Which 95% of them are. It was such an important reminder that the "worst" that tends to happen is almost never that big a deal.
A few other nice things:
The feeling of my position improving as some of the rustiness from time off this winter went away.
Being told I had improved noticeably by the third lesson.
Being told I had improved dramatically by the fourth lesson!
Being told that one of my times through that final small course would have scored a solid 8 in a hunter ring.
Being told I'm actually quite good (things to tweak aside, of course) and just need the practice and confidence.
While I'm still unlikely to pursue jumping as my main "thing," it was really nice to have a positive experience and get some focused practice in on it on a calm and steady horse (that one spook aside!!).