Tuesday, September 30, 2014

LD packing list

One of the common first-time rider questions: what do you pack?

This is our third ride this year and our third season of LDs, and this is what I have ever-so-vaguely in mind (and some reasons why).

For the horse:
- tack.  Whatever normally goes on the horse for a ride.  In my case: halter-bridle (or halter + add-on bridle, not sure yet), bit, reins, breastplate, saddle, pad, girth, crupper.  Saddle will have at least one saddlebag attached.
- Two lead ropes: one to tie to trailer, one for walking horse around.
- Grooming tools.
- Hoof boots, if used/required.  I'm only booting her fronts for this ride.
- Heart monitor if desired.  I'll put it on, but use it mainly coming into the hold(s) and finish.

For camping with the horse:
- full bale bag of hay (part alfalfa, part grass/alfalfa mix, would be part forage but there's no good stuff easily accessible to me right now).  Two hay nets, pre-stuffed.  One will go in the trailer with the horse.  I don't regularly feed straight alfalfa, but in the few days leading up to a ride and the few days after, she can have whatever she'd like.
- large bucket for water (and maybe some bungee cords so it stays upright more than ten minutes, if you too have a horse that can be a problem child)
- smaller bucket or two for hauling water and/or sponging out of at the end of the ride
- container of water from home - this helps avoid hauling lots of water from halfway across camp, plus gives finicky horses familiar water to drink
- grain for mash, with and without elytes, and a small pan to feed the mash from
- pitchfork and garbage bags (if it's required that you haul away all excess hay & manure)

Extra for-horse stuff:
- bag of carrots, to go in the saddlebag and be fed frequently.  Great for rides without a lot of edible plants along the trail.
- sponge and/or scoop.  I'll be taking just a scoop this time around, since I know this ride does not allow sponging from troughs.  I may throw the sponge on just-in-case but can't see using it much.
- plastic bag or two for rider card - keeps it dry!
- consider taking a spare boot if you suspect it may be needed or you're worried about your horse going barefoot til you can get to a spare
- blanket, if you're in the rest of the country and/or have a horse that isn't in full winter coat by mid-October.  I'll take one and don't expect to use it.

For the rider:
- comfortable, proven riding clothes.  Layer appropriately.  For my central CA LDs, I've been pretty happy in a t-shirt all day - maybe I'm cold the first twenty minutes, but then we get moving and I'm fine. 
- riding gloves, helmet, and half-chaps
- water!  I'll take my Nathan hydration pack and plan to refill it at the hold (or swap it out for a pre-filled bag if I'm really efficient).  Rider hydration is important.  Use what works for you.
- Electrolytes for me, in the hydration pack so they're easily accessible
- on-trail snacks for me to nibble at as I get hungry.  Several different heat-tolerant items is ideal.  I like Luna bar type stuff, and expect to pack several, with at least one in the saddlebag so I can pull it out whenever I get hungry.
- Spare human water: know if your ridecamp has potable water or not.
- extra food of various sorts to eat before/after as your heart desires.  (Immediately post-ride is not the time to discover nothing you brought looks appetizing, including whatever lunch is provided.)
- extra layers for the night before & a change of clothes for after the ride

For human camping:
- headlamp or flashlight of some sort.  Great for braiding in the dark, navigating to the nearest portapotty, or finding your trailer after the ride meeting.
- camping chair - for the ride meeting and meals
- portable charger for your phone!
- sleeping bag, pillow, sleeping pad if so desired
- tent or car or something in which to sleep (I set up my own space in a minivan with the back seats down and the middle seats removed)

Anything terribly obvious that I'm missing?  What's different for your lists?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Quicksilver, T-3 weeks

My third ride this year has me totally chilling out and not prepping pretty much at all.

I'm still riding.  We did that one 18-ish miles a few weeks ago?  And that's the last bit of distance work that's been done.  Speed work has been happening, but mostly because I keep running out of daylight.  It's September, and now we have to try to be home before 7:45.  It sucks.  (I don't mind riding in the dark, but I do mind running into other people of questionable conduct and mental state in the dark, and that's an ever-present possibility here.)

Oh!  We hit a really excellent Giant Trot on Tuesday's ride.  I felt like I was riding a big horse.  Never felt it before, quite possibly will never feel it again, and if that was a true extended trot rather than adding impulsion, that's probably fine.

Things I have done:
- confirmed transportation for 'Fetti (thanks Funder!) and myself (thanks, mother!)
- confirmed with my friend that she'll be riding the 25 with us, so we are definitely a go for the LD
- looked at hoof boots
-- discovered that at least one cable is fraying on my front boots
-- remembered that I have not yet fixed the back boot (but I won't boot the backs for Quicksilver, so that's still okay)
- acquired clippers - QS was the 100-degree ride last year.  Pony's getting at least a minimal clip again this year.
- acquired my own hoof stand: boots will require hooves to be rasped weekly for a decent fit in three weeks

Things yet to do:
- actually start rasping her hooves after acquiring hoof stand
- put pommel bag back on saddle, rigged such that my knees can be happy completed this weekend, after a two-hour pommel-bag-rigging session with my ever-tolerant boyfriend
- chop bleach bottle into a scoop (no sponging from tanks at QS) -- but I do have a bleach bottle set aside for this purpose! (or maybe I'll reconsider and actually order a scoop from Henry Griffin, since I've been pondering that for over a year now)
- order cables for boots
-- and then install them once they show up, at least the day before the ride.
- clip Confetti (goal timeframe: weekend prior)
- wash & braid mane* (goal timeframe: Thursday prior)

* I actually washed her mane AND her tail this weekend.  Her tail looks vastly improved, but you can't see it because she kept swishing it whenever I took a photo.  Ponies.

Also, we've done some Trail Horse stuff, such as standing around while I broke a zillion branches off the tree:

and then politely posing for a branch height-comparison after I held the tree down** for her to walk over it:

and then being an obnoxious brat about letting me get back on her so we could go home across the river.  Can't be good all the time.

**Tree was just low enough that I thought maybe we could go over with the excess branches cleared.  Every single other angle makes it look tiny, but it was placed at the lowest point of the sand.  We actually did make it over the tree this weekend, but it was sufficiently traumatizing for our riding partner to watch the tree springing up underneath Fetti's belly that we went around it the next few times, then cleared it on Sunday.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Saddle comparisons

I'm going through this in my head - maybe it will be useful to someone else!

I have a hard time getting my thighs/knees on the horse in the Eurolight; instead, they're flared out.  This is less obvious with saddlebags.  This is also likely the reason my canter is worse in the Eurolight.  Three Eurolight rides later: I realized that my knees are currently on the lower D-rings.. which is where I've had my saddlebags rigged to, which would make putting my knees on the horse impossible.  I don't have a solution yet, but the bags are still off right now.

The Eurolight has a deeper seat, and generally makes me feel more secure.  That said, it also has a steep cantle that I frequently feel myself running into.  If I lean back in the Thorowgood, I'm leaning back.  If I lean back in the Eurolight, I'm fighting the saddle.  I suspect it's probably equivalent to a 17" English and a bit small for me.

I am tending to lean forwards in the Eurolight.  After switching to non-caged stirrups that feel longer: issue (mostly) resolved.

I'm not yet feeling secure in my caged stirrups - I feel like I'm fighting those too.  I may put my old stirrups back on to see if that resolves anything.  I LOVE the idea of the caged stirrups.. but I feel like I cannot get my foot far enough in (or at least my left foot, right foot does okay).  I adjusted the placement of the left stirrup leather and Saturday's ride should tell me if that fixes things.  The fact that I can get one foot happily in makes me think it ought to be fixable.
After Saturday's ride: nope.  Not quite fixed.  Better, but not quite fixed.
Sunday's ride: switched back to non-caged stirrups, and I feel way better about life.  Our canter was halfway decent.  I can post comfortably.  I'm not having to think about my position every three steps to figure out why my foot feels insecure.  My canter seat is.. well, it's better with the non-caged stirrups than the caged, but I think it's still best in the Thorowgood right now.

I don't have a good answer for why the caged stirrups are not working for me.  I suspect it's a combination of stirrup height (effectively changing my total stirrup + leather length) and trying to get an extra half-inch of foot through the stirrup.  I have big feet (womens 9.5) and perhaps this is one of those things where it's actually going to matter.  Or maybe it's also partly that I need to drop the stirrups a half-hole to account for the firmer stirrups, rather than trying to ride with hunter-type knees.
ATG would probably make me bigger cages if I asked.  At this point, my spare cash is gone and I have a ride in four weeks, so for now, that will wait.

After two weeks of bareback/dressage saddle work, the Specialized with Woolback feels awfully wide.  I'll try at least a short hack with an English pad to see if that fixes my issues with contact.  It may cause bigger problems with pony-saddle-fit, but that will at least answer some questions.
After Sunday: Hahaha, no!  No I will not.  I am not capable of easily getting the saddle fitted with an English pad rather than the thicker Woolback.  There is a dramatic difference in fit (bridging! major pressure on shoulders! something wrong towards the back!) and frankly, if I have to spend more than 30 minutes fussing with saddle fitting to get it to work this close to a 25, I may as well ride in the Thorowgood.  But.  The Specialized as-is fits the horse even if I'm not quite sure about me, so we will make do.
Incidentally, today I read Gail's post about her Specialized demo, and yep: nailed it. It's a wider twist.  It never bothered me before, but I went from a crazy-wide western-endurance saddle to the Eurolight, so it was probably an improvement then.  This was the most English riding I've done in two years. 

Something about the buckle or twist of the right stirrup is still making my leg unhappy.  I still don't know why.  I may experiment with moving that buckle up six inches.
Buckle moved!  I didn't notice it, so maybe that will fix things, or maybe I was too busy being thrilled with the stirrups to notice.

So, after reading all that again, the obvious question: why not just ride in the Thorowgood?
1. It fits.  But it doesn't fit as well as the Eurolight.  I notice it riding her shoulders more on the downhills, and laterally I don't feel like it's quite as stable.  Do note, though, that I nearly ground-mounted with the Thorowgood sometime in the past few weeks, and it stayed just fine.. so that lateral fit may be all in my head.
2. I want a bigger pommel to run into when she does dumb things like screech to abrupt halts.  I can sit everything in the Thorowgood if I have to, but that's all my seat and not the saddle.  Sometimes I want help from the saddle.  All her bucking and hissy fits last winter?  I would have been eating dirt very early on in a dressage saddle.
3. The Eurolight is more forgiving when I'm tired and not riding as well.  Again, I probably could ride in the Thorowgood, but it's going to take a toll on me and thus on her.
4. The Thorowgood makes my knees unhappy after a while.  Probably fixed by switching to endurance stirrups, but see above about financial status: broke.
5. Eurolight is way more comfortable several hours in.  Possibly somewhat fixed with a full-saddle sheepskin cover, but again: broke.
6. I don't have to canter right now.  Would I like the option?  Sure.  Do I need it for my next ride?  No, I do not, and we're well capable of trotting all of it instead if that's what it comes to.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Yay, Specialized!

As mentioned, I sent my saddle back to Specialized's Texas headquarters two and a half weeks ago.  I requested three fixes:
1. replace crupper ring, as it had broken
2. replace billets - I had stripped off the nylon backing probably 6 months ago so that the billets would fit on standard girths, and knew this would need replaced eventually.  Since it was already going out there, might as well get it done.
3. add screw to saddle.  Mine originally came with a waterbottle holder, which I promptly removed - but the screws that fit with the holder were way too long without.  Incredibly minor thing, but might as well ask for that too.

I was told to ship it off and that they would contact me when it was done to charge me.  I'm not a huge fan of not having a total to start with, but fine; I figured I was looking at $150 or so.

The saddle showed up at my house yesterday.  Woohoo!  However, I was confused: I had heard nothing from them, and they don't have any of my payment information.  A quick email was sent off to try to clarify.  If they don't want payment, y'know, that's fine - but I feel morally obligated to ask and offer.

Cue an email from Specialized this morning:  all repairs were under warranty.  Crupper ring should never have broken, and the billets were part of a too-thick batch.

Wow.  This is a saddle I purchased used, that's at least a few years old now, and that I personally have given them no money for.  Their customer service is notoriously a bit lacking.  I am astonished and delighted that they'll stand behind their saddles and craftsmanship that much.

New billets, by the way?  They're lovely and everything I could have asked for (aside from the length difference!).

Thursday, September 11, 2014

August recap, September goals, various updates

August goals were:
- 15+ mile rides once or twice during the month - Fail.  But: two back-to-back 10mile days, which for our purposes is pretty close to one 15+ mile ride.  Oh wait - actually, success!  We rode with Quicksilver for 4-5 miles, then 5ish miles there and home as well, so that's close to 15.  That just didn't get completely logged.
- Get rid of hives - Check.  Thankfully, she's shedding, and as her new coat comes in we're losing the visible spots.
- Continue speed work approx. once weekly - Check!  Five rides at 5mph or over.
- Continue heat work (as much for me as for her) - Check?  I think we did, anyway, but the past two months are all blurring together.  If I elyte, I do better.  I'm learning.
- Rebuild trail confidence; eliminate backing up as an evasion again.  - This appears to be resolved, but I'm not convinced it won't flare back up again before resolving for a while.
Total mileage: approx 90.  A bit lower than usual, but well within normal.
Bonus for a lesson in August, with a tiny bit of jumping!

September goals:
- Continue to add canter as comfort allows, making sure it's a polite canter and not a running-away canter.
- Rasp hooves weekly to make sure boots fit for our early October ride.
- Acquire clippers.  Clip 'Fetti's neck shortly prior to October ride.
- School 'standing still while mounting' more.  One step is vaguely tolerable at this point.  More than that, absolutely not.

On saddles:
My Eurolight spent two weeks away getting fixed.
I was riding in the Thorowgood with some bareback work for good measure.  Sweat patterns are still good.  I am so, so lucky to have a second saddle that works for the silly horse and I.  I'm not as secure, and having regular English stirrups and irons definitely impacts my leg comfort, but we did a moderately brisk 18-mile ride last week with no real problems. 

On hydration:
Human: I bought a new Nathan Intensity pack and I love it.  It's 2L rather than my previous 3L pack, but it barely bounces at all, even when cantering. I did not love the bite valve that came with, so I 'borrowed' the Camelbak's bite valve and tube from my boyfriend's Camelbak (oops, bad girlfriend!) for the time being, aka until I make it to REI for a new one for me.  Then again, maybe I should give him the new one...
It also has a nifty little pocket in front I can store elyte tabs in, increasing the likelihood I'll remember to take them regularly.

Horse: On a whim, I bought a Himalayan salt block to hang in her stall maybe two months ago?  Confetti has now gone through the entire thing.  She's drinking substantially more - this was the mare that used to go through maaaaybe a third of the 'standard' water bucket, and now goes through half of a double-sized one in a day.  No complaints here; I'm happy she's drinking.

Hex key acquired and worked nicely!  We're now in the MW gullet, I believe, and I'm feeling more balanced that way.  I don't have a wool pad to go underneath and frankly would be concerned about messing with the fit by adding mine, so standard English pads it is.  That does mean that using the heart monitor is not a good option: the electrodes have trouble sticking to the English pads.
Despite it being a dressage saddle, I had another gal at the barn help me out and stick the knee blocks in a more AP-type position, supporting my calves rather than my thighs.  I can't necessarily recommend it to anyone, but it is working much better for me now.
Tiny horse problems: my 22" Woolback girth reaches nearly to the bottom of the saddle on both sides.  Yikes!

If you embiggen, knee block placement is almost visible, sort of.

Eurolight repairs and discoveries:
I had new billets put on my saddle along with replacing the crupper ring.  Either the old billets stretched, or the new ones are shorter.  They're easily four inches shorter.  This puts my 22" Woolback girth on holes 2 & 3.  I sense a new girth in our future.
Also, I snugged up the breastcollar some when I put the saddle on.  I'm not sure how it looked good before, but it seems to look fine now.
My trainer had mentioned that the Eurolight doesn't allow you to really get your knees against the horse.  I hadn't understood that then.  I do now.  I suspect I could resolve that somewhat by using a thinner pad, and may experiment with putting the dressage pads back on to see if the sweat patterns are still good (or not).

Saddle looks awfully plain without a pink saddlebag, but I just wanted to RIDE.  Also, the stirrup was on backwards.  That did get fixed.

Our canter work feels vastly improved.  There are still times I'm up in a bastard two-point position.  However, there are now a near-equal amount of times when I'm just calmly sitting and staying with her motion.  I'm not entirely sure what's changed.  The real test will be trying it in the Eurolight to see if I can keep that feeling.
Verdict:  no, not really.  My lower leg stability is not there in the Eurolight (probably related to my knees flaring out, see previous point!), and it is in the dressage saddle with knee blocks.  I can hold the canter for a few strides and have it feel correct, but not the lengths we were getting in the Thorowgood.  At this point, I think I will probably continue to work on those handful of strides, but make a point to pull out the Thorowgood weekly-or-so for canter sets.

Two-point and running martingales, or, I am very used to these Haflingers:
I've pondered for a while how folks would actually end up with horses hitting them in the head.  I mean, I have to be falling forwards to hit her neck!  It finally clicked: it seems like normal horses have a higher headset, Arabs/Saddlebred types in particular.  Fetti and the other Haffies default to a flatter headset.  Alternatively, I'm just not seeing the high-headed Haffie photos and low-headed other horse photos?
In any case, two-point is awfully hard in non-jumping length stirrups and with the mane three inches lower than I want to grab.

We're four weeks out from our next ride.  Yikes!  Expect some ride-prep (or lack thereof) posts soon.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


It's often said that horses mirror your own emotions.  Confetti is definitely one of those who is sensitive to my emotional state, and not always for the better!

It's been a rough week.  I got some news I really didn't want, my mind is running at warp speed all the time, my head-space is not particularly good.  I'm certainly not emotionally calm and cool and totally collected.

Saturday we went out alone, and we ran.  If it was reasonably flat, we cantered.  Trot, canter, canter, trot.  It wasn't what I planned.  She offered, though, and it seemed unkind to correct her if that's what I was unconsciously telling her to do.  The slightest shift of weight, asking her to rock back, and we'd be off and running again.

So run we did, away from the rest of the world.  It didn't solve anything, sure.  But for a few moments it was just me and my pony and the trees, running.

It might not have been the ride I planned on, but it was definitely the ride I needed.