"Is she in pain? Am I hurting her?"
"If she has an ulcer, her tummy might hurt a little bit. But she's eating and drinking, not losing any weight and she was fine at the walk. She can work just fine. She just doesn't want to. And if you let her convince you of that now, you're gonna have this battle again."
I sighed and slumped in the saddle. One of the hardest things in riding and in life and with anxiety is when you go backwards. And you will go backwards. It's not me, it's just how it goes. You go forward and then you slide backwards. The trick is to not let it defeat you. So, I straightened up and pushed her on. When she sassed me, I just kept my leg on and kept riding, focusing on pretending I was holding the towel so that my arms stayed still and light.
Into the trot we went. And then we had lots and lots of moments of gorgeous, back lifting, soft trotting. We even had a few steps of shoulder in that weren't slug slow or completely crooked.
So, we moved on to cantering. Ugh. Ick. Bleck. Was that two steps forward and nine steps back? Cause that's what it felt like. She was cranky and fussy and angry. This time, when she threw a fit, we would bring her back to trot and push her forward. If she wasn't going to canter, then she was going to trot and work hard.
We got a few circles of canter, but she kept quitting and dropping her head and threatening to buck so we did more circles of forward trot. Our trot work was pretty spectacular by that time, with Tessa really pushing forward and into contact.
I was worried about her canter transitions and how far backwards we slid, but Linda said not to worry about it. She pointed out that I now have a wholly different standard for our trot work and that Tessa is just seeing if she can get out of cantering. For now, since we've established new baselines in the walk and trot (she must go forward into steady contact), we're not going to worry about the canter falling apart.
I'm also hoping that when she gets on ulcer meds, some of this will magically disappear. Otherwise, I think that part of why Tessa ended up being my horse was because she's smart enough to find my buttons and push them. She knows I'm not comfortable at the canter (evidenced by bracing, throwing away contact etc.) and so she uses that opportunity to try to get the upper hand. By bringing her back down to trot and then making her work in the trot, I'm establishing that I'm in charge. Hopefully over time this will make the canter depart less of an issue.