Friday, June 26, 2009

If you have no saddle...

After further discussions with my saddle fitter, I've decided to sell the County Eventer and keep looking. She'll be out next week with more saddles for me to try, especially the Reactor saddle that's so interesting. After making that decision, I spent some time pondering how the hell I'm going to ride my horse when the only saddles I have make him sore, and I don't even have a hope of finding a new one till next week sometime. Sure I can longe, but I want to RIDE.

The first thing that comes to mind when you have no saddle is riding bareback. I used to do it quite regularly when I didn't have much time and just wanted to bop around for a little while on horseback. I can walk and trot bareback, and if I'm feeling really brave, have been known to canter. When Cash was off some years ago, I started to bring him back riding bareback, and that was great fun because I really got to feel his back. However, let me show you Exhibit A:


Exhibit A: Cash's back. Sort of looks like a couch, eh? Notice the complete lack of a backbone.

Next, we have Exhibit B:

Exhibit B: Red's back. You can see his body is the approximate shape and size of that round bale he's eating his way through. (Photo credits go to azulox, thanks!)

Please notice how both Exhibit A and Exhibit B bear a striking resemblance to Exhibit C:

Exhibit C: 55 gallon drum. Notice how nice and round it is! (Photo credit to Google Images)

Now, let us compare these lovely images of round comfiness to Exhibit D, Saga's back:

Exhibit D: Saga's back. Yeah, he's thin... I need to take new pictures!

Notice how that lovely protruding wither and the matching spine sort of resemble Exhibit E?

Exhibit E: Shark fin (or is it Saga's back? They're SO SIMILAR!). Photo courtesy of Google Images.

In other words, Saga is not the type of horse you want to spend any time on bareback. Trust me, I tried it and barely survived. I thought about bareback pads, but to a one they're almost all completely flat with no room for the withers. I'm guessing a pad like that would sore his withers in no time flat. So, I thought about how I might be able to make something that worked like a bareback pad, had room for his withers and spine, and was padded for me.

Having said all that, I have just realized that it's after midnight and I'm getting up at 6 a.m. I'll have to save the juicy details (and pictures) of this evening's bareback pad making experience for tomorrow.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

*&%# saddles

My County Eventer, 18 inch seat with the #4 tree, the IDENTICAL tree to the 17 inch Eventer that fit Saga so very well, is an INCH wider between the points of the tree than it should be.


In other words, the tree that's supposed to fit him doesn't. It's too wide by an INCH. It's like having a wide tree on a saddle that should be a medium-wide.

*Insert various four-letter words here*

The options are:
  • Sell this saddle and buy the 17 inch Eventer that DOES fit him, and somehow cram my butt into it.
  • Sell this saddle and wait until the perfect jumping saddle comes along (17.5 inch Stabilizer, if you please, but who knows WHAT tree size).
  • Sell this saddle and see if I can find a dressage saddle that fits him instead, then wait till the perfect jumping saddle comes along.
  • Reflock this saddle, adding felted wool to the points to build up the tree a bit, then see if we can flock it enough to make it work. Possibly include a pad with shims.
Carol seems to think that we can try the reflocking option but makes no guarantees that it will fit him when we're done. There's only so much padding she can add, and at the end of the day, the tree still isn't the right shape for his back.

What a frickin' headache.

In the meantime, I have no way to ride my horse.


More on saddles

So, I'm back from the trip. My husband and I had a lovely time in England, and sooner or later I'll post a few of the horsey-related photos from the trip (no, I didn't get to ride, although the weather was PERFECT for it).

While I was gone, a wonderful friend in Houston picked up the 18 inch County Eventer saddle that ANOTHER friend over at Donkey Sense found for me on Craigslist (can you tell I have a lot of really wonderful friends? I'm very lucky!) My Houston friend also dropped the saddle off at my house since he was coming through Austin, so when I arrived home from my trip, there was my "new" County Eventer.

I took it out on Tuesday and tossed it on Saga - it snugged right into place and seemed like every bit as good of a fit as the 17 inch Eventer that I rode in when I was testing out saddles. However, the stuffing in the cantle is harder than a rock, and there's almost no flocking left in the front. The leather is also slightly wrinkled on one side underneath due to a lack of flocking.

Last night I took the saddle down to Capstone Saddlery in Dripping Springs so that Carol could work on it (if you live near Austin and need help with fitting your saddle, she is AWESOME). She said she might be able to get to it this weekend - it needs a complete reflock, so she'll have to take the whole thing apart. Once she finishes, she'll come up to the barn and do the final fitting to make sure it's absolutely perfect for Saga. I can't wait to get it back!

While we were there, I tried out a few dressage saddles to see what the options are (yeah, my husband has no idea what he's getting into). Carol had two that work for flat-backed horses, a Passier 17.5 (I think it was this one) and a 16 inch Reactor Panel saddle. I sat in the Passier and it was HUGE on me, which is funny b/c my Isabel is a 17.5. My leg also had about 2 inches between where it hung and where the thigh blocks were located. Ick. Then my husband sat in it, and I think his words were "Holy COW, it's like sitting on a COUCH!" It fit him PERFECTLY. It snugged right into his leg, his seat was in the right place, it was awesome. He really liked it, but of course we're not in the market for a dressage saddle for him that fits Saga. Alas.

Then I sat in the Reactor. Let me just say that those saddles look REALLY WEIRD. But when I plopped my butt in it, it was AMAZING. So comfy, the thigh blocks were just perfect, and it was so very nice. What's so cool about the saddle is that the part that rests on the horse's back is sort of moving independently of the part of the saddle that the rider is sitting on. Also, the flexible panels on the horse's back are designed to move around the shoulder instead of sit behind it. I don't know if it will actually fit Saga or if he will like it, but when Carol brings out my Eventer for the final fitting, she'll bring out the Reactor as well for me to try out.

In other news, I longed Saga on Tuesday. It's probably a good thing that I have no saddle for a few days, because my horse DOES NOT LONGE. Voice commands are right out for downward transitions, so I'm using my body to get him to slow down. He's clearly been roundpenned. So, more longeing is definitely in order. It can only help in the grand scheme of things!

UPDATE: The saddle my husband liked was actually a 17.5 inch Passier Corona.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Super speedy

I'm just about to head out on vacation, but quick note: I rode Saga at a walk this morning, part of the time bareback. His back was still sore, and he didn't want to stretch much, especially his hind end. I remember now why you don't ride a high-withered horse bareback! But we had a nice bonding time, so it was good since I'll be horseless for 10 days. He'll be getting the next 10 days off, and hopefully his back will be better when I return.

I've also put an offer in on a County Eventer. Let's hope that works out and I have a new saddle that FITS HIM when I get back!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Leading from the wrong side

First things first:

  1. Saga DOES eat carrots. My friend who rode him on Saturday while I was out of town discovered this. I swear, he tried to tell me they were posionous!!!
  2. Saga does not lead well from the wrong side. But then, pretty much everything was on the wrong side tonight. More about that later.
  3. Saga is NOT 17 hh. I sticked him tonight, he came in at 16.2 1/2 in front, and 16.2 1/2 and a hair behind. I'll have my measurements independently confirmed by a third party, but Saga's not quite the monster I made him out to be. :)
Now, to fill in the gaps since my last post about Saga.

Last Wednesday, my husband rode Saga while I rode Reddums. It was the first time I'd ridden him since I got Saga, and riding him was like riding a schoolmaster! Light, bendy, moves off the leg... how cool is that! And yet I can remember when he fell in so badly to the left that he could do 8 meter canter circles (or rather, 8 meter canter circles were ALL he could do). Since I managed to fix that, I guess there's hope for Saga too. :) Although, I must say, Red has a little stub of a neck compared to Saga... I mean, I've known that all along, but it's really obvious when you move from one horse to another!

My husband's ride was pretty miserable. He's very stiff in his hip and just could not find his balance, and the saddle only compounded the problem. I'm lighter and I ride further back, so I'd been managing to keep off the front of the saddle despite its tendency to shift down in front (due to that dent behind his shoulder and the fact that the saddle doesn't quite fit). My husband had no such luck. Saga kept running in the trot, then slowing down, and just kept getting worse and worse. He also started hopping into the trot instead of doing a smooth transition like we had been working on. This is important, it gets worse later.

Saga didn't get ridden again until Saturday, when a good friend of mine rode him while I was out of town for the weekend. Her saddle didn't fit him well either but she used her Thinline pad with him, and worked a lot on big swingy walk. She's also the one who discovered that he DOES like carrots (the liar) - apparently when faced with no treats or eating carrots, he opted for the carrots. In talking to her later, she mentioned the hopping into the trot issue, which she didn't remember from when she rode him once before. I told her that yeah, that was new as of Wednesday.

Last night (Monday) I rode again and we had a nice warm up, big WTC both directions. He was also moving off my right leg much better, and we had some good shoulder fore at the walk both directions. We also did a little leg-yield both ways, and actually got lateral movement both directions. YEAH! However, the trot was pretty miserable. The "hoppy" transitions from walk to trot were still there, and he was setting his jaw again. However, at the very end, we had some very nice sitting trot serpentines with plenty of bend, moving away from the leg, and forward and round... you know, everything a trot SHOULD be.

Which brings us to tonight. Ye gods I need a saddle that fits. Or someone with magic trainer dust, whatever. Saga's back is sore, just behind the withers on either side of his spine. I thought about just longeing, but I'm going to be horseless for 10 days when I'm on vacation, so I caved and rode him. We did a nice walk warmup outside the arena, focusing on forward and swinging. As soon as we got in the outdoor arena, he sucked back, but I moved him on. The trot transition for the warmup was hoppy again, but I was focused on forward IN the gaits, not between, so I let it slide. He felt pretty good in the trot, we had some good moments, and because I knew his back was sore, I opted not to canter him in the warmup.

When I put him together at the walk after giving him a good break, he sucked back even more. I definitely think it's his back. We worked a bit on laterals and had some nice shoulder fore moments, but I didn't push it much. There's one corner in the arena where, tracking left, he counter-bends MAJORLY and falls in. The more I tried to fix it, the worse he got. Sort of reminds me of the icky ride I had when my childhood instructor was in town, he just constantly fell left in every corner. Yuck. We went back and did that corner at the walk, and he set his jaw left and was icky. We finally got through it at the walk, then went to the trot. That's pretty much when it fell apart. He was so counterflexed and sucked back that he started CANTERING on the right lead. WTF, I went with it, changed directions, and cantered on. At least it was a balanced, uphill canter, even if it wasn't what I wanted. Well, that was the wrong decision apparently, because after I came down to a trot, he would not trot. His back end was trotting but his front end was up in the air still cantering (I know this is possible because he did it on our third ride in front of our retired dressage instructor, who found it most amusing). We ended up walking because no amount of half-halts on my part would produce anything other than this hideous "gait".

So, then I asked for a trot. And I got this Medusa gait. And again. And again, and again. I made sure he was round and forward in the walk. I tried throwing the reins away. Nothing helped, all I got was this trot/canter disaster. I was frustrated, so I decided that if we were going to get a canter, then I would ask for the canter. But then I couldn't get the left lead, even though we were going left. I got the right lead, three times in a row. I tried flexing in, and counter-flexing. FINALLY we got the right lead canter. It was fairly reasonable but not as nice as the left lead. But by then I was sick of the fight, so I asked for a canter-walk transition and got it, and I quit on that. We walked out in the grassy outdoor area and called it a night.

I got frustrated, which I shouldn't have, and I stopped thinking about my riding. I probably should have taken a walk break and tried again. But it was getting dark, I needed to get home, and I felt pressed for time. I was also out of ideas. I remember years ago when Cash would hop from a trot to a canter, and I was supposed to just "ride the trot" no matter what he did, and eventually he would go back to trot (usually it only took a few steps). I tried that while we had the Medusa gait but to no avail. And besides, why are we getting this all of the sudden? The hopping started last Wednesday with Sean's ride. I am absolutely, positively convinced that the root of this whole thing is a sore back caused by poor saddle fit. Gah.

So, now I need to figure out what to do. At this point I am seriously thinking about giving him the 10 days off while I'm on vacation. I'm also seriously thinking about calling the saddle fitter about the County Eventer, buy the damn thing, have her fit it while I'm gone, then buy a pair of full-seat velcro breeches (these Kerrits look good) so I can actually stay in the saddle (after riding in synthetic saddles for so many years, I felt like I was going to slide right out of that leather County). I should probably get a 17.5 inch instead of a 17, but hey, it's what's available and I know it fits him. Besides, in 6 months I may need something completely different, and I'm not in a position to shell out big bucks for a custom saddle right now. And try as I might, I can't find a 17.5 inch Medium Wide County Stabilizer, for love nor money.

I hope y'all who are reading this had better rides than I did. Bah humbug.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Spotted Pony (Pictures!!!)

This is a bit late in the posting, but last weekend I went out to visit Cash at his retirement home, Paint Creek Farm in Paige, TX. He's doing great and is as fat and happy as ever. He came to me in the pasture and clearly recognized me, but when I took him down to the barn, he really didn't have much use for all the fussing and grooming we did. He clearly wanted to be with his buddies, although he was a gentleman about it as always. I fed him half a dozen carrots, groomed him, did his feet, and took a ton of pictures (I also got him a new fly mask that comes down over his nose, which he was not so excited about). When I went to put him back out, his three pasture mates were all at the fence, waiting for him. Apparently they've become quite close and were disturbed that a member of the herd was missing!

Amazing how flat and rounded Cash's back is compared to Saga's back!

Just in case you didn't see the flat, table-top look of a fat horse!

Front feet - shoes removed approximately 1 month ago

Back feet - shoes removed approximately 6 months ago.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Not proud

I am not very proud of my ride tonight.

It started off with lots of walking as usual. Saga was "forgetting" his hind feet, which he sometimes does if he's not really pushing off from behind. The result of this is that he feels like he's tripping behind, or taking off steps. It goes away as I ride him, and push him more forward.

So as we were walking around, he kept counter-flexing in the corners, and he kept drifting WAY off the rail and ignoring my inside leg. I decided to take Greta's advice and just keep him forward and straight, but straight was not in the cards. We moved on to a trot to work on forward , and he was sort of careening around the arena at varying speeds. It was definitely not nearly as nice as what I got when we were at Pine Hill, and decidedly worse than he was last night when we were trying out saddles.

I took him back to a walk and began working on getting him moving away from my leg. As usual, he was more responsive to the left leg but completely ignored my right leg. Ignored it to the point that he moved into my right leg instead of away from it. We tried some leg yields along the wall, and to the right got a lot of head twisting and jaw setting. To the left was much more relaxed. Then it progressed to as soon as we would change directions of bend and go to the right, he would set his jaw and poll. It just kept getting worse and worse. I tried to remember to keep my left hand low and close to my body, I tried to keep weight to in my left stirrup. I tried to keep my shoulders bent to the circle. I tried letting go of the reins when he pulled and twisted, and that didn't work either, he just took the rein and pulled more.

At a loss, and getting ever more frustrated, I stopped and did some Clinton Anderson-style bends to the left and right. It took him a while to get what he was supposed to do, and he was very resistant. After several bends, we walked on, and as soon as he stiffened up, we went back to bending. We probably did this half a dozen times, but as soon as I picked up the reins and asked for a bend right with my right leg, he would stiffen and pull.

I'm afraid I ended up dropping my stirrup and getting after him with both leg and whip. I really MADE him move off my leg, sideways. He got a few swats on the butt with my dressage whip too, and I kicked his ribs in once or twice. We repeated this to the other side to make sure he was actually going off both legs, and finally, I felt like when I applied a bit of leg, he moved away from it into my outside rein. I had done this sort of thing before, with Red, when he was being very resistant to the leg. But in this case, I feel like I lost my position, my relaxation, and everything, and really went for the brute force method of making it happen.

I really don't know if I did the right thing, and I sure am not proud of it. However, after we went through that nastiness, we had the loveliest canter we've ever had. Saga was very light and sat down and was nicely collected in both directions (better to the right than to the left). The canter was actually an accident, since we were trotting along and as I pushed him over with my leg, he thought I meant canter, but I went with it because it was a very nice transition. We even did some 15 meter eggs and a few shallow serpentines down the long side, both directions. He was very balanced, more so than ever before. I gave him a walk break after that, and then we did a bit of sitting trot, where he was very nice and balanced, moved away from my leg and deep into the corners, and was just lovely. We only trotted for perhaps 3 minutes, but it was good work.

We ended the ride by going out in the pasture with some friends (all the horses were in tonight due to an impending thunderstorm) and having a nice trot and canter both directions. There are some teeny hillocks in the pasture, so we took advantage of the uneven terrain. Saga stayed light and mostly balanced, and really came back to me when I asked. It was a great end to our ride.

As I think about why the ride went so poorly to begin with, I think there are a couple of reasons:
  • I was riding in the AP, which as we have discussed, does NOT fit him. After yesterday's freedom in the County Eventer, it was a shock to feel him in the AP. I need to put the right gullet in the dressage saddle so at least I can use that.
  • I was using the loose ring French link snaffle because I forgot to change back to the eggbutt. At 5.5 inches, the loose ring is too small for him (this is odd given that his eggbutt is also 5.5 inches, and fits just fine). I changed the bit back after my ride, so we won't have that problem again.
  • My position was crap. I KNOW I have to be blocking him from doing some of the things I'm asking for, especially laterals. However, without someone to talk me through things, I'm having a hard time remembering all the body parts and what they're suppsed to be doing. Correct position during a lateral just isn't second nature to me yet.
So I guess I don't know if I did the right thing. We got through the poll-setting-not-moving-away-from-the leg garbage, but why does that happen in the first place? I'm sure it's a combination of my position and my tack, which means it's not fair to punish Saga. OTOH, I had to do SOMETHING to save the ride. If we continue to have that sort of nastiness, it will eventually become the norm. I don't want it to get to that point.

As an apology, I tossed Saga a flake of alfalfa when I tucked him in, since he's stuck in his stall tonight. The one thing I don't like about our barn is that they don't give the horses much hay when they're in due to inclement weather, so I'm trying to supplement while we're working on getting weight back on him.

Hopefully I can keep things together for our ride tomorrow night and it will be better.

Monday, June 1, 2009

More saddle fitting

Tonight the other saddler came out to fit Saga. The problem with my AP boils down to the fact that he's got the dent behind his withers, with means the saddle doesn't make contact there. So when I get into the saddle, my weight pushes it down and forward, causing pressure points. In addition, there are pressure points along the lower edge of the saddle's panels - fortunately not up by the spine, but still not good. The saddle also wiggles around when it's on his back, indicating there's no really good place for it to settle. In addition, the billets don't point in a line to where the girth naturally wants to lie, which is quite a bit further back then usual, about 6-8 inches behind his elbow (you can really see this in our jumping pictures from this weekend, the girth is way far back).

The conclusion is that he needs a medium-wide gullet on a fairly flat-treed saddle. He also needs panels that are dropped a bit to give him the room he needs behind the shoulder. I ended up trying out two saddles: a County Eventer and a Thoroughgood (Thorowgood?). I was very excited about the County because I used to have a County Stabalizer that I LOVED. However, the Eventer was very smooth leather and had no thigh roll, and I just didn't feel secure in it at all. It was also a 17 and I usually ride in a 17.5. Saga, however, thought it was great. His gaits improved dramatically when I put it on him, and it was obvious he felt comfortable in it. I then tried the Thorowgood, but it was a wide gullet and we had to use a Mattes pad with shims to make it work. It was also an 18 inch seat. I felt like I was riding on a big pillow, which wasn't great, but I also had all this tack under my leg (the billets and such), which was annoying. However, the seat was more comfortable than the County and I felt much more secure, although the saddle was obviously too big. Saga, however, didn't like the saddle nearly as much. His gaits just weren't as fluid. It's hard to tell if a smaller gullet would have made a difference, but as the saddle wasn't comfortable for me, it wasn't going to work either.

So, I ended up with wither tracings (I'll see if I can scan them later) and a better idea of the shape of saddle Saga needs. The question is whether I want to look for a different County (the one I tried was fairly old), think about getting a used Borne', or attend the Schleese saddle fitting in June and see about getting a used Schleese. Certainly a new saddle isn't in the budget.