This is just one of those Sundays, it is raining so I can't ride, but I can't complain as we are in a drought and we need every drop of rain. The horses are going to adore the fresh new growth in their pastures and we will have a whole week with no below freezing temperatures. Ah, spring.
Wednesday, when I got to the stable Debbie was trying to finish a barn chore and she asked me to start grooming Mia. Since Mia had her hooves trimmed last week I figured that I would have enough energy, both grooming and trimming the toes down get me tired. I usually can't do both. I curried Mia well, did my anti-fungal slicker tool grooming, and went over Mia's head thoroughly with a worn down plastic toothed curry. Mia has the itchiest head of any horse I've handled, she even likes me to do both the outside and inside of her ears. I was sort of tired by the time I mounted her. I had changed to the Wellep bit so Mia was pretty content as we walked around the ring with me going back and forth between light contact and a sligtly sagging rein. Same with the trot, though the contact was nowhere as good, it is difficult to get Mia to keep contact at a trot without inverting her neck, but at least she was trotting sound. After a few minutes of this I told Debbie that I felt something in Mia's back, nothing big, just a little feeling of blocked energy on the right side around a vertebrae back from where my seat bones were in the saddle. After some more trotting that feeling went away and I forgot about it.
I was doing pretty well, I even managed to trot around the ring twice three times. After around 20 minutes Debbie started talking about doing more canter work, saying that on the right lead Mia went real slow and on the left lead Mia would go faster. Since I no longer felt peppy I tried the right lead first with no success, the impulse wasn't there (remember Mia is around 30 and spavined.) So we went back to the walk until she stretched herself out, turned around, established a trot with some impulse, and I asked for a canter again, this time on the left lead. Mia started shaking her head and neck like she does when she feels restricted, and, trying to keep her head pointing sort of foreward I repeated my leg aid. No canter, more head shaking. Then the third time I managed to give my leg aid while Mia's head was pointing forward and quiet and Mia gave me a surprise. A big surprise.
I've cantered Mia before a little bit. Mia's canter is sprawling, uneven, and not very steady. Mia needs a lot of good work at the canter so she can learn to canter united under a rider. THAT is what I expected when I gave the canter aids, what I got is something I had never ridden before. I've ridden pre-rear bouncing (never had a horse rear, though), kicking, crow-hopping, and bucking. Mia did none of that. Mia rocked between my legs, I could tell that her feet were landing according to her inside lead, then there was a spring from her hind legs, a little suspension, a soft landing on her fore legs, then a spring from her front legs back to her hind legs. Mia was also keeping herself straight, going forward just about a foot each stride, and though I was in two-point Mia shifted my center of gravity back an inch or two. It felt almost like a buck divided into three segments. Debbie counted out 5 strides, told me to go back to the trot, and Mia promptly and lightly obeyed my hand aids. Then Debbie told me that it looked like Mia was almost cantering in place, that she had the proper canter footfall for her inside lead and that she had never seen anything like it. After that I sent Mia out in a good, impulsive trot until she started stretching out, and we ended the lesson.
After I got home and rested for several hours I started thinking about Mia's new canter depart and Debbie's description. I remembered about a baroque dressage movement I had read about and watched some videos of, a movement called the TERRE-A-TERRE. Markham mentions it several times, and de la Guerniere describes it, though both of them had the horse doing it while doing a turn on the hindquarters. I dove into my books and none of them described this movement going forward, but some of the videos did show it going forward. It looks weird, like the horse is trying to imitate the movement of a rocking horse. Somehow either I had given Mia aids to induce this movement or Mia had given me the movement instead of a canter because her body was not up to moving out in a regular canter. I decided I must have been to harsh with my hands and I decided to use my old Jumping cavesson bridle the next time I rode her.
So on Friday I did not use a bit. Mia got scared in the barn when a water hose imitated a hissing snake (a deep fear of hers) but she settled down outside after a few times around the ring at a walk. Then I started trotting Mia around on a sagging rein, with brief moments of contact to steady her gait, and Mia started shaking her head again, usually when the rein was sagging. Well, maybe my hands weren't too harsh Wednesday when I rode with a bit. Maybe Mia has a deep kink in her neck, as well as what I felt in her back Wednesday. Even so it will be a while before I go back to using a bit on her, until we get the neck issue resolved there is no way that Mia will be able to give me good, steady contact no matter how good my hands are. If Mia is not worried about a bit maybe she will relax her neck better, and in the long run we will progress more rapidly than if I insist on having my way. So I will be diving back into my library to educate myself on what I can do on the ground to improve her neck situation. She has a bite mark on her shoulder, maybe she strained something when she was trying to get away from the attacking mare in the pasture.
From the perspective of a Forward Seat rider that canter depart sucked. I was obviously doing something WRONG, either with my hands or by not catching something wrong in Mia's body. I hope I never get a movement like that again. I know my limitations, and I have no business riding a terre-a-terre, that movement belongs with the collected movements, not with the free striding and efficient FS gaits.
It WAS an interesting movement, though, and Debbie said I rode it well.
Have a great ride.