Monday, March 17, 2014

Brilliant pony days

A brief Specialized update:  I have not yet worked on my pads, but I have concluded that the dealer I've talked to seems more focused on sales than on what's best for the horse.  The only thing I really liked about the saddle she fitted to the other horse was the shoulder clearance (and I do intend to fiddle with mine as a result).  The withers and spine hitting.. well, I'm not so thrilled about that, and frankly can't see how that saddle ever fit the horse with her setup.  Very unimpressed.  Luckily, other boarder is looking at other brands of saddles for unrelated reasons, so I don't have to explain why several of us find the whole situation utterly appalling.

It's been the strangest winter out here.  The dam goes up, the dam goes down.  Dam goes up, dam goes down.  Normal winters involve the dam going up and staying up for several months, then down again for the rest of the year.  Most likely the lack of rainfall is the cause - can't let the fish die, I suppose!

So.  Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday?  We trotted circles in the back woods.  I couldn't motivate myself to take her out on the highway by myself, so we settled for boring work instead.  Average speed was 6+mph.  Good enough!

This past weekend was sunny, warm, gorgeous, and the dam went back down.  I practically skipped out to the barn, tacked up, headed out solo for a longer-but-moderately-brisk ride. Really lovely and moderately forwards for the first five miles.  Next thing I know, she quits on me.  Yes, I pushed for a bit more forwards-uphill than usual, but it was an 'ask' and not a 'demand'.  Pony didn't want to go forwards, even walking.  She'd give me a few steps and then stop again.  I got off, thinking that might help; she was still reluctant to go forwards.  Cue thoughts that I broke my horse.  Breathing hard, trembling legs, we're still halfway up this particular hill and there are several more yet to come.

We switched gears three hills later.  Break at the top of the Very Big Hill, so we both had at least five minutes of standing around and recuperating.  Her breathing was back to normal, legs were fine, nibbling at the moss on the trees.  I got back on.  The new mindset: pony gets to pick the pace as long as she's moving comfortably.  She didn't really feel like trotting or cantering our usual gallop-hills, so we moseyed on up at a walk, then down the next slope, around the next corner - and look, another rider from the barn!  Never going to get a better time to ride sloooowly with her than when the pony isn't interested in moving out.  By now my working theory was that she probably needed to pee.  Moving well enough, just incredibly lazy and unmotivated about it.

So.  Joined up with L & her gelding.  Walked awhile, itty-bitty-tiny sitting trot a few times while he gaited along, and thus we went the last three miles home.

I got off and walked her to her stall with tack on, into the stall.  Lo and behold, she peed immediately.  Oh, pony.  I don't know how to get her over that, but clearly it's needed.  Barn chores were up next, and then I got back on bareback in hopes of ending on a better note.

We actually ended up going on another trail ride with C.  Two Haflingers, both of us bareback, late afternoon ride as the sun was setting.  This was a really big deal.  I regularly take the other Haffies out bareback walk/trot/canter on trails, but when I've tried it on Fetti, she's been too unpredictable for it to be any fun.  Flounce into the trot, slam into the walk, repeat.  Saturday?  Lovely transitions both directions.  4mph average, 2.4 miles, mostly medium-trot with some walk and photos for good measure.  There was no grabbing mane for dear life, no worries that a spook would unseat me, just a lovely lovely lovely ride.  (Though it would still be dumb to take her out bareback on her excessively forwards days, at least I have more options for our leisurely evening rides now!)

Short trail ride on Confetti on Sunday, some major mane-work with the Haffies, and then seven miles bareback on another Haflinger at a brisk pony-sized trot much of the way.  It's an incredible feeling to ride the whole thing on a loose rein, relaxed, casually going down the trail with just a bareback pad while sitting a bouncy little pony trot.  Lots of smiles.  Lots of happiness.

Life is good.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Specialized, take two

So after writing all that about my saddle fit? I ended up helping another boarder look at her (new, demo) Specialized that had been fitted this past weekend by a dealer.  I learned a few things from this.

1. I'm no longer convinced my shoulder clearance is adequate, and I'd like to work on that.
2. I have not a clue how I'm going to work on that.
3. It's unclear to me whether the saddle should sit 1-2" behind the scapula.. or 1-2" over the scapula.
4. The shims the dealer had placed were at the bottom of the tree, not the top as I'd always mentally pictured them being.  I assume they were to fill gaps & make the (wide) tree narrower for the (narrowish) horse.
5. Back to #3 - rep had the saddle fitted so that it worked well when over the scapula and avoiding the dip this horse has behind the withers.  Not being accustomed to said dip, I slid the saddle as far back as it seemed to want to go - perhaps too far back for this horse?  There are a lot of steep hills that I ride fairly regularly, and I have concerns that a saddle fitted for a static back on a flat surface might be more inclined to shift back to where it 'wants' to be on a hill.  It did not occur to me to ask that when I was on the phone with the fitter trying to help troubleshoot, but I will bring it up if it gets mentioned again (especially as the other boarder wants to do casual trails).
6. Wide tree + narrowish horse.. had thin Specialized pad and 3/4" fitting pads.  I feel like my 1" Woolback + 1" pads must somehow be wrong - but it's actually working reasonably well.  It just feels like maybe I could do better for her.
7. Good thing about Specialized: very adjustable.  Bad thing:  very adjustable.  Very easy to drive oneself crazy.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Specialized Saddle fitting comments

So.  Hannah asked for a brief bunch of notes on the Specialized saddles and fitting them, and instead I took a zillion photos of how I know mine's in roughly the right place and how to check the fit, so this is long and photo-heavy under the cut with a lot of commentary on Specialized saddles!

Monday, March 3, 2014

February recap; March goals

Weekly mileage is down, as expected, due to some much-needed RAIN coming our way twice this month!  Two fast rides (6.7mph), but mostly around 4-5mph.

- Weather permitting, one 8+ mile ride weekly, aiming for 12-15 twice in March if possible.
- continue experimenting with Myler combination bit
- focus on riding balanced even when fighting her for forwards
- work on Confetti's confidence when taking 9 out for a solo ride

What was I saying about the rain?  Oh, right.. we're getting it now.  Not enough to flood the barn, but quite a bit of rain.

My goal for Tuesday was a brisk ride before the rain kicked in the next day, knowing this would probably be our last shot with the dam down.  As luck would have it, my Pony Club friend was willing to head on out, so we did a moderately-fast ride out to the deck (3 miles, 33 minutes, hills!) and a slower ride home (45 minutes - on par with my semi-normal) so the horses could cool off.  Normally her gelding goes even faster, but he's a bit out of shape and settled for a sedate canter/brisk trot rather than a gallop/fast canter on most of the hills.

I bought a Myler combination bit and new snap-on headstall to go with.  I was reasonably confident my halter-bridle wouldn't have sufficiently short bit attachments; that was correct.  It's frustrating feeling that I'm constantly pulling on Confetti; I don't want to be hauling on her to get half-halts when she's forwards.  The combination leaves me ever-so-cautiously optimistic that we may have found a compromise.

At one point, this WAS a running braid.  Oh, pony.

I do think I had the rawhide noseband too low in this picture.  More fiddling required.

Also: the bit came without a chinstrap.  Hooray for hoarding tendencies, where I had a pink curb chain that fits nicely!

Since Tuesday, this is what most of our rides have consisted of.  Bareback meanderings around the barn.  Good news: I can sit her trot bareback now!

Expecting similar this week, but we'll see if I luck out and the rain lets up enough to let the trails dry for a ride.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Why I'm not riding ACTHA

Barn folks often end up asking me if I'll be riding in the competitive trail/obstacle events that come up from time to time.  The short answer: no.

There are a few reasons why.

1. Confetti is a wonderful trail horse that finds the best path around/through Real Trail Obstacles.  (See my last post about pointing her at the cliff edge!)  While I do get final say and can overrule her judgment, she's generally right and that's a quality I very much appreciate.  She thinks it's dumb to go through a complicated man-made obstacle when there's a perfectly lovely empty path right by it.

I can and regularly do ask her to do strange things and go off-trail in bizarre places.  It's generally pretty clear to her why we're doing it and she understands that it has a point.  She does not understand the point of bizarre obstacles in an arena.

2. There's a time limit for how long you get at any given obstacle.  Logistically, I fully understand why this has to be the case.  I don't want to feel pushed or time-pressured when we really need more time to process what I'm asking of her and why.  It can be very useful for me to sit and wait for her to settle mentally to the point where she's willing to give me even a little try.  Too much pressure and we both build tension to the point where it fries her brain.  Mine, too.

3. Speed is a reward/mental reset button.  A brisk trot down the trail seems to solve a lot of things.  I swear she understands that her job in life is to trot everything everywhere.  Most (all?) of the events are pretty much all walking.

Also: six miles, you guys.  Six miles.  That's nothing extraordinary and it feels ridiculous to pay money to ride six miles at a walk.

4. I don't quite buy into the 'judged trail' idea.  Stuff on the trail? I give the pony her head and get out of her way.  Steep downhill?  Same thing.  I don't micromanage if it's not absolutely necessary; she gets mad at me if I'm nitpicking at things too much and she feels like she's doing fine.  I think this goes back to #1 where she doesn't see the point of man-made obstacles.

Regular trail rides for us, actually, cover all of the following:
- uphills, downhills, mounts, dismounts.  Obviously.  Pony moves herself over next to whatever odd thing I'm standing on so I can skip putting my foot in the stirrup on my way over where possible.  Hooray for short horses!
- real river crossing
- bikes, strollers, children, hikers, dogs, and the occasional unicycle, skateboard, or roller-skater
- occasionally open/close gates
- bridge crossings
- downed trees - logs are standard, bushy trees show up occasionally and we walk through some as needed
- wildlife encounters of all sorts
- sidepass/trot weave through trees
It's not that we're lacking in skills.  It's that they're entirely practical skills and we don't seem to do well applying them in faked/arena settings.  Deer or bobcat or coyote wandering across the trail in front of us?  Not a problem.  Drag a stuffed animal across the trail in front of us?  Might very well be a problem.

I know there are horses that excel at this sort of thing; I even know a few of them personally.  I think they're great horses.  I'd ride them in this sort of thing if things fell into place.  I will support anyone that wants to and heck, I'd even give you advice in hopes you do well.

But it's not what Fetti and I like to do.  Good endurance-trail horse does not equate to good competitive-trail horse.