Dramatic title much? Borderline click-bait? Oh well, I got nothing else.
Can we talk about something real quick? This:
Now, the cold is totally something I can deal with. It is not even that cold. If you put on a few layers and keep moving, it’s totally do-able. What I am talking about is that bottom right hand corner… that SUNDOWN AT 5:22PM thing. As someone that works a job that requires me to be at work until 5PM and a job that is 40 minutes, without traffic, away from the barn, this is kind of a big issue.
Who cares if it’s dark, just get your horse from the barn and shut up about it? Right? Well… no. My barn does year-round night turnout. From a horse management perspective, I do really love this. The horses go out around 4PM and come in around 9AM, which gives them around 17 hours of turnout everyday. And with either access to grass or round bales in the fields, it also means my horse can more easily keep herself comfortable, temperature-wise.
However, it also means that if it is pitch black out, my chances of finding my horse in the field plummet. And trust me, I have gone out there with an amazing flashlight and stumbled around a frozen field more than once trying to find my horse… only for all of the horses to spook at me when I get close to them and run off again. Sometimes I get lucky and can catch mine, and sometimes I don’t.
The point of this post? There are 13 more days until the days start to get longer, and I am begging each one to go a bit faster.
What limits your riding during these winter months?
Let me start this out by saying that I started our whole saddle shopping adventure more than 6 months ago. (May 8th was the official “start date” of this adventure. The goal? Find something that fits my horse REALLY well that I do not hate to ride in.
I tried the following over those 6 months.
Albion K2 Jump (original jump saddle. Sold for around $1,800 used)
Duett Bravo (around $1,500 new)
County Saddle (no idea how much it cost. tried a barn-mates saddle, and it wasn’t even close enough to ride in)
Black Country Solare (around $2,500 used, around $4K new)
Prestige Eventer (about $3K used)
Stubben Roxanne (about $5K new with the modifications I needed)
Black Country Wexford (about $2K)
Stubben Genesis (about $1K used)
There was also a wide range of other saddles that I seriously considered:
$5K new?… probably more
I never could find a local rep or any used saddles in a wide. That was probably a bad sign.
$6K new minimum with nothing to actually try on my horse
I was told that they could bring me a medium tree to try… but I would have to ride a different horse. Sorry, but for $$$$, I need May to also agree that she likes it.
Bliss of London Saddles
I saw these at Rolex and really liked them. They have a bunch of different tree options and some of them looked promising.
Loxley saddles start new at around $2,600, but bad reviews regarding customer kept me on the sidelines
I couldn’t find any in the specs I was interested in trying.
The local rep was not helpful. She answered my inquiry with an “I can order what you’re looking for if you want to buy it…” Sorry, but I really need to sit in something before buying it.
I took one on trial that claimed to be a wide… and turned out to be a narrow. I at least got my money back (including shipping) on that one.
They literally do not make these saddles larger than a 17.5″
Philippe Fontaine Saddles
The reviews on them are mixed, but the price of the one I was looking at was more than comfortable for my budget. I even found one in a wide and in the proper seat size.
Unfortunately, (or fortunately) I have gotten very good at looking at pictures of gullets and deciding if they would work. This one was a no. (after waiting 3 weeks for pictures)
Like my wedding dress, I ended up buying the cheapest saddle I sat in over the course of the entire 6 months. I bought the Stubben Genesis Jump Saddle in an 18″ with a 32cm tree. In fact, I now own 2 Stubben Genesis Saddles in a 32cm tree because it is almost the exact same model as my Dressage saddle, which May loves and no saddle fitter has ever been able to find a flaw with. (the Dressage saddle seat is 0.5″ larger)
I have now owned the saddle for a couple of weeks, and I have a couple of early thoughts. (sorry for this “listy” post)
It is NOT a lot of saddle.
My Albion had LARGE front blocks. This Stubben has almost none. It has a very close contact feel, but it does not lock you into place in any sense of the word. After riding in my Dressage saddle for so many months, this is taking some getting used to.
I might end up swapping the blocks out to the velcro versions and getting the larger blocks as an options.
The act of jumping has not gotten easier.
I think this has more to do with my comfort level with this “less than” saddle than anything else. With increased strength and balance, I think it will feel totally normal again.
But jumping May has
Jumping May around typically “wakes her up” and she gets a bit rushy and opinionated and stiff. She even used to crow hop after fences in my Albion if we took a huge distance or hadn’t jumped in a while.
In the Stubben? She has actually seemed to get MORE relaxed the longer that we jump, even if we haven’t jumped in a while. Another thing to continue to keep an eye on.
I forgot how much my Dressage saddle sucked when I first got it.
Stubben wear like iron. They last forever, and I would think most people have probably plunked one on the back of a school horse when they were first learning to ride.
That also means that they are TOUGH to break in. My dressage saddle was also only slightly used when I bought it, and it took probably a full year to get it fully broken in. With similar leather and treatment, I hope my “new” jumping saddle takes the same amount of time to break in.
Here’s to celebrating the end of a long search, and to hoping to not have to do it again for a LONG TIME.
It got me thinking about my own brief and painless purchase of May. (looked at one horse, traded my previous horse for her, made 0 negotiations on price, did not vet check… still cannot recommend this method EVER.) On paper, my previous horse should have been everything I ever wanted.
Quarter Horse (papered)
Schooling Show Experience
Not spooky (turns out though, he was also VERY sensitive)
Athletic (3’+ was no issue for this horse)
Brave and Honest
I took my time with him, but after 3 years of him proving to me that he did not want to be my horse, I bit the bullet and put him on the market. (or more like I cried for 3 months and then put him up for sale). He now has a wonderful home with a teenager who absolutely adores him. I follow him on social media, and it is incredible how much happier he is.
However, when I decided to sell him, I was left with a dilemma. How do I NOT do this again? I started with the things he had and that I had to have again:
Brave and Honest
Easy to live with
Honestly, on the ground, my previous horse was the easiest horse in the world. Farriers loved him. Vets could do all sorts of things to him without medication. He would turn himself in and out to his paddock. (Although, I learned last week that May now handles her own turning in and out situation. Works for me. We all know she isn’t going much farther than the next patch of grass.)
I then added in the things that would have made my partnership with him successful:
Lack of tension (Notice I didn’t say No Thoroughbreds. Below is a (10 year old!) video of me competing a thoroughbred that I rode for not less than 8 years.
I realized that his tension was the number one reason we did not get along. Nothing I did seemed to ease his tension. I tried everything I could think of, but we just could not get through that tension. 3 years later and with a lot more knowledge of Dressage and training under my belt, maybe I could deal with it now. However, I know I would not want to. I am an amateur. I have to WANT to work with my horse.
So what else did I add to the list:
15 – 16 hands
I am 5’3″. I really do not need height and was quite a bit intimidated by my last horse)
6 – 12 years old
I have ridden A LOT of young, green horses. As a junior, I put a lot of “firsts” on a lot of horses, but I also could ride multiple horses, 6 days a week. Now, I cannot commit to being at the barn as much as a really young horse needs me to be, and I cannot afford to put something into a program with a pro.
After owning a gray, I actually wanted a plain bay… Oh well. I found something yellow.
Ability to become a packer at BN
First of all, I COULD NOT afford a made packer at any level. (seriously, May didn’t steer when I bought her).
Second, IMO, a horse needs a bit of athletic ability beyond the level you are competing at to be considered a “packer” at that level. (i.e. the ability to easily bail you out of a bad situation)
Right now, I would consider May to be a packer up to starter level for an intermediate level rider. I have, intentionally, made her too sensitive to the aids for a beginner, but I have seen her pack advanced riders around after they have taken an extended break for one reason or another.
I am not going to use the word “quiet” here. I don’t necessarily need a “quiet” horse. I do need a horse that is still thinking even when pressure increases.
Really good eventing horses are able to think through complex jump and Dressage questions when the pressure is on, and it is not a skill that is easily taught.
Things I would not put up with under any circumstances:
A horse that rears
Heavy amount of maintenance
Not to get into the politics of it, but if a horse cannot comfortable run around BN without heavy and expensive vet care, maybe it is in their best interest not to event anymore
Something super HEAVY
Physically carrying your horse around a XC course is not fun. Sure you can lighten a horse up with a lot of dressage, but I have found that if this is their default way of going, it will surface again. (often when they are tired)
Something careless over fences
May and I knock rails… a lot because I miss a lot. However, she has the ability to get out of her own way on XC. Horses that cannot do that make me very uncomfortable to jump.
I then scoured the internet and found… May. How does she stack up?
Sound – I have injected her hocks once, and they will need to be done again next year. However, I think that is fairly reasonable right now.
Not Spooky – Lol. Nope. Definitely not spooky.
Brave and Honest – Always. I have to really mess up for this horse not to jump. And then, it is usually in self preservation.
Easy to live with – exceedingly. my farrier can do her on the cross ties, my husband can lead her around without issue, and she ground ties wherever I put her (with our without a halter).
15 – 16.1 hands – Yup. We are around 15.2. (I think, I have never measured her.)
6 – 12 years old – In theory, yeah. No one has really any true idea how old she is.
Not gray – … not Bay either.
Ability to be a packer at BN – Totally. I just need to like… jump stuff to make this happen
Unfailingly Sensible – this is probably the hardest thing to evaluate when shopping. May is sensible, but she can flip me the hoof if she hasn’t been ridden regularly. She doesn’t run away or buck or rear or do anything really naughty. She kind of just.. tunes me out? It’s a tough sensation to describe to people.
I think I did pretty good! I continue to window shop on the internet, looking at horses that fit my criteria, and they are few and far between. (at least at the price ranges I could even consider paying at this point in my life). What about you? Do you keep a list of what you wanted/want in a horse?
It has been almost exactly one week since we signed the papers, and we are officially all moved into our new house! It is substantially larger than our old, little apartment, so it is empty and a bit bare, but oh so perfect. We’re staying in saving money mode so that we can afford to buy some furniture for it, but we are in no rush. My plan is to fill the place with things I love for the people I love. It also needs paint… I’ll include a few pictures below but basically every main living space is either lime green or yellow with gray molding.
What does this mean for May? Well it has meant a lighter riding schedule lately. Moving a house does not leave a ton of time for barn time. This weekend was spent gathering essentials, unpacking boxes, hanging curtains, cleaning our old apartment, and actually taking some time to spend with my husband and dog. (Also, it was in the 30’s this weekend, so I wasn’t so heartbroken about not being able to get to the barn. May LOVES the cold weather, but I am just not mentally prepared yet).
It also means that I can start actively looking for a saddle again. Stubben is having a sale on November 1st, so I am going to see if there is anything that fits my (very specific and rare) criteria. If not, there is a local saddle that I might get to try, and I spotted a saddle at a popular consignment shop that might work as well. The journey definitely continues!
I did, however, get a lesson in during one of the warm days last week. A Dressage lesson (again). However, we worked a lot on the flexibility of May’s hind end and her willingness to isolate that part of her body. We started with baby haunches in at the walk down the straight line. Moving the haunches, then the shoulder when she straightened out, then the haunches again.
It’s definitely hard for May and not something she can hold, but this alternating between moving the haunches and moving the shoulders has made a big difference for her. Originally, she would snap straight as soon as I asked the shoulders to move straight, and if there is one thing I know about May, it is that I cannot simply shove the hind end over again when this happens. So how do I help her understand what I am asking? By asking for more isolation in a way she does easily understand. And guess what, she has started holding the haunches in without an argument or meltdown. Good mare!
When we moved into trot, it was more of the same with some leg yields. At this point, May simply moving off my leg is not quite the name of the game. I need to be able to dictate depth, speed, and trajectory of the leg yields. The best way to do this? At the sitting trot and using my seat. Now, sitting the trot on a horse like May is SEVERELY different from sitting on a thoroughbred. I can use the weight of my seat to encourage her to loosen her back muscles and as this looseness happens, she gets more swing (and dare I say even a bit of suspension) in her step. It’s a bit of an odd sensation, going from sitting on something rigid, to encouraging that rigid thing to move, but it clearly helps. It also meant I spent most of my lesson in a sitting trot and was rightfully nearly crippled the next day from soreness. Oh well, something to work on during No Stirrup November! (I have like no media, but this series of Laura Graves doing clinics on specific movements is amazing stuff)
Once May was swinging and in tuned to my leg aids at the trot, it was time to move into the canter… and combine the walk work and the trot work into one exercise. Now, May has developed a really wonderful canter leg yield in both directions off of both legs, so we were back to this concept of isolating parts of her body to improve flexibility and engagement. Great. So how’d we do it?
We started on a 15 meter circle at the canter. We then asked the haunches to come into the circle, while the shoulders stayed on the 15 meters. We rode the haunches in for 3 – 4 strides, then asked the shoulders to come in and join the haunches on the smaller circle. Then, we leg yielded out a couple of meters to reestablish the bend and the outside aids. And May did amazing. She immediately picked up on the idea of moving her haunches over, easily swung her shoulder in to match it, and obediently leg yielded back out to the desired circle size. It was awesome, but definitely exhausting for her, so we only did it a couple of times each direction before calling it a success. Maybe this means I will eventually have enough control of the hind end to do lead changes? One can only dream…
So May and I have officially been at our current barn for a year (actually a year and 7 days), so I figured it is probably time for a barn tour!
When May first arrived and for the first few months of our stay, May lived in the (very small) barn on the right side of the map that I circled in dark purple. The barn holds around 6 horses, and, at the time, they were all geldings. I think everyone was relieved that May doesn’t hate gelding and isn’t prone to squealing and kicking walls.
There were some advantages to this barn. It was quiet, there was plenty of room for my tack trunk, and May went out in the paddock right in front of the barn by herself (between the purple barn and the pool). There is also a separate wash stall for his barn and it pretty much never had a wait.
However, there is no direct route from this barn to any of the arenas (Indoor is circled in orange, the outdoor is in lavender, the dressage court is in bright blue, and the small outdoor is in pink). You have to walk along the driveway. This wasn’t an issue when I wasn’t working and was at the barn during the day. However, once I started a full time job, riding in the evenings as it was getting dark got a lot more difficult. Much less trying to do so in the rain. I also felt like May would benefit from some buddies, and I would benefit from being in the more social part of the barn.
So we moved once a spot became available in the main barn (highlighted in light green). She seems to like this stall about the same amount as she liked the other one. Maybe more because she can more easily see above the front wall.
May is now turned out in the light blue field with a few other mares. There are literally only 5 mares on the property, so they all go out together. The field runs up next to the property next door that has a herd of cows, and May LOVES them. I once caught her reaching over the fence to groom one of them. The grassy fields of KY do mean that May wears a muzzle anytime she is out now, but she really doesn’t object to it at all. She also seems to be benefiting from getting the majority of her calories from grazing now, rather than from grain.
About the arenas. Every barn I have ever ridden at before this had a maximum of 2 arenas. An indoor and an outdoor (or back to my really early days, a jumping arena and a dressage court). This barn has 4. It also has 2 fields that connect to the outdoor arena with cross country fences in them (once fenced and once completely open.) We also have one field that can be used for fitness, as it has a huge hill in it.
XC field next to outdoor arena (there are actually 3 ditches dispersed throughout this area of various widths and difficulties. There is also a bank complex directly to my right):
Funnily enough, I have never actually ridden in the small, fenced arena on the property. It is really only ever used by people with really green horses either lunging them or starting them under saddle. So that is pretty much it! There aren’t any trails (bummer) but no area is off limits for meandering around, and meandering we have done a-plenty! Hopefully, next year we will get to test out some of those XC fences.
And that is pretty much it! Hope you enjoyed checking out the place with me. 🙂
Let me start this whole post by saying, I still do not have a jumping saddle. We are still ambling towards closing on our house, so patience is a virtue right now. However, eventers are not patient people by nature. We are go-ers, and do-ers, and show-them-how-ers. So, I jumped in my Dressage saddle.
The first ride was totally my test ride. ITTY-BITTY jumps with no one else around other than my husband (hence video evidence). Can we take a minute to appreciate how cute and happy May looks to be skipping over 18″ jumps? She was soft and willing but taking me to the fences, all good things.
That’s the great thing about May. Very small jumps, think 2’3″ and under, result in a VERY easy to ride May. She will happily lope around and find all her distances and be soft through the simple changes. I’ve lent her out for a couple of lessons at this height back in NJ when someone needs to get the feel for something that isn’t a school horse but that isn’t going to do anything dangerous.*
*Most of the time. May did once politely force a friend of mine off her back after a small crossrail… said friend had been competing her 6yo thoroughbred at Novice at the time… but I contribute most of that to May being a COMPLETELY different ride from her horse and the fact that the saddle didn’t fit and caused May to do that lovely crow hopping thing.
So after this test, I ended up having TWO lessons the next week. (yes TWO!). The first lesson was a W/T dressage lesson. Yes, we still have these. It was a REALLY hot night, and we spent a lot of time working on a new concept to help May flex laterally through her lower back and the area just behind her withers, which I don’t think is something May has ever really done in her entire life. I mean, we bend, but we don’t BEND like that.
I will try to get better at the exercise and then post it up on here. It’s a bit like a counter-bend halfpass on steroids. But again, more on that later.
The next lesson, I was warming up in the outdoor arena, and my trainer came over to see if we wanted to “play over some poles.” Apparently, she had seen my video and figured I was game. And I was!
We started with 4 poles, half raised on each side, to trot through. True to form, when the trainer asked me if May had ever done raised trot poles, I told her yet. Then May made me look like a liar the first time through by trying to canter them. Fine. Then trainer said, “you know, you’re supposed to do these types of poles really slow.” Wait… what? “Ummmm,” I replied back, ” how slow?”
She gave me an odd look and then said, “start trotting normally and just start slowing it down. Once you get to the right speed, I will let you know.” Fun fact, my default, super forward trot was the exact opposite of what we were looking for. We wanted to encourage her to lift up through her back and sit on her hind end. Which is exactly something she CAN’T do if she is plowing forward.
**I add this with the note that I wouldn’t recommend 18 of these poles for horses that aren’t used to this type of work, and I wouldn’t use PVC poles. Horses hit them quite hard when they are learning this, and a splintering PVC pole could be a huge problem. However, there is practically no media in this post, so I had to give you all something.
Once we got that down, we lifted three of the poles up to about 1′ on the block and set them for canter bounces. The fourth pole was removed. Then, we cantered through it. Again, the goal was to get May to hold herself to the base, so that she could rock back through the exercise. The first couple of times through, she wanted to dive on her forehand and throw herself through the grid. Eventually though, we figured out the rhythm and got a nice feel.
My trainer then added a 2’3″ vertical to the mix. Making it into the below “mini course”. We came down over the bounces on our left lead. Carried the lead through the corner and then up the single diagonal vertical. May was good through the bounce but then wanted to take me over the vertical, and we got a bit of a flyer to that one. Turns out, it’s hard to stay with a flyer in the Dressage saddle, but it was fine. We did it a couple more times.
Then we went off the right lead and added a single vertical the other direction (the brick wall). May tried to take over going to the new jump again, but I corrected. We got a chip to it the first time, but smoothed it out the second. Finally, we pulled together a little course. Bounces off the left lead, left turn to the first vertical, then a left turn around to the other vertical. May was great and soft and wonderful.
All I have to say is, I CANNOT WAIT to have a real jumping saddle back again.
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:
I 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. 🙂
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.
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!
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)
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:
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.
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:
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.
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!
This was supposed to be a lesson update post, but on the day of my lesson before I left for a weekend vacation, I got a text from my trainer. It went somewhere along the lines of, “May ripped her shoe off. We are leaving her in her stall tonight.” Mmmmmk… If the shoe is off, why can’t we turn her out in her soft grass pasture?
This is why:
Luckily, I have a great farrier who came out the very next day and managed to make the foot look more like this:
Needless to say though, no shoes for May again for a while. Due to my trip and work, I haven’t been able to make the trip to the barn to see if she is sore at all. Planning on going up tomorrow, and I will keep you all updated.
Even if she is sore, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. It would be inconvenient, and I would be upset about missing out on riding. However, we aren’t signed up for any horse trails and don’t have anything coming up on the radar that we have been aiming for.
However, I have been really enjoying my lessons and the progress we have been making, so here’s hoping this is just a short bump in the path of progress!