Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Non-riding weekend

Things I did not do this weekend: trail ride.

Things I actually did this weekend:

1. Rasped both front hooves in the morning fog
pony was unimpressed.

2. Played with Fetti in the arena

must run!

accelerating through the corner
polite zooming
a more sedate canter

2b. Failed to capture faceoff between pony and buck - silly deer leaped the fence before I could snap a photo

2c. Reassured pony that she was fine and the deer wasn't coming back.

Worried pony.
Fetti doesn't actually mind deer on the trail, but getting unintentionally within 10 feet of one in the arena broke her brain. Deer aren't supposed to be in the arena.

easing her closer to the fence; still worried
Human exists to shield pony.

3. Sorted boots and pieced one back together. Current count: one full set of two fronts, two hinds. One Viper front spare. One Renegade front spare, now back together. One Renegade front spare, needs a cable before it's usable. One Renegade hind spare, all pieces intact but I ran out of energy.
Yes, three front spares and one hind. No regrets.

Needs more shelf.

4. Lunged 'Fetti in the arena on a line, walk-trot-canter.  Also over the barrel-jump a few times.  She only bolted and got away once - big progress! - and it came across as a genuine fear bolt rather than a 'because I can' shoulder drop and run.  We managed a canter on the line again afterwards without further dramatics.  (No photos: my hands were full!)

5. Sunday I went to a semi-local show to watch Olivia and Nilla, and for extra bonus ran into a few other folks I used to ride with back in my hunter days. Sometimes I contemplate showing again. Halfway through a hot afternoon, though? I don't feel like we're missing out on much.

Back at the barn overheating and migrained, kind friends cleaned my stall for me and turned the mares out. I chased them around for a bit - more cavorting as she did on Saturday, I definitely did not want to ride that bareback with a migraine! - then put Fetti away for the day and headed home to sleep. Tuesday, we'll ride.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Saddle fitting, again

Despite all my saddle-fitting posts and the small fortunes I've spent on fitters this year, I don't actually like throwing lots of money at saddle fitting.  I want things to fit, and the saddles seemed NQR.

To recap where things were at:
Thorowgood dressage - rode 2 days at Wild West.  Noted white patch/slight hair loss where I placed the electrodes under the saddle (right side).
Specialized Eurolight - have not felt appropriately balanced in this saddle all spring and worry that it's imbalanced for Fetti also.

I finally connected with some saddle fitters who not only came highly recommended, but have experience fitting the Specialized saddles, something I haven't been able to manage previously.  We set a date and I was thrilled to finally get some answers.  (I should add, since I apparently managed to not put it in the original draft: the fitters in question are Susan and David of Saddles that Fit, and I too would happily recommend them to anyone even sort-of local.  They aren't particularly close, but they're willing to travel!)

Best conformation shot I was able to send off. Photogenic mare does not like to stand square.
Confetti's back
The fitter noted only a bit of soreness, mainly towards the back of the saddle if I'm recalling correctly.  Her back looks generally good.  She affirmed my belief that the pony has big shoulders, no withers, and needs a relatively narrow tree but with appropriate flare.  She also confirmed that a crupper is likely always going to be necessary: it's just how she's built, there's nothing to hold the saddle back.

Usual Thorowgood setup.
The flocking on the right side was uneven.  While some of it might be attributed to the saddle rack (oops, my bad, I haven't been as careful with the flocked saddle!), it looked like a bigger issue than that.  When we put it on Fetti and had her walk forwards, the saddle consistently shifted slightly to the left, consistent with the flocking being uneven on the right.  Oddly enough, this is not something I've noticed at all while in the saddle - but then I'm not entirely even and I compensate for that, too.
Flocking issues are fixable.  It might be worth trying a narrower gullet plate.  However, on further examination, they did not have any narrower ones with them - so we opted to ignore that option for right now. 
I learned things about my saddle from the fitters.  Crazy how that works out!  My Eurolight looks to be one of the first Eurolight models, with absolutely no seat padding.  The seat, however, can be shimmed to influence rider-fit.  I thought shims were only for horse-fit!  It has more of an endurance seat than a trail seat, but doesn't completely match to the current endurance seats.  This saddle consistently shifted slightly to the lft when walking, too, but I think that was less so than the Thorowgood?  The fitter noted that we'll want to adjust the angle on the left shoulder.
The billets and the girth didn't fall quite in the right place; I should consider a contoured girth to help set it in the right place.  For the record: inexpensive 24" contoured girths are tough to find, especially once you rule out any mohair/string girths and prefer to avoid leather!

winter Specialized photo
I've had a tough time pinning down what exactly it was that made me feel off-balanced, but once I hopped up, it was clear to all of us involved that I was not-balanced in the Eurolight as-is.  We did some shimming with my Eurolight to see if it might fix things.  I pointed out that I have a difficult time getting my thighs on the horse, and thus my toes tend to point out; this is exacerbated when I have pommel bags attached, as my knees run into the bags.  Given that, they pulled out a 16" Eurolight demo (this is why I wanted a Specialized dealer, too!), shimmed it up, and had me give it a try.   Wow.  What a difference!  The seat didn't make me feel trapped, my thighs went on (reasonably) well, and the seat was way more comfortable.  Hey, it's the little things.  The demo model had a trail seat rather than the more-popular endurance seat.

My position
I absolutely loved this: not only are they saddle fitters with Specialized experience, they have a centered riding background and I got a mini-lesson to go with the saddle fitting.  I am, unfortunately, a large part of the issue here, though my saddles haven't made it easier.
I really struggle with body awareness.  This is not new.  I know this.  I don't know where straight is; I don't always know quite how to do something that my brain understands but my body can't piece together.  Mostly, I tend to arch my back too much and not lead with my seatbones or anything.  Let's face it: I grew up riding hunters and getting the job done, but I never made it look pretty and I was never super-effective.
The lightbulb moment: use one of Fetti's lower braids to physically pull myself forwards into a posting trot.  This motion has eluded me for years.  Using that braid connects all the dots and has entirely changed how I post.
I do a better job finding neutral/correct position at the sitting trot; if in doubt, return to sitting, then try posting again. We could have put me back in my Eurolight for proof-of-concept, but it was pretty clear mine wasn't helping me in the battle to fix my position, so we opted to skip that.
The fitter also had me drop my stirrups a hole in the dressage saddle.  It's been two weeks and I'm still riding with it at that length.  Combined with the new posting mechanics, it's working fine.

End conclusions
1. Adjust flocking in Thorowgood dressage saddle to help with lateral shifting of saddle & white hairs
2. Relearn proper posting mechanics and true neutral, use braids to help acquire muscle memory
3. Acquire 16" Eurolight with a trail seat

#1 the fitters did for me.  Yay!  #2 is my homework and I'm continuing to work on it.  #3 rapidly became challenging.  I have been casually watching for 16" Eurolights or Internationals ever since May.  They do occasionally show up, but often at more than new-Eurolight price, and frequently with a wide tree.  Fetti does not need a wide tree.  I do not need to pay more than new.  I hadn't even thought about what seat I needed the saddle to have, and already I knew my options were limited.  Adding the trail seat parameter took my used options down to zero.

Funny how things work: it was two years exactly from when I first set the Eurolight on Confetti to when I listed it for sale. 
It's not in me to buy new very often, but to buy used, there have to be appropriate saddles out there.  I put my 15" Eurolight up for sale on Facebook at what I thought was a reasonable-to-high price.  The market disagreed: within 24 hours, and before it even made it up on two of the three groups I listed it to, I had a buyer at my asking price.  I sent an email off to the fitters, made my decisions, and placed an order for a new 16" Eurolight.  There's a 3-4 week wait time for new saddles right now, so this should get it to me before our early October ride if all goes well.

I'm happy to have answers, and I'm excited to see where this takes us.  Fewer saddle fitting headaches, yes please!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Too hot; 5 years; DIY Horse Ownership's giveaway

I had great plans of working on heat training, taking Fetti out for more mid-afternoon rides, maybe going out for a long ride one day this weekend.  Then I stepped out of the house around 2 to move my car, walked back in, and turned up the fan.  Stiflingly, miserably hot: I have lived here for four years and this is the first time I've ever wished for air conditioning, blasting a fan and sweating while sitting inside my house.

So instead of heat training, I made it out to the barn near-dark, worked her in the round pen, and went for a lazy moseying mile ride with a friend.  Sunday I didn't even bother getting on; we turned the mares out, chased them a bit, and went home again.  It was just that kind of weekend.

I'll do competitive rides in 90-degree weather because unfortunately that's how it happens sometimes.  I won't go out and train in 100-degree weather in the middle of the day.  Today, we'll ride!

Also: five years now since I first met 'Fetti.  Where did the time go?

DIY Horse Ownership hit 200 posts last week, and she has a giveaway running!  Nilla is just as adorable in person - and totally memorable, given I discovered the blog via the contest and after seeing them at Fireworks this year.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Oops. An update!

I have been a bad blogger, totally and completely failing to update about anything.  Rather than try to do coherent, well-written posts about the past month, it's all going here or it will never get written.

July: burnout
Fetti and I had a spectacular May/June where we worked on stuff and rode hard and conditioned.  We kept that up through the first week in July.  When it was determined she wasn't going to Fireworks, we rather abruptly quit with the Serious Work.
- She felt burned out.  I didn't have my high-energy, enthusiastic trail pony.
- We were fighting about forwards in a big way.
- I had concerns about saddles.
- Friends were off work and available to do mellow trail rides with a new horse.
Two weeks of generally pokey rides, no big trots, some turnout.  She was content to go slow.

So.. slow it was.  We walked a lot.  We jogged some.  I did a fair bit of bareback riding and stayed tuned in to how she felt (answer: content to follow the new young-pony on trails).

Toward the end of July, I hopped on for what I had come to think would be a polite, mellow walk around the barn.  Instead, she had a big walk and leaped/flounced her way into the trot.  Vacation was over.  She was ready to go back to work.

Oh, but there was one eventful ride.

You will have to embiggen and maybe squint to find it, but there is a helicopter in this photo.

Pony was Not Impressed: this was not our usual helicopter that lands-sticks around-leaves.  There were, evidently, two, and they were landing-leaving-landing-leaving-repeat perhaps indefinitely.

I evaluated the (rapidly dwindling) number of cookies I had, and the (not very rapidly dwindling) amount of helicopter we were likely to continue to encounter, and we politely turned around and walked our way back home.

Upcoming posts:
- saddle fitting and the results
- product review: leather cleaner/conditioner