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!

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.

img_3855
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.

img_4895

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!

The Best Made Plans…

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:

Oh Hey Wings…

Luckily, I have a great farrier who came out the very next day and managed to make the foot look more like this:

 

I guess I was right when I told him there would be nowhere for him to nail another shoe into….

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!

Why I Need Lessons

Since moving to KY, May and I had been able to fit in/afford 1 jumping lesson in the Fall and 2 Dressage lessons (1 in the Fall and one in early Spring). That is, until last week when we had our second jumping lesson ever with my new trainer and the first jumping lesson in pretty much 6 months.

But let’s backup first. I was putting a bit of pressure on myself before my lesson to increase height, difficulty, and length of our jumping sessions on our own. Luckily, the first weekend of April there was a clinic at my barn, so the jumps were moved all over the place in a way that promoted a lot of turning and related distances. Also luckily, my awesome fiance was there to take video. I figured I could watch myself after and figure out where my problem areas are.

 


There were some awesome moments where May stayed soft and light and practically jumped me out of the tack. I even left the oxer at a pretty decent height and a good width to force us to really jump it. Looking back now, I think it was the first oxer we did all season. Oh well, it went fine. 🙂

However, turning and finding jumps has always been a pretty good skill for me. Sure I miss, but I am usually just added on a 3/4 stride or leaving a tiny chip out. The long approach to a jump has always been my nemesis though. I just want to do SOMETHING, so I usually end up doing the WRONG thing. Does anyone else do this? Anyway, I was riding to the oxer off the long approach, and I Could. Not. Find. My. Distance. Below is the video. Can you tell what I did wrong?

 

 

Our pace wasn’t changing around the corner, she wasn’t losing her balance, and I was really looking past the jump and not pulling. I was, however, forcing her to keep her balance. Buuuuut I didn’t keep my leg on, and we didn’t have enough power from behind. It becomes really obvious in the video between the 12 and 13 second marks, where you can CLEARLY see her fall behind my leg… Damn…

I reviewed the footage and decided came back to jump again on Sunday. Jumping back to back like that is rarely my plan, but I figured we would pop over just a few fences. I didn’t mean for it to be literally a few fences. I think we jumped a total of 3 fences. She was tired and just not into it. I figured it wasn’t a big deal, and I would give her Monday off for my birthday. (I need to do a post on all my horsey-related birthday gifts!)

 


Then I had a very, very early morning for work on Tuesday and started feeling sick. Ok fine, I went to bed early on Tuesday… then had to travel a bit for work on Wednesday. That’s fine though. I can power through. I didn’t power through. I went to bed at 8:30PM on Wednesday. Thursday was my lesson. May hadn’t been ridden in 3 days. How was she? A bit spicey, but mostly perfect. Of Course. 🙂

What did we work on? Well… going forward and turning. First turning, which involved jumping a single, low jump on a 20 meter circle. Then jumping a small jump and making a tight roll back to an oxer. All of that went fairly well. Then we put together a small course, which involved this:

Our first corner. I had ridden some VERY small corners before, but nothing quite this wide, and definitely nothing that had been made narrower by a tree… My trainer asked how she was with corners. I told her she had never really done one, but she would be fine. We then got a short lecture on how to ride a corner:

  1. Stay straight
  2. Ride as if there were a pole in the middle that you were trying to jump straight across
  3. Keep my outside leg on and keep control of the outside corner
  4. Don’t push too far in the middle
  5. Controlled but forward and “bouncy” canter

Ok. Sounds good. Let’s try it. We did the rest of the course fairly well, came around to the corner and… never got straight. I mean this was the longest approach ever. Maybe 15 strides from the last jump and this one, and we rode the whole thing with her left shoulder popped to the outside. Better yet, while trying to correct this, I ended up pulling all the way to the base of the jump. We got there with no impulsion and on a half step.

May’s reaction? Ignore mom and jump the damn thing anyway. Needless to say, my trainer agreed with me that she is good about corners. However, what we were not good about was getting the strides. Remember that trot in/canter out in 4 strides jump line from earlier in the week?

Well apparently, we really like doing it in 4 strides… even when it is going the other direction and a vertical to an oxer. No surprise, but trainer found this unacceptable. She reminded me that we should be getting the strides as not doing them was leaving us a bit under powered (see video above of us being under powered and practically eating an oxer). Then she said, “unless you think she can’t make the horse strides.”

“Oh… oh… No. She can make them.” And just like that – foot in my mouth. Now I had to get the strides right. First attempt was just to get her in front of my leg and let her flow through it. We got 3.1 strides and demolished the oxer. Front pole, back pole, got them both. It was an accomplishment in a weird way. It also took a lot of pressure off. Like ok, I had made my first BIG mistake in front of my new trainer, and she wasn’t upset. Just told me to add more leg this time. Luckily, one of my fellow boarders apparently had faith in me, because she took this video:

 


Was it perfect? Not at all. Did we commit and execute though? Yes, and that is a big thing for us. Since she was then a bit spicey, my trainer asked us to jump a skinny in the middle of the ring off our right lead (the same lead we just did the line on). May was… not having it. She started throwing her heard around and sucking behind my leg.

In a weird way, I was so happy to have this argument with May in front of my trainer. I have been struggling with her randomly pulling this stunt for a couple of months now. I wish I had video of it. Basically, she starts flinging her head around so there is 0 contact with the bit and then sucks back almost to a stop. I had been solving it by sending her really forward, like spurs in sides forward. This was, and still is, the correct reaction, but my trainer took it a step forward.

She recognized that our issue wasn’t really with going forward – it was with the transition between going forward, coming back, and going forward again. In that serious of adjustments, she was building up this big resistance. Why? Mostly because we hadn’t really been practicing it outside our jumping.

Fun Fact: The worst time to practice something is when there is additional pressure. Aka – don’t try to put flying changes on a horse at a show, don’t try to teach a horse to tie on the 4th of July, and don’t try to teach adjustability in the middle of a jump course. Those skills should already be installed because taking them to a more advanced level.


However, it doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Instead, my trainer had us practice coming forward and coming back at the canter for a couple of circles before asking us to take the skinny jump again. May popped over it without a fuss. Then it was back to the corner. This time, I rode aggressively and definitively. I pushed to the jump, and we took a big, XC style step to it and over it. May got lots of pats both from me and from my trainer.

It felt good to come away with homework and solutions. I can’t wait until our next lesson! Heaven knows, I need them!

03.26.17 – Dressage Lesson

Our first lesson since December, and as usual, it came with a few stupid epiphanies. I would even say it was riddled with stupid epiphanies. They started AS SOON as May and I started walking. That’s right. I couldn’t walk right.

Over the winter, we have worked a lot of May’s connection in the bridle being more steady. (aka – less head wagging, looking up to see what’s going on outside the arena, and truly engaging the hind end) All of this was actually very much improved and my trainer was impressed (yay!). What she was not impressed with was my new found love of pushing May past her point of balance.

May is not a big, fancy, expressive mover. She moves correctly, especially when fully engaged, but she’s not a horse that is ever going to have a massive walk stride. My solution? Just keep pushing… all the way past her balance. As a result, she get a forward but oddly stumbly and uneven walk. Literally my trainers words were, the bottom of the pyramid is rhythm, and you don’t have it. Well damn. So I sat in the saddle, quieted my hands and legs, and we immediately found a better walk. Alright, I got that.

Then we were asked to halt, and May’s head came up, she braced against me, and she stopped. So we proceeded to work on the walk/halt transitions. I would ask May to halt, and if she came off the contact, I would send her forward again… for about 10 minutes. Below is some of it. I was reminded that it might take 700 tries, but that on the 700th try, it would be great.

We finally got a halfway decent walk, so we moved into the trot. In an effort to keep May on the contact, I was keeping her too keep in the contact, and she was falling behind the vertical. Luckily, May is, surprisingly, not a horse that loves being behind the vertical, so this was as easy as engaging my seat and lifting my hands. We did a few W/T/W transitions, but those were significantly better than the W/H/W transitions, so we didn’t dwell on them. We made some tweaks to how much bend I was asking for, but most of the trot work was just fine tuning, which was nice. We kept the tempo and energy slow to make our adjustments, so it’s definitely not the nicest looking trot May can muster, but it’s a great one for building strength and fine tuning our connection, rhythm, and balance.


Then we went to canter. Before we cantered, I was told to sit the trot… We ended up cantering one circle, and sitting the trot for 15 minutes. I will fully admit that I do not sit the trot often. I am not great at it, and I am not light enough to be bouncing all over my horses back. However, my trainer had a good point. My horse does have a strong back, I need to have a sit-trot in my arsenal for training, and it won’t get better by ignoring it.


I do what I believe most people do at the sit trot: I sit fine until I get unbalanced, then I try to correct with strength. The result is, I get stiffer and the sit trot get worse. The solution? For me, it’s to just keep moving my hips. Sometimes I am with the motion, and it works. Other times, I am not with the motion, but it is still better than being stiff. My trainer talked about how our bodies have the ability to rotate our hips in basically any direction except straight up and straight down, which is when we bounce. I am sure you see her in the video moving her hips around, attempting to inspire me. She is definitely the kind of trainer that rides “with” you!

Overall, it was a really good lesson. My new trainer (NT) teaches in a vastly different manner than my old one (OT). It’s almost the difference between having a task-based job, and an project-based job. In the former, you are assigned specific, short-term tasks with deadlines and a good deal of oversight. In a latter, however, you are given the overarching goal and are responsible for setting up your own tasks and deadlines to complete the project. Does that make any sense, whatsoever?

Basically The Best Pony Ever

Basically, if May started losing her rhythm with my OT, I would get very specific instruction on the timing of lifting this rein and applying this leg and changing my seat here. With my NT, she points out that we are losing our rhythm. It’s not that she doesn’t help me correct things more specifically, but she forces me to think about how I can solve a problem, rather than me simply following a set of directions to get a specific result. It is mentally exhausting, but I can already see the impact it is having on our rides outside of lesson.

Which do you prefer? Trainers that walk you through every step of your ride, or trainers that force you to come up with your solutions.

 

Stupid Epiphanies

I am not sure if riding is anything like other sports in this way, but learning to ride often feels like a string of stupid epiphanies. Like when it finally clicks what inside leg to outside rein really means, or when you first feel a horse actually pushing from behind. It is a series of simple but abstract ideas that seem to suddenly become tangible after they click into our minds. That click moment often makes you want to smack your forehead and think, “well duh. If only I had done that sooner…”

Monday night was a stupid epiphany night for me. I had read Megan’s post on screwing up with confidence, and I had that idea in mind when I threw my foot into the stirrup that night. My mantra for the ride was going to be to be decisive in what I was asking. I have often struggled with this, and I attribute it to riding green horses almost my entire riding career. I ask for something, get 90% of it, and I reward that 90%. The problem is that you cannot build upon skill that are not confirmed, so progress often stalls for us.

sunset-trot

The BIGGER problem is that this is a very easy way to confuse and frustrate your horse. That was my epiphany on Monday night: My horse is difficult sometimes because I am confusing and that frustrates her. Since I got May, I have often been perplex as to how we can have some amazing days and then some days where all we do is argue about something. Now, I am laughing a bit at myself. After all, how dare she react to my inconsistency by being inconsistent?!

Below is a great example of the problem that became really apparent this weekend and bled over into Monday. See what is going on there? I ask for contact at the canter, and she goes to suck back. Instead of thinking “oh you’re trying so sucking back is ok”, I put my leg on and asked her to move into the contact. She did not appreciate that, threw her head up, gaped her mouth, and starting flinging everything she could fling in every direction. ​


This is UGLY. It feels ugly. It looks ugly. And if I didn’t know me and my horse, I would accuse the person riding of hauling on the reins. But I am not. My old reaction would’ve been to give and try again later; however, I am working on being CONSISTENT and CONFIDENT. So instead, I kept my leg on, and I kept the rein contact steady. Nothing changed because she was not giving me the behavior I wanted. It took almost a full canter circle because she dropped her head, gave, and started engaging her hind end.
What you can’t hear in the video is me laughing at her because she also snorted at me. she gave me what I was asking for, so she got rewarding with a lighter rein, following shortly by a downward transition, and a walk on a long rein. (Finished with some pictures in front of the setting sun.) I am excited to see the improvements in both of us due to this newfound commitment to confidence and consistency!

sunset-smile

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. 😉