Friday, January 22, 2016

Saddle Fit Session #2


After my sad attempt at riding in the borrowed Freeform saddle during the PLIP Saddle Fitting Session ten days ago - and with the subsequent encouragement from others who also said it took them a while to get used to "free-swing" stirrups again - I decided I needed to give the saddle a second chance since it fits many of my desired criteria:
  • doesn't cost an arm and a leg
  • highly adjustable for horse and rider
  • treeless so moves with the horse and rider
  • sturdy enough to support the needed wide gullet.
Slick and clean. If only all horses were like this.
At least Fergus is now blanketed, so I didn't have to worry about coating the borrowed saddle in mud by mere association with said horse. I could whip off the blanket, revealing a clean, slick horse beneath (just avoid looking below belly-level).

Mega-Gullet® added to accommodate Fergus.
I'm still not sure this gullet is wide enough.
To make the saddle suitable for horse and rider, the following adjustments were needed:

  • add the FF panels to provide a Mega-Gullet®
  • arrange them in an artful manner under the saddle to fit Fergus' ginormous back
  • replace the stirrup-plate* with an alternative one with "slightly different" stirrup leathers (really, not that different at all, but any little thing might help the agonizing pokiness the other stirrup leathers were causing)
  • move the whole stirrup-plate forwards for me in an effort to stop me flipping forwards (this probably means now I'll be stuck in a chair seat, unable to post or two-point. Can be adjusted once I get in the saddle)
  • try and make the pommel in the seat be less peaked so I don't keep ramming into it.
(* the stirrups on the Freeform attach to a removable "plate" (velcro patch about 3" x 6" with stirrup rings attached) under the seat -which is also removable and attached with heavy-duty velcro[so heavy duty, so you can't actually get the stupid thing off without a major wrestling match - and you shouldn't try this in woolly gloves or you'll find yourself velcro-ed to the saddle] so you can have your stirrups exactly wherever you need them to be.)

Wednesday was the first day it hadn't poured with rain in a week and I had a window of 70 minutes to get the horses mucked, fed, and get the saddle set up for Fergus and I in a "ready to ride" state before I left for work.

"Speed muck" was what I was aiming for and despite setting myself a timer of 8 minutes per shelter (x five), I still failed dismally. Even though I was dripping sweat by the time I was done, I couldn't get everyone sorted out in that time - and encroached into my puny 30 minute "saddle fit" time slot by ten minutes. Going to be late for work. Erg. (Hadn't taken into account possible side-activities like when Fergus tried to pee on the already sodden manure because he couldn't be bothered to move out into the dirt under the overhang, so I shouted at him and punted him on the bum with my broom from the adjacent shelter. Or the part where I had to sweep the 4"-deep lake out of Small Thing's shelter to stop it draining into Roo's shelter next door. Or the part where at least two horses-who-shall-remain-nameless re-pooped in their newly-cleaned shelters).

The main trouble I encountered is he's so durn big I can't actually see what's going on under the saddle when I'm standing on the ground. So I ended up standing on a short step-ladder which didn't work terribly well since Fergus didn't think me standing on a step-ladder was Acceptable Behaviour. Each time I got up there, he'd move away a couple of steps. Finally he was jammed up against the panel and I was teetering on the steps, a little nervous in case he did something stupid (i.e. blow up, swing sideways, flinging me off the step-ladder, and trampling it, and thereby getting his legs stuck in it and maiming himself for life. Which is what most normal horses would do. Luckily, although he can be a weenie about stuff, Fergus isn't that excitable. He prefers to use the stealth spook method - slither away without anyone noticing).

It was early morning so the light wasn't great, especially with his tall body silhouetted by the daylight outside, but by the end I was reasonably satisfied with how it was set-up. I'm guessing it'll still need some tweaking once I start riding, but at least we're closer than we were.

It wasn't until I went to put the saddle away and opted to switch out the 2" neck stirrups with 1" ones that I realised I had them on backwards. Not sure if this is how they were ten days ago when I last rode in the saddle, but if they were, that wouldn't have helped the pokiness. 

Trying to get the panels lined up evenly under the saddle is an artform.
Looking at this photo, I still need to adjust them slightly.

And I would also like to move the panels forwards slightly,
so they are evenly-placed front-to-back


This ride nearly didn't happen. Events conspired against me and it was a pretty bad day. But we got out in the end, even if it was only for a couple of miles (which, frankly, was about all my body was up for).

Firstly, I remembered to hose off his feet and legs before leaving home, so I was able to boot him - a great improvement to how ouchy he was on our last ride out.

Putting on his boots. His feet were in need of a trim, so what with them being clean and moist,
and being blessed with a new 90 W bulb in the barn, when we got home he got a pedicure.

Here's how far apart the panels were. I'd still like to move them forwards a little.
The panels are currently stuffed with Jen-X layered poron inserts.

Dressed and ready to go and watching a fellow endurance rider up on the hill above us.
I opted to use my Triple Thick Woolback again, since I figured that the panels should provide enough cushioning.

Off we went up the West Ridge - Fergus very animated and extremely cheerful. I, OTOH, felt super-teetery (despite having moved the stirrups forwards. Maybe need to move them further forwards still?) and very insecure. Once we got to the top, I tried short bursts of trotting. Immediately had to stop and lengthen my stirrups - I don't know if it was the saddle, the panels, or the stirrup leathers (Webers), but it felt like I was trotting on elastic bands - super-boingy. Longer stirrups helped, but not much.

If he trotted sensibly in a straight line, I felt like I could nearly approximate someone who knew how to ride. But as soon as he got animated, or we went down a hill, or I needed to slow him down, I was toast, flopping all over the place and tipping over his neck, giggling uncontrollably. At one point he took off on me - trotting downhill and then breaking into a flailing canter that felt like a buck-to-come - all on slick trail - with me having nothing to brace against to rein him in. Luckily either my loud obscenities or his good sense prevailed and it didn't end in tears, but like I say - very teetery and insecure.

Another interesting oddity - I could only feel balanced in this saddle if I rode with both hands. I tend to ride one-handed most of the time and alternate hands, but for this I needed to stay very centered and for that I needed to have both arms in exactly the same place.

Pft watching from behind said I was collapsing to the left, so I have to work on that too.

Downhills were especially challenging. Not so bad if I set myself up for them,
but at this point there's no way I could trot down even a slight incline.

As far as Fergus was concerned - he moved great in this set up. I haven't felt him walk out that well in ages, and clocked him at over 5 mph walking. His trot was BIG and bouncy and I had a hard time toning him down - much more enthusiastic than our last ride at Cool (but then I opted not to boot him on that ride and he was quite ouchy). This ride he was Mr Happy the whole time and if that was from this saddle set up, I'd be a very pleased girl.

To my eye, it still looks like the top edge of the panel is resting on his problem area, but it could be that the way the saddle distributes pressure it isn't a problem. That's a question for my Saddle Fitter Helper.

As far as I was concerned, me and the saddle still need a lot of work. Right now, there's no way I could do a long conditioning ride in it, let alone a distance ride. The panels spread the saddle wide (as my hips do tell me) and using the standard seat, the pommel presses into my delicates, the bottom edge of the cantle was digging into my butt, even though the seat felt, if anything, a little large. There was some pinching from the stirrup leathers and along the bottom edge of the seat - both of which would probably be cured by using my full-length sheepskin cover - which may also help with the insecure feeling and maybe calm my legs down a little,

If I was to get such a saddle, I think I'd need the seat with the poleys and the deeper cantle (not sure if that has a narrow twist though?), and the extra large knee rolls (and maybe even thigh blocks). Using fenders may slow the legs a little too.

Or just riding in it for longer periods of time. Already, by the end of our two mile ride I was feeling a little more "contained", but still not close to feeling competent (and there's no way I'd ride Roo in this saddle - I'd be off him the first time he saw a blade of grass).

When we got back to the trailhead, I had pft take a couple of short videos of me trotting. The first one is headed towards the trailer and Mr Happy is quite animated and I'm having a hard time (note the leg flailing). The second video is trotting away from the trailer, so he's less eager ("Wait? Weren't we done?") and I felt less teetery - although my riding looks better in the first video. Figures.

(* Hmm, anyone know how to get videos to show up in Blog? they look OK until I upload it and then they're blank)

So, inconclusive results again, although I think we're moving closer to curing his discomfort.

Next stop Saddle Fitter Helper - weather permitting.

Or if weather doesn't permit, I'll be visiting Dionne and trying out her Balance saddle and her Orthoflex.

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