Savage amusement

 

Derby was feeling patriotic this weekend.

Derby was feeling patriotic this weekend.

Apologies for the hiatus here on the blog. It’s finally summer, and I have been spending maximum time outside, basking in the sun.  That awful winter still isn’t behind me, and I’ve been grateful for every nice day we’ve had, and have been trying to take advantage of all of them.

Anyway, Derby and I have some news for you, and I won’t kid you, I’m feeling a bit sheepish.  We have a new saddle, and it’s an Isabell.  A Bates this time, versus a Wintec.  But nonetheless, an Isabell.  For those that have lost count, this is Isabell #5.

    • First Wintec Isabell, bought new.  Sold shortly after purchasing, as I thought it didn’t fit Jag.  (Kissing spines were the real problem.)
    • Second Wintec Isabell, bought used.  Kind of ratty.
    • Third Wintec Isabell, bought used, was in pretty good shape. Sold ratty Isabell to another gal in my barn.   Sold third Isabell when I bought the Albion.
    • Fourth Wintec Isabell, kind of ratty, bought for a song.  Still have it, but one of the screws is stripped and the gullet head is starting to crack, so I’m not actively switching the gullets out in this one  It’s got an MW gullet in now and I ride Tucker in it.
    • Fifth Isabell is the new Bates.  And my Lord, it is heavenly.  The seat has some memory foam padding, and the panels are super soft and comfy for the horse, especially as it has the Riser System that enables me to tweak the fit. Derby and I are both loving it. But more on that later.

The Passier I was trying didn’t work, and as I experimented with gullets and shims, it became clear that Derby really wanted a narrow saddle. If you’re looking for some savage amusement, try finding a narrow dressage saddle.  No, custom doesn’t count.  And that would be how I ended up with Isabell #5.

The trot is nicely uphill.  So is the path I must take to work on my position.

The trot is nicely uphill. So is the path I must take to work on my position.

It is difficult to overstate how much things have improved now that I’m not fighting the tack.   Derby is willing to move forward more freely. I’m more balanced so I can be effective.  We’re doing better work, and it’s showing in his top line, especially in his neck.  He has a new line of muscle along the top side of his neck, and I’m doing a better job of keeping him round, so that big bulgy muscle on the underside – the one he uses to brace against me – is getting considerably less work.   We’re headed in the right direction, without question.

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 10.55.45 PMOn the downside, it’s really interesting the impact that the last few months of battling with my tack has had on my riding – it’s been deleterious to the point I was so out of whack that I was having trouble trotting on the rail.   Yes.  You know, the same basic skill up-downers struggle with initially.  I was so crooked and imbalanced that in an effort to stay under me, Derby would drift out from the wall. We simply could not travel straight!   I had managed to become even more crooked and one-sided. Going to the right, things were okay.  To the left, they fell entirely apart.  Now, this isn’t a new problem, by any short stretch of the imagination.  But months of being out of whack in the tack have amplified the problem.   And fixing it has offered me more savage amusement.

At least I’m not alone. Christy has spent the last few weeks putting us back together, prescribing two-point and a variety of other exercises to help me regain balance and feel.  She reconnected my non-functioning left leg with the rest of my body, and reminded me (again) to get off my inside rein and instead soften it, followed immediately with some encouragement from the aforementioned inside leg.  Like magic, Derby started to fill up the outside rein.

Christy also noted that Derby’s responsiveness and suppleness both need work – while I was struggling so, I was hardly riding him out into contact or asking for correct bend. In fact, for a while he felt like a green horse, motorcycling around corners and bulging instead of yielding into contact.  So in addition to me, we’ve been working on him simultaneously.  We’ve made rapid progress, aided significantly when Christy managed to get my inside leg working again.

 

We also made a breakthrough on a big problem in my position this weekend.   You can see it in the video and all the pictures in this post – I’m curling my lower leg back, which takes it completely out of the game in terms of effective aids, and it’s also very unsteady (I am not intentionally kicking him with every stride.)   We finally figured out what I was doing wrong when Christy was able to get me to unhook my hip flexors, and use them for lateral aids rather than riding with them “always on.”  I told her it felt like she had unhooked a cable in my legs that was the source of the tension (and curling) and in a way, she had.   So the last few days I’ve been working on maintaining this new position – it still feels very foreign – but it’s definitely solving the problem.   I’m eager for my lesson tonight, and I’m hoping to show a video with a much-improved leg in the near future!

 

 

 

A fitting end?

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To make a long and uninteresting story short, I’ve continued to be plagued by saddle issues, and finally concluded that my Albion, with it’s deeper seat and decent-sized blocks just doesn’t work for me.   I need smaller blocks and a more open seat. to accommodate my decided preference for the shorter stirrups my tight hips and often sore knees demand.

I have a Passier Relevant en route for a test ride, and have a fitter coming to the barn on Friday.  However, in the meantime, I’ve been riding with a friend’s old saddle – a brown Passier Grand Gibert.  I like it and even more importantly, Derby approves too.  Gone is the bracing and resistance, and the exhausting exhortations to MOVE FORWARD.  He’s clearly more comfortable, and I am too.

Working a stretch, something other saddles made impossible.

Working a stretch, something other saddles made impossible.

Derby moves forward more freely in the Passier, and is much more willing to stretch, which really puts  my bad (BAD!) habit of pulling back on display.  In my lesson last night, Christy zeroed in on the fact that when I pull, I also collapse my core, which sets up a host of other problems, in addition to discouraging the horse from doing what I want him to do, which is to stretch into contact.  I’ll be drilling stretch stretch stretch for the next few rides.

Anyway.  The Passier GG isn’t perfect – it’s too wide for Derbs and I’m using a Fleeceworks pads with quite a few shims in the front pockets (two Thinline shims and a Fleeceworks memory foam front shim.)  This set up is comfortable for him and balanced for me, allowing me to be more effective.

I  hope to God we’re getting close to the end of the saddle fitting odyssey.  For the time being, I’m not complaining.  Rides are finally more fun than frustrating, for both me and the Derbinator.

 

So happy to be riding outside!

So happy to be riding outside!

Fit to be tried

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 11.44.38 PM

It’s been a long and frustrating month. After a few nice rides, Derby told me something was bugging his back, and I felt like I was fighting my saddle. so I switched from my Albion K2 to a fairly new Wintec 500, taking advantage of the riser system to make the saddle better fit Derby’s withers (and fairly meager top line.)

We had some okay rides but nothing great.  For the most part, the last few weeks have, at the least, been exhausting and, at worst, have been just monstrously frustrating, marked by a resistant horse that just. won’t. move. forward.

Christy wondered if the saddle wasn’t impinging upon Derby’s shoulder, and indeed, it was.  When he was tacked up, I checked, and she was right – reaching down between his shoulder and the saddle, I could feel the shoulder blade hitting the panel.   We talked it over, and decided that the hollows on either side of Derby’s typical TB withers were the culprit.

 

Warming up.  He was moving out, at last.

Warming up. He was moving out, at last.

The next night, I mustered my entire inventory of saddles (4) (Jesus), pads (2 sheepskin half pads, a Mattes correction pad, a Fleeceworks Perfect balance pad) and shims (two ThinLIne pads that have been cut to fit the Mattes pad, multiple different Fleeceworks options, felt Mattes imports, and for good measure, a yoga mat and box cutter, just in case,) and headed to the barn.

I widened the Wintec gullet, and added shims. Nope.  Derby was still resistant, bracing and twisting his neck, and saying ‘Owwww.’  I tried the Albion with something that didn’t work, can’t remember at this point which pad it was.  Plopped the Wintec on top of my Pro Choice Air Ride western pad, with the built up wither relief pads.  Thank God that didn’t prove to be the miracle, because I won’t kid you, it looked pretty stupid.

Finally I pulled the Albion back out – after all, this is the saddle that was (once) fitted to Derby.   It does have more flocking in the panels that fill the hollows next to the wither.  I plopped it on Derby, with just a saddle pad, no half pad or anything else.  Admittedly skeptical, I got on anyway. Things were better.  When I asked him to go forward, he actually complied, rather than swishing his tail and pinning his ears.

I need to regain my position - the Albion makes me work for it - but the horse is approving.

I need to regain my position – the Albion makes me work for it – but the horse is approving.

I rode for maybe 10 minutes, and Christy agreed that we were heading in the right direction. But after being on and off Derby for better than an hour and a half, I took mercy on my patient horse and called it quits.

The next evening, I saddled up using the Albion with my Fleeceworks Perfect Balance pad, using just the front shims.  We had the best ride we’ve had in a while.  Derby felt more supple and flexible than he has in a while, and I was able to get him forward without begging. We even did a bit of canter work and the transitions were prompt and smooth.

So this is all  great and certainly encouraging, but a new problem has cropped up, and it’s all mine.  I’ve been struggling with (among other things) flexibility in my ankles.  Getting my heels down has been a challenge – I’ve been unable to drop them below stirrup level.  I raised the issue with my Pilates coach, and have been doing extra curricular work, using a standing desk for work and standing on an array of items, such as Foot Wakers and a balance cushion, working on stretching my heels down and improving flexibility in my ankles. I’m making progress – I an now actually drop my heel below my stirrup, enabling me to use my leg more correctly.   But I’m still not solid in my base of support – this is a work in progress. However, if I have the saddle sting started, and can now concentrate a bit more on me, hopefully I’ll be able to build my stability in the saddle, and refinement of my aids.

 

 

 

 

Yep. Saddle fit.

I am going to print out the following notes in 64 point type and glue them to the inside of my tack trunk:

  • If all of a sudden it seems that you’ve forgotten how to ride, your saddle is probably out of balance, meaning the fit is also changing.

  • And before things really start to go to Hell in a hand basket and get to the point where you are convinced that you have developed a severe and sudden onset of EA (equestrian Alzheimers’), note that things that once seemed simple automatic will become difficult.  And by things I mean steering.  This is a red flag. Pay attention to it.

  • If, out of the blue, your lower back starts hurting, your horse is going like a green donkey and you find yourself wanting to do incredibly stupid things like cross your left rein over to the withers to the vicinity of your right elbow in order to get. INTO. the. damn corner you might have a saddle fit problem.  In case you missed the point above, these are more red flags.

  • If for the very life of you it is impossible to access the inside hind or even get the horse on the bit, you might have a saddle fit problem.

  • If you ride one horse like a drunken monkey, and then ride another horse quite well on the same day, chances are pretty good you’re fighting an imbalance in the saddle.  Stop crying, it isn’t you.  (And I’m not just saying that.)

  • If you dismount and uncharacteristically want to kick your adorable horse in the shins en route to drowning yourself in a water tank because you SUCK and can’t effectively ride a bar stool much less a quality 20m circle, you might want to look to your saddle.

Vent over.

After a chat with Christy, who is also having an episode of the saddle fit fits, I put the narrowest gullet into one of my Wintecs, and promptly had a ride that restored some hope.   The second I sat in that saddle, I knew I was in business. I could feel my seat bones again!  Praise the Lord!  I was able to put the walk together in about a nanosecond, and got much better trot work too.  We did diagnose the fact that the I need to reinstall some buttons and responsiveness but tonight was a move in the right direction.

 

The culprit?

Looks like it might be saddle fit.  Stay tuned.

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Tattletale

After a few rides in which thing went really well (previously documented here), things have gone a bit south lately. I attributed much of my difficulties to a few intense Pilates sessions, which left my hip muscles and core tired and made rides  on the same day as my sessions hard.   Then I promptly got sick, and missed a few days in the saddle.

Today I got back on and had an okay but still-not-as-good ride on Derbs.   He’s moving forward nicely but I’ve been having the very devil of a time getting him connected.  He’s been bracing and resistant, and my ability to influence his inside hind leg has been iffy.   It’s not been terribly pretty.

After I put Derby away, I pulled out my buddy Tucker.  He’s my truth teller, and I was looking forward to seeing what my ride would reveal.

Well, it was revealing all right, and not at all in the way I expected.  We had a lovely ride.  Tucker was steady in the bridle.  We rode lovely connected serpentines, deep corners with nice bend and easy shoulder-fore.

All righty then.  Tucker tattled on Derby, effectively revealing that I’m riding nicely at the moment.  However, a certain someone is, as Christy says, “giving me the hoof.”

Will report back after tomorrow night’s lesson.

Priceless? I think not.

One enucleation for Jag:   $1000 (including hauling & hospital stay)

Injections all around for Derbs (coffin joints in front, hocks in back):  $Don’tEvenKnowYet

Chiro for Derbs (Thursday): $125

Massage for Derbs (Friday):  $25 (hey, that one was easy)

Critter comfort – priceless?  Clearly not.  But worth it none the less.

 

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