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We Are Flying Solo

April 12, 2010

Long Thin Slimy Ones, Short Fat Juicy Ones...

WORMS! I wanted to quickly share a tidbit my vet graced me with this afternoon as I took Solo in for his spring shots:

All generic forms of ivermectin have been recalled over the past two or three years. They are completely ineffective; in the words of my much-loved Dr. Bob, "You'd be better off spitting in your horse's mouth than using that stuff." So if you bought that $1 ivermectin, don't waste your time. Stick to the name brands like Equimax or Zimectrin.

Also, never give ivermectin in the late summer (July/August); at this time, if horses are infected with parasites, there is a type that hatches out and migrates through the body. If you give ivermectin at this time, it will kill these hatchlings and cause very nasty pustuly reactions. Ew.

While on the subject of worms, Dr. Bob also mentioned that Panacur has an added bonus of boosting the immune system and the PowerPac can be given at any time of the year. Ask your vet if they sell the liquid in bulk -- you can buy enough to dose 5 horses for about $140. That's a lot cheaper than spending about $80 on a single horse's worth!

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!

April 7, 2010

Burnout Is Real

Yes, all work and no play makes Solo one very dull, crabby boy.  He pretty much gave me the horsey finger as I tacked him up the other day and then proceeded to stand there with his head hanging like I was going to take him out and beat him with a stick.  This, then, is the end result of working on dressage All. Winter. Long.

But there is an escape!  We have finally managed to work out how to access miles of wooded trails out the back gate.  And have been busy over the last few days trotting merrily along them.  Which Solo loves to the depths of his soul.  Now if only I could get him to translate that loose, back-swinging walk and forward, lifting trot to the arena!  But what I do get is a horse that returns to the gate at the end of our ride with bright eyes, pricked ears, and a spring in his step.

Moral:  even I, a HUGE proponent of getting horses OUT OF THE RING, can fall into the trap of working only on work, thinking it will improve one's horse in a continual, linear fashion, and forgetting that this causes one's horse to go insane with boredom.  Horses like routine, but they also like things that are fun, low pressure, and relaxing.  So give those ponies a break and head out to soak up some birdsong and spring sunshine.  Just don't forget the tick check afterwards...

April 5, 2010

Ooooor Maybe Not

I should have known it seemed too easy!  My great and infallible plan to use Jeff as a fill-in for Solo's rest days has gone awry already!  Turns out the fellow who is supposed to start leasing Jeff in August (which is a good thing, as those two looove each other and go well together) is going to start riding him more this summer.  Dangit for my grand scheme though!  Although no one is riding Jeff right now, as he is lame yet again, having tweaked something during one of him many episodes of gallopingaboutpasturefornoapparentreason.

We have officially entered Solo's Season Of Enormous Sweating here, so the last few days we've just been taking it easy with lots of hosing and (EWEWEWEWEWEWEWEW!) picking off of ticks, to which Solo is of course allergic and gets big, crusty, disgusting lumps from.  Which let me just mention how much I HATE ticks.  And I hate touching them.  And seeing them.  And generally co-existing on the planet with them.  I know, I know, I'm supposed to be all Biology Girl and crap, but ya know, no one's a saint.  I'll just own up to it right now:  if ticks went extinct, I would gladly throw a huge party and toast their arachnid demise.  There, it's out in the open.  So tell the next tick you see to STAY THE HELL OFF MY HORSE or else face the rather pointed wrath of my hoofpick (pointed, HAHA, get it??!).

April 3, 2010

Reality Bites. But Only Gently.

Lifeshighway correctly observed the other day as we were talking that I "ride the bejesus" out of my horse. I believe Solo is inclined to agree. He is tired these days. And I need to be realistic -- he is 14 and he does not recover from things as fast as he did four years ago. After several mountain rides and a tough horse trial, he needs some relaxing time. The tough part is balancing that need with our need to stay fit for two more spring horse trials. Now that he is only two miles from my house, I'm also riding him almost every day. Judging from the way he planted his head firmly in the stall corner yesterday, he finds that unacceptable.

Enter Jeff, aka Title One (left). He is an 8 year old Hanoverian/TB cross and the BO's Novice level eventer. However, BO has just acquired a lovely 4 year old OTTB prospect and now has two horses to keep up. And I suspect a solution to my problem is right in front of me. I can ride Jeff a couple times a week and give Solo time to chill out. I also get the opportunity to learn from another horse, who is so absolutely opposite from my red QH that I wonder how they even do the same sport.

Jeff is a lovely-moving horse, with a silky smooth canter that he can click along in for hours. He will jump 3'6" without even appearing to work. But Jeff is quirky. With a capital Q. And probably capital-all-the-other-letters too.

He was started by a cowboy who riled him up then cranked him into a super tight frame and forced him through his paces. Result: irreversible damage to his body and mind. BO acquired him as a 3 or 4 year old and has worked hard ever since to try and soothe his fried nerves. Jeff is sweet as the day is long, but once out of the pasture, I rarely see the underlying worry leave his eye. To say he is sensitive is an understatement -- he will sometimes jump just because you touch him.

I sat on him for the first time the other day. From watching BO ride him, I knew he was a tough and unconventional ride. He doesn't like contact and has a hard time, due to conformation, really packaging himself; he prefers the longer, looser hunter outline. But I had no idea HOW tough he was till I landed on his back.

You can't ride this horse like a normal horse; applying any pressure in his mouth just results in either being ignored or tension. If you don't have every single muscle in your body soft and relaxed, forget any roundness in your trot work. Bending appears to require some level of magic I do not yet have.

In short, Jeff is a huge challenge for me and I think he has a lot to teach me. I am excited and at the same time a bit unsure if I will surmount it. But he will allow Solo some much needed breathers and help out BO while allowing me to still see my horse every day and keep my butt in the saddle with no extra driving. It's been a long time since I have regularly worked a horse besides my own...I have some figuring out to do!