Sunday, October 30, 2011

If the saddle fits, wear it. If not...

The saddle I’ve been using for most of my time with Willy doesn’t fit. I’ve known from the start that it wasn’t great. In the beginning what I knew is that it sits too low in front but there was decent wither clearance and the sweat marks were even under it. Knowing at least a bit about saddle fit, I could tell it wasn’t 100% correct, so I put it on him without any pads etc. It actually seemed pretty level to me.  I then looked at the panels and they seemed to make good contact their entire length.  I was satisfied that although it wasn’t the best fit, this saddle was pretty decent on Will.

Here I will add that I am using one of the owner’s saddles that was not specifically for this horse. It’s a Bates Caprilli and a nice enough saddle…if it fits your horse.

For the first few months I rode in that saddle without any discernable problem. We weren’t really schooling anyway, so perhaps that helped hide the problems somewhat. On one outing to Mecca (aka Apple Saddlery), I saw a nice sheepskin half pad for a good price. The half pad I’ve been using (again, the owner’s) is not real sheepskin and is quite thick and not very conforming. I did like the wither “keyhole” it had but that’s about it. So I bought the sheepskin (and a lovely new bit, also on sale!). 

I instantly liked the position I was in much better. I was straighter and not nearly so forward-tilting.  However, on our third ride with that pad, as I was tacking up, Willy looked unhappy when I started saddling. Normally it doesn’t bother him a bit. I noted the behaviour but honestly thought it was more of a reaction to the 3 horses in the barn who were getting chiropractic work at the time.

We rode inside and did some actual schooling. Although things started out well enough it ended up being a frustrating ride. He just wasn’t himself and I couldn’t figure out if he was just being a baby and was objecting to being inside and being asked to focus or something else. I thought I was asking for small amounts of focus at a time, nothing that should have been a big deal. It’s not like he’s completely green and I do ask things from him every ride, even if we are out and about. 

At the end of the ride I dismounted and took his saddle off to cool him out. The second it was off his back my heart sank.  I could clearly see that the saddle was bridging across his back. There were sweat marks by the withers and the back of the saddle but nothing in between.  I honestly wanted to cry. 

I guess the good thing is the new half pad let me see the problem clear as day. I figure the better breathability of the sheepskin meant he didn’t sweat where there was no contact unless the exercise was intense, which it wasn’t that day. The previous rides were both warmer days and longer, more intense rides, so the whole length of his back had some sweat. 

After that I tried another saddle – a beautiful Schlesse all-purpose that was really much more like a typical dressage saddle. It fit Willie nicely but they are made wide and it killed my inner thighs. I didn’t realize how sore I was until the next day when I sat in it again. Oye!  It made me brace and ride weird (or weird-er!).  Oh well, it wasn’t going to be a good long-term solution anyway.

There was nothing for it but to look into getting my own saddle.  I struggled with the decision a bit – buying a saddle for a horse I’m only leasing seemed a little hard to justify.  But I had to do something and it is an investment that wouldn’t necessarily only be good for this horse, if things don’t work out with him long term.
I am fortunate in that our area has a very, very good saddle fitter. He has trained with master saddlers all over the world, is the saddler for the RCMP musical ride, etc etc. He has also designed and now manufactures his own line of saddles, based on the Tolga tree (he studied with Tolga Aksoyek).  I like that they are made in Canada (though they do use imported French leather).  I knew we would be in good hands.

I went to his shop and sat in a ton of saddles. I told Alex he had to come with me to keep me from getting something really high-end. His response was to ask when I’ve ever known him to disagree with purchasing quality sports equipment for the sake of saving a couple bucks in the short-term and that you always spend more long-term with that approach. Oh, how I love my husband!

Tolgas, Pessoas, you name it, I sat in it. I liked that the saddler was by no means trying to up-sell me.  I said from the start that this was for a horse I’m only leasing and that I’d like something reasonably priced but that I also believed in buying quality once rather than throwing money away on something I would want to replace sooner rather than later. By far my favourite was one of his own Vision Saddlery saddles. But there was also a Pessoa I wouldn’t have complained about owning and a couple others that would work well. 

One saddle was awesome, reasonably inexpensive, and in excellent shape (it was gently used) and just felt great. The problem? Colour. It was a pale blonde-ish colour. Probably would have been trendy if it was a western saddle (if that’s still a trend in whatever discipline it was trendy in!). He said I could darken it some with oiling but it didn’t seem worth it to me. After all, how would I match a bridle?? ;-) 

The saddler came out two days later to assess Will. He showed me all the things to look for and how to assess the saddles. He took the time to look at the Bates I had been using, “just in case” and discussed all the ways it was wrong  :-/

I learned a lot of the finer details to looks for, beyond what I had read about saddle fit. I really think I had to see different examples on a horse in real life to make all the theory I’ve read truly useful. It was also useful in that I could be 100% confident in the reasons behind what the saddler recommended –this way I could see what he was talking about for myself.  I was pretty happy that the best match for Willy was my favourite saddle of the bunch, especially since I thought it was ruled out as suitable for him. Turns out I was confused by a similar-looking saddle.

It is similar to this one only without the external calf block. 
Mine does have one under the flap, which is plenty for me.

I am 8 rides in and love it. I knew Willy would feel better but I wasn’t prepared for just how much better!  He is moving under himself so much better! The balance is so natural I almost don’t have to get used to it at all – I just have to get used to not compensating for poor balance!

I will get pictures as soon as I get the matching bridle (!!) sorted out, oiled, etc. I was delayed with these things this week because I blew a tire on my car...of course Alex was out of town so it was a little trickier to get it replaced timing-wise (I took the backroads to the barn for 2 days, lol). I should get everything put together this week though. 

A potrait from today.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Today's Harvest.

Yes, you read that right, I harvested produce from my garden. Today. October 15th. And I'm not talking squash or anything, either.


That is my main pepper bed as of this morning. It has been going strong and providing us with more peppers than we know what to do with. Well, that's not exactly true, I have been finding things to do with every one of them but it's getting to be a challenge.

Still so many gorgeous peppers. Most of them have 
been ripening just fine, even if taken green. It makes
me giddy to see this in mid-October!

Also have plenty of tomatoes coming still. I broke down and decided that I would pull all but the cherry tomato plants. Those seem to still be actively producing so I can't bear to pull them but if we lose some to frost it won't be a big deal.

Yes, there is a bit of bacterial speck/spot on the plants. 
The fruit of the cherry plants haven't been affected yet (although the 
regular plants were).  It's kind of inevitable with tomatoes this late
in the year. Next year I am rotating growing spaces anyway.

I decided the other tomatoes were a lot of work to maintain and had finally far gone enough to just harvest anything of decent size and condition. They have only survived so well because whenever the overnight low is too low, Alex lights tea light candles in the tomato and pepper beds before covering them with tarps for the night.

Or they are mutant plants. Whichever.

Goodnight moon, goodnight pepper.
Goodnight tomato, f-you weather.

That stands for "fooled you" weather, of course.

Right, so, I took all the green tomatoes off as I pulled the plants. I figure if they ripen they will still taste better than grocery store options. I am really going to miss tomatoes :-(   Anyway, it ended up being a fair bit of produce!

This wasn't everything, either. I had at least one more 
overflowing bowl of green tomatoes and some cherry toms too.
That bag of pepper is FULL!

As far as peppers go, we decided to go ahead and pick the ones that were of a good size or were clearly not likely to ripen but left some promising ones on the plants since temps seem ok for the next few days. We ended up with this.
Not nearly as impressive as in person,


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Hay Barn for Paradigm.

Many months ago, Jason posted about their dilemma in terms of how to design a muti-purpose barn at the new property of Paradigm Farms. Being without my husband all summer I am always either too busy or have too much time to myself (late at night, for example). So, I started goofing around with a paint "drawing" of how I thought their new barn could work. I don't think I finished it as per my original idea (whatever that was) and a few days went by, life happened, etc., and I figured the time had passed for posting it. But Jason seems to like my paint drawings, so I had to share the one I did just for Paradigm, lol. I'm sure they have long since designed and built the perfect barn!

So, without further ado...

You can see we have short-term horse lodging, crossties for vet/farrier work, a feed preparation room, and hay and/or equipment storage. Of course, the whole thing would be covered with a roof but could be relatively open on the sides, assuming appropriate roof overhang.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Curious George.

I've been riding Willie all over the place. The vet instructed us to work in straight lines, work often, and not to do arena work for as long as possible, so that's what we've done. For the first while, it was pretty easy going. I could point him anywhere and he would go without a second thought, it seemed. Yes, there were times when his head would come up and he'd look intently at something in the distance. And especially spook-worthy things would elicit more of a reaction, like a leap sideways, but overall I was very impressed with him. So I'd say he can be a rather sensitive horse and although I wouldn't describe him as overly spooky, he is definitely "looky" and fairly reactive.

In the beginning, I always let him look until I felt him relax, then I would ask for forward. I worried a little that I needed to make him work through these moments but it felt important to me that I learn when he needed that minute and when I should push him on. I think I've got that now. Sometimes he just needs to look and I can't help but feel it's better if he works out for himself that everything is ok, rather than forcing him in all situations.

We'd had weeks of field and trail rides under our belt when things started to change. It got cooler, the fields were harvested or turned golden, the tree lines were no longer solid walls but had spook-worthy gaps appearing between the leaves. These gaps leave just enough space to see that there is something beyond but not what that something might be. Definitely cause for giraffe neck and wonder leaps.

Aside from learning how to stick with a horse that is leaner, faster, and more agile than Brumby (though thankfully he's less powerful at this stage), I've learned a few things about Willie's personality. One of the most interesting to me is his apparent sense of curiosity.

For example, when he stops to look hard at something he's not sure about, he will stare for awhile and then offer to approach the object. Sometimes I feel him relax and so give a squeeze with my legs and that sends him off, but there is no real direction from me. Other times, he starts forward without any encouragement. If the subject of his interest is within reasonable distance, he approaches more often than not.

One time, there was some kind of furry creature in the trees that neither of us saw until we rounded the corner of the field at a canter. That was the biggest spook I'd ever experienced with him - all he did was take a huge leap sideways and give a little buck but it was super fast. In fact, I was left behind as he leap sideways. I landed on my feet, as if the horse disappeared from under me! I got back on and continued our ride, though I didn't force him back into that corner we did work a little ways from it. The very next ride, as we approached that area, he clearly "asked" to go toward that corner. I let him and after brief investigation he moved on.

This kind of behaviour is typical of WIllie - he always wants to investigate the scary stuff.  I think maybe "George" should be in the running for Willie's new barn name. He is such a curious boy, it would be fitting.

Yesterday was a particularly good example.

Remember this?

Well, Willie's is fine with the boogey man #1 area and usually asks to go up to the fields (Aside: I love this about him. He often lets me know he prefers to go a certain way. Sometimes I make him conform to my agenda and then let him explore where he wanted and other times I just let him take me to the fields/trails. I don't mind fostering his desire to go off the beaten path. I love it!). Anyway, boogey man #2 is much more frightening. Most horses think so, to varying degrees.

There is a path in that back corner that goes through tall grass and sparse trees with the track on one side for awhile and fields on the other. It can be hard to see and I only learned of it this year, having not been able to hack Brumby all that much. Willie and I explored that trail some while hacking with others but we always came from the fields to the trail and then the track, never the other way.

Expanded worlds...
But yesterday...
We headed down the track.

Said "hi" to the mare Mini. 
Willie quite likes Mini, I suspect it's 
their similar lack of a round butt.

Then we come to Panda, a fine Canadian horse. 
I'm not sure why Willie has donkey ears - 
probably not used to me fiddling with a camera during a ride!

When we got to the path off the track, he clearly asked to go that way. This was new and since this is a scary corner I figured the more he explored the better.

Can I? Huh?? Can I?

So we went. He actually even asked to go in a direction I had never been with him before (perhaps my coach has? If she has, it would have been months ago, at least).

Uncharted territory.

We rode a loop back towards the start of the track and then met up with another rider and headed down the same path in the other direction.

This was an "accident" picture but I think it's funny 
because it looks like Willie is only 2 or 3 fists wide. 
I assure you this isn't the case ;-)

I'm afraid I'm in love with my curious little monkey.

Monday, October 3, 2011

One thing lead to another and - Per Meisner clinic tomorrow!

Somehow on Saturday, while watching and helping out with day one of Per Meisner holding a clinic at our barn, I got talked into riding tomorrow. Per comes at least once a year, so I figured I'd catch the next round. But there was a cancellation and some encouragement plus I really, really, wanted to do it so...I'm up tomorrow at 3:00.

Per is a Danish riding master who rides and trains at the grand prix level. He also ran (runs?) a stud farm, and is a former coach of the Danish Paralympic Dressage team when they placed 4th at the  Paralympics under his coaching.

This is the first clinic I will ride in myself and I am so excited. Ok, a little nervous too! But one of the first things I heard out of Per's mouth was how he doesn't believe there are any mistakes in riding, only opportunities to learn. I bet that sounds familiar to many of you, especially Kate, as I just read those words in a Mark Rashid book I picked up (Whole Heart, Whole Horse -  a cheesy title but so far I'm enjoying the book). I figure any instructor with that philosophy is going to be a positive influence on a green horse, and me, so I can't go wrong.

Wish me luck!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fast Forward to Real Time.

This post is to catch up on the last few months of my horse life without feeling obligated to discuss every detail. I am hoping this will get me back on track so that I can get into the deeper topics I want without being stifled by so much time passing (pun intended). It's not that I won't cover issues from that period of time but rather the posts will be centered around the topic rather than strictly chronological, which I think will be much more interesting, at least until I catch up fully.

SO! I've been riding a TON. I really took the vet's recommendation seriously and have been doing my best to work Willie (who I've been calling Bear - still working on a new barn name) 6 days a week. My initial plan was 3 days on, one day off. While I managed this for a brief time, I soon learned that I wouldn't be successful with that kind of rigidity. Of course, being there for my family certainly changed things, but it wasn't sustainable regardless. It didn't mean that I couldn't ride just as frequently overall, but I did realize that I had to allow for some variation in the schedule.

My main goals are to ride as much as possible and to try not to give more than one day in a row off completely. Of course I also vary the intensity and type of ride, depending on previous rides, anticipated next rides, days off etc. I have been very fortunate to have had great weather (up until tonight) that has allowed me to work outside.

Willie's stifles have been great. They would occasionally lock up again until about 2 weeks ago but it was more like sticking than locking and would only happen before warm-up. His shape is changing a lot too and he's looking better and better all the time. Of course, he's feeling better too which can be...interesting ;-) Especially with the cooler weather!

Overall he's been such a good boy and I'm having more fun than I ever have before with any other horse. Yes, I sometimes miss the level I was riding at with Brumby but I don't for a second regret the decision. This has been an entirely different experience and process for me and I'm enjoying the journey so much.

Here are a couple pictures from August. 
It was a day off riding but I took Willie for 
a long walk with Hazel.