Wednesday, August 22, 2018

will emma ever learn to sit a horse? you decide!!

Right around the New Year, Charlie and I were dealing with a lot of sour horse issues. He started back into post-surgery tack walking in October, and rehab really got under way in November. Things were well and fine and all, right up until they were.... not fine.

Charlie's always been the kind of horse to get sticky stuck and threaten to go up when something is buggin him. And at this point, something was definitely omg very much buggin him. And by December, we had one of our worst rides in terms of his behavior - tantrums, rearing, all of it. Something had to give.

Jan Hulsebos conducting field surgery on my beloved dressage saddle. Yes that is a razor blade in his hands haha. and Yes it was awesome.
I was able to isolate my Bates dressage saddle (a hand-me-down from Isabel) as the Source of All Charlie's Woes. And thus it was banished.... to Austen haha, bc even tho that saddle kinda sucks it's proven to be a reasonable fit for a wide variety of horses. #gofigure

And meanwhile, I made my first ever true high quality tack purchase: my trainer's custom Hulsebos dressage saddle made for her large thoroughbred. The horse passed some years ago, leaving my trainer with a saddle built for a large thoroughbred, but without an actual large thoroughbred. Meanwhile, *I* had a large thoroughbred, but no saddle. It was an obvious choice.

We tried the saddle on Charlie and it looked practically custom made for him. So after much arm twisting, trainer P agreed to sell it to me.

best picture i have of the saddle's thigh blocks pre-customization. you can see the block extends the full length of the flap, reaching to the billet straps. also, incidentally, this Eponia breast plate is no longer needed post-customization. it may be offered for sale. interested?
Peace was returned to the kingdom, and we returned to our endless pursuit of more and better in dressageland in our new chunk of leather and wood. All was right again!

And of course when the saddle maker himself, Jan Hulsebos, made his annual pilgrimage to our part of the world to service any saddles needing it, I added mine to the list so that we could get that expert finishing touch to make everything just right for Sir.

the blocks after Jan was finished with them. effectively retrofitted to half blocks.
I wrote a whole lengthy post on that experience - a saddle fitting with Jan is basically tantamount to a bio mechanics clinic, apparently. It was honestly kinda intense bc I was just trotting endlessly around and around in the oppressive July heat while Jan silently observed.

Finally, tho, he reached a verdict.

a nice example of me and charlie both trying really hard
In Jan's opinion, a few things had to happen with the saddle. First of all: we would reflock (as expected) but with the specific intent of lifting the front of the saddle, and slightly lowering the back. This made perfect sense to me, since even tho Charlie is not technically built downhill he can often have a downhill way of going.

possibly just a better camera angle, but definitely a better pelvis angle
Additionally, I had noticed that during the course of a ride, the saddle would slide back a little bit, dropping even more up front. Thus the idea of adding a breast plate* to the mix: it was my hope that the breast plate would keep the saddle from dropping backwards. This seemed to work, but Jan's flocking solution is obviously a bit more effective haha.

(*Incidentally -- after making his adjustments to the saddle he recommended I discontinue using the breast plate. I've held onto it tho bc.... wow it's really pretty. But am wondering if maybe I could use the money more and am debating offering it for sale. If you're interested let me know! fraidycat.eventing at gmail.)

leg position leaves plenty to be desired, but we try, we try
It was Jan's other observations that maybe made a bigger difference tho. Essentially, after watching me trot around for ages, he accurately identified my most prominent (and, frankly, well-known) positional flaws: I tend to tip forward in my pelvis and perch on my crotch, while pivoting and pinching with my knees causing the lower leg to curl up.

pretty standard emma perch with trademark pulled up leg
I've been working on fixing this for.... literal years. It's.... hard. And I do it in literally every single saddle I ride in, tho obviously some help or hinder more than others.

But Jan felt that he could improve the saddle's construction to help here. See, he thought the big giant visible-from-the-moon thigh blocks on the saddle were giving me something to brace my knees against, pushing my seat up against the back of the saddle. If he cut off the bottom half of the blocks, my knee would have more room and nothing to push against, so my seat could stay more neutral while my leg hung down more naturally.

gosh i wish we could have Austen taking pictures at every show tho.... instead you get cell phone screen grabs. half block is visible tho!
Seemed like a good plan, yes? And the cost was surprisingly affordable. Even better was that Jan could make all the alterations right then and there, with no shipping the saddle away or wait times.

leg still curled. always curled. bc reasons. seat potentially showing improvement tho?
Since then, I've felt pretty good about the saddle. Lifting it up front definitely helps with Chuck (even tho, call me biased if you want, he seems to be less and less downhill in his way of going every day) and I feel like it's maybe (?) been easier to keep my seat where I want it. Maybe.

the idea is that my knee can't jam into the block any more to push my seat backwards
I haven't had a dressage lesson in forever tho (sadness + woe) and opportunities for getting pictures of us in dressage tack are likewise sadly rare. Except at shows!!! So all these recent pictures from Jenny Camp are getting repurposed to help me better understand what changes the saddle has helped bring along, and what still needs work.

so even as i want to pull my heel up and cling with my lower leg, my seat is able to retain a somewhat neutral position
Obviously I'm ignoring things like my too-long reins and too-wide hands. Tho, uh, if someone could invent a saddle that reminds you to shorten your fucking reins that would be greeeeattt haha.

Rather, mostly I'm looking at two distinct tho closely correlated elements in these pictures. First: the general orientation of my pelvis. If I imagine the human pelvis is shaped like a bowl and filled with water, what would be happening to my water? Is it spilling out the front? Or safely contained in a level bowl?

so the refitted saddle isn't a miracle worker, but is a step in the right direction
For my own purposes, I've come to believe that my seat position is the highest priority among my special set of issues. Like, sure, there are issues in my torso, arms, head and neck and like... wow all of it, but I think a more correct seat position will make it easier to create effective change elsewhere.

The second priority, and the other element I'm looking at in these pictures, is how my leg hangs from my pelvis. Does it drape down? Am I able to utilize the length of my muscles independently? With the ability, for instance, to apply thigh pressure separately from calf? Or... ya know... am I just clinging with my heel?? lol...

And most importantly, do I see a difference in the set of pictures from Loch Moy with the full blocks, vs the set of pictures from Jenny Camp with the half blocks?

when you ride a bronto tho, you work with what you got lol
It's a tough comparison bc the quality difference between photos is so..... extreme lol. And also obvi these pictures were mostly the cream of the crop vs the uglier moments.... Tho I believe they're relatively honest representations of how I ride.

So... Overall? My impression is that I think the half blocks do make a big difference in how I sit. Taking away the ability to brace my knee against the block has in fact helped keep my seat more neutral. I still pinch with the knee tho, and still want to drop the front of my pelvis. A lot of that is muscle memory tho. Hard to fix. But worth the effort.

Ultimately I think the improvements in the saddle have helped a lot. Made a big difference. It's easier for me to be more correct, and I'm not fighting against the saddle as much. It's not a silver bullet tho. Alas haha. But is there even such a thing with horses? I think not. 

30 comments:

  1. I read people writing that the new saddle they got has them naturally sitting so easily and correctly and OMG riding is amazing now and I’m all like “good for you cuz I’ve tried dozens of saddles and still have the same shit position in each so...” HAHA!

    From my untrained eye your position looks more relaxed without the large block than with and Charlie is more uphill and balanced too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lol yea I am not a believer in the magical cure all saddle. Maybe someone would argue that’s bc I haven’t sat in the right saddle yet but.... idk I’ve sat in a lot of em haha. Mostly I see a lot of those sentiments coming out as a subconscious validation of a large expense. Confirmation bias maybe? Regardless tho I don’t see anything wrong with it haha. But an expensive saddle and love it? Awesome! Happy with a cheapie? Also awesome. So long as the rider feels comfortable and capable and secure - feelings that definitely CAN be imparted by a saddle.

      Delete
  2. Ahhh riding... even with the perfect equipment it's still hard! I do agree that now the saddle gives you the right setting to start improving your seat, even if it wasn't the magic bullet! Our saddle adjustments helped a lot too, but as always, there's still quite a lot of user error to factor in. What a fun lifetime sport we've chosen!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So hard tho haha. And user error is exactly the right word. Some might say I should consider occasionally taking my leg OFF the horse.., but I say they’ll have to pry that out of my cold dead... leg lol bc I’m never letting go. Never!!

      Delete
  3. So, as you may know, I am a huge propenent of the saddle fitting the rider and the horse. to the point that I am sure that people's eyes glaze over. But it makes such a difference. When the saddle fits the rider, getting into the correct position is easy because you are not fighting where the saddle wants to put you.
    I do see a difference in the before and after photos. You defintely look more secure and relaxed in the saddle- like it's not taking so much muscle effort to keep you in the correct position.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yea I definitely agree that bad fit can be a bad problem. Obvi yes for horses but for riders too. Like that damn Kent and Masters that I bought. Ugh. It was so wrong for me. Why oh why did I buy a jump saddle that I couldn’t even hold a 2pt position in ?!?!? Mostly tho while I agree there are some very definite WRONG saddles, I’m a little more fuzzy on whether there’s any one perfect RIGHT saddle. Bc at a certain point it’s kinda up to us to sit where we need to. Idk haha.

      Re this hulsebos - I agree it doesn’t take as much work to sit better. Tho some of the differences between the picture sets above are in the horse. He was pulling at Loch Moy (his telltale sign is his open mouth) which leads to more extreme bracing in me (for better or worse) whereas at Jenny Camp he was very soft so I could be softer. Always a work in progress!

      Delete
  4. I wish I could take photos at every show too! ❤️ Let's find a time to take some new dressage tack photos, tho. And I am so feeling you on the grip with leg and throw seat out of balance. Sigh. Riding is just so hard, ya know?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ugh they keep telling me about these “independent aids” like seat and hands or whatever but idk it sounds like nonsense to me lol. And yea maybe we should find a time to go to trainer C’s one day - it would be fun!!

      Delete
  5. really interesting post. i definitely was one of those people that hated dressage and thought it was stupid... and then is at in a dressage saddle i REALLY liked and i was like jk, this is goals right now.

    fwiw, i think that the block adjustment wasn't a magikal fix BUT i can see where your leg can't brace like it did before and it's allowing you to open your hips more.

    in closing, charles is cute in all saddles.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. lol yes charlie is basically the cutest haha! and yea, i'm not really a very tall being (at all, ahem), but my proportions are a little funky with my thigh basically being the longest part of me. so giving my knee more room really helps the overall picture!

      Delete
  6. LOL that is some excellent photoshop magic there!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. cough, MS Paint, cough, lolololol..... but it's so perfect, i will use that picture forever <3

      Delete
  7. Oh how I wish there was a saddle that would fix everything. I do NOW agree that the right saddle makes position easier, it just whispers "be here" and you body just will. But it is still up to the stupid rider to actually stay there. Stupid personal responsibility and all.
    You both do look much better, and that is what you aim for. Finding little bits of something to make things a touch easier. Onward and upward!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. lol i was like, "why would this person want to be anonymous with this comment that i agree 1,000,000% with?!?" haha..

      seriously tho, yea. having a saddle that allows you to simply exist in a nice place without having to "hold" it really really helps. but... it's not enough, never enough, on its own. alas. but each little step helps!!

      Delete
  8. Still love that Dino picture LOL! I'm glad it feels like you're doing better in the saddle! Those changes do make a lot of difference. I'm glad it's working out for Sir Charles as well! He's looking very very fancy!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. lol thanks - he can certainly pull out those nice moments when he's feeling good for it! our first couple schools after the show he was strutting like a champion and felt 100% equal to getting down to business. then our last school was.... a running braced disaster like we haven't seen in ages. so. ya know. it swings both ways lol, no matter what the saddle ;)

      Delete
  9. I admire you on not giving up on saddles for C. I have pretty much abandoned all hope of getting a dressage saddle because I just don't have the energy to deal with saddle fitting yet again.

    Yours looks suuuuper comfy, though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. lol it was either "i guess i'm not riding charlie any more ever again bc he's REAL MAD," or, ya know, change saddles haha. seemed like a pretty obvious choice to me!

      Delete
  10. I totally know what you mean when you want to isolate certain parts of yourself to improve and it helps with most of them, but damn sometimes if 2 body mechanic things feeding into each other and when you fixed one the other follows. Like once the seat is all sussed out the leg stuff will probably follow with more improvements! Keep up the great work!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. hopefully haha - i'm definitely not one who can walk and chew gum at the same time, so it's really hard to fix more than one thing at a time!

      Delete
  11. Lol I could ask the same. Once we had a saddle fitter out, and my trainer and fitter were determined that if I just found the right saddle the problem would go away. I don't remember how many saddles it took before they both gave up and admitted that's just how I ride!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lol yup. It’s like the sooner ppl figure that out, the easier it gets for everyone involved haha

      Delete
  12. I'm very interested in your breastplate. I've been thinking about buying one for Levi. But I won't be in a place to receive goods until September.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry it already sold ! I’m not sure it would have fit Levi tho honestly

      Delete
  13. Bronto Charlie graphic is a GEM. Please re-purpose and use liberally in the future, kthx LOL

    ReplyDelete
  14. Oh god, I could have written this word for word...
    And I will also invest in a saddle that tells me to shorten my reins hahaha!

    I WISH you were here because my trainer is an absolute wizard when it comes to dealing with this issue. I spent years having the same problem and after doing some slightly terrifying and often questionable exercises I now have a much more neutral seat and, shock horror, sometimes find sitting trot easier than rising :O

    Don't get me started because I never thought that day would come.

    I just wish it was as easy to fix my dodgy left elbow... also, next level sad I can't buy your breastplate. I've been eyeing it off since you bought it.


    Ahhhh screw it, all the US bloggers I follow just make me want to move to the US so wait for me. I'll be there soon.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I agree, a new saddle isn't a magical fix! The right saddle really does help though and I think that having your knee block customised for you has really helped. But I agree as riders we have to be responsible for our position and keep working at it.

    I once had a saddle I called the ejector seat... In that case a new saddle was a whole magical experience. I could suddenly sit up and ride and actually sit out shenanigans.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I just have to say, I love that last photo-made me laugh out loud here at work!

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for leaving a comment! If you have trouble with this form, please email: fraidycat.eventing at gmail.