Mia had a really good ride for about 3/4 of our session Monday, though the struggle bus showed up when we tried to canter. Our ride consisted of some serious dressage, let's go slow, let's have power, let's have balance, let's have the willingness to go forward and let's NOT pull my arms out. This was mostly accomplished by the end. We started out with some trotting and it actually went quite well. Mia wasn't stiff through her shoulder and was soft through her poll, something we fight with. I rode most of the Novice A dressage test when I asked her for a canter. And the wheels fell off the bus.
The canter has been getting progressively worse since our last show, I have been asking her to collect more and to keep her head down more and the combination of those two is throwing Miss Mia into a tizzy. I quickly abandoned the "ride a quick dressage test" to a "let's fix this canter issue". She does not want to keep the lead in the hind, she wants to swap and then swap back. I have done some canter/gallop conditioning sets but this is obviously not fixing the issue. Still not 100% sure if this is a strength or disobedience issue, I have tried to approach it from both sides without resolution so far. So I decided we were going to just try again.
I started asking for walk/canter/walk transitions. Something that is hard because I haven't really schooled them much, but there is no time like the present! Mia started leaping into the canter but I let her and immediately stopped her within 2-3 strides. Eventually Mia stopped the leaping and was stepping into the canter and after 5-6 strides, I was pulling her to a stop. This actually went pretty well so I figured why not canter longer! *sigh*
When we started cantering longer, Mia got stronger and pulled harder. A lot fricken harder. Lots of transitions and a few pulling matches later, I was able to get Mia to actually sit on her butt and push into the canter and I actually felt her withers be up. Win! This is pretty big for her, and is where we were when we stopped dressage lessons last year (so long ago...). So we changed directions and went to the right. The right is way worse, it has always been her worst side.
This direction had even more pulling and antics thrown in, Mia was much more resistant to sit and push but we got it in the end. My hands hurt, my finger was reinjured and Mia was not thrilled, but we got it done. After I hosed her off and turned her out, Mia wouldn't even come back to me when I called her to give her more treats. I think it is safe to say she was not happy with me.
I rode again yesterday with a similar plan but with the change of a bridle. I found my copper mouth pelham in my tack trunk and put it on a bridle with a couple sets of reins. Now if she pulls so hard to hurt my hands, I have a plan B to try to stop the behavior by using the curb rein. It was amusing, we walked to the arena and she was 3/4 asleep. I picked up on the curb rein to let her know it existed and Mia's eyes flew open, man was she surprised! I activated the rein a few times when I first got on and Mia got her ducks in a row really quickly, things are looking up!
I only trotted a total of about 5 minutes before tackling the canter as it was the main agenda of the ride and we started with the right lead first since it was the harder direction. The ride was awesome, Mia really tried this time and didn't have a pulling contest with me a single time. I was very careful to not activate the curb rein, riding with just the snaffle rein, and I was able to get Mia to sit and lift her withers each direction! She can't do it for more than 3-4 strides before she gets strung out, but 3-4 strides of serious weight shifting is a step in the right direction. The fact that I didn't need the curb made it even better.
Since Mia was SO good, I kept the ride short at about 25 minutes and let her do some canter/gallop work on the trails. For this, I wanted to be able to use the curb rein and it worked SO well. Each time Mia plowed forward and yanked the snaffle rein out of my hands, I activated the curb rein and she immediately rebalanced and started rating herself. So much win!! I am going to ride in this setup for a while, if nothing else I am going to use it as a "reboot" while we develop some new/better habits but I am so happy with her behavior. If we can get this kind of work in a show ring... you never know. Maybe we may break the 30 point mark in dressage!