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We Are Flying Solo

Showing posts with label saddle fitting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label saddle fitting. Show all posts

March 20, 2016

Stupid Stifles Suck

I appear to have an 's' theme lately.   I'm not fond of this addition.

Encore continues to enable my phenomenal overthinking powers.  It's probably easier to just turn the volume up for you (warning: brain insides not necessarily or consistently rational), internal dialogue follows -

Ok, I'm finally able to begin putting us back together.  Topline & butt need remuscle-ing.  Task doable!

Learn your stifles (pic
DEC:  Hmmm, he still feels a bit loose behind.  And is sore in left stifle after a brief but focused long line session.   I don't feel evidence of any tears, consult Dr. Bob (wow, thanks Android, for automatically filling in his name in draft, way to rub it in).

No edema or other damage found; cortisone for both stifles & a steroid to help boost us up out of the unfit-loose-sore-more-rest-unfit maddening cycle (want to avoid blister if possible).  Commence Plan Hill-acious.

JAN:  Hey, muscle definition!  We can hop some things calmly!  I'm still getting some slip behind, we just work through it, right?  Bute & baby steps?  Annual back injections (see TFS Injection 101 here), check, they take 3 weeks to settle, patience, right?


FEB:  Mmmnggghm, this is still NQR.  I KNOW him, the vibe is off & he's crabby.

Test on hills.  Not terrible.  Test in arena.  Maybe he's better.  Test on longer trail hills.  Dammit.  Not better.

Pampering is so exhausting...
MAR:  Inspect saddle.  Some small lumps, time to fluff, ok, try other saddle, will have fitter out to adjust.  Better.  Wait, what was that?

Put hands on horse.  Oh, maybe the 20 knots along left side of withers, back & butt explain something. *facepalm*  BUT.  Task doable.  Commence Plan Bodywork. 

Test bareback to remove confounding saddle variable.  Better!  And lots of nice new pops in carrot stretches as things relax.  AND I can work deep into hips & stifle tissues without pain response like he had when he DID tear something.  Yay!

Wait, maybe - nope, not better.  But muscles feel smoother, continue bodywork.  What if I - no, waffle time is over.  Let's get to the bottom of this. 

Yeah, that's the condensed version. :/   But we reconvene with Dr. Bob Tuesday.   There will be heinously thorough inspection, but research & consultation indicate: act now, get the rehab done, so maybe, hopefully, please pretty please, we can bloody well MOVE ON.

 At least that's the Plan.

October 4, 2014

Just Another Day With Dr. Bob

Yep, Encore decided a whole month was far too long to be separated from Dr. Bob.  Despite the terror-inducing zombie cows that live at the vet clinic (so Encore says).

While Encore was getting stronger, his feet are healing, & he did fairly well in our lesson, I still felt I might be missing something.  It's that little feeling you can't quite put your finger on.  And since you are a horse owner, the obvious solution is to throw money at it

Encore's Kent & Masters - love!
Looking at him from the ground, I could see the tightness in his hind end.  I also checked the fit of his dressage saddle after our lesson & noticed that I needed to narrow it a bit until his topline redeveloped.  Which explained the knots behind his withers I'd been massaging, as the panels were pressing down in the front.  He was also getting quite crabby about picking up his right lead. 

I always expect some muscle soreness bringing a horse back into work & rebuilding muscle.  However, there was just enough weight on the "I just want peace of mind" side of the fence to push me over & make me hook up the trailer.

I Don't Call Him Batman For Nothing

It was worth the trip.  And while paying vet bills is never any fun, there is no such thing as a Dr. Bob visit where you don't learn ten things & get lots of good stories!

What do you mean I have FOUR legs??!
My hypothesis was, for once, pretty accurate.  Dr. Bob confirmed that the saddle was indeed collapsing a bit up front behind his shoulders.  Encore got his withers & shoulders adjusted back into place with much relief.

He also had a very sore muscle bruise on the lower half of his left hindquarter, a likely result of an incident BFF reported when I was traveling for work:  Encore had an idiot moment galloping across his paddock, once again forgot he had back feet, slipped, & fell hard on his left side. 

She said he hopped back up, she checked him over thoroughly & walked him out, and I checked him out when I got home.  We found no evidence of injury & he was moving evenly.  He's not exactly in heavy work these days either!

It's Going To Be Ok...Today

Dr. Bob showed me how to feel out the spot in the muscle where he said there was probably just some fiber separation that was healing.  I'm just to massage in the Majykal Butacore Creme Of Awesome & keep him moving as he finishes out recovery.

Our farm pond is zen
Overall, good news, some minor tweaks, and the plan & peace of mind I was looking for!  His feet & shoes got the thumbs up, so we can keep moving creeping forward.  Which I was thrilled to hear just as the gorgeous fall weather has begun!

All I Need Is Time

Who needs a bank balance anyway??  For now, Encore will just have to think up something new, since this one didn't get him out of work.  In the meantime, he gets to enjoy medicated ass massages while I schedule the saddle fitter for some wool adjustment & dig through the couch cushions for $1200 to stock our winter hay!  0.0

Today, though, the grass is still green & the air is crisp & perfect, making it worth every bit as I can hear the satisfied nomming of two happy horses floating through the open windows.  I think I might have earned a nap after dragging pastures & detailing horses this morning...

The best kind of sunset has horses in it

December 18, 2012

This Is How We Roll: Dressage Saddles, Pt. II

There's a little town in England where cows live in everlasting terror.  It is called Walsall and it is home to, among others, the saddlemakers at Black Country, Kent & Masters (formerly Fairfax), Frank Baines, Albion, Harry Dabbs...need I continue?

In March, after trying 427 models (perhaps I exaggerate a little....but not much!), we decided on a Kent & Masters dressage saddle for Encore, since Solo's Black Country Eden, while heavenly, was all kinds of the wrong shape for a flat OTTB back.  The tree sat on Encore like it was built for him, the balance was perfect and I loved riding in it.  My ever-generous mother made it a wonderful gift and we moved forward with much glee.

As a side note, K&M has moved in sync with a few other brands and offers changeable gullet plates.  I have mixed feelings about these; they are obviously not a panacaea as they only slightly adjust one part of the tree.  Do it wrong and you can throw the whole saddle off balance.  But they have been helpful as my horses change shape with training and muscular development.  I have owned Wintecs and still have a Collegiate Convertible that I like but for one problem:  the gullet plates have very short tree points and created pressure points under the ends because there was not enough metal to distribute the weight down the horse's side.  My saddle fitter and I both mourned this shortcoming and tried to make up for it in several ways.  I finally successfully put a bandaid on it with my Collegiate, called the magical powers of Ecogold pads.  But K&M (and Thorowgood) did me one better:  they built a longer plate.

To the left are two medium gullet plates.  The one on top is a K&M plate, the bottom one is a Wintec/Collegiate plate.  Both have the same angle.  But not only is the K&M significantly longer, but it also does not pinch in about halfway down the way the other does.  Colour me happy. 

Problem:  within the first two weeks, the dye beneath the stirrup leathers began to rub off a tiny bit.  I contacted my fitter, from whom I had purchased the K&M, and she said to photo track it and let her know what happened.  Most of the Walsall companies are known not only for their well-made saddles, but their excellent service, so I had a low(er) level of distress about options.

Fast forward seven months to October and the dye was becoming an endangered substance anywhere my leathers or legs touched the saddle and by December, it looked like this:

Now, if this was a $500 saddle, I might say, well, my leg covers it all, oh well.  But even though the saddle was a gift, the gifter still put down about $1600 and I expect a heck of a lot better wear for that price!  Were there going to be holes right through the flap in two years?

I will spare you the excruciating details, but I tapped the customer service pipeline.  I hoped I could at least get some money back -- the saddle still rode wonderfully, I didn't want to get rid of it.  To my surprise, I learned that I was not alone.  The company had suffered a bad dye lot (not uncommon in leather-world) and was speedily responding to reported issues and rectifying them generously.  So maybe, I could get really lucky and get them to send some new flaps!

Oh no, Walsall does not take leather inadequacies likely.  My fitter informed me that they were going to replace the whole thing and my NEW new saddle would arrive in early December!


And it did.  Fitter informed me the company had slightly streamlined the design and tree since March and if I had ANY reservations, to just let her know immediately and K&M would work as long as it took until we were sorted.  I was a bit nervous -- the words "new tree" send a shudder down my spine.  However, I took a deep breath and set it on Encore's back...and fell in love all over again.

Clip job not finished yet.  Ha.
It assumed its rightful position with gorgeous wither clearance and settled onto his back like a homing pigeon (only without claws).  I sat in it and walked around a bit and was happy to find it felt just as correct and comfortable as its predecessor.

All that is left now is to re-break it in and hopefully we are set.  Time will tell, but I feel much more comfortable knowing that if I DO have any further issues (hey, shit happens), I will not be left stranded.  I cannot give higher praise to K&M -- a company which stands so firmly behind its products and recognizes the significant financial output of its customers will gladly receive my recommendation and business any day of the week.

March 4, 2012

Goldilocks And The 14 Saddles

I'm used to having a difficult to fit horse.  Solo, with his curvy back and hollows behind the withers, is enough to give any saddle fitter a case of the shakes.  When I saw Encore, with his textbook TB-flattish back and high withers, I thought, sweet, I finally have something normal.  Even if it is the COMPLETE OPPOSITE SHAPE FROM SOLO.  Ha.

I got a copy of his tracings and sent them off to the lovely Jay at Trumbull Mtn, as they are always helpful and very experienced, dealing with hundreds of horses and saddles a year, trying to find the perfect for for equine and human.  I also worked with my saddle fitter here at home.

This is where we started, my beloved Black Country Eden MW.  A more wonderful saddle to ride in was never made, I swear it.

However, the tree was a "banana" shaped tree longitudinally, as I talked about here, so it rocked like a grandaddy on a Southern front porch.  You can see that Solo's special wither gussets didn't sit quite right on Encore either, so it was off to the "tasting room" to try and find the porridge that was just right.

Behind door #1:  A Verhan Odyssey, complete bliss to sit in on "Bucky," our tack shop's patient plastic mount.  On Encore, however...

I can see already that the tree is too curvy.
The shape doesn't match his back and look at the upsweep of those back panels.  Their shape side to side isn't bad, but the back 1/3 doesn't even touch the horse!

We want full contact, not "some" contact!
On the plus side wither clearance was lovely, so I rode in it anyway, just for one go, since it felt so amazing on the shop.  Turns out, on Encore, it felt like C.R.A.P.  It was hard, it pitched me forward and was generally the most unpleasant, unbalanced ride I've had in a while.  It ended quickly.

We moved on to door #2:  A Passier Nicole Grand Gilbert.  I heard so many folks rave about their Passiers and their TBs, I had to try it.

Sitting on him, it was not terrible, although still more upsweep at the back of the panel than I'd like -- you really want your panels resting evenly on the horse's back to distribute weight and avoid pressure points.  But then I hit the deal killer:

AHHHHHH!  Wither doom imminent!
Yes, it was nearly touching his withers with no weight on it.  Needless to say, I did not test ride this one and it moved to the "REJECTED" pile with the Verhan.

Perhaps door #3 would be kinder?  It held a Prestige 2000D.  I've never been the biggest Prestige fan; they have always seemed overpriced and of variable fit and quality to me, but I gave it a shot.

The balance was...not bad!  And look at those panels, perfectly following his back!  Wither clearance was lovely and, even though I have a general hatred of external thigh blocks, perhaps I could learn to live with it? 

I took it out for a couple rides.  My balance felt steady and Encore felt comfortable.  But I couldn't get away from the fact that the whole saddle was just...uncomfortable...for me.  The seat was rock hard, the thigh blocks were maddening and awkward, and I just didn't feel the love.  So even though fit was decent, I rejected it too because for several thousand dollars, a girl needs to have a little bit of love for her butt (yeah, I know your brain went there too).

Door #4 (how many freaking doors am I going to have to open already?):  An Arthur Kottas (made by KLM) sent to me to trial by Trumbull Mtn (the others I had borrowed from local shop).  It was a lovely saddle and it had a...wait for it...subtle blue pinstripe around the seat that EXACTLY matched my eventing colours.  WANT.

Good balance, nice panel contact

Width is ok, maybe a bit narrow at the top, but not horrible and withers are CLEAR.
Hmmm, panels look like the stuffing fairy got a little too excited, but perhaps with some softening, we could un-sausage them?
It was quite comfy to sit in and rode well.  My hopes were rising that I would get to keep my beloved blue stripe (oh, how shallow I can be).  However, on the second ride, Encore made it clear that it was too narrow and he was being pinched.  He was unhappy and the sides of his withers were quite sore after the ride, so I had to send it back.  I asked Trumbull if perhaps just getting the next size up might fix all of our problems, but she was very cautious and said don't do it if you can't trial it first.

With a heavy heart, I called local fitter to see if she had any other suggestions.  She offered a saddle from a new line -- the folks who make Thorowgood (synthetic and leather) and Fairfax (all leather version) saddles had come out with a new leather model called the Kent & Masters (all are made in Walsall, England, just like the Black Countries, so my heart rose cautiously).  My BO had a Fairfax that fit very well on her TB, but had the external thigh blocks that I hate.  The K&M was essentially the same saddle, but specifically redesigned for the many folks who had complained about the blocks.  So we gave it a go.

The balance...was perfect.  Wither clearance lovely, panels sat on his back perfectly.  It rode very nicely and seemed designed for the TB back.  It was even reasonably priced for an English built, decently made saddle, at $1595 (which I will note is cheaper than all the consignment saddles I tried except for the Kottas).  I could find no complaints (other than it wasn't the complete hiney bliss of my Black Country, but it was still quite comfortable and I didn't have another $3000 lying around to satisfy my BC longing) so I said "ORDER IT!"

I've now had three rides on new saddle.  Encore seems to like the fit.  It doesn't have the instantly broken in magic of my BC so I'm still working on getting the flaps to lay nicely.  I'm carefully watching some flap wear, but my fitter assures me that if there are any problems, the company has been fantastic about service and any warranty issues should they arise.  So while it may need a flocking tweak in a couple places, I think we have found the right tree for Goldilocks and can end (for now!) the horror that is the saddle hunt.

Thus endeth Saddle Wars 2012 (at least Round 1 - I am far too experienced to think they ever really stop!) and hopefully we can have some peace for a while!

March 2, 2012

More Exciting Tidbits!

Tomorrow is forecast to be very wet and stormy, so perhaps I will get a chance to put together a real post then, but until that time --

Encore's fabulousness is featured on Eventing Nation!  I hope in a couple of years, I can send John the video of a certain little redhead running a Training Level course!

Also fabulousness -- we received Encore's new dressage saddle!  He had decided to be difficult and be exactly the opposite shape from Solo so even though we shimmed and jury-rigged, he really wasn't that comfortable with my beloved Black Country.  After many trials, which perhaps I will get a chance to write about tomorrow, we found the Kent & Masters dressage saddle.  The same company who makes Thorowgood and Fairfax saddles, located in Walsall England (hmmm, I seem to like all saddles made there), build this dark horse of a saddle.

This tree (the same one that resides in the Thorowgood T8 line) seems perfectly built for the OTTB shape -- gorgeous wither clearance and a fairly flat profile with panels which have lots of bearing surface.  It's even comfortable for the rider, although it is not the sigh-inducing butt candy of my Black Country, oh how it spoiled me.  It also does not come with the same gorgeous leather that you just want to rub against your cheek, so the flaps will take some breaking in to shape them.  But as soon as we stepped into trot, Encore stretched down his neck and lifted his back, as if to say, Finally!  Thank you! 

Sorry, buddy, not my fault it takes those English guys five weeks to build your tack. 

Once again, I must thank the generosity of my wonderful mother, for the perfect birthday present for what I hope will be an exciting spring season!!  Here we go...

January 3, 2012

You Are Not Forgotten

Sometimes it is just very hard to write.  I try not to let my personal life (well, the non-horsey parts) bleed into the blog.  I don't think it's relevant or very useful for you or even very entertaining for the most part.  But when the universe kicks you in the teeth -- and then follows up with some kidney punches -- and then takes a bat to your kneecaps -- and then runs over your prone body for good measure -- it can be difficult to compartmentalize, despite that being my speciality.

I will keep trying, though. I cannot promise overflowing humour for a bit but I will try to avoid strangling noises, that doesn't make for very fun reading.

I am back home and back to my red boys. Solo insists on tormenting me with loving cuteness, following me around the pasture with big eyes, begging me to put a halter on him so we can go play.

Encore is very irritated with my attempts to play saddle fitter and find a dressage shaped something for him. We tried out a Verhan Odyssey, a Passier Nicole, and a Prestige 2000D today -- I only rode in the Verhan, but set the other two on him, along with a Baines endurance saddle, just to eyeball the tree. No winners yet, but I took lots of pictures and made a lot of faces. I still want to try an Albion on him, a County, and perhaps a Stubben, but haven't found a demo yet.

It's cold, with a 30 mph gust of ice-wind cutting through you, so it's hard to focus on your work. Winter has finally wandered in and I'm holding my breath hoping it wanders right back out very soon.

December 22, 2011

Is It A Coincidence That "Saddle" And "Satan" Begin With The Same Two Letters?

I don't think I can describe saddle fitting any better than I did herea form of torture akin to holding one's hands in a campfire while being poked in the eyeballs with sharp sticks. If you have any special needs whatsoever, it adds an extra layer of "fun," like a rabbit slowly chewing off your toes while your hands roast.

Encore and I got to spend three hours with the fitter today.  Oh, did I not mention that he's a different shape than Solo?  Of course he is.

It's not so much width -- comparing their tracings shows that Encore is only a bit narrower than Solo, which will no doubt change as the former continues to gain muscle and weight.  It's the longitudinal profile, withers to hips.  Solo is very scoopy, with a big dip in his back and hollows behind the withers.  This is a saddle fitting nightmare.  Don't buy a horse like that!  Encore is fairly flat and short-coupled.  Saddle fitters love horses like him, lots of saddles can sit there nicely with relatively little effort.

In case you didn't figure out the nightmarish part yet, it's the fact that I bought saddles, especially my beautiful dressage saddle, to fit curvacious Solo, with obligingly scoopy tree.  That doesn't work so well with flat horse.  Naturally.

The jumping saddle wasn't too bad, we switched to the medium-narrow gullet (Encore's giant withers!) with the understanding that as he develops more, he will probably end up in the medium by spring (Solo was medium-wide, just for reference).  I'm not a fan of the changey gullet trees anymore, the tree points are so short, they made lots of pressure points on Solo, plus, we can't quite get the wither clearance we want, but it's what I have, the saddle fits me well, and it rides well, so I wanted to try and work it out.  I've just ordered an Ecogold half pad and we think it will provide enough lift and cushion to tide us over till his back develops enough to lift the saddle a bit more.  We think.  Only way to know is by doing, so once the box arrives, the moment of truth shall come!

My beautiful, wonderful dressage saddle that fits me perfectly?  It will probably need to be replaced at some point, but I'm not willing to let it go yet.  Not only does it fit me perfectly, I still need to ride Solo in something and he sure as shootin' isn't going in a medium-narrow jumping saddle, LOL!  So, I told fitter to see if she can buy me some time.

Turns out even time has a price.  $130 to be exact.  Apparently there is some worldwide sheep shortage that has driven up prices (I am not kidding, she actually told me this).  Perhaps I should invest in some Merino lambs?

At any rate, between flocking shifts and front and rear shims in our fancy new pad #2, we were able to flatten out the saddle enough that it no longer rocked on Encore's back and he was once again willing to lift and come round.

As my horse is now the proud owner of a small fortune's worth of saddle pads, I fully expect him have mastered at least the Beginner Novice dressage tests by the end of the week.  Since they also had a Herm Springer Duo bit (which I've been dying to try on Encore) on super bargain sale, I further expect extended gaits and shoulder-in by next Tuesday.  Little bugger better get cracking.  

May 14, 2011

Post Game

We have officially completed our first outing at Training Level!  It was our favourite local venue, who hosted a schooling show with a Combined Training option (dressage and stadium only).


(1) WE WON FIRST PLACE. In our division which consisted ROFL. I let the organizer keep the ribbon for later use.

(2) We scored our lowest score on a single dressage movement ever! Yes, that is a big "3" for the right lead canter depart. Or as Solo translated it, the leaping, twisting buck that led to cross canter that led to running trot which finally culminated in a right lead. I figured I better just sit there until he sorted his shit out. The rest of our canter work was equally craptastic. Apparently accidentally feeding Solo two breakfasts was not the best idea.

(3) Solo DEFINITELY knows he is an event horse. After dressage, we met with our saddle fitter to work on dressage saddle. Solo kept gazing wistfully at the cross country field and finally blew a big bucking tantrum during my trial ride because I ALREADY DID DRESSAGE, IT'S TIME FOR JUMPING, DAMMIT. Amazing how he suddenly became totally calm once I started putting the jumping boots on...

(4) 3'3" stadium jumping is not a problem for Solo. He only pulls rails when his pilot forgets to properly ride the jump. 4 penalty points for me.

(5) I need to do two dressage tests at horse trials. While our test had moments of ok-ness (hey, we figured out how to make centerline "relatively straight"), our dressage saddle trial ride AFTER the test was simply awesome, complete with fantastic trot extensions and transitions. Sigh. To do #457: add mini-test to warmup routine.

Overall, I think the CT served its purpose well, pointing out the spots I need to ride better. Solo jumped really well again, which I am beyond thrilled about. I even used the studs since the ground was wet and I know that venue has slippery clay hiding beneath. Lesson: road studs are NOT enough for lots of grass and clay.

Tomorrow: clean things AGAIN. Plan. Maybe write stuff on the calendar and erase it and write different stuff. Fantasize winning blue ribbon in VA and then laugh at hubris. Fantasize completing VA with a qualifying score for Training 3-Day and pat self for realistic goal. Find someone to talk to other than weird self.

April 21, 2011


The O is for Owner. In case you wondered.

Lesson: do not fire off an angry email to your saddle fitter because you are exhausted and frustrated and you had a bad day. They are not actually your best friend so they won't get that you are just tired and frustrated. They may get quite offended and take it personally. Oops. My bad.

On the other side of a long night, I have decided I will not put Solo up for auction on eBay as things are probably all my fault anyway, in some way shape or form. We can only work with what we have. Today is "nice hack in the woods" day and tomorrow he gets to just have a bath and chill out in his pre-competition day off. Hopefully, he won't hold a grudge.

I have just dropped my entry for for the Virginia Horse Trials in the mailbox -- for Training Level. No takey-backeys now. Next month we'll have to take a deep breath and go for the big game.

We've also got our ride times for Longleaf Pines this weekend. I must have pissed off the organizer.

Dressage: Saturday at 7:42 am. Owwwwww. 
Cross Country: Saturday at 1:44 pm. Hmmm, maybe enough time for a nap.
Stadium: Sunday afternoon in reverse order of placing.

You will be able to watch and groan/cheer here with live scoring.

April 20, 2011


Not familiar with that acronym? Well, it is what I own: a Stupid F*cking Horse.

Just in case you thought life with Solo was all sunshine and rainbows, I am here to reassure you that that is certainly NOT the case.

Sunday, we had a brilliant cross country school. We did our first ever true sunken road: a 3' log in, two strides, drop off bank, two strides, up bank, two strides, jump log out. We also schooled our first prelim-type of water question which ended with an up bank out of the water and one stride to a big log. Solo didn't get it at first: what the why is this log so close to the edge and what am I supposed to do about it? But we worked it out and he got it.

A decent dressage school last night, although Mr. Fussy Pants was in fine form. He did give me some really lovely uphill, slow, cadenced canter work that made me giggle with happiness.

Then tonight. SFH. My goal was to do a single run-through of our test for Saturday, which is Novice Test B (I HATE Test B). Instead, I got SFH hanging on the left rein, fighting me at every bend, chomping at the bit, cocking his head, and generally being a fury-inducing beast.

It wasn't pretty.

Some of it may well be due to what appears to be a continuous change in saddle fit (let me fully express my saddle fit rage sometime), but really, it is NOT dramatic enough to merit all out rebellion.

SFH is lucky that I am at least courteous enough to release my fury in a series of exclamations that would make children's ears melt off, but I do not, say, beat my horse. I try to keep my aids steady even though I am not speaking very nicely at all.

Oh well, he doesn't speak English.

I am sure he will redeem himself at some point, but for now, I will pout.

March 22, 2011

Progressively Progressing

Our sights are fixed on Longleaf Pines HT.  There are four and a half weeks between now and then.  OMG, THERE ARE FOUR AND A HALF WEEKS BETWEEN NOW AND THEN.

Project Solo Fitness better keep on cracking the whip.

Saturday saw our first jumping lesson post-Wormageddon. I wondered if Solo would be exhausted by the end, but my worry was misplaced; he did better than I did! And David said it was the best he'd even seen the Red Boy move, words which warmed my heart. I did sit on some fairly wonderful canter steps...

I've picked up a nasty habit of digging my heels in for forward, but since my legs are so stinking long, that requires some heel lifting. Which tips my upper body forward and tips my horse forward. Norty norty. So David had me focus on really sinking my heels on approach and after landing from a fence to help keep my upper body back. As always, his little fix was eminently helpful and Solo cantered through a triple line in the prettiest little soft rhythm you could ask for.

So I shall be doing my homework on that one. Some of that will require extra strengthening of my core muscles too -- since I know my back is my weak point, I need to make sure that my other muscles can compensate and keep me sitting up when I really need it!

Now that it's actually daylight after work (WOOHOO!) we can get on the trails during the week and continue building muscle and wind with lots of walk and trot work through the woods. This has an added bonus of spring wildlife sightings; Sunday we met a brilliant orange banded water snake as he leaped with surprise into a stream. It thrills my entire day to see those guys.

Yesterday, our saddle fitter made some necessary tweaks to both saddles to revive packed down wool, so a certain chestnut with a princess back had better not get too fussy now! Please let spring karma be kind to our ragtag endeavors!

January 9, 2011

This Is How We Roll: Dressage Saddles

For quite some time, Solo and I played in the sandbox in a Wintec Dressage Pro. However, it was no longer fitting for us, so it was time to find its replacement. For my funky-shaped horse. And funky-shaped me. Yay. Cause we've had such fun with saddle fitting in the past.

But then, for a brief instant, the universe smiled upon us. Because I was out of cash, I thought my search was doomed. But then the SO stepped in. Yes, the same wonderful one who made my one life dream come true five years ago. He was probably sick of listening to me whine incessantly about the horror that is saddle shopping. So he did himself a favour and shut me up by funding My Precious.

And by My Precious, I mean our new dressage saddle. 17.5 inches of black beauty.

I like to pet it and stare at it...oh, sorry, you want details! It is a Black Country Eden, chosen because, of their two dressage trees, this one has a little more scoop to it and sat on Solo beautifully. These saddles are hand built in England -- you pick the tree (or they can build one off of your wither tracing) and then you pick all the options (for no extra charge!).

So I spec'd it out:

Grippy heritage leather
Wither gussets to fill those hollows behind Solo's withers
Thigh blocks that were not too big
A flap angled slightly forward to accomodate my freaky long thighs
Dropped panels to spread weight over a wider surface area on Solo's back

Here's an example of dropped panels on a jumping saddle, they fit in behind the shoulder:

End result: awesomeness. You sit in it and it's like sliding into a glove. Gorgeous balance and oh so comfortable, it's like an easy chair. I have mad, mad love for it and will never let it go.

Thank you, darlin'.

October 12, 2010

Can't. Keep. Up.

My time and energy to write is failing to keep up with all the things that are happening! So here is my cop-out with a list and teaser of coming attractions:

We finish our Ecuador trip with the most spectacular day that it is possible to experience inside the wild, amazing Cotopaxi National Park. The expanses of high grass and beautiful silence are simply beyond imagination.

Solo and I choose our new dressage saddle. We do not have it in hand yet, but there are some little English elves hard at work in a factory right now!

We also completed an amazing long format clinic with Becky Holder this weekend, fresh off her beautiful performance with Comet at the WEG's a week ago. Important lessons were learned: (1) Becky Holder has the cutest dog in the world. (2) If one leans forward during steeplechase jumps, carnage ensues (oh, this is a good story, you'll like this one). (3) Solo's booty CAN be engaged to great effect. Thanks to some VERY kind and generous co-clinic-ers, we even have pictures!!

Now, all I need is an eensy bit of free time to write all that in. Waiting....waiting....

September 29, 2010

A Brief Update

I will interject again with a brief Solo update!  Because this is the Solo blog!  So I must talk about Solo!

Hmmm, I think my blood sugar is too low and it makes me crazy(er than normal).

So, since we have a ton of stuff coming up in October, including big horse trial, our dressage saddle decided to enter the phase of catastrophic-failure-to-fit-at-all. Fitter (#4) tried valiantly for a total of about five hours. Bless her. It is now to the phase of adequate-but-still-kinda-sucky (these are scientifically verified phases, I swear). To my dismay and horror, we must (a) replace saddle or (b) not ride.

Since (b) will result in descent into never-ending despair that terminates only with inability to keep breathing, I am forced to choose (a).

Now I must find the perfect dressage saddle before October 28th. And in all, likelihood, I will have to ride in the sucky one at our clinic coming up next weekend. Argh. The timing on these things...

Other than that, Operation Belly Burner has been 95% completed with success. Our hemoglobin problem is under construction, Dr. Bob has declared our supplement choice an excellent one after reading the ingredients and we are due to check blood count in late October. Solo's feet are hanging in there, surviving a dry Carolina late summer by the grace of Keratex.

I still think we are going to need fairy dust to get October to go off the way I'd like it to!

September 14, 2010

I Must Interject...

Because today, I am very happy and very very sad.

Very happy because the saddle fitter worked on Solo's saddles for two hours yesterday and they feel better.  We also jump schooled tonight and I actually remembered to use David's tips from our last jumping lesson and Solo jumped very well. 

Very very sad because yesterday, our BO's lovely young Thoroughbred, Ben, colicked and went into the clinic in a lot of pain. Early yesterday evening, he was put down. I had a feeling he wouldn't be coming back when I saw him yesterday; I stopped next to my truck, turned around, and walked up the hill to rub his face and give him a pat before he left. Now I'm glad I did. We will miss his charming face and curious inquiries into every barn activity. At only 4.5 years old, he was bursting with potential and enthusiasm and had an excellent mind for work and life.

Go out and hug all your ponies -- I am constantly reminded that each day with our special partners is a wonderful gift and not a single one of those days is a guarantee. Cherish every minute and take the time to just enjoy their friendship. Even the toughest athletes among them are such fragile creatures when the ugly colic monster rears its head. All we can do is try to stuff ourselves so full of their love that it will carry us through...

April 10, 2010

This Is How We Roll: Jumping Saddles

To add to our review series, I thought I'd talk a little about saddles.  I started out with a secondhand old-style medium tree Crosby event saddle; it was fantastic, with a spring tree that fit many horses.  Of course, as luck would have it, it stopped fitting MY horse as soon as I put him in regular work:  too narrow.  So the quest for a new saddle began. I decided to start with a close contact saddle and add a dressage saddle later when funds allowed. I could always do dressage in a cc but sure can't jump in a dressage saddle.

I should not have used the word "quest" so lightly; I quickly learned why horse people spook and swear when they hear the words "saddle shopping." Because it's a form of torture akin to holding one's hands in a campfire while being poked in the eyeballs with sharp sticks. If you have any restrictive criteria whatsoever, it adds an extra layer of "fun," like a rabbit slowly chewing off your toes while your hands roast.

Because this was my set of rules:
Had to be less than $1500
Had to have a long forward flap to accommodate my freaky long thigh
Had to fit my horse, who now went in a wide tree and would probably continue to change
Had to have wool flocking so I could fit to suit and adjust as needed
Had to be well-balanced and made well enough to last a while (ie more than five years)

Then I proceeded to peruse catalogues and haunt saddle shops. While pulling my hair out. Most helpful was the saddle clerk who took one look at said thighs and said "Oh, you'll need to order custom." Lady, what part of 1996 truck I was driving at the time said to you that I could afford custom saddles???

After a long and ardurous journey which I will spare you, we ended up with this: the Collegiate Convertible Diploma w/ Long Flap. And I can tell you honestly, three years later, I freaking love this saddle. With an initial coat of oil, the leather darkened to the perfect havana shade and broke in soft enough to be comfy, but is still strong enough not to scratch all the time. I've ridden hours in it on the trail, spent over a year doing dressage in it, and of course, run lots of XC in it. It's been flocked and adjusted to fit Solo nicely and sits in a good balance on his back. It has worn impeccably, and still looks lovely all cleaned up, often mistaken for a much more expensive piece of leather. For a saddle bought new for less than $1000, I don't think it can be beat.

I am not sorry I got the convertible gullet -- he's gone from medium to wide to extra wide and then seems to have settled on wide.  Lord help me if I had to buy new saddles every time!

Would I change anything about it? The only thing I might change is to design the tree with a little more wither clearance on the wider gullet plates. Solo can be a bit hard to fit because he has a huge shoulder. I always use a sheepskin cutout pad with the cc saddle so I ensure that his withers are enshrined only in softness. It works for us.

If you have to embark on this particular brand of torture, I highly recommend trying LOTS of things.  Go to stores, sit in them.  Yes, you will fall in love with some $4000 saddle you sit in, but if you're lucky it won't fit your horse.  I strongly suggest NOT sitting in the $4000 saddles.  It's just cruel to your hiney, mostly.  It's better if your ass doesn't know what it's missing.  Also, put lots of saddles on your horse.  They don't all fit the same and a medium in a Stubben is not the same as a medium in a Wintec which is not the same as a medium in a Prestige.  I know, it's like they WANT us to be crazy.

Also, say YES to a GOOD saddle fitter.  Having gone through three of them, I emphasize the word GOOD.  The saddle fitter can make or break your horse's comfort, so proceed with caution and ask questions and do research.

Do make a list of what is most important to you and be honest with yourself.  Many women buy saddles that are too small for them because of some silly insecurities about butt size.  Ladies:  the seat size of your saddle is very much about the length of your femur and not so much about the size of you butt.  And a saddle that is the wrong size can truly screw up your position on the horse.  I moved up from a 17.5" to an 18" seat to accommodate the freaky thighs and it made a huge difference in comfort; it's lovely not to have my knee sliding over the edge of the flap all the time!

While the process of finding the perfect saddle for me and Solo sucked royally, I also learned a lot a lot a lot a lot about saddles, construction, fitting, and balance.  I guess that is my tradeoff, as lessons learned the hard way certainly do stick very well!

September 23, 2009

How To Make A Nun Cuss

Tell her to fit a saddle to a horse and rider.

It'll work, I promise.

As I mentioned, after the failure of SF#1 to satisfy, I moved on to the saddle shopping phase. And let me tell you how much fun THAT was. I needed to keep it less than $1500. But it had to fit my freaky long thighs, Solo's big rib cage, be flocked with wool, be 18" and well-made. Doesn't seem to hard, does it? WRONG. Might as well have searched for the Holy Grail (We've already got one!).

Everything was too big, too small, too narrow, too expensive, flocked with foam or air (a big NO, I wanted adjustable!), too crappy, too deep-seated, didn't fit my was like being freaking Goldilocks.

Well, I finally found something that met all my criteria after about a month of pulling my hair out and ordered a Collegiate Convertible Diploma. Took it to (highly recommended and locally very well known) SF#2. He poked and prodded my horse, digging his fingers in everywhere, making tracings and pronounced my horse very sore but fixable. He sounded like he knew what he was talking about and everyone used him so he must be good, right? He added point billets and a crupper bar, took out lumpy factory wool and put in some new stuff and sent us off.

Right off the bat, it fit much better and Solo MOVED much better. Aha! I thought, Our problems are over!

Then after a couple weeks, it started listing to the right. Bad. So we went back, SF#2 fixed it up. Only now when we went home, Solo was resisting lifting his back. SF#2 came out to farm and did a group of horses and fixed ours again. This time, Solo got even more resistant and then came the death knell -- he developed dreaded White Spots behind his withers on either side.

To make things even more obviously wrong, two friends' horses developed the same symptom at the same time. Both had been worked on by SF#2 as well.

So I called, left a terse voicemail and never went back. $400 and three visits later, the saddle fit worse than it did off the shelf.

Then I called SF#3. She came up to the farm, flipped my saddle over and showed me obvious unevenness in the panels. She then showed me how the point billets had only been forcing the metal parts of the tree down into Solo's poor back and generally doing more harm than good.


Point billets removed. Wool reflocked. Saddle rebalanced. And OMG, now my horse could lift his back without being punished by the saddle.

Good thing I'm not a nun.

September 20, 2009

Winter Woebegone

So the Dark Times began.

I was convinced my saddle didn't fit. Solo was fighting me tooth and nail against lifting his back and it's just not in his nature to not do something like that "just because." It looked pinchy, it felt pinchy. I brought out Saddle Fitter #1 (ah yes, the fact that he has a number is indeed an indication of future insanity...). SF #1 bring a couple other saddles to try but says, "Oh no, yours fits fine, really." I try to go with it for a few weeks, but get ticked off and sell it because it's not cutting the mustard. It was a great saddle, the first I'd owned, an old Crosby event saddle that fit almost everything. Except the horse I owned of course.

I think I'll need an entire 'nother post to tell the SF Stories, I'll save that...

Because, oh there were lots of other woes.

It was WAY deeper than it looks
February 2008 -- I'd now resorted to riding bareback while training, but well, it's good for me right? (Maybe less good for my girl parts, but we all gotta cowgirl up, right?) A couple more winter shows were coming up and we were getting ready. And then our lovely farm "trainer" brought strangles back with her from a hunter show. One of our ponies came home with the sniffles. We begged to have pony quarantined because it looked like strangles, but the Powers That Be (PTB) were in staunch denial. Till about six other horses got sick. Then the whole barn was shut down in quarantine for several months. No horses in. Even worse, no horses out. We were in prison.

Solo happily escaped the strangles outbreak with nothing more than 1/2 day of fever, but we still couldn't go anywhere. As the quarantine was finally lifted after months of boredom, Mr. Genius, decided he still didn't want to go anywhere and attempted self-amputation of his foot in the pasture.

Oh let me just tell you how long it takes to heal a pastern cut on skin that is constantly stretching and moving, no matter how tight you wrap your standing wraps. Months.

Oh AND our farrier (now EX farrier) had managed to mash his poor feet into some unholy shape of crampedness to where the poor horse couldn't even walk properly, so we pulled his shoes and began foot transformation back to healthiness.


I'm sure there was some other crap going on too, but mostly I was throwing myself about my house moping and pouting because I couldn't go anywhere, I couldn't get the saddle just right, my horse was sucked!