Thursday, March 31, 2016

saddle trial extension

Yesterday I mentioned that saddle fitter J would be coming to take another look at our K&M trial saddle. Technically, our 10-day trial period is coming to a close - and honestly I was ready, should the need for a decision arise, to say "yes, I'll buy it."

gorgeous light for the backlit trees!
Fitter J was quite generous tho, and offered to extend the trial period. For which I'm very grateful! While I'm about 87.5% positive that this is the saddle for us, there's a little more testing that needs doing before we pull the trigger.

why trot when you can float?!?

I've been using the Prolite half pad with the saddle so far into the trial, but recall the whole padding situation went sliding back behind the saddle during our recent xc school. Nooooo bueno!

Could easily have been a situation of not securely tethering the pads to the saddle... Or it could suggest that the half pad is actually interfering with the saddle's fit.

engage: Arab Mode
So we have been directed to ride this additional week with no half pad - just the saddle alone. The saddle itself really fits the horse so well that while part of me is concerned to not have that extra layer of shock absorption... I'm thinking the better fit is worth the sacrifice. But. We have this whole week to try it out.

much arab. so tail flag.
Fitter J was also very considerate in realizing that I truly want my trainer P's opinion on the saddle before purchasing (since last week's lesson was cancelled unexpectedly). So I have until this weekend to make a decision.

Honestly at this point tho - I fully expect that this saddle is our answer. There's a few small things I'm keeping an eye out for that would mean a definitive "No" - but I don't expect that to happen. I really want this saddle to work, and am optimistic it will.

Bolstering this opinion is a mare that continues to grow stronger and more comfortable through her back, and has schooled beautifully in this saddle, and in general, lately. Some of the best schooling (ie: unsupervised) rides we've had in recent memory!

All the same, tho. Decision day has been postponed until this Saturday. We shall see!!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

schooling familiar xc with marginal success

Ok ok, so I already told you we went cross country schooling at the lovely AOPF this weekend. In an ideal world, our first outing of the season would include professional guidance in the form of one of my trusted trainers.

But when jump trainer P had to cancel our typical Saturday lesson, Brita and I decided to take things into our own hands. So off we went!

horses look happy and ready to go!
And of course, readers love getting the gory details first, so we'll cut straight to the part where I fell off voluntarily dropped from my position clinging to the horse's side like a monkey. 

Still not entirely sure what happened here, other than one stride lines of oxers have posed problems for us in the past (ahem, HERE and HERE) - so perhaps this one stride line of raised logs had the same effect? And let's just forget that we've jumped this exact set of fences a ton before... that was last year and this is this year. So be it. 

the exact moment shit got real. technically still mounted at this point
Regardless, we stopped at the in. Then made it over the in on reapproach and ran out of the out. No good, Izzy, no good. Reapproached again with similar results - except ran out to the other direction, thus leaving me precariously dangling off Isabel's left side. Good mare trotted a couple steps then came to a halt while I struggled in vain to pull myself back into the saddle.

Those efforts were unsuccessful, alas, so I just dropped to my feet. Boooooo Isabel! (but seriously tho, thanks for just kinda standing there while I flailed around instead of taking off bolting!!)

nope, no longer on the horse. finally. tho the shadow kinda makes it look like the horse is on me?!?
My helmet camera got knocked loose from it's locking mechanism, but was otherwise unscathed. And stayed hooked to the safety tether so that while it was annoying to have the thing dangling around in my face amid the whole mess, the camera didn't fall or get stepped on or anything. Yay for sturdy equipment?

wicked would like to announce to the world that he felt VERY ALIVE at this moment
So anyways, that was but a blip in our outing. An unfortunate blip, yes, and one that doesn't really do much for my recently rediscovered soft squishy yellow belly. But. Like I said. New year, new us. For better or worse. We'll work through it.

The rest of the schooling was actually quite positive and uneventful. (Even if I didn't feel great about it). We did most of what I set out to do:

  • keep the height in my comfort zone, we want confidence!
  • cover all the important questions 
  • get in, get it done, and get out. no need to wear the mare out after the day prior's intense dressage clinic!

And I couldn't have been happier with Isabel's warm up - walk trot cantering all through the field around all the obstacles (including a preemptive check for groundhog holes). She was nicely balanced and mostly connected to the bridle, happily going up and down the hill.

Per our last xc lesson with Dan, Isabel was responsible for our canter lead as we changed directions. No signals or input from me - just the expectation that she'd figure it out. And she did. The mare behaved like a seasoned event horse out there - so we at least have that going for us!

three stride combination
Obviously "important questions" is a relative term when it comes to the lowest levels of eventing. What really are the questions at BN or N? For me, these mostly include related distances and trakehners for N, and the holy trinity of banks, water and ditches for BN and N. And generally, just jumping some weird lookin stuff.

So we did lots of related distances - 4, 3 and 1 stride combos (one of which was decidedly less successful than the others... thank goodness N has a minimum of 2 strides!). And the occasional strange fence (hi carrot jump!!).

nom nom nom!!
And we covered banks and ditches. I stuck to the smaller BN ditch bc... see blog title. And the giant trakehners at AOPF were still on my 'nope' list even at my peak last summer so... this day was not the day for them.

But actually the lessons from last summer stuck and our ditch efforts rode really well in both directions. I was very pleased that I (mostly) kept us on our rhythm rather than allowing that last hesitant stutter stride before the ditch. Isabel felt slightly uncommitted to the up side of the Irish bank, but up she went, and down she happily dropped on the far side.

ditch in foreground, up and down Irish bank in background
We didn't make it to the water for... eh no real reason other than it was kinda far away and we took pity on our ground crew. I honestly just didn't feel like it. OF has a better water complex anyway so we'll be sure to dip our toes soon (maybe after our next lesson if we don't actually school their xc).

All of these jumps have appeared on the blog before, so maybe it's boring to see them again (tho I swear these are new pictures and not repurposed from our other trips to AOPF!). But boring is good for me right now. So boring is what you get. #sorrykindanotsorry

Also worth noting - my saddle pads slipped quite a bit after the red roll tops in the second video, sparking concerns that the trial K&M saddle had climbed up Isabel's shoulders. Upon unceremoniously dismounting at the one-stride, I double checked and the saddle itself looked good - like just the pads slipped. But saddle fitter J is taking a look anyway.

So. First cross country school of the season is in the books folks. Boom. Splat.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Grant Schneidman Clinic: Addressing the uneven rider

Ok. The dressage clinic with Grant Schneidman. This was a good ride. Hard. And very physical for me, with lots and LOTS of fighting against my natural subconscious inclinations for how to carry myself. But good.

Grant identified the same exact issue as last year: my tendency to always sit to the right. He was maybe a little nice in saying the weakness was exacerbated by breaking my left leg (even if I know the habit predates the injury). But he was adamant. I must work on this or I will not get better. My body is naturally still protecting that broken bone without my noticing.

Essentially, we drilled into just this one topic (and it's consequences on how Isabel goes) bc if I don't fix this now, we'll always have a crookedness problem. We'll always have a bad side and good side. The 'left side stiff, right side supple' problem is of my own creation, and will only worsen as Isabel continues to overdevelop in one direction bc of my crooked riding.

There's ~40 minutes of video from the ride - but I'm not posting any of it bc... well... it's just step-by-step instructions for how Emma needs to trot Isabel around on a circle. So I'll spare you lol.

But don't despair! I happily went through the whole thing (maybe a couple times) to pull out a bulleted list of takeaways, directives, helpful hints, exercises, etc etc etc., all synthesized for your reading pleasure.

TL;DR Version: Sink into inside seat and leg, and stabilize outside rein such that horse connects to and fills outside aids while bending around inside leg. #dressagenirvana

game faces = activated
We warmed up as usual while Grant assessed how we go. It was... pretty blah. Mare wasn't going anywhere and I was push push pushing her forward. Grant zeroed in immediately on my habit of always sitting right, and Isabel's unwillingness to go into my right rein. 

And so the lesson began with exercises to fix this!

cute mare
  • Exercise #1: Lengthen my outside (right) stirrup ~3 holes - enough to only barely reach it. Meanwhile I was to rise as high as possible while posting - being very deliberate while stepping into my inside left leg.
  • Remember that my hips describe what kind of trot we get. Post bigger for a bigger trot.
  • Ride the horse like a school horse - don't fuss with how she goes, just focus on me.
  • Video clearly showed how crookedly I post (a frequent theme in lessons with dressage trainer C) - my right hip does everything while the left hip kinda just follows along.
  • Stay in rising trot for ~2 min to get the feel, then put the stirrups back to their original position 

'scuse me but wat r u doing?!?' - isabel
  • When stirrups were back to normal, keep the same feeling of more pressure in inside (left) stirrup, barely touching the outside stirrup. 
  • Drive left knee and heel down - that's what sends the mare more forward. (Pulling the legs up is a collecting aid - it stops the horse from going as forward.)
  • Exercise #2: Hold this feeling while riding serpentine loops - feeling the difference in loading each respective inside leg with the change of bend. I needed to really LOAD the left inside leg, but only needed a little weight into my right inside leg, since we're already overdeveloped in that direction.

sitting into my left seat bone
  • Need to keep both reins slightly to the inside (left) - with my outside hand touching the withers. 
  • Dressage trainer C tells me the same thing - usually in terms of holding my outside elbow at my body, so I've developed a habit of taking my outside hand away from the horse while keeping my elbow pinned.

  • We leg yielded right while maintaining (or trying to) that weight down through my left leg and feeling the mare push into the right rein. Right away these were better than our typical efforts.
  • Essentially, tho, Isabel just doesn't go into my right rein - she doesn't accept the outside aids and falls away from them.
  • Exercise #3: Through the leg yield, I was to drive my left knee and heel down, keep both hands to the left, then go immediately onto a circle after the leg yield, while keeping that feeling of leg yielding on the circle. Bend left to move right.
  • My immediate tendency is to pull my inside leg up, which puts me on the wrong side of the horse, and causes the horse to cut in on the circle instead of bending around my inside leg.
  • We paused briefly here for me to put on a pair of spurs. Grant says I need a fairly long pair so I can keep my heel down without pulling my leg up. 

exhibit A: isabel falling away from my outside right hand, which has drawn up and away from the horse
  • Exercise #4: Sitting trot with the left inside foot out of the stirrup, imagining dragging my toe in the ground with my left knee dropped. Don't use the knee roll at all - just drag that toe and sit on my left seat bone. And bend Isabel left. 
  • Grant noted that I'm always pulling my outside (right) hand off the withers to the outside bc the horse is always falling in. 
  • He wanted me pushing her out with my inside (left) leg and seat - dragging my toe in the sand ("enough to leave a mark!") - and bending her left with my inside (left) rein. NOT pulling her out with the outside rein.
  • He had me stabilize my outside hand by holding the pommel, at which point our circle diameter shrunk by about half bc I wasn't holding her out anymore with that rein lol. Oops.

holding the pommel for outside aid stability
  • The inside (left) bend had to be really exaggerated to encourage her to move out to the circle - so long as I stayed stretching down through my left leg.
  • Which, obviously, was difficult and uncomfortable for me. So we took a little walk break to stretch me out again since I get all contorted and contracted up in my legs.

continuing to hold that pommel - both hands are slightly inside
  • The general theory here is that my positional weaknesses have prevented Isabel from ever truly connecting to my outside aids while tracking left. Grant just happened to be torturing me with sitting trot bc I'll need that skill for everything after first level.
  • Incidentally, Grant said Isabel is so uncomfortable to sit because she has no muscle. I'm sitting on her spine, not on muscle. She needs to learn to give me a place to sit. He jokingly said that even Steffen Peters couldn't sit that trot (tho he could fake it, obvi) - but that he would instead ride Isabel to where she gives him a back to sit on.

sitting more left helps get that cross over in the leg yield right
  • And after a while - as I focused on sitting left and bending the horse around that long inside leg, while the outside hand stayed firmly anchored at the pommel, Isabel began to move out into that rein.
  • At which point, naturally, the sitting became easier and more comfortable. (Still had inside foot out of the stirrup at this point)

wheeeee canter
  • This is essentially a stage we have to go through to get Izzy from inside aids to outside aids. And this method will work until she learns to go to the outside aids, at which point she’ll run out that side, so I won't be able to be as exaggerated. 
  • For now, tho, I MUST learn to sit left until the horse moves right. My body won't change until I feel it working, and it'll get easier for her to 'bend left to move right' if we practice consistency.
  • The hardest element for me is maintaining it - holding the left bend instead of letting her immediately go back to the right. 
  • Grant also said not to worry if she's a little BTV while figuring it out, provided she's actually taking the outside connection (vs dropping the bit), bc as I ease up on the bend she'll go back to the vertical.

still sitting left in canter, tho inside hand is maybe going rogue
  • As Isabel started coming more through in the sitting trot, we went into canter. Which meant that naturally I went immediately to sitting right for the transition... but got it back in a couple strides. 
  • At canter (still with no inside stirrup, and holding the saddle with outside hand), it was really difficult for me to stretch down left vs lean left. Especially with centripetal force, I really wanted to go back to sitting on the outside. And it was a struggle keeping Isabel slow and balanced while staying down through my left leg. 

mare flexes left without falling in (!!!)
  • Eventually I got to let go of the pommel and use both reins and slow her down and balance more, but needed to be cognizant of where my hands go. 
  • It was really cool to feel how I could actually push the outside rein against her neck now bc she was truly going into it.

resulting picture. more of this please!

  • Downwards transitions (really, any transitions, actually) were hard for me to hold my new left positioning through, vs reverting back to sitting right. Needs practice. 
  • The whole point is to change my muscle memory so that I will understand how those aids work. People can tell me to do it, but I'll never actually learn until I feel it working (esp if the horse is resisting). 

ridden into walk. phew!
  • One last stretchy walk break before going back to trotting with both stirrups and both hands again. 
  • We leg yielded right again and did turns on the forehand (always ridden forward, Emma!) to commit the feeling of her moving off my inside leg into my outside rein to memory.
  • Once she’s consistently on my outside aids we can start working on turning off them etc. But she’s got to go one place consistently before I can worry about the next set of aids. 

"i'm not sure how i feel about all this. ask again later" - isabel
So there ya have it. A treatise on riding inside leg to outside rein in approximately 1,700 words. Don't say I never gave you anything! 

(Except actually, if you're still reading, here's some virtual cookies too... bc damn I got tired even just trying to write this out using words other than 'inside leg to outside hand' over and over again...)

freakin adorable mare is freakin adorable
Generally, we REALLY have our work cut out for us. It was an eye opening ride. Ever since I've suddenly grown more aware of how coddled and favored my left leg has become. No matter what I'm doing, I'm standing or sitting on the right leg. It's a.... pervasive issue. 

But I think Grant was right to zero in on this specific topic. I could honest-to-god feel a difference in how Isabel went as the lesson wore on. It's hard and frustrating (and I'm STILL sore three days later) but damn, it will work. Fixing this crookedness will pave the way for improving every other dimension of riding dressage for us. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

adding to the count (+ perspective)

LOTS of media to share from our rides this weekend - but it's mostly in the form of huge chunks of raw unedited video at present, so please have patience while I transform it all into something more easily consumed!

Things went more or less to plan this weekend. Kinda. Actually maybe kinda not. We ultimately decided to cancel the planned dressage lesson with trainer C on Sunday, after an intense workout clinic Friday and xc schooling on Saturday.

As much as I wanted to see C, it was just too much. I was tired. The mare was tired. We were both sore and a little battered haha. There will be better opportunities later.

couldn't have asked for a nicer day tho
Cross country schooling was alright. Just ok, really. Well. Realistically it was fine for what it was, but I perhaps need better perspective, considering this time last year we were just starting to gear up for our season debut at Intro (before getting shut down with a quarantine, womp womp).

We went back to the beautiful AOPF - site of a couple lessons with Dan. Meaning I had a pretty good idea of which fences to work over and how to string things together.

I'll have all kinds of details (and media!) later - but suffice it to say that I'm really struggling with nerves and confidence right now. Idk. It's just hard. I only fell off once tho (and landed on my feet! #winning) so I guess it's not that bad... Isabel was mostly pretty good tho. She jumps the jumps. Mostly.

mare went into hiding to avoid being shoved onto the trailer yet again lol
As mentioned, the dressage clinic with Grant Schneidman was great but I'm actually STILL sore from it... so presumably Isabel is too? It was one of those lessons intensely focused on the rider rather than the horse. I'll have lots of good stuff to write about it, tho I'm not sure how much will translate to riders not named Emma.

"SOS!! somebody plz to rescue me!?!" - isabel
Part of me wants to hyperventilate a little bit about a series of rides that very effectively highlighted my weaknesses as a rider. I'm trying REALLY hard not to tho.

Like I said - it's all about perspective. Last summer / fall found me riding at a higher level than ever before - in competitions and at home. I had never been stronger as a rider, nor more confident. Sure, there were still plenty of mistakes (probably there always will be) and I was still pretty nervous about the move up to novice - low level tho it may be for other riders.

But generally, it felt like I was at the top of my game. Like I was locked and loaded and ready to tear shit up with Isabel. The possibilities were endless and it felt really really good.

isabel sees goats. and maybe dead people too.
And a huge part of the pain and disappointment with breaking my leg was losing that feeling. Yes that's a little overly dramatic - I was only laid up for about 12 weeks. But that's just how it felt. And I'm realizing now - five months after the injury - that I'm still not fully recovered. I am NOT the rider today that I was on the day I broke my leg. Physically or mentally.

So I still have to come to terms with this. And it's going to be ok. I have great trainers, so many amazing friends who have dealt with their own shares of setbacks, and obviously, an incredible horse in Isabel. Everything will be fine.

But damn, sometimes I wish it were a teensy bit easier!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

just here to make friends

Phew only one day in and plans are already shifting. #Figures, right? It's all good tho. Clinic went really REALLY well. But wow, it involved a not-insignificant degree of suffering. Sheesh. We... uh... worked hard for it. Details to come.

Turns out tho that trainer P is a smidge busy with getting all her personal and training  horses ridden throughout the duration of the clinic. To the very unfortunate point that our jump lesson today must actually be cancelled. So sad :( Oh well, it is what it is, I guess.

BUT. Have trailer, will travel, right? While I'd prefer our first xc schooling of the year to be under the watchful guidance of a trusted professional, I think we can also more or less muddle our way through in some familiar settings.

So we're gonna give it a shot today anyway. Count down is on for Loch Moy and I just really want to get galloping over some terrain and solid obstacles.

In the meantime tho, please to enjoy this footage of Brita trying hard to figure out how to smuggle these mini-donks and pony out of our clinic host's farm and into our trailer!





Friday, March 25, 2016

planny plan plans

Didn't I just prattle on idly last Monday about over booking my weekends? And at that, just a week after two exhausting back to back clinics? Well. Apparently I'm a glutton for punishment, because our schedule is rolling full steam ahead with the onset of Spring.

looking ahead
For starters, we're heading out today for another clinic - this time with dressage gold medalist Grant Schneidman. He comes to town a couple times a year, and we first rode with him last year (full recap here).

It was an incredibly educational ride - especially as we were just learning the most rudimentary basics of dressage. Grant's biggest piece of advice for us was to get into a regular program. Which we have done with reckless abandon this year haha.

And what a difference it's made! While we're still relative newcomers to dressageland, we're perhaps better prepared to absorb whatever learning Grant can bestow on us. Should be fun!

so ready for the first xc of the season!
Then tomorrow we expect to head out for the usual jump lesson at OF - with reason to believe it'll be on the cross country course. Fingers crossed!!! (and obviously the helmet cam is prepped and ready to go should everything go to plan!).

We will also probably press ahead with a dressage lesson with trainer C on Sunday, tho I'm not sure what to expect there (and have told C as much). It could be a great opportunity to build on concepts we get from Grant today, or stretch the mare out after running xc tomorrow (hopefully!).

Ordinarily I'd consider skipping the lesson altogether, since the mare could be tired. But idk. Next weekend is a schooling dressage show and the week after is our first three phase of the season. Another opportunity to see trainer C isn't likely to present itself between now and then, so I'll take the chance and we'll work with what Isabel can give. No harm no foul if it's a quiet ride.

we're so ready for THIS again too!
Really tho, one thing is becoming increasingly clear: the 2016 season is HERE. It's beginning.

Factored in to this sensation are other fairly major alterations to my lifestyle going into effect in the next couple weeks. I'll write more about that later, but at present it's not totally clear how everything will shake out. Except I'm excited and optimistic.

It makes planning that much harder tho. And I LOVE planning. Or at least, the freedom to plan at will, or fly by the seat of my pants.

like impromptu trail riding
There are so many things I want to do with Isabel this year. Get comfortable at novice. Try a rated dressage show (still no inclination to do recognized eventing tho). Maybe collect some scores towards our bronze.

More than anything, tho - I want to have as much fun getting out and about with my friends and our beloved ponies as we had last year. Plus more, always more.

and obvi we have to get back to the Fair Hill 3* too
I want to go to Rolex and see my heros up close - and meet some of you bloggers in person! I want to go cross country schooling with Alli and Niamh and Austen (find a jumping horse, girl) and whoever else wants to come. I want to go to new places and try new things.

There's always a lot of uncertainty with horses, of course. And now more uncertainty around my upcoming schedule/life change. And perhaps that uncertainty is what's driving me to crush so many activities in all at once right now...

"I'll see ya there!!" - isabel
But. For now we're just going to roll with it. See what happens. And try to make the most of whatever comes our way. Should be a good weekend!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

chippin' away

I have all this media from a recent dressage lesson, but really not an awful lot to say about it. It was a good lesson in that I learned strategies for riding through some of Isabel's resistances. She wasn't exactly bad, tho. Kinda just not giving it up so easily.

No real big 'aha' moments, or breakthroughs. Just the same solid steady march forward. Every single step might not look like progress, but the general trend and trajectory is ever upwards.

so many pretty things in this pic!
Particularly, Isabel wasn't feeling very supple in this ride - especially through our problematic leg yields right. There are undoubtedly still issues with how I ride this particular movement that block the mare... but trainer C wanted to lay down the law and make our expectations of the mare very clear.

"no i no wanna!" - isabel
Whenever Isabel resists or braces or fights the leg yield, we immediately turn in for a small circle. It wasn't intended to be rough or punishment, per se. Rather, the point was for me to use the circle to re-establish Isabel's bend around my leg. Let the circle be the bad guy, not me. But bend she must - and we circled quite a bit.

"no i no circle either" - isabel
A couple times we'd only make it one or two steps into the attempted leg yield before needing to go right back to a circle. But it was ultimately an effective tactic and resulted in some of our best ever leg yields in that direction.

"okay, geez, fiiiiiiiine" - isabel
I like thinking about riding in this way - using different figures or movements or whatever to get the desired effect, rather than just kicking harder or giving stronger aids. Sure, sometimes the answer is ye big ol' thump with the legs.... But I often resort to overly strong aids when maybe turning for a small circle would work better.

blurry but adorable
I'd like to grow to become a more tactful rider - to have a greater arsenal of tricks for getting the horse where I want her. Especially because my mind always seems to go a little blank when I'm schooling on my own. I'll forget the things I wanted to practice, or the little mantras my coaches have tried to instill in me.

less blurry.... and less adorable lol
Lately tho, when schooling alone (now that the weather and ground are cooperative and we have returned to our regular riding schedule!!!) I'm a little surprised by my reactions when things go badly. Maybe the mare isn't bending or going into both reins equally or whatever. I quickly grow frustrated and just get louder or stronger with my aids to make that mare do what I say.

But the lessons are never like that. Sure - the horse might be resistant in lessons, but it never gets ugly. It never feels like I need to resort to brute strength. My trainers have all these neat tricks for working through the resistance in a productive and diplomatic fashion such that both Isabel and I come out feeling empowered and successful.

could never accuse this horse of not trying
I've been so focused on specific techniques or movements that maybe I've been missing this more vague aspect of all these many lessons we take. Essentially, trainer C is constantly troubleshooting and problem solving while we go. Assessing Isabel's every step and directing me to ride Isabel into a better place.

But then when we run into the same problems when I'm alone, I can't always figure out how to fix it - how to transport us from blah resistance up into Isabel's next level gear.

pushing into the walk like a good girl
Not sure what the answer is here, other than being more aware and mindful. Paying closer attention to how my trainers handle problems in our lessons. I mean, sure, I'm already listening pretty closely - but maybe I've been listening for the wrong things. Or, not 'wrong' - but just different.

I've been listening for details like how to hold my hands or establish the contact or use my leg or ride a specific movement. Whatever. Small, reactive things, rather than the whole bigger proactive picture for managing the entire ride.

Anyway, it's all food for thought, really. And not super related to the lesson. About the lesson specifically - as I said, there's lots of media. Including this footage Brita snapped as Isabel and I worked through 1-2 at the end of our ride.

She caught us as we were already onto the free-walk change of rein, so you only get the partial test. But I'm glad to have it on file. There's quite a few mistakes in there, and we were generally much too fast and rushed through the test. But it struck me as quite simple to ride - esp those leg yields, it feels like we have literal years and years to ride them. Perhaps that's natural coming off riding the Prelim-A test in a short court tho lol.

So yea. It was a lesson and we did things, and it left me with lots to think about regarding how we approach our schooling rides. I would like to go farther with this horse in dressage. All things being equal, she could probably get me my bronze. I just have an awful lot of learning to do before we can get there!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Kent & Masters: our unicorn saddle?

Guys. I thiiiiiiiink we might have found our saddle. Maybe. Hopefully. At long last!

"we have answers now, yes?" - isabel
Saddle fitter J came through the barn last weekend with a whole bunch of saddles to try based on Isabel's recent tracings. She primarily deals with UK saddle makers, so that's what we looked at. Some familiar names, some less so. Among them were saddles from the company that produces Thorowgood, Kent & Masters, and Fairfax saddles.

snazzy purple cover doesn't hurt
Other saddles included Hastilows and Black Countrys, and perhaps an Albion or two?

so many pretties
I was particularly enamored with a certain Black Country - the beauty farthest left in the pic below...

drool much?
And that saddle was a freakin DREAM to sit in - a veritable butt cloud. But alas, 'twas slightly too wide behind for Ms Iz, and actually crept all up on her shoulders while we cantered. That's a cardinal sin in this mare's book, so the saddle was cut from consideration. Le sigh.

alas, not our winner
Next saddle up was a Kent & Masters, and this one looked miiiiighty promising. So promising after our test ride that I handed over my credit card number to initiate a 10 day trial period.

well hello, there
This is actually a brand new saddle, as opposed to used. Part of me is a little hesitant about that, with the thinking that a used saddle will likely be salable for exactly what I paid, whereas a saddle bought new never could be.

the other side
But frankly, this saddle fits the mare better than anything else I've ever seen on her. And it's still more or less in the budget range. Given all the stress this whole saddle shopping experience has produced, I'm more than happy to sink some dollars into it just to call it case closed.

And, in that same vein, I picked up the Prolite half pad that fitter J sells, given how nicely Izzy had responded to it last time. Recall I hadn't been sold last time bc the pad slid back during the test rides. So I picked up an old shabby consignment saddle pad with black D-ring keeper straps - snipped off the keeper straps, and sewed them to the half pad. So now it won't slide!

like my DIY d-ring keeper strap thingys?!? 
The saddle itself is pretty interesting, actually, and has a lot of the same features that drew me to our Bates saddle. It's an adjustable tree - with short and long tree bars, plus varying widths. It also features adjustable billet strap configurations, and velcro-on knee and thigh blocks.

options abound
My particular trial saddle features the black (medium) short (s) bar tree. Whatever that means lol. Oooh but it's also wool flocked, a major plus in my opinion.

the full picture
The test ride with fitter J left us feeling good about the potential fit for Izzy, but I had concerns about the fit for me. The blocks weren't quite right, and I felt like I was in a chair seat and tipping around with my upper body. Removing the thigh blocks seems to have fixed that completely tho.

if my butt fits i sits!!!
I'm reserving full judgement until trainer P can see me ride in it (we couldn't do so last weekend bc of all the rain and snow since I don't actually own this saddle yet). But after my most recent ride, I feel gooooood about it.

clearly doesn't impede isabel's desire to stretch for grass
And I've actually already done a little bit of shopping to assimilate the saddle into our getup. Specifically, the freakishly long billet straps required a new shorter girth. Fitter J recommended something with more stability, and with only one elastic end. So I picked up a 44" brand new Weaver Leather girth at Maryland Saddlery's consignment section (i <3 them) and was tickled to see that the colors match perfectly.

this pleases me
Oh and it also matches my bridle better than the Bates too. So obviously it was meant to be. 

So yea, I'm pretty hopeful that this saddle proves to be the answer we've been looking for this whole past year. Tho I have about another week to be certain about it.

My question to you, therefore, is: What do you look for to determine if a saddle is or is NOT working? Anything I should have my eye out for specifically?