Monday, March 19, 2018

A New Saddle

Since spring of 2016, I have hemmed and hawed about a new saddle for Q. While she may only be 14.1hh, she's got a huge trot stride more akin to a horse several hands taller. As we began to up our training in preparation for our attempt at the OD 100, maintaining that huge stride for miles over varied terrain during conditioning and endurance rides was resulting in girth galls around Q's armpit area.

Very small horse, very big stride, note the girth right at her elbow
Becky Pearman Photography

A vet at the 2016 No Frills ride recommended a centerfire rigged saddle and thinner girth to provide greater freedom of movement through this area. I hadn't thought of that before, and agreed it was a good idea, but was hesitant to pursue any saddle change before the OD 100 which was coming up in a short 7 weeks. Ultimately, I played around with a few different girths and found a winning solution of a mohair girth with ample body glide application. This combination got us through the OD 100 with no issue.

Small horse, large stride, take II
Becky Pearman Photography

Q had a lot of time off following that 100 and was ridden once before the 2016 RBTR LD where Austen competed her. I didn't fuss much with her tack for the LD because I knew that such a short ride wouldn't result in any major issues.

Small horse, large stride, take III
Becky Pearman Photography

Shortly after the RBTR LD, Q came up lame, continued to be lame, and was diagnosed with lesions to her LH suspensory. She had a year off from work following the diagnosis, and when I did bring her back, we began with a western Abetta saddle to provide more security to me as I buckled down and dealt with resolving her spooking habit.

The western Abetta we used late last summer through autumn

As I worked through rides last fall, I accepted that a treed saddle (as opposed to the treeless Ansur we'd been using for years), preferably with centerfire rigging, was in our future. However, knowing that I had no upcoming agenda for the mare, I wasn't in a hurry. But as all things go when you're not in a hurry, the perfect solution was promptly presented to me:

I resisted at first, my internal dialogue insisting how much I didn't need the saddle at that time. But as I thought about it more, I realized this was a really good deal and I'd be silly to pass it up! I knew Abetta would work for Q, even if only as an interim saddle; the size was correct for both myself and the horse; and the saddle was already rigged with the endurance upgrades I'd want to add myself. I slept on my decision and was pleased to see the Universe agreed with me in some regard as the saddle was still available. I fired off a message to Aurora, made the deal, and eagerly awaited the arrival of the saddle.

Since the saddle's arrival in late November, I've put in around a dozen rides with the saddle. Of these, two were flat rail trail rides, two were trail rides over terrain in the mountains, and the other rides were flat work at the barn. The trail rides sum ~45 miles and the flatwork sums a little more than 3 hours.

The new saddle on the intended horse!
Not a pony club approved tying method, but she could also pull free and walk away at any point without injury so don't get your panties in a twist.

The time and miles in the saddle are minimal in the grand scheme of things, but the results so far have been great. Certainly, my approach to working with Q has been different during this time which accounts for a lot, but even with this consideration she's shown zero issue with regard to the fit of the saddle during this time. The quality of work she's offered me has been some of the best I've ever experienced in our almost 6 years together, too!

Riding in the new saddle - the girth is hidden by the stirrup, but observe how much further back it is than photos earlier in this post and how much more freedom of motion she's gained through the elbow

Her spooking during this time has been very minimal, and I have not witnessed any other behaviors that are indicative of some sort of ill-fitting tack. The saddle has performed well on both the flat and on terrain with only a crupper and no breastplate (though I do plan to get a breastplate before the summer). Bonus? The fit of the saddle works great for me, too, with no more modifications necessary. I also love having a saddle with so many attachment points as opposed to my Ansur that had none (I MacGyvered them all).

Totally enthused. ;-)

More time and miles are definitely needed before the verdict is final, as tack that works for short rides (<50 miles) very well may not suffice for endurance distances of 50 miles and greater. We'll see how rides go this spring and summer as our riding frequency hopefully increases, but things look quite promising and I'm really happy with the results so far!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Wholly and Completely

This past weekend I finally had time to head out on a trail ride again after a few weeks of exclusive flatwork at the barn. Lauren was out of town, so I quested after one of my Canaan girlfriends to join me for a fast and furious trek over hill and dale and was grateful when she eagerly accepted.

Amy grew up riding a lot, but with the advent of work and school hasn't been able to ride as often. The last time she was on a horse (a few months ago) was in Malawi where she's pursuing her PhD work. It sounds like she had a ride similar to the type we had on this day, but with the added bonus of elephants and hippos! Oh, the things I'd give to experience a ride like that!

Chatting away as we walk a bit

We went to the same trails as our last venture on just as beautiful a day. I was more interested in getting out and spending time moving over trail than racking up a specific mileage, average speed, or time on this day. We ended up completing a lovely 9¼ miles over 2 hours and climbed over 1,600 feet over the course of the ride.

Miles on miles of trails like this!

I put Amy up on Stan for our ride as I knew he'd give her the best ride possible. Since the last trail ride, he spent a couple days with the Army again, so his fitness is slowly building back from a winter vacation. He gave Amy a wonderful ride and she remarked often about how fun he was! And (!!) it sounds as if I've got a very game riding partner for the summer.

Amy and Stanley, crooked horizon brought to you by a dancing Q insistent on sprinting up the next hill lol

I, of course, took Q out! While I still don't have any hard plans for the little mare, I definitely want to get her back to her 50-mile-fitness levels. The more time I spend with her, the more I enjoy her. The voice in the back of my head that wanted to put an endurance ride on the calendar sooner than later gets quieter and quieter, surprisingly.

Listening ears, a new thing I'm loving

I've got nothing to prove to anyone but myself and this little horse right now. In a sense, I feel like I've returned to my roots getting out on trails as I did as a teenager giggling every step of the way due to the sheer joy of being aboard a willing partner who eats up the trail. I can't believe Q is that partner considering the issues we've had with our relationship, but I'm so happy to be coming into this place.

If you gallop behind a powerful QH butt on a wet day, you'll get mud tossed your way. I almost fell off laughing when this hit me square in the left eye! Totally obscured my vision in the most hilarious way.

At the beginning of the ride, I briefly updated Amy on my history with Q. I noted that I'd probably have her lead through portions as Q needed. As with my last trail ride on the mare, she made me a big, fat liar about needing a leader! A really big, fat liar. Shy of maybe a mile of trail (where she tried multiple times to take the lead), Q led the whole damn ride.

I think my feelings about Q and the day can be summed up in one photo

I fell wholly and completely back in love with riding this mare during this ride. From the first hand gallop to the umpteenth one where she confidently led the way up the trail. My smile never left my face.

Our journey together and time spent correcting a flawed relationship is far from over, but the good days have far outweighed the bad ones for a few months now. I feel safe saying this is our new norm and I love it. It took time, patience, a few tears, and a lot of persistence to get to this point, but it is the absolute best feeling to have arrived in this place - especially with this horse. I can't wait to have more adventures with her this summer.