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We Are Flying Solo

March 15, 2012

I'm Trying!

I am not holding out on you on purpose, I swear to you.  I am so swamped this week, am completely booked solid for the weekend, I don't even have time to eat!  I managed to get Encore out for a great hack last night (THANK YOU, TIME CHANGE) complete with deer and turkeys and streams and very large puddles and he proved once again that I bought the right brain.  Hopefully, we will be back in work next week and things will settle down a little.  Of course, my field season for work will start soon so that will mess everything up again!  Argh, work really gets in the way of my eventing!!!

As a consolation prize, I offer you this, Encore's XC run from Sunday.  He DEFINITELY needs some bigger jumps to back him off.  His only real hesitation was a pause of a bulge at 3, with the logs and brush, but I kept my left leg on, touched his shoulder with the stick, and he went boldly on.  I thought the log and drop at 5 and 6 were a fairly significant question for BN, but the more I thought about it, it made a lot of sense -- for most of them, the momentum of going over the log at 5 would carry them the stride or two to the drop at six and they wouldn't have time to think about stopping.  Encore, of course, took it like a pro, we've diligently practiced our banks and I make him walk through every puddle we see, much to his annoyance.


5...4...3...2...1...Have a great ride!

And get this:  he was quite tired from Saturday, so we actually got within 18 seconds of optimum time, something I NEVER managed with Solo.  At BN and N, I was always frantically trying to slow that train down so we didn't get speed faults.  And I can't believe I finally found something that makes Encore tired....but it was a big mental AND physical day Saturday with dressage and stadium to deal with, so everyone slept well that night.

March 12, 2012

I'll Almost Fill You In

My entire body and brain is tired, but I promise many media are coming.  There are photos to be cropped and videos to be uploaded and it all takes time.

I do want to say one thing immediately:  THANK YOU.

Thank you to the volunteers -- I try to be one whenever I can and I think it's a fantastic job, but it's also a long day(s).  I was happy to see some of the jump judges chowing down on a really good lunch, so good job, CHP, for taking care of your peeps.

Thank you to mum -- none if it would be possible without you.  Having an extra pair of hands for the weekend was an extra bonus!

Thank you to everyone who stopped and said hi, sent a text, or wrote a note of encouragement.  Each one is so special and unexpected to me, it makes it all that much more fun to know that Encore is sharing his journey.  A shout-out to Alana and Ryan, I wish I could have had more time to talk!

Thank you to the atmosphere, which gave us two perfect, Carolina blue days in the sandhills. 

As for the event itself, well, you will just have to be a little patient with me.  I'll give you some hints:

Our dressage test was much better than two weeks ago, but would have been even better if I had listened to a friend...

Our stadium round was nearly flawless, until...

Our cross country run was, as it always is for me, an exercise in pure awesomeness, but there's a funny story about a ditch....

I will say that I was THRILLED with the way Encore handled himself, it's amazing to watch a horse who spent three years racing take in a whole new scene so professionally.  Any and all mistakes were rider error, we crossed the finish flags on XC clean and clear within 18 seconds of optimum time, and a month from'll see us back at the Horse Novice.

For now, it's all between Encore and the giraffe...

March 9, 2012

Encore Premiers!

I only have a million things to do today and not enough time to do them all.

Encore's first recognized event, ahhh!  Wonderful mum is here to hold all media devices.

In brief, you can find your favourite riders' times here.  Besides me, of course.

Encore:  Sat, Dressage at 3:04 pm, Show Jumping at 5:18 pm // Sunday, XC at 3:20 pm.

You should be able to find live scoring here.

Off we go!

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...