The Unicorn Saddle Search Recap

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.

  1. Albion K2 Jump (original jump saddle. Sold for around $1,800 used)
  2. Duett Bravo (around $1,500 new)
  3. County Saddle (no idea how much it cost. tried a barn-mates saddle, and it wasn’t even close enough to ride in)
  4. Black Country Solare (around $2,500 used, around $4K new)
  5. Prestige Eventer (about $3K used)
  6. Stubben Roxanne (about $5K new with the modifications I needed)
  7. Black Country Wexford (about $2K)
  8. Stubben Genesis (about $1K used)

 

There was also a wide range of other saddles that I seriously considered:

  1. Amerigo Saddles
    • $5K new?… probably more
    • I never could find a local rep or any used saddles in a wide. That was probably a bad sign.
  2. Patrick Saddles
    • $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.
  3. 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
  4. Another Albion
    • 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.
  5. CWD
    • 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.
  6. Fairfax Saddles
    • They literally do not make these saddles larger than a 17.5″
  7. 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)

Final Verdict!

Does this make my butt look big? 🤣#horsesofinstagram #thelwellpony #fluffypony #may

A post shared by Emily (@may_as_well_event) on

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)

  1. 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.
    • might end up swapping the blocks out to the velcro versions and getting the larger blocks as an options.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

through-the-hole

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Selecting the Corgi Horse

I’ve written before about how I came to acquire May (story here. Spoiler alert: Sangria was heavily involved.); however, I have seen a lot of posts lately about wish lists from horses. Michele blogged about finding a horse online, Tracy posted about her Unicorn List for horse shopping, and Amanda wrote about her perfect horse as a response to Olivia’s post on the topic.

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Old media is better than no media, right?

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.

  1. 16.1
  2. Well Built
  3. Quarter Horse (papered)
  4. Schooling Show Experience
  5. Not spooky (turns out though, he was also VERY sensitive)
  6. Athletic (3’+ was no issue for this horse)
  7. Brave and Honest
  8. Vetted Clean

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:

  1. Sound
  2. Not Spooky
  3. Brave and Honest
  4. Easy to live with

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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:

  1. 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:

  1. 15 – 16 hands
    • I am 5’3″. I really do not need height and was quite a bit intimidated by my last horse)
  2. 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.
  3. Not gray
    • After owning a gray, I actually wanted a plain bay… Oh well. I found something yellow.
  4. 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.
  5. Unfailingly Sensible
    • 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.

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Things I would not put up with under any circumstances:

  1. A horse that rears
  2. 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
  3. 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)
  4. 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?

  1. 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.
  2. Not Spooky – Lol. Nope. Definitely not spooky.
  3. Brave and Honest – Always. I have to really mess up for this horse not to jump. And then, it is usually in self preservation.
  4. 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).
  5. 15 – 16.1 hands – Yup. We are around 15.2. (I think, I have never measured her.)
  6. 6 – 12 years old – In theory, yeah. No one has really any true idea how old she is.
  7. Not gray – … not Bay either.
  8. Ability to be a packer at BN – Totally. I just need to like… jump stuff to make this happen
  9. 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?

Life Update! (and Lesson Recap)

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.

Supervising Her Kingdom
Hello Lime Green
Hello yellow! (and boxes… so many boxes)

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.

haunches-in
Picture from This Website

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 Many Things to Buy… so Little Money

A couple of other shopping-related blog posts got me thinking about buying myself a little something. The costs of moving to a new city, planning for a wedding, Christmas, and being unemployed for a month have meant that I really haven’t bought myself anything horsey for a while.

My most recent purchase were winter-weight SmartPak Piper breeches, which I must have gotten on sale because i never pay regular price for them. I bought them because last year all of my winter riding pants died, and they were reasonably priced (as always). While getting new things is nice, this really was a case of just replacing old equipment.

Now that things are on firmer ground financially, I am trying to decide on ONE thing to spend some money on. Unfortunately, the list of things I want is LONG…

  1. A Browband from Dark Jewel Designs – May has a subtly sparkly browband. It was a gift from my fiance, and I really really love it. It is that perfect understated amount of bling that I appreciate in the Dressage ring. But… XC colors. I would love a sparkly browband with navy and silver and pearls… It would even match my wedding colors. Plus Amelia is awesome, so this is on my list. It just might not be a pre-wedding purchase.
  2. A Bonnet from If the Bonnet Fits – May also has a navy & white embroidered bonnet and a black and silver bonnet. Unfortunately, I rarely ever use them because they really don’t fit her big, moose ears, and they are relatively cheapy ones that don’t stay under the bridle very well. Therefore, I need a new one, right? Again, this would be in our XC colors, navy, white, and silver like the one I linked…. Maybe I can get “May as Well” embroidered on the ears. It should really say, “stop pulling” but that’s a story for another time.
  3. An Ogilvy Profile Pad – I have an ecogold non-slip pad for cross country. I love it. It looks great. However, May is the type of horse who (much like her rider) tends to fluctuate in shape throughout a season pretty significantly. I have an ogilvy half-pad that I really like, so it would be great to have another option for when saddle fit isn’t as perfect as I would like it, or for when we are in our cross country gear for a long time (i.e. schoolings and clinics). Plus, they look really sharp and aren’t terribly expensive… although I might need to design myself a logo if i go this route.
  4. A Micklem Bridle – This is more than pocket change and will likely not happen for a while. However, May can be really fussy about contact. She has shown me she like a more stable bit and goes best with a loose, plain noseband. However, sometimes a loose plain noseband means she turns into a runaway train, so I think a more anatomical bridle would be a great idea. Plus, my current jumping bridle is brown and my saddle is black. That makes this a priority… right?
  5. New Riding Pants – Specifically the Romfh Sarafina knee patch breech… although my tailored sportsmans are probably 7 years old and in need of being replaced too. I would say it’s a toss up between them as to which pair I might invest in. Let’s not discuss how these are almost (if not more) than the bridle in the above post.
  6. New Riding Gloves – Let’s be honest. This is probably what I will end up buying. In navy. My old ones are almost worn through at this point.
  7. A New Jumping Bat – Not a fun purchase, but again, my current one is brown and my tack is black.
  8. Breastplate – I have a 5-point breastplate right now. With May’s build, I just really don’t like it. I think it pulls the saddle down in the front. Also, May will never really need a martingale because of the way she’s built. As a result, I would really like a jumper breastplate or a 3-point that attaches to the girth. The 4-point collar by Lund Saddlery would be awesome… but it only comes in brown at the moment.
  9. Eventing Stuff – Seriously. I got away with borrowing so much stuff last year. I really need to invest in my own watch and pinny, at a bare minimum.
  10. Kastel Denmark Sun Shirts – These are so pretty and everyone seems to love them, so I should own one… right? In reality, I might buy another of Dover’s brand (if I am ever in a store again). I got a couple on sale super reasonably, so I am sure I could do that again. However, if I get to my goal weight, this might be my gift to myself (along with the new riding pants).
  11. New Show Jumping Boots for May – Lots of drooling over this one, as her schooling boots are shot. However, the whole set is over $250. As a result, she will be sticking too the old equifits in front, which I don’t love, and the teckna hind boots, which I hate, for shows. Let’s be honest, most of our BN trials will have XC right after SJ anyway.
  12. A Navy Blue One-K or a One K Skull Cap– This is 100% frivolous. My helmet is fine. it is comfortable, looks good, and is safe. However, who doesn’t love options?
  13. Dubarry Boots – What eventer doesn’t want these boots? seriously… even people that already own them want an extra pair in case they ever stop making them.
  14. Saddle Fitting – ok. this one is non-negotiable and happening in the Spring. I have not been super happy with the fit of either of my saddles, but May needs to lose some lbs before I can justify getting them reflocked.

Together, this all equals over $1,000 worth of items. So that gets me to where I don’t buy anything except the essentials because, for that price, I could fund a couple of events, or clinics, or a bunch of lessons. After all, that’s what is really going to make us better… even if I really want the sparkle.

Either way… I am open to more suggestions. 😉

2016 – A Review

There are few years I can think of that have had a larger impact on my life than 2016. Maybe 1990 🙂

The year started off fairly slow with January consisting of trail rides, bareback rides, and a trip to the fiance’s hometown in Kansas. However, maybe January was just the perfect synopsis of the rest of the year – a big of downtown surrounded by the farthest trip West I have ever gone.

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February got a bit more exciting. I got engaged on the 3rd… in the barn of course! Then, not even two weeks later, I participated in a clinic with Marilyn Payne… by far the biggest name I have ever ridden with. And I proceeded to fall off, and then actually start riding.

March saw us start to get serious about the upcoming season. Jumps got bigger and I started this blog! We also had our first cross country schooling of the year, where May was a touch wild but completely game. My confidence wasn’t as strong as it could have been, but I had recovered quite a bit from falling off in front of Marilyn.

April consisted of my birthday and my (and May’s) first Beginner Novice horse trial! We completed with a rail and a stop at the water on XC, but after having to convince our trainer to let us try it, I couldn’t have been happier with the result.

Early May marked one year with May, and I still can’t believe how far we’ve come! The end of May marked a new goal with our (both of our) first recognized horse trial! We were second after Dressage and clear XC, but added penalties in stadium to land us 7th out of 10. It was a lesson in humility where I worked on my ability to leave my mistakes behind. The very next week, we got another opportunity, as we ran BN at a schooling horse trial. While the jumps were significantly smaller, I was very proud of my ability to just. keep. riding. We got our best Dressage score of the year (which was perhaps a bit generous) and ended up third. Best of all, our team took home first place and some prizes!

June allowed things to slow down a bit, as my trainer was now nearing the birth of her first child. However, we did get to participate in a clinic with Meg Kepferle. May put on her sassy pants for that one, but I am still happy with how we performed. It definitely put a few extra tools in our toolbox!

We spent our Fourth of July on the longest trail ride we have ever taken! We also got amazing engagement photos taken by Tav Images Photography!

August opened up hot and we spent some time on our Dressage work before getting back to jumping! However some uncharacteristic unevenness behind made us decide that it was time to call out the vet and get some hock injections.

September was very slow as May recovered and my fiance and I faced some life changing decisions, but, by the end of the month. I was able to share the news. We were moving to Kentucky! Early in October, we officially moved. By the end of the month, we were able to have our first jumping lesson, where I jumped more than I had since our first clinic with Meg.

In early November, I found a new job and was able to start putting money back into the pony piggy-bank. Then in December, we had our first Dressage lesson with the new trainer.

It was a crazy year full of new experiences and adventures. Looking back at it all is a bit exhausting, so I am so happy with how far we have come… both in and out of the ring. Here’s to an even better 2017!

A May As Well Purchase

Since this blog will most likely end up being a journal of all of May’s thoughts and feelings (and how I attempt to deal with them), I figured it would make the most amount of sense to explain how I ended up with a short, palomino mare of unknown origin. 
   

 May is a 10 (or 11 or 9 or something) year old Draft Cross. I was told she is a Belgian/QH cross and that works for me! She was bought pretty much entirely on a whim. At the time, I was trying to sell my previous horse (calling him PH from now on), and it was not going well. He was a sensitive guy who was truly a one-person ride, so he didn’t show well to anyone who came to look at him. PH was big, gray, and super athletic. The problem was: I am a rather short Adult Amatuer who works a very consuming job and might never want to even go Novice and really needs: honey sized, plain, and only athletic enough to save me. 

Enter May. I found her on facebook, when I had just listed my own horse. I emailed back and forth with her current owner, and it sounded like a great fit, if I could sell my current horse. Enter Sangria (the drink not a horse or person or anything)… After a rather long Saturday afternoon of drinking sangria and lamenting to my trainer about how tough it’s going to be to find PH a great home, I threw out the wish that May’s current owner would just trade for May for PH. Trainer, being as wonderful as she is, told me it couldn’t hurt to ask. 

  
12 hours later – we had PH in the trailer and were driving out to see May, check in hand. I rode her and it was… fine. She was super green, and I couldn’t turn her to save my life. However, she seemed as brave and level headed as advertised. The barn seemed nice and the horses were in good condition, so I had no reservations about leaving PH there either.

  

All adults smile like 12yos when they get a new horse, right?

In the end, I didn’t even negotiate, or have a vet check, or a trial, or even a signed bill of sale on either end. We then tried to load May onto the trailer. She was having none of it, wouldn’t even put a hoof on the ramp. Then we brought out a little bucket of grain, and she tried to run me over to get on. I should’ve known that was some serious foreshadowing. As soon as she got home, I was regaled with this majestic creature I had brought home.

  
But true to promise, she walked right into the barn and settled in immediately. The rest… You’ll have to read to find out 🙂