A Whole Lot of… Not Horse Stuff

First off, I want to apologize to everyone for the sparseness of this blog. Life has been crazy and riding has been mostly boring (which I have learned can be a totally good thing!)

Let’s start with life. I got married!! (Special thanks to Tav Images Photography for taking such WONDERFUL photos!)

My wedding was everything I could have asked for. I cannot remember the last time I had so much fun! And I got to celebrate with all my family and friends, including those I hadn’t been able to see since we moved to KY. Overall, just amazing.

Then, we were supposed to take a break in life. Instead, we found a house and fell in love and are under contract. Keep your fingers crossed as it is UNDER 15 MINUTES FROM THE BARN! My current drive is between 35 – 45 minutes, so being that close would really be life changing for us.

As for May, she is doing great. Her mohawk is slowly growing back out, so I will have to pull it soon to make it look like a mane again. For the winter, I am sure she will appreciate having some mane back. She also got front shoes put back on. the feet looked great, but with the ground as hard and it has been, she was sore even in boots in a freshly dragged arena. It just wasn’t fair to ask her to continue to be uncomfortable.

The craziness of what is going on right now has forced most of our rides to be short, and occasionally tackless:

STILL don’t have a jumping saddle. Fat Buckskin in a Little Suit can commiserate with me on this one. If I needed a 17.5″ saddle or a medium tree, we would be in business, but apparently, there are very few 18″ wide tree saddles around? So odd to me. I have also found that what a lot of brands consider “wide” wouldn’t even fit an average warmblood. And anyone that has been under contract on a house before knows that throwing thousands of dollars around on something like a saddle isn’t something banks love to see.

As a result, I am sitting tight and waiting. I had a WONDERFUL experience with a Stubben rep, and I would LOVE to buy the saddle she suggested. However, I just do not think that will be in the cards. At a purchase price of nearly $5K, it just seems so irresponsible. Especially when you consider that used Stubbens (other than the monoflaps), only really go for $1,500 – $2,000 MAX. Oh well, I will find a solution. It just might take a while.


In my Dressage boredom, however, I did end up jumping some 1′ jumps the other day. They were set TINY for a VERY GREEN horse, and I figured I could do that much in my Dressage saddle. May could care less and just kind of hefted her body of them. I think she is bored too.


We have been having some lessons but, between my crazy schedule and my trainer’s show schedule, they have been few and far between. Maybe a total of a dozen this whole summer? Kind of a bummer, but we manage to make good strides in between lessons. Canter leg yields? We have them now in both directions, which is a huge accomplishment. Her canter feels so much better that I really cannot wait to see what she feels like over fences. Real fences. That require jumping. Not 1′ fences that she just steps over while I enthusiastically throw myself into a half seat.

We are having some serious difficulty with installing the haunches in. We get the shape all great through a small circle, but as soon as I ask May to hold the shape on the straight line, she snaps straight. We didn’t get to work on it much in our last lesson, other than just introducing the idea, and we haven’t had a lesson since (it’s been about 3 weeks). Hopefully, I will have more of an update after the next lesson.

May also went through an interesting period of being tense. Every ride was an argument. I was told she was being “difficult” and just needed to “get over it.” Now, this horse can need a dose of “I am more stubborn than you are, and I won’t give up until you at least try to give me what I am asking for,” but that is typically when we are doing something new or she has had an extended period of time off. This wasn’t either of those things. It was ENTIRE RIDES of her flipping me the hoof, dropping on her forehand, and barreling away. Not only that, but I wasn’t able to get a lesson during the entire period of this happening.

So I had to find my own solution. I decided to spend a few rides doing nothing but hacking on a loose rein. There will be no picking up or putting her together. There will be no insistence on perfect transitions, even if it means doing them 20 times. There will be no leg yield, haunches in, shoulders in, spiral in, spiral out, leg yields at an angle, etc etc etc. There will just be calm relaxed hacking on a loose rein, where calmness, rhythm, and obedience are all rewarded and bad behavior is simply ignored.

And it worked (video below, before shoes got put back on). I got a horse back that is far more rideable and happier in her work. It is so easy to drill a horse like May. She is so smart and picks up on concepts so quickly. However, she can get so concerned about what she thinks she should be doing, that she gets frustrated. It’s a delicate balance, but one I feel we are developing a system to deal with. Of course, adding jumping back in would probably help too. 🙂

#ponyspamsunday courtesy of lazy, low key hacks #horsesofinstagram #draftcross #palomino #may

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So TL/DR? All is crazy. All is inconsistent. All is well. Keep your fingers crossed that everything goes well with our house, and maybe I will find a jump saddle by Christmas.

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If you don’t have anything nice to say…

Don’t say anything at all.

Unfortunately, that leads to a pretty blank blog. I always appreciate the honesty in other people’s blogs: Megan at A Enter Spooking has never been shy about sharing the issues she has with her young horse, Emma at Fraidy Cat Eventing has an amazing sense of humor about horsey fails*, and Nicole Sharpe at  Zen and the Art of Baby Horse Management totally highlights her horse’s quirk. As a result, I think it is only fair to lay it all out there.

*I am still on the Isabel era because I read all new (to me) blogs from the very beginning. Does anyone else do this?

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From the beginning, I knew 2017 would be a bit of a throw-away year. I started the year in a new state, at a new barn, with a new job, a pay cut, and a wedding to plan in the middle of the summer. (We are officially less than 3 weeks out from that one!) However, I did have some goals. I wanted to improve my riding, I wanted to get confident over Novice sized fences, at least in the arena, and I wanted to get May solidly to a 1st level understanding of Dressage with some schooling of 2nd level stuff. It is August and none of these things have been accomplished. In fact, I haven’t had a lesson in a month, and I haven’t had a jumping saddle in more than 3 months.

All year, we have had 2 jumping lessons and a series of repetitive Dressage lessons. The repetition of the Dressage is not my trainer’s fault. The skills we are working on (strength and flexibility) take time to develop, and when you have a lesson every week, there isn’t enough time in between lessons to develop enough that we can go on to new skills.

So what has happened this year…

  • The end of March marked our first lesson since the previous December. It was a Dressage lesson, which I was quickly able to follow with a Jump lesson, which was not eventful enough for a post.

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  • We had a jump lesson where we actually really jumped things.

More #ponyspam #jumping #horses

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  • Then… May ripped off her shoe for the 3rd time, and I decided it would be best to let her feet go barefoot.
  • As a result of the transitioning to barefoot, I thought it would be a great time to have the fit on my questionable saddle checked. As you all know, it didn’t fit… at all… and was probably contributing to May’s crow hopping after fences.

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  • Either way, we had our Dressage goals, and we made some serious progress on those in May!
  • Then… June… and May’s eye decided to blow up the Thursday before I had to travel to Kansas for a wedding party. It took about 2 weeks to resolve, but I was able to keep riding through it.
  • July got hot… very hot… really too hot for May with 95 degree days with serious humidity. Rides were reduced to quiet walks. I wasn’t upset when my trainer and I had to cancel a couple of lessons due to scheduling conflicts.

#dressage in the rain is only ok if it comes with cookies #may #horsesofinstagram

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  • Then August. August has officially broken my heart. I found the saddle of my dreams for May and I, and it is more than $1,000 past the budge I had set if I ALSO sold my Dressage saddle, which is not something I really want to do. The lead time on getting the saddle ordered is 10 weeks (a custom Stubben), which would put me at the end of October… and the end of the season. With the wedding and wanting to (hopefully) buy a house this year, spending so much on a saddle feels completely ludicrous, but I have yet to find another viable option.
  • August has a part 2. May came in last week with a swollen back leg. No heat. No lameness. No idea… I cold hosed it, put a BOT wrap on for a while, came back the next day to ice it again… and there was no swelling anymore. Iced it anyway and gave her another day off before giving her a light ride on Sunday. No big deal.
  • Then August part 3 came up, I showed up on Tuesday this week… and a front leg was swollen. No heat… no lameness, but I pretty good cut on her fetlock where it seemed she had kicked herself (or something) really good. Cold hosed… BOT… an anti-inflammatory for good measure
  • Plan was to go up last night and check on it, but a migraine so bad it left me sick meant I couldn’t physically drive myself to the barn. Tonight we’re supposed to have our first Dressage lesson in over a month… but we will see.

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Saddle Trial 3 – Prestige Eventer

Can I officially say that I am over saddle shopping? 🤣

I found a great deal on an 18″ 34cm Prestige Eventer from VTO Saddlery. It shipped super quickly, and I had it to try on Saturday. 


My stubben Dressage saddle is a 34cm, so I had some hope. The saddle was beautiful, but the seat was pretty hard. I didn’t think much of it. At this point, if it fits both of us, I will buy it. I would buy a seat cover if I had to to make it more comfortable. 

I threw it on May and took some pics. 


Hmmmm the reddish color of the leather was actually quite pretty on May. 


It sits up a bit, but not terribly (for May and the way she’s built). Alright then. 


I liked the width down the gullet. 

Then I slid my hand down the panel…. and it gapped like no ones business from front to back. Like, I could see daylight. Here’s my attempt at a picture. 


Pffffff nope. Back in the box it went, and I gave VTO a call to tell them I would be returning it. 

Any other ideas? Reached out to trumball mountain to see if they can help. I would love to try an Amerigo, but I cannot find an 18″ Wide tree to try (or a rep) to save my life. 

Officially. Frustrated. 

Saddle Trial 2 – Black Country Solare

A combined series of events put my saddle hunt on hold for a couple of week, but on Friday a Black Country Solare showed up at my door. I knew literally nothing about this saddle other than it might fit my horse and work for me.

It showed up absolutely beautiful. Black with blue piping and blue stitching? Count me in! 

The leather was great quality, and it was well equipped with two pairs of D rings and blocks.

The box was even an improvement!

My only concern was it looked a touch narrow, but I figured it was close enough for a test ride.


Overall, it looked a bit high in front but sat level, and it didn’t seem especially tight around the shoulders. I took it for a few test rides, and they all ended with some variation of the below sweat marks. However, May seemed to like the saddle. She even stood completely still at the mounting block, something we have always struggled with.


For me, the saddle fit my legs great. I felt it helped me keep my ankle in line with my hip, and it helped my leg stay steady over fences. See below for one of the first jumps we have jumped in about 4 months. To me, the greatest compliment I can give a jump saddle is that I don’t think about it when I am jumping, and I didn’t have to with this one. A saddle that holds me in or pushes me out of balance is a big no no. One that makes me feel like I can do what I need to, while supporting me is awesome. ​


However, then I watched this video is slow motion, and I saw the below:


My leg is in a great position, but the saddle is clearly grabbing at May’s shoulders. Damn… If you watch it in even slower motion, you will see the saddle snap back down onto May’s back as she extends her front end forward. Definitely not ideal, and not something I would want to have happening on a regular basis. Our distance to this jump was good, if not a touch long, and I would hate to see what this saddle would do at a tight spot or over uneven ground on cross country. Unfortunately, that means I had to pass on this one too…

Then, I noticed some swelling/irritation around those dry spots, and I decided it really wasn’t wide enough for poor May. (good sport about it though!)

I give this saddle a solid 8/10. Leather and balance was great for me, but I am still not 100% sure a wider tree would be right for May. I’m still debating buying a new one, in the wider tree, but I have a few other things to try first. Next up – a 34cm 18″ Prestige saddle.

As for why May is wearing a fly mask? Well I showed up to the barn a couple of weeks ago to find this:


A nice swollen, dripping eye. She ended up having a small scratch, and I am riding her in the fly mask as a precaution. The vet has seen it twice, and it appears to be fully resolved at this point. Small speed bumps really can slow you down!

Saddle Trial 0 – CWD

Technically, this should have been the 2nd saddle trial, but I will get to why it doesn’t qualify at all in a minute.

I saw a great deal on ebay for a CWD saddle, 18″ on a 5″ tree (aka a wide). Every saddle fitter I have spoken to says that while May has big shoulders, she is not an incredible wide, backed horse. To be honest, I believe them because the wither tracings I have do not show a table-backed horse. The CWD was worn with some cosmetic issues, but I was assured it was in sound, use-able condition, and for the price, I could afford to fix the issues it had. It even came with a 14 day trial! Cool.

First Red Flag – The box showed up and was basically random strips of cardboard taped together with packing tape. No Joke. Check This Out.

I ended up taking pictures of every angle of the box before I opened it too… just in case there was damage to the saddle. 

Second Red Flag – The return address on the UPS label had been completely torn off.

I kept telling myself that I bought from a seller through eBay with PayPal protection and that the ability to return the saddle was clearly written into the terms, but I am not going to say that didn’t make my stomach tie up in knots. I opened up the box, stuck my hand under the pommel to pull the saddle out… and I immediately knew it was too narrow. I didn’t even have to look at it because my hand barely fit between the panels.

How narrow? 4″ dot to dot instead of 5″ dot to dot.

Ha…. ha…. ha….

The difference? Basically my wide saddle just became a narrow… Damn. Other than that, leather was beautiful (despite being miscolored, as expected), and everything seemed sound about it. Unfortunately, that tree was never going to fit on my horse. I let the seller know, and she told me it did measure as a 5″ tree and that I should try it anyway… I emailed her back a few hours later to tell her it didn’t work and that I would like to return it.

White marks are just adhesive from where the tape touched the saddle during shipping. It would’ve come off easily, but you can see the other discoloration here. 


I got a return label quickly and was able to ship the saddle back.

Third Red Flag – The return label was to a different city/state than where the saddle came from.

Oh well. It was provided by eBay from the seller, so that was where the saddle was going. It shipped back quickly, and I received a refund for everything I spent almost as soon as the saddle was returned.

I am not sure how to rate this one. It was a total fail that locked up almost my entire budget for more than a week for a product I couldn’t even sit in. However, the whole return process was easy enough. I am going to give it a 5/10. Disappointing, but luckily not disastrous.

And Off It Comes

 

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Do you spot it?

Made the decision to shave May’s mane off this weekend. After a somewhat hot but VERY humid day on Saturday, I realized that her big thick mane was probably going to cause us some grief as the temperature heats up. So off it came!

I will say that May’s one big flaw is she DOES NOT like clippers. The first time I ever turned them on near her, she threw herself back against the back of the stall, and I couldn’t even touch her with them. However, thanks to a lot of patience and cookies this weekend, we were able to get it done… but it doesn’t look at pretty as I would like.

Oh well! Hair grows back. below is our new “through the ears” view, if you didn’t catch it on instagram.

I did a thing sooooo #TRANSFORMATIONTUESDAY ? 😂😂😂 #draftcross #horsesofinstagram

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Saddle Trial 1 – Duett Bravo

For me, one of the most important aspects of shopping for any high-priced horse stuff  is customer service. With a restrictive budget for saddle shopping, I know that I can’t go out and buy a $6K saddle. However, when I am spending what is, to me, a lot of money, it is so important that I feel like I am treated fairly, if not well.

In that category, Duett saddle gets a 10/10. Sheri is responsive and accommodating. The whole team works to provide you with the best option possible, and they are still positive and responsive. Even if you choose not to buy, but more on that in a minute. 

The saddle arrived in a timely fashion and in great condition (new but has been used for other demo rides)


The Leather wasn’t buttery calfskin (which of course I wasn’t expecting) but it reminded me a lot of the leather from my old Crosby, made by Miller. The kind of leather that breaks in beautifully and will last you a while. 

The fit on May was even good, even if the saddle sat up above her a bit more than I am used to. Either way, the panels sat flush from front to back. 

 

However, the pommel of the saddle sat a bit low. Hmmm… ok. Well I have often hated saddles for making me feel blocked in front because May had such big shoulders and hoop trees tend to be flat in front unless you get the pommel artificially built up. Not a big deal to me. 

So I put a pad under it, put stirrups on (under the top flap and wrapped to prevent wear) and I swung up. At the walk? No problems. I had heard some people complain about the width of the twists of these saddles, but I often ride May bareback, and it doesn’t get much wider than that. 

We walked for a while then trotted… and I felt like I was going to fall over her shoulder. I played around with the stirrups and couldn’t get a great feel. I really really wanted it to work, but I felt my back and core working overtime to try and keep my shoulders, hips, ankles in line. 


I then tried pulling the stirrups. Maybe the whole saddle is just tipped forward. First of all, my horse is a saint because new saddles and no stirrups and my least sticky breeches meant there was LOTS of slipping and sliding going on. However, I no longer felt out of balance. Hmmmmm 


I had some pictures taken from the side with stirrups and without. And the issue turns out the stirrup bar was just in the wrong place for me. Damn -.-

Ultimate decision – nice saddle especially for the price range if it works for you and your horse. Sheri and the team are wonderful, so I would recommend at least trying them if you have a wide horse and are in the market. In the future, I may try one of their Dressage saddles. 

We did get to take one jump in May! 😂😂😂 as for next steps, the Bravo is heading back to its home. I spoke to a Black Country rep who has something that will probabky work… but it’s out on trial this week. 

In the meantime, I might take something out of the box on trial… like a wide French saddle, since everyone keeps telling me she just has big shoulders and isn’t as wide down her back as I think. 

05.11.17 – Dressage Lesson: Sideways is the New Straight

During my first dressage lesson with my new trainer (NT), she was entirely focused on creating a steadier contact in the bridle. We worked on making the aids super clear and getting the back end properly engaged. That lesson was about 6 months ago. I am happy to report that May has become much steadier and more reliable in the contact.

As a result, it is time to move onto new things! More specifically, NT wanted us to work on gaining mobility through May’s body. In her words, “It’s a lot of horse, and you need to be able to move it with not a lot of work.” Fair enough.

The first exercise was to pick up a trot and trot down the rail in a straight line. However, I would want her head facing towards the wall and her hindquarters off the wall at about a 40 degree angle, like the below. (May is the yellow line)

Dressage Exercixe 1

It seems simple enough. The issue? As soon as I put my leg on, May threw her whole body weight into my leg. Making us look more like this:

Dressage Fail

My reaction? I immediately start messing with my hands, get tense in my seat, and take my leg off. This is also known as doing everything wrong at once, and as a result, causing additional problems like our inability to even travel in the proper direction… along the wall. This is where my trainer gets tough. To paraphrase her instructions, “if she resists your leg, you need to keep your leg, and possibly even get tougher WITH. YOUR. LEG. until she yields. Then release the pressure. DO. NOT. release that pressure until she gives and don’t block the rest of her body with her hands and seat.”

Well Yes. Ok. Let’s do that. Except at the walk. We started at the walk to give us enough time to get the desired response as well as to help give me the opportunity to property time the aids so they would be clearest to May. (I was trying to signal the outside hing leg to step over as it came off the ground.) After having a discussion with May about how she needs to yield to my leg. No it doesn’t mean throw your body into my leg. No its doesn’t mean faster. No it doesn’t mean backwards. She finally stepped over with her hind leg away from my leg.

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Shenanigans from another time 🙂

May got big pats and all pressure released. Then, we tried again at the trot. She had a much more appropriate reaction to my leg, and we were able to tale a few steps along the wall at an angle, straighten out, then move back to the angle again without any fuss. We tried it the other direction and has similarly good results. Smart Mare!

Once finishing the exercise, I noticed an immediate, positive shift in May’s response to my leg. Instead of nagging with my inside leg to get some resemblance of bend, I was able to just close my leg and she moved around it. Brilliant!

The next exercise took things a bit further… and into the canter. Canter leg yields have been notoriously hard for May and I. I find she just runs through my hand and half halts instead of actually moving over. This drill required us to start against the rail and leg yield off the rail to the center of the arena. NT asked me to keep her in a slight counter bend and allow her to lead with the shoulder. It looked like this:

Canter Leg Yield

Our first attempt was off of the left lead and was abysmal. May threw her head up, ran through my hand, and on the half halt, broke into the trot. UGLY. My trainer asked me to try again, but this time to really open the left (inside) rein to help her understand where her shoulder should go. It couldn’t be that simple right? It couldn’t be that my countless failures at leg yield at the canter could be solved by opening my rein.

It was… it was that simple though. We came around the corner, got straight, got the slight counter bend, and leg yielded over. We then came across and did it again. No issues. Well then, okay.

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We then switched to the right, which is May’s more difficult direction. so difficult in fact, that we didn’t even get a proper canter transition. NT wasn’t going to allow us to get away with that, so we came back onto a 20 meter circle and did a few more T/C transitions until they were clean and reliable. Then we tried the leg yielding. May leg yielded… she also threw her head around in the air as much as possible in protest. NT just had me keep my hands quiet and to continue to ask her to move over. Right now, we were just focusing on getting the correct response to my leg.

All in all, it was a great lesson that left both May and I tired and sweating. It also gave us a lot to work towards. Unfortunately, she came out a bit footsore in the left front on Sunday, so we ended up doing hill work on some softer footing than our current arena. (Due to copious amounts of heavy rain early in the month, our outdoor is quite hard now that it has dried out). However, the fields are quite nice right now, and in her hoof boots, May was comfortable.

Saddle Search Update:

The saddle fitter came back and recommended a Black Country, since I told her in no uncertain terms that $5K was out of my budget. She told me specifically that I need to make sure any saddle I try has upswept panels in order for an 18″ to fit on May’s back. This is actually a great article (for arabians but on the issues I am having).

I have a used Black Country I may be interested in, but I am taking a Duett Bravo jumping saddle on trial to check it out. Thus far, the team at Duett has been helpful and responsive, so here is hoping it works out!

Saddle Woes…

After I got May, I knew I would have to find something that would be able to be fitted to May. I couldn’t afford a new, custom saddle (and still can’t), but I could afford something that might be close and have it adjusted to fit. 

I got an Albion with a hoop tree at a good price. I got recommendations for a saddle fitter from a number of sources and paid a good deal of money to get the Albion adjusted and reflocked. I even got a recommendation for a Dressage saddle. 

After I got the Albion back… I wasn’t thrilled. A good amount of time passed and I was finally able to have a saddle fitter out in KY. 

What did I learn? The Albion was adjusted much too narrow, and I can’t readjust it at this point. The seat is also too long, which is impossible to change. New saddle fitter recommended I go with the brand she apparently reps – Patrick Saddlery… at about $5K for a jump saddle m…

So does anyone have any recommendations for a jump saddle that would fit a short backed wide horse? 

Happy Two Years!

Two years ago, I loaded my previous horse onto a trailer with my trainer, drove out to PA, rode a very green corgi horse, and brought her home. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Together, we introduced each other to eventing, moved to KY, and have continued to take life as it comes.

Happy Two Years, May! Thanks for being my short, yellow unicorn.