Our hobby is expensive and time consuming, do what you enjoy.
This exactly! My answer is very based upon my personality and desire to focus on riding as a way of keeping my sanity. Your priorities are different, and it is too expensive and time consuming to base your life on my or anyone else’s priorities! I will share a couple examples, though.
My gelding is…an a-hole. We decided at first level, forget it, his aerial acts were going to get someone else injured at a show. He had various physical issues we had to resolve which led to that nuttiness, but regardless of that attempting to show him was not fun, and his violent bucking had a tendency to give me whiplash - and risk the safety of others because it can set off other horses.
So, I focused on learning all I could about correct dressage riding, knowing it would help later. Also, when I had my trainer start my then youngster, we both knew she could not do anything as bad as what I rode through with my gelding, so I had a certain amount of confidence on a greenbean.
We kept working on correct dressage work with him, and in his case that was almost always working on suppleness and specifically the lengthening of the long muscles along his spine, which tended to get very tight. Lateral work really helped loosen up those muscles. It also developed his sitting ability and his power.
By the time we started stepping back his work due to his hooves just not holding up to the power he had developed anymore, he rode through all the I-1 except changes (see: goes airborne, changes often encourage that), with excellent full pirouettes and GP steep half passes. His half steps were pretty easy to get, and I could ask for a but of passage, plus he had by far the best extended trot on the property. That just came from consistently working and developing him to continue always working on greater suppleness and honesty in the connection. One of the keys for any progress was having an active and energetic walk. It set the tone for the rest of the work if he was in front of my leg at the walk. So I’d definitely work on demanding more energy in the walk, because that makes trail rides or other work more fun, too, but agree it should not cause a lateral walk.
A friend has a mare who was born with one hind cannon bone significantly shorter than the other. Vets weren’t sure she would ever be rideable, so my friend figured if she could do training level it was a bonus. She did ok under saddle, so they worked at getting her straight enough for training. Then they started adjusting gaits, always working on straightness, and she was suddenly ready for first. They worked on lateral work to build the muscles to support the straightness they asked out of her crooked body, and suddenly she was ready for second. Reserve state champion (first under one judge) for third level. Now she’s schooling PSG and I-1 work, and half steps and pirouettes have really helped strengthen her topline to support her remaining straight. Every year that dressage work helps make the work easier for her. That has been slower progress for her than it would have been for a more evenly built horse, but I believe the work is why she is in her middle teens and still sound. Simply working on maintaining basics and improving her capability all the time has ended up making her a nearly ready to show FEI horse.
So I’d keep working on the basics, and work on improving all the time. Do fun things you want to do, too. And even if you’re not giving up everything else in your life to chase a goal, just let your horse get where your horse gets. I wouldn’t show if I disliked it as much as you seem to, but I’d still want to keep improving as a rider. And the lessons we learn regardless of one horse’s long term future helps us on every subsequent horse.