Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Dec recap, Jan goals, progress!

In Dec: pitifully low mileage with two trail rides. Also, beach ride!
Good news: I stayed on!

Jan goals:
Continue to focus on off-side mounting
Focused arena session once weekly

On an early Jan trail ride, I felt her switch gears jnto a true power trot. For the first time There was someone behind us that could verify. It isn't just an extended trot.  She's engaging behind and really powering through into a true frame.  It seems we're lacking in true forwards most of the time... Yep, y'all called it in comments last year.  I'm not quite sure how I want to address this and a lesson is in my future.

I do find she goes better when I get her off her forehand and really actively sit back, thinking along the same feeling as riding a gaited horse.  This is not a new concept, it's just one I seem to lose periodically.

We've been doing regular arena work because of the limited trail access.  Fetti rushes jumps.. Fetti also rushes poles.  This needs to be addressed.  Our round pen session over poles had her cantering trot poles, and rushing any set of poles 90% of the time. She does know how to trot them like a normal horse, she just rushes and accelerated in instead.  No video, but picture a normal trot - halfway around, a tiny collected trot with lots of power waiting - quarter of the way to poles, she looks at me, then ZOOM accelerates into giant canter leaps.  Oh pony.

Other updates, so I feel less guilty about all the half-written posts and go back to regular writing:

Bale bag.  

The recommendation is to start with 2" nets, decrease to 1.5", if needed decrease to 1".  I borrowed a friend's spare 1" bag and skipped the first two. She understands hay nets and eats plenty. Week one: full bale (granted, a light one) lasted five days, along with an extra flake or two of grass/alfalfa in a smaller bag.

I do think she gets frustrated some by the small holes, but I also think she's frustrated no one feeds her at the right times anymore!  The 'eat whenever' idea has not gotten through yet.  Instead, she eats at breakfast, and at dinner time, and at lunchtime when I came by I caught her napping.

Somehow, magically, she actually stayed down and let me come in and take pictures and pet her.  I've seen her down in her stall maybe three times now in more than four years.

Anything edible?
But, back to bale bags - I opted to switch for a few different reasons.  I think it's a good concept.  She's barefoot, so no shoes to get caught in the net.  Only one attachment point minimizes risk.  Giant bale bag is a bit of a pain to load (although rumor has it I really ought to get a slightly bigger one and then life is easier!), but only once a week or so.  It should be better for the potential risk of ulcers and help with girthiness if that's the cause. 
I know folks worry their horses will overeat.  That was previously a concern.  At Quicksilver this past year, though?  She had lots of hay choices and frequently chose to nap/hang out/generally not eat.  Sure, she ate, but she didn't eat all the things as I thought she might.  She's learned that there will always be hay at rides.  So it stood to reason that she could learn there would always be hay at home, too.  Indeed, she seems to have figured that one out pretty quickly.
Winter seemed like a fairly good time to switch.  It's straight grass in the bag so she's not getting a ton of alfalfa or sugars.  If she does eat a bit extra.. well, it's not awful for a not-quite-older horse to have some reserves coming out of the cold weather.  We'll work it off in the spring if need be.

It's early yet, but I'm cautiously optimistic and I'll try to update on the results periodically.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

first time saddle shopping tips

**I've been battling with a persistent cough for the past two weeks, so posts are a little slow right now, but I do have two more in the works.. including the January goals post, which will probably be up by mid-January or so.  Oh well.

Emma of Fraidy Cat Eventing asked for tips for first-time saddle shopping tips, and I came up with enough that it turned into a post rather than a novel-length comment.

First off:  English saddles are usually listed from Narrow to Extra-Wide.  Each brand seems to handle their measurements differently, and measures different places, so what this really means is: your horse may go in a M in one saddle, or a MN in another, or a MW in yet another, or maybe even a Wide in another.  Confusing and frustrating?  Yep, but that's how it goes.  Western saddles seem to be a little more consistent, but my Western shopping experiences are practically non-existent, so.
That 'size' mainly addresses gullet width, and sometimes also affects the width of the 'channel' between the panels down the back.

Next:  English saddles also have a 'rock' to the tree.  Some saddles are better for horses with curvy backs.  Others are good for horses with flat backs.  Brands are, I think, pretty consistent as far as how they fall in this category.  If the tree is too flat for the horse, you'll probably run into pressure points at the front and back, and an area with no contact (or minimal contact) in the middle.

Saddle balance is very important.  A too-wide saddle can tip forwards, tipping the rider forwards, and vice versa for a too-narrow saddle.  Ideally, you want even contact all the way back.
Some horses also have conformation or movement that tends to shift the saddle forwards (or backwards).  Consider if that is the case with your horse, watch the saddle, and if that is the only issue (especially if it's an issue for most/all saddles on your horse), consider if you're willing to use a breastplate and/or crupper full-time.

Things to consider that are more specific:
- Withers.  If your horse has high withers, your saddle choices will be more limited to accomodate that.  If your horse has NO withers (hi Fetti!), you probably do not have to worry about wither clearance.  Standard rule of thumb seems to be that you can fit 2-3 fingers at the front of the saddle before touching the top of the withers.
- Shoulders.  Does your horse have big shoulders?  Yep, Fetti again!  Between the no-withers and big-shoulders issues, I originally looked at wide trees as ideal, but then the angle wasn't necessarily right.  I need saddles with enough flare to accommodate her shoulder movement and not just pinch.  The big test for me:  is there consistent pressure all the way down at the front of the saddle, or is it awfully tight in one spot?
- Girth groove.  Where does the girth want to fall?  Is that going to pull the saddle?  I think I have point billets on my Thorowgood that I'm using, and that helps keep things in place for me.  An anatomical girth can also help with this, but I'm hesitant to recommend that as a fix when buying a saddle.. it's great to fix an existing one, but seems like if you're buying you'd like to get things right to start with.

What pad do you want to use?  My Thorowgood fits nicely with a plain square pad.  It would be too narrow with a Woolback.  My Specialized fits nicely with the Woolback, but take that padding away and it throws off all sorts of things quite visibly.  If you're dead-set on using both a square pad and a half-pad with the saddle, try them like that.  Don't trial with a Woolback if you want to be using a dressage pad.  You get the picture.

Also.. does the saddle work for you?  It's easy to get caught in the saddle fitting the horse, but it needs to fit the rider too - even more important if the horse isn't yours.  Are knee/thigh blocks in the right place, and if not, are they moveable?  Is the twist comfortable for you?  (Narrow twists work for some folks, wide twists work for others, treeless is often extra-wide twists, especially the more inexpensive ones.)  Is the seat size right for you?

I seem to switch out gullet plates in the Thorowgood every winter and again in the late spring.  Her back and shape changes enough that decreasing/increasing a size clearly makes it a better fit.  This is not actually an option in non-adjustable saddles, but maybe most horses don't grow a ridiculously wooly winter coat that affects their width?  Who knows.  In any case, be mindful of their physical condition when saddle-fitting the first time, and be aware that it may change in a few months.

White spots are a pretty clear indicator of saddle fit not working for the horse.  Fortunately or unfortunately, depending how you look at it, they don't show up until it's been not-working for quite some time.
I tend to check sweat patterns to see if they're even or if there are dry spots.  There are folks that advocate against this, but it's worked for me so far so I'm sticking with it.  I like to see consistent sweat patterns without dry patches anywhere.  But!  Be mindful that if you haven't worked hard enough to get the horse all sweaty under the pad, don't judge based on a lightly-sweaty pattern.  Some areas dry faster than others and I've been fine with that.  After a two-hour trail ride, everything under the pad should be at least moderately sweaty, and matching dry spots on both sides raises concern for me (so, in my case, I switched to narrower cushions to make the tree a bit wider.  Specialized is complicated sometimes).

Some horses are loud and clear about not liking saddles.  Fetti occasionally strongly dislikes something, but mostly is just 'meh' about everything.  Until and unless she has stronger input, she doesn't get much of a say, else I'd drive myself crazy looking for invisible signs.

So - that covered the actual saddle fitting basic question stuff.  As for shopping..

What's your budget?
How soon do you need it?
If you need the saddle next week, your budget will obviously have to be more flexible.  The longer you can wait, the less your budget can be.
I tried lots of saddles when saddle-hunting.  I tried saddles I knew I couldn't afford.  I tried saddles I was sure wouldn't work.  I tried saddles that friends had.  If you can figure out that X brand and tree size fits your horse, it's so much easier to buy used.  It's still a bit of a crapshoot- there's no guarantee it's exactly the same as the one you tried - but personally, I'd probably be comfortable buying sight unseen/online based on trialing something with very similar specs locally.

Once you know what will work for you, look obsessively for it everywhere.  Ebay.  Craigslist.  US-wide Craigslist (adhuntr!).  Facebook tack sale groups.  Online forums.  Local consignment stores.  Local tack store bulletin boards.  Figure out what price it usually goes for, and then figure out if that's a reasonable price for you.  No?  Keep stalking.  You can probably find it cheaper eventually.

I purchased my Thorowgood from an East Coast craigslist ad.  I knew it was an adjustable gullet and that Thorowgoods historically worked fairly well for Confetti.  The price was quite fair and I knew I could resell it for a very similar cost if it ended up not working for us.

I purchased my Eurolight based on a two or three line text ad and without asking really any questions, completely sight unseen, at a really astonishingly excellent price, and paid by a mailed money order.  I think I knew that it was a Eurolight and it was brown.  I think that's all I knew. I wouldn't actually recommend that method.. but I was willing to take the risk because the Eurolight can be semi-custom fitted to the horse.  Also because it was a ridiculously good deal and I decided I was okay being out the money if all went catastrophically wrong.  BUT.  It took a year of casual/obsessive searching for something to come up at that price.  It's also the one and only time I've actually placed a phone call based on a Craigslist ad; I hate calling people, I really hate calling strangers, and I'll disregard an ad if there's no email for me to write to.  No regrets on this one.

My first endurance saddle was given to me when it magically fit Confetti, after I'd gotten really discouraged with internet-searching in my price range.  This was the "there's no way it'll fit, but we'll try it anyway, why not" saddle.  And it fit.  So, there's that.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Good endings

Our New Years Eve ride was a great way to close out a rollercoaster of a year.

We trailered out

to the beach!

Fetti and I have been to the beach once before, with our same riding partner.  In 2012 the mares were reluctant to get anywhere near the waves, plus the tide was high.

This time around, the ponies had more confidence.  Fetti still had an invisible tether going to Cay and balked when asked to stretch it too much, but overall?  I was very pleased.

Initially, we had to be behind Cay or up next to her.  Any leg pressure or forwards cues resulted in Fetti sucking back and refusing.  That eventually resolved, and she found the confidence to even go in front after a bit, but I think it was just a matter of time and exposure.

She is, however, completely convinced that the surf is terrible and awful and should be avoided at all costs.  I hopped off and got hit with a (little tiny) wave at my feet, and she nearly lost it.  She was still safely five feet from me.  We didn't push it; I was happy enough that she'd go near the waves after that, even as she adamantly refused to get close enough they might touch her.

Pony says: "Um, they're not coming up with us.  I think we should stop and wait."

I love this photo.

I believe the pillars were intended to be the foundation for a hotel in the 1970s.  It appears that never came to fruition.  It also appears that might not have worked out so well long-term.

But they make for really excellent photos, even when the pony thinks the dripping water by the pillars is OMGTERRIFYING and refuses to get close enough for a proper photo.  Oh well.  Next time?
They're huge and we're easily at least 20 feet away, so don't be fooled by how politely small they look.

It was surprisingly fairly empty.  In fact, we were the only horses there and got lots of attention for it.

We headed back down the other direction. Here I was all pleased and excited that she'd found her brain and settled in.  

But amidst all the winds and crashing waves, we found a moment of relative silence, and some plastic tied to the cliff (not pictured) made a noise.
Farewell, pony brain.  

So we did our Big Endurance Trot until I no longer feared she'd take off, and after clearing it with my riding partner, we cantered! on the beach.

Note that we're in front, and not dying or having meltdowns.  Pony has confidence!  (Also note that we're safely away from the moving water.  Oh, Fetti.)

Surprisingly soon the sun started to go down

so we posed for sunset beach photos, obviously!
We moseyed on further down the beach.

Lots of pauses for sunset photos.  I am really pleasantly surprised at how well the iPhone camera handled all this.

Naturally, we let the mares get a good roll afterwards.  Not pictured: keeping her walking for the last 20 minutes of the ride because she really wanted to roll before we were done.  Pretty much every remaining beachgoer stopped and stared and took photos.  Many had never seen a horse roll before.

2014 was a rough year.  I'm glad we ended it on a good note.  Here's to a better and less eventful 2015.