Friday, April 10, 2015

Really belated April Goals

First (NATRC) ride of the season is the beginning of May.  I have, at this point, no particular desire to recap March, so suffice to say that we probably managed 50-some miles, with about half of those as Serious Work and half of those just being miles with friends.

April goals:

1. focus on sustained trotting.  Enough of my making excuses for her; she needs to at least try the hills, the steps, etc.  If it is too hard, that's on me, we need to work on that.. and we're not going to fix that by never trying to trot what she is, in fact, capable of.

Again, as I've started running a bit, I'm learning that I don't think it matters how fast she's going.  She just needs to be physically capable of trotting for minutes on end, which includes steps and hills.  She needs to be able to do it in competition; why am I not pushing that more in training?

2. listening to me, not the other horse.  This is something we can train when riding with friends.  I have 0 problems at rides when we're the lead horse and have a friend (even a newfound best friend of two minutes) behind us.  I have had some pretty intense issues at rides when we're solo, particularly at the start.. but even all the way through Quicksilver 2013, we had Serious Disagreements and she scared me.  Fireworks 2014 and Quicksilver 2014 both had us riding part of the ride solo.  I had been hoping that the issue was resolved with additional confidence and trail miles.

We happened to go out at the same time as another barnmate earlier this week, and I can say confidently that the issue is not resolved.  The other horse is one we've actually never even ridden with before, but heading home when Other Horse started trotting, Fetti was insistent that we Must Trot.  The situation and the trail space did not lend itself to working through the issue, so I got off and walked a ways.  When I got back on, she was fine.  This is not an option for NATRC, and I do have some concerns about the slightly-staggered start that was high-anxiety for both of us last year.  It's not any worse than AERC - except that I do not have the option of starting entirely at the back of the pack.  She's going to have to keep her brain.  If I have to tuck in behind someone for the first mile or so, I will sigh and ask their permission, but I'd really prefer that we could 100% ride our own ride this year.

Current plan involves schooling this every single time we're out on trail and I feel I can safely do so.  If horse in front trots off, I should still be able to get a walk.  Suggestions?  I'll take 'em.  Current thoughts involve circles and lateral work.  When her head is back with me, she can trot up towards the other horse again.. rinse, repeat.

Oh yeah.  And figuring out saddles and stuff.  That too.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Cranio & saddle fitting: part 2

I brought my boyfriend to take notes for me, knowing that historically my memory is not good enough for more than a few snippets.  As fate would have it, I definitely needed these notes to help jog my memory about the various comments and insights.

The horse:
- travels narrow ("ropewalks") in back - actually, both in front & in back.  Knew she did it behind, was unaware it was also occurring in front.  Huh!  I have absolutely no idea how this affects movement or really anything at all, though.
- appears more stiff at right shoulder/leg (or possibly left hind).  I'd noted this, a barefoot trimmer had noted this, and this was one of my primary reasons for having a professional out to evaluate.  Confetti definitely has a range of normal, and four years in I have a pretty good sense for what it is most of the time.  This is something that is relatively new, not more than 3-4 months.
- slight delay right front at the trot, slight unevenness there.  I.. missed this.  Completely.  I did not feel it, but we didn't trot much.. and we've been working so inconsistently I don't know how long it could have been there.. and now I feel like I broke my horse?  I didn't even realize this was noted at the evaluation - I'm just seeing this in his notes now.  Ugh.
 - pelvis slightly off to the right
- right front hoof has some twist - try to shift some of that away from the right
- stoic!  I've been told this before: normal horses give some sort of release, cues, etc.  Fetti seems to really resist that at first, though she did give more as the session went on - but even then, sometimes her 'hm, grass now?' had to qualify as a release.

The rider:
- toes out more left than right
- tends to collapse on the right side
- should practice stretching the right side up while on the horse
- needs to not force her heels down

So: pony and I are totally fine (comparatively!) on the left, and need some work on the right.  Ack.

I am curious about the RF unevenness.  It's not something we've consciously battled before, and my gut feeling is that it probably ties in to the excessive resting of the LH and trying to drop all her RF weight on me when holding that foot.  I know there was something going on there.  I don't know, clinically, what it was.  I'm not yet concerned enough to pull a lameness vet out for diagnostics - but I will be keeping an eagle eye on how that progresses.  If she stops leaning on me on that leg and vets through with no RF/LH comments in our next ride, perhaps then some of the worry will subside.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Cranio & saddle fitting: part 1

This is the post I was supposed to write on Thursday.  I had a really lovely Thursday morning with a local-ish saddlefitter & craniosacral lady.  I think she's excellent and well worth the cost, she doesn't rep a particular saddle, and she didn't try to talk me into anything.

For reference: a semi-square, sort-of straight conformation shot.  I think her back has dropped over the past few years; I don't know if that's an age thing, a topline thing, a saddle fitting thing, or a combination of all of the above.  She has more wither than she used to.  (But on comparison to a 2013 photo, not very much more, so I won't panic.)

We started off by looking at the Eurolight.  She acknowledged that she's not a Specialized fitter, I admitted I've never had an actual Specialized fitter come out to fit the saddle, and we carried on fiddling in various directions.  Previous shim/pad setup: no shims, 3/4" fitting pads, slight outward flare to pads in front.  Sweat patterns have been good.  Saddle moves 1-2" forward AND 1-2" backward during any ride with substantial hill - so at the bottom of a downhill, I can fit my whole hand in the sweatmark behind the saddle.  Not ideal.

I was actually quite impressed by the difference shifting the pads up a half-inch, back, or forwards made.  No shims, just the same pads.  Moving them alllll the way up top (essentially narrowing the gullet) led to excellent shoulder clearance

I feel like the front-to-back balance isn't entirely correct here.  I know I felt like I was sitting WAY back - while it looked to be a good fit for the horse, it was not so much a good fit for me with the way the pads were.  This might be fixable with thicker or thinner fitting pads, but the conclusion we pretty much came to was that I should readjust it back to how it's been.

Unfortunately, she also had me try to point me knees and toes forward in a proper neutral seat rather than the outward-pointing I default to in the Eurolight.  My knee hits the front D-rings.  It really is too small for me. This is not good news. 
In a sense, though, it is good news.  I've been fighting to canter correctly in this saddle all year.  Even just sitting, my knees rotate out and my toes correspondingly rotate out. I'm not physically capable of getting my thighs onto the saddle.  My lower leg ends up unstable and unable to easily support me in a balanced canter.  The trot is fine, but I'm sure it's not doing me any favors long-term, and it might come back to bite me over a longer distance.  It's not me.  It's not something I'm doing.  I'm fighting the saddle, and I cannot win.

So.  Anyone have a 16" Eurolight - heck, I might even go for an International if I had to - that they want to trade for a 15" Eurolight?  I love this saddle except for the part where it doesn't fit me.

I will admit I disagree slightly with the fitter on this next one.  (EDIT: after posting, shifted a few things, no longer disagree with fitter! Another post coming.) She felt the saddle was, if anything, a hair too wide, and fit quite nicely with the Woolback.  Good: I'd always hoped to add the Woolback if doing serious trails with it.  I think it does fit the horse pretty well, but I think with the addition of the pad, it feels pommel-high.  I'm going to switch out the gullet plate for one size wider to see if that makes it a more comfortable ride, and if so, will evaluate sweat patterns with a proper trail ride.  Fitter also said I should drop my stirrups, and was spot-on with that assessment.
As I keep going back through this and re-writing, I'm now wondering if perhaps the saddle iss too far forwards?  I didn't think it was, but I'm barely seeing the third braid from the front of the pad, so maybe I was wrong.  (Third braid is reversed and runs up her neck to the top of the withers where the neck starts to move; the braid itself tends to fall about mid-shoulder.)  If the saddle was really too far forward, that might explain why it felt pommel-high, and the entire issue may simply be me not remembering to shift it back far enough for re-photographs and a first ride.  Hm.

Which brings me to.. point billets.  Maybe I switch back to using the point (or sort-of point-like) billet on this saddle and see if that helps keep it in place - and help remind me to put it far enough back??  It's a Y-girthing option in back, can use the point billet or regular billet for the front. 

Jen wrote an excellent post about girths that I found quite enlightening about girth placement for dressage saddles, and pretty well convinced me I don't need to buy a TSF girth for Fetti.  (Yet.)  But that, too, tells me that my photos show a saddle that's too far forwards over the shoulder.

In my frantic crowd-sourcing of information, Mel stated that she aims for her saddle to move very little with a snug breastcollar and crupper.  Dressage saddle crupper is out of commission for the moment (see: prior incident where crupper T attachment tore some staples and stitches from the panels), but the breastcollar's been pretty awfully light.  I tightened that up a zillion holes.  I may need to loosen it one or two holes if I shift the saddle back a few inches, but that's okay.  The breastcollar needs to be tighter than it has been.

Next post: craniosacral work & movement evaluation