Monday, February 29, 2016

The Specialized UltraLight Goes on Its Maiden Voyage

It's not often in life you get to be first to do something, but this last week I was the first person ever to ride in the prototype Specialized UltraLight saddle, which was pretty cool.

Brenda Benkly brought this saddle to the AERC Convention, having only just received it and not having had a chance to really find out much about it. Many people sat in it during the event and lots of them liked it, but I was the lucky girl who got first dibs on bringing it home and trying it out.

Because I couldn't stand it, I actually took it on its maiden voyage first thing last Monday for a whole mile (limited time before work). I did a quick-n-dirty job of shimming it in the front and did a quick out and back to the mailboxes. Was able to trot a little ways in it and get a feel for what needed to be tweaked to make it work for us both.

The maiden voyage. I look a little "chair seat" in this picture, likely a product of swimming in the seat and having not adjusted my stirrups quite where I wanted them yet.

This is probably closer to the position it put me in 

First of all, I had to rig up some way to attach a breast collar. As a prototype, this saddle has no rings on it (the real thing, they assure me, will have two rings either side in front, two rings either side in back, as well as a crupper ring), so I had to get creative on attaching things. And it turned out it was pretty easy - I just slipped my breast collar loops over the front billets up as high as they'd go, and they were in the perfect position.

Attaching a breast collar to the ring-less prototype proved less of a challenge than expected

Once riding, my initial impression was the 16" seat was huge and I was swimming around in it. Don't forget, I'm used to my snug Sensation with the high cantle and pommel and the shortie stirrups attached to the flap that keeps you from going anywhere much. But this was like skating around in a large bathtub.

But apart from that, it felt pretty good. I was able to trot easily in it and didn't get the impression I was going to fall off, or that I was incapable of riding - both plusses.

Starting up the driveway...

The saddle is light enough to carry one-handed (a huge bonus) and minimalist enough that it's easy to pick up and handle. I wasn't sure I'd like something this basic, but I actually really like how minimalist it is.

This was after our maiden voyage - think my breast collar loops were a little too loose and the saddle ended up a little further back than it was supposed to be (my driveway is steep)

How the saddle is rigged (with the stirrup flipped out of the way).
This seemed to settle in a little better on the second ride and I was less concerned about how the billets banana-ed.

* * *

This Saturday I was finally able to give it a proper ride - 12 miles at Cool.

Zig-zagging around Cool

I finessed the shims a little - still not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but a little better than my first effort.

This was actually my third shimming job, after we got back from our ride (shown without the pad).
At this point, not wanting to cut up the shims, I've just stuffed them in place hanging off the edge, just to give me an idea of how it'll fit when I do it properly. During our ride, I had the largest wedge shims in the front, and if anything they were too much, making the area under the pommel too tight. These flat spacer shims will probably be a better fit.

Quick-n-dirty, stuff some medium wedge shims in the back without any attempt to trim them to size and shape, just to fill in the gap caused by the tree being curved and Fergus' back not.

A nice big gullet that can be narrowed and widened at will. This area on the edge of the gullet is what I'm most concerned about and will require the most attention to shimming - which I'm going to leave to the experts when I get my own saddle and do it properly. 

Like the Specialized Eurolight, the seat on the UltraLight velcros on to the base-tree of the saddle - a bonus in my opinion. I have a leftover "cantle bolster" from my Sensation*, so I popped that under the seat at the back to snug up the swimming-size a little.

The half moon-shaped Sensation cantle bolster stuffed under the Specialized seat.

(* Funny how you don't miss something until you don't have it. Some people like their equipment to work right out of the box - they don't want to mess with it, to personalize the shape and size of it. They just want it to "be".

I, OTOH, really like being able to tweak the set up. And this is why I like this type of saddle - as with the Sensation, you set it up one way for a while and as your body adjusts and you grow different muscles, your needs change. So adjustability is excellent. Not to mention the biggest bonus - being able to adjust the fit for Fergus as he changes shape and (hopefully) muscles up.

In the case of the Sensation, I rode for a while with the cantle bolster, and then after a while I just didn't need it any more. At which point, you just pull the back part of the seat away from its velcro, yank out the cantle bolster, and five seconds later the seat is a completely different size).

Then I fetched my old full-length sheepskin. On the Sensation, the elastic slips under the seat; then it was tied on to the crupper ring (to stop me flipping the back up when I got on and off); and the legs were tied to the rings behind my calf. Finally, it was secured to the stirrups.

Well, with no rings on this prototype, I ended up tying the back of the legs to the rear billet straps. Wasn't sure about it to start with, but it worked surprisingly well - that rear billet isn't going anywhere. And I was able to slip the elastic between the seat and the base. And poke the stirrups through the nylon "pockets" in the bottom of the legs, and tie the bottom of the legs to the top of the stirrups - which is what holds it all in place and stops it shifting around. I didn't tie it on the front at all - didn't need to.

This all served to keep the stirrup "leathers" (in reality, wide beta-biothane buckle straps - huzzah, no stupid blevins buckles) more stable than their usual free-swing (remember, I'm not used to free-swing), and so stopped my leg from moving around too much - but didn't lock me in quite as much as the shortie Sensation stirrups.

The saddle rigged with the big cantle bolster and my old sheep.
(I have a brand new sheep fleece in a box at home, waiting to be butchered into new legs for my sheepskin cover).

We were good to go. And we went out and had fun.

We trotted along narrow twisties, ducking under trees and around corners and I felt perfectly secure. It puts my legs in a nice position without being too constraining, and feels nice and close contact. He moved well in it (but to be fair, he's moved well in most things I've tried him in - he's so good-natured - much to his own detriment). The saddle was super-secure on the horse too - absolutely no side to side slipping.

You're supposed to fasten the stirrups to the tree once you've decided where you want them (there are three possible positions), but both Brenda and another friend with a Specialized said they never bothered - that the stirrups stayed in place because they are sandwiched between the tree and the velcro panel. Unfortunately, because I'm still messing with the panels, they haven't velcro-ed on rigid yet, so the stirrups were able to move back and forth a little. No matter, I could reach in under my leg and adjust them back to where they needed to be. I can see that once you're set up, however, they won't move much once everything has settled into position.

Limbo-ing through the tight bushes through the creek - which were even tighter than usual because a tree had fallen on another tree, pushing it down over the trail. The saddle was nice and secure for this type of manuever.

I didn't fall off in this creek either.

Looking nice and relaxed after trotting down a narrow twisty singletrack, dodging trees with my kneecaps.
Dionne rode with us and funnily enough was also trying out her new saddle. 

Once we were done with the ride, and I could see how the saddle sat on Fergus "after action", I fiddled some more with the shimming. Still not perfect (I need an expert to get it there), but better than the set up I rode in.

The three "problems" I have at this point are:

  1. The pommel is actually a little high. I carry my phone in a pouch around my waist in the front, on the basis that, to date, I have never belly-flopped off a horse (of course, there's always a first time). When leaning down at one point to duck under a tree branch (something I find myself having to do a lot on Fergus), I ended up digging the pommel into the phone. So that will need a little adjusting on my part.
  2. I have to say, I still miss those thigh rolls on the RP Endurance for downhills. :)  But the Specialized can come equipped with bucking rolls that screw onto the saddle (and can be removed if you don't want them later on - adjustability! Yay!). I'd like to try riding in a Specialized that has these bucking rolls, just to see if I really need them or (as occurred to me later), if all my pommel bags on the front will serve a similar purpose. So something to try later, hopefully.  My gut feeling is they would be overkill in the long run.
  3. And finally, my biggest problem - the wide twist, which is what has made me the most leery of these saddles.

    With my bolster and sheepskin, of course now the seat was a little too small. The size actually felt good, but the bolster and sheep was pushing me forwards and putting me right on top of the wide-bulgy bits on the tree - right about where I want the twist to be narrow. This was precisely why I didn't want to go with a 15" seat because it did the same thing. Not being blessed with wide child-bearing hips, and tending to ride with a long stirrup putting my legs straight down, I really like a narrow twist. On a less lofty horse, you could probably ride with a shorter stirrup and then your thighs would be more parallel to the ground and it would be less of a problem.

    Haven't experimented yet, but suspect that I can probably figure out some sort of pommel bolster (same as I use in the Sensation) to stash under the seat to prop me up a little and get my thighs off those "frame rails". That might mean I can do away with the cantle bolster, putting me further back in the seat to a narrower area.

    Another consideration is that the saddle wants to sit behind Fergus' slightly atrophied shoulders in the hollows there - putting it very slightly lower at the front than I'd like. Once he beefs up more, it'll lift the front of the saddle and put me in a slightly different position. And in the meantime, I can possibly shim the saddle more in the front - temporarily until he builds up again.

    And lastly, I want to try riding in a EuroLight (and ideally a EuroLight with a "trail seat", that is built up a little more in front). The interesting thing about the UltraLight was with no flap, there's nowhere really to put your thighs when you rotate them inwards to support your weight - there's nothing there.  I have a theory that the flaps on the EuroLight may put your leg in a slightly different position - giving you something to roll inwards on to, and this may, in turn, affect how your leg lies on the tree.

    All things to experiment with. 
Itchy face after the ride.

But for now, I think we have a winner, saddle-wise. But before I give my final answer, I still have to try:

  • a EuroLight - to see if the flap works better for me  
  • the trail seat (more built up in front) - to see if that puts me in a better position
  • bucking rolls - to see if I need them, or if I can adapt sufficiently that they are an unnecessary extra.

We're getting closer! <big grin>

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Princess and the Pea

Years ago, we set out to get a new kitten. I was adamant that the one thing I didn't want was a red tabby. So of course, we came home with a little red tabby boy - Huckle - who turned out to be one of my best cats ever.

The point is, you don't necessarily know what you want until you get it - even if you set out with fairly clear ideas about what you think you want.

Fergus' new saddle hunt is a case in point. I have tried to be as open-minded as I possibly could be, entertaining all kinds of options (while secretly maintaining all my biases and fighting against them).

The biggest shock to the system was probably the realisation that I was going to have to go with a treed saddle. I see the benefits of both treed and treeless, but I'm still leery that a solid tree "could possibly work", so was leaning heavily towards panel saddles - in theory the best of both worlds.

Enter Lisa Jordan. In the mid 2000s, Lisa came to my house to fit Reactor Panel saddles for a couple of friends, DnD. I will always remember watching D riding around on one saddle, looking awkward and ungainly until Lisa switched her into a different tree and she was miraculously transformed into someone who could ride. Lisa explained how people's pelvic floor angles differ - if you have a flat pelvic floor, you need a flat seat and any rise in the pommel area will dig in at the front; conversely, if you have a tilted pelvic floor, you need that rise in front to prop you up and stop you collapsing forwards and arching your back. It was a lesson in how something that simple can starkly affect your ability - or inability - to ride properly.

She has an excellent knowledge of biomechanics - for horses and rider - as well as an expert eye for getting to the crux of any problem.

And here we were, back in late January. Riding alongside me for just a few minutes, Lisa was able to pinpoint that much of my problem stemmed from putting too much weight in my stirrups/pubic bone and not carrying enough weight in my thigh; rotating my leg too far outwards (witness the shiny patch on the back of my half chaps); and having minimal core strength. All true.

For Fergus, she identified an over-development of his front end (hmmm, wonder why he went lame at NASTR 75 when I let him go fast and he was slapping down those big feet?); with an underdevelopment of his back end (not surprising, given his current saddle fit issues - he hasn't been able to use his back properly for months, and in turn, lost much of his rear end power); and something "not right" in his back end (sure enough, his right hip was out of whack and chiro Bill McKean was able to pop it back in again). Most of these issues were things that I need to fix, as a rider.

* * * 

And so I started trying out Reactor Panel saddles. Many people recommended them and they are beautifully made. Put one next to your average saddle and you can see the craftmanship that has gone into putting them together.

But this is where my "Princess and the Pea" part came in - at least when riding Fergus. I've now ridden in four different RP saddles - two just briefly - enough to know that they weren't going to work, with the other two being tried out for two weeks each so I was able to put a couple of longer rides on them as well as a couple of shorties in the morning along the lane.

The RP Tribute had a lovely secure cantle which supported me beautifully at the trot, but pushed me too far forwards at a walk, such that I couldn't rest - I had to keep tension in my thighs at all times to stay upright. In the long run, this saddle not being "quite right" was probably just as well, since the saddle was actually beyond my budget.

On the other side of the coin, at the walk, the RP Endurance put me in the most beautiful position - I would sit up there on my big horse and feel like I could ride. Unfortunately, as soon as Fergus started trotting, I immediately felt like a puppet with all its strings cut. I was all over the place. Trotting along my lane - completely flat and straight, I tried to switch diagonals and couldn't even find the diagonal and ended up switching back onto the same one I was already posting on. I've been able to post and switch diagonals since I was 12 - over 35 years. Not right. I was bummed because initially I really felt that this was going to be The Saddle.

In the two weeks, I was able to put a couple of good rides on it. The wobbles during the first longer ride I put down to not being used to the saddle, but an outing to Rock Creek the following weekend where I had to dodge and duck bushes and trees while winding around narrow singletrack had me starting to doubt my ability and I found myself opting to walk parts of the trail that I'd normally cheerfully trot with great enthusiasm and entertainment. In short, I didn't feel like I could stay on the horse. I could force myself to stay with him - but it was forced. I could see myself getting into the situation where I wouldn't look forwards to riding - ultimately riding in this saddle just wasn't fun on Fergus.

Fergus in the RP Endurance in the position it would find at the end of our rides

The last shortie ride I was able to do on it along the lane, I shimmed the front of the saddle slightly, thinking about how it had a tendency to slip backwards into Fergus' sweet spot (not necessarily the "sweet spot" I wanted the saddle in) and thus probably end up dipped down in front. This experiment, while brief, did seem successful, but I wasn't able to repeat it to see if it was reality or just Fergus having a soft day and being easy to trot on.

What I really wanted to do (probably just to satisfy my own ego) was put the saddle on Roo and ride a "normal horse" and see if it was me that was having the problem, or if it was just the combo of Fergus and I together. Plenty of people have no problems getting on with RP saddles, so I sadly suspect the latter. Unfortunately, Roo has been on vacation since Thanksgiving; is currently masquerading as a filthy pinto; and I would be extremely leery of actually being able to stay on him in that saddle if he was having a "cheerful" day.

And in the end, I just ran out of time.

I always knews that I'd be test-sitting every saddle I could get my hands on at the AERC Convention, which in turn would show me lots of options. And what it really showed me, was I didn't want to ride in a RP saddle on Fergus.

I want to thank Lisa for all her help and guidance at what seemed like a pretty bleak few weeks in my life, and for putting me back on the road (hopefully) to success.

But in the meantime I need a saddle with more security - a deeper cantle to support me when Fergus is doing his enthusiastic trot and a less perched feeling.

...I do miss those thigh rolls on the Endurance RP, though. They were the bees knees.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Saddle Shopping at the AERC Convention

Never wanting to miss an opportunity to white-knuckle my way over Donner Pass in bad weather, Thursday evening I headed up to Reno for the annual AERC Convention. It turned out that the storm had passed and the weather had settled compared to Wednesday night (1.5" sheeting rain, hurricane-force winds, multiple trees downed onto overhead lines, power lost, etc...).  The highlight of the trip home from work was coming upon this tree on Andy Wolf in the dark and pouring rain, and having to make the decision on whether or not to squeeze under it as fast as I could and hope like mad that it didn't come all the way down while I was underneath it (it is leaning on the overhead lines).

Made it.

The Convention was bags o' fun, as always. Given that most of my friends either live in other states, or live at the other end of my state, getting us all together in one place, awake, alert, clean, and not needing to [trim/boot/put together a crew bag/mix up elytes/feed horses/muck horses/groom horses/obsess over some minor ailment our horse has developed in the last six hours which may prevent starting the ride] is an event in itself.

My Prime Directive for the Convention was to test-sit every saddle in the building, and come home with either a list of saddles I'd like to demo, or, more ideally, come home with a demo saddle.

Sadly, there weren't nearly as many saddle vendors present as in the past, so there were three things I wasn't able to try:

  • Freeform "happy ass" seat (not sure of the 'real' name, but that's what it is starting to be known as)
  • DP Quantum saddle (recommended to me by Dana at Sensation, sold by Action Rider Tack, who sadly opted to go to PNER Convention this year, not the National one. To date I have never seen this saddle in person, let alone sat in one)
  • 4Flex Pathfinger EFF Saddle (sold by Athletic Equine who were mysteriously absent from the event, despite being listed. Again, never seen one, was intrigued by the literature, might have sold my first born for one had I had the chance to try one out, but "must be present to win").

Wednesday morning before work, I was out in the barn in the wind, making curvy wither tracings of Fergus' back, armed with a large sheet of paper, tape measure, marker pen and bendy ruler. Then at Crysta's sharp suggestion, I was up until 1:30 a.m. that night making cardboard cutouts of said wither tracings.

Armed with my cardboard cut-out horse, I was able to try:

Arabian Saddle Company:
Sierra Trail - this saddle was really lovely and cushy and looked like it would fit based on Cardboard Fitting. However the price tag was sadly somewhat beyond my budget. It would be something to set aside for future consideration if I get really desperate.

Reactor Panels:
Have been riding in two different RP saddles for the last month and Lisa Jordan has kindly spent many hours fiddling around with me on fit (me and Fergus), but there's just something about these saddles that doesn't quite work with my body and Fergus' movement. None of the 3-4 saddles I sat on in their booth felt good to me (despite the fact that the endurance model I've been trialling for the last couple of weeks doesn't feel too bad, which is odd).

Ghost Saddles:
A quick look at these made me realise straight away that they weren't going to work for Fergus because of the lack of Big Gullet®. However, I sat and talked with Marlene Moss* for some time and was impressed with their plans for the future in making adjustments for the better. Saddle makers who "keep thinking" are great, IMO, and I hope things go well for them. A friend in NV bought one on Saturday, so I'll be keeping tabs on how she likes it.

(* I've been reading posts from Marlene Moss for years and had formed a picture in my head as to what she looked like. Well, it turns out she doesn't look *anything* like my head-picture - not that she has an extra head or is 7' tall - it was just a bit of a shock to discover something that you *know* to be true isn't even vaguely. Nice to meet you finally, Marlene).

Saddles in the Tack swap:

Orthoflex and Timberline Flex - astonishingly heavy and I'm just leery of the potential pressure points. All the people I spoke to about these saddles over the last few months said they adored their old one, but the newer ones weren't as good. I asked Connie Creech what she was riding in - she said an Orthoflex - worked fine for her horses but she didn't love it for herself. I didn't love them enough to want to do more than quickly test-sit the pair in the sale, although they are local to me, so again, if I get desperate and the sellers haven't sold them in a few months, I could potentially still try them out.

SR - came highly-recommended as an investment and being incredibly comfortable. I can attest that it was very comfy to sit on, but alas these saddles are built to fit specifically to your horse's back (taken from a cast) and the two I looked at were far too narrow in the gullet to fit Fergus.


  • Elite
  • Pioneer
  • Aussie Lite

Similar in design to Specialized saddles, I was excited to try these since I really liked the concept; liked the look of them; and liked several of the modifications they had made to the design - namely being able to add rise to the seat, the cable attachment for the rigging, and the way you could shim the felt support panels on the underside of the saddle.

Although the saddles they had brought to the convention were 15" and I concluded I probably need a 16", the Elite, particularly, felt very comfy for me to sit in and I had gotten interested enough to want to take a saddle home to demo.

And then I started looking at the underside - the important part for Fergus - and grew leery of how the weight distribution worked. The support panels under the tree weren't nearly as supportive as I first thought, with some of the apparent size being taken up by extraneous non-supporting fabric. My worry was that, in reality, the footprint on these saddles wasn't actually that big and I could see pressure being created from the tree. I might be wrong, but non-being a proven saddle design I couldn't tell, and it was enough that I was scared away.


  • Trailmaster
  • International
  • Eurolight
  • Ultralight

Brenda Benkly who was repping Specialized at the Convention is an old friend who was forever on the hunt for the "perfect saddle". It seemed like every six months the latest Saddle Perfection Incarnate had been thrown out for some reason or another. So the fact that she had not only settled on these saddles, but settled on them enough to want to rep them impressed me. She has been riding endurance for nearly 30 years, has over 10,000 AERC miles, as well as a remarkable 19/21 completions in 100s, so she's 'been around the block' long enough to have formed some common sense when it comes to endurance riding equipment.

My biggest sadness about these saddles is how wide the twist is. Other than that, I like most things about them - they are horse-fit-adjustable; they appear to have excellent weight distribution once properly shimmed*; they are utilitarian - plenty of rings and places to tie things on; they have a nice big scoopy cantle to keep me from getting left behind; they have proven-performance in 100 mile rides; and, most important to me right now, they are inexpensive. They are commonly available, which means I could potentially get a used one relatively quickly, and there are locals around to help me fit them*, namely Brenda and chiro Bill McKean.

* The general consensus seems to be that they are good saddles, but can take up to 8 months to get dialled in - and until you've got them where you want them, they can be super-frustrating. Hence the "locally-available fitters" being an important selling-point to me.

Specialized Ultra Light prototype saddle

As it turns out, Brenda had in her possession a prototype saddle - the Ultra Light - a skirtless lightweight saddle that Specialized had only just come up with. The saddle was obviously a prototype and had been whipped up quickly for the Convention, so was a little rough around the edges and missing some of the more obvious "needs", namely rings to attach a breast collar. But the minimalist aspect of it/lack of skirt meant that it "rode" a little narrower than the other models (at least on the saddle stand) and quite a few people who tried it out liked it. And me liking narrower twists was one of them. It was agreed that, provided Brenda didn't sell it at the Convention, I could bring it home to demo.

...and I did.

Writing this on Monday evening - I was able to try it out quickly this morning for a quickie mile and half. So more soon on this subject.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Trialling the RP Endurance #1

Saturday Bill McKean came and chiro-ed Fergus. His right hip was popped out, as were C-3 and C-4. Bill said on the whole Fergus wasn't in bad shape - just very tight in the back end. So he showed me some good stretches to do - with the warning to not overdo them: once a week is fine. 

Afterwards, we went for a quick mile-long excursion for our final ride in the Tribute saddle. Fergus felt a lot less up-n-down lofty and a lot more going-forwards-flatter at the trot, which was much easier to ride.

* * *

In the continual effort to balance the three-legged stool of:
  • Fergus comfort
  • Lucy comfort
  • Bank Account comfort
this week I'm trialling my fourth RP saddle (second one "properly") - a used "Endurance" saddle. Lisa Jordan kindly fitted it to Fergus on Sunday, and we immediately launched forth onto the Foresthill Loop for a nine-mile [perhaps overly ambitious] first trail ride on it, with pft as chaperone on his mtn bike for the first half (after which, he peeled off and had some fun riding to the Confluence while I continued on the south side of the loop, and then picked him up on the way home).

I haven't ridden the Foresthill Loop on a horse in at least 8 years, although a little more recently on a mtn bike. It's a fun loop of ups and downs, twisties, ducking under bushes, some open trottable spots, a few longer climbs, a few steeper longer downhills (with deceptively slick mud - we nearly went down 3-4 times, causing a lot of squeaking), and a little bit of technical rock-clambering-over. In short, the perfect place to run the saddle, me, and Fergus through our paces.

It was a gorgeous warm day - too hot in a t-shirt - and we were lucky that the mtn bikes weren't out in droves. The ones we met were all very polite and pleasant, and Fergus only got startled by one group - after which he wanted to chase them and got a bit rambunctious which is unusual for him.

For some reason, the GPS crapped out before we were done,
but we started the loop at the top parking lot at Driver's Flat.
For reference, I've marked Francisco's as a red blob at the bottom of the canyon.

In the last two weeks, since I started riding in Reactor Panel (english) saddles, I've come a long way - from "completely incapable" to at least having moments of togetherness. The 9-mile ride actually went really well. OK, I wasn't super-balanced, but considering I'd never ridden in the saddle before, it really wasn't bad.

Because of the nature of the trail, because we were following pft (fast on the downhills, slow on the uphills), and because it was slick in shadier places, there were a lot of short stretches of trotting-then-walking - excellent to develop my non-existent stopping muscles (score for the thigh blocks!). I was good for about six miles, after which things started to fall apart. I could pull it back together, but was definitely having to work to keep it there. All in all, I was pleased with how things went, though.

The good:

  • Whilst I loved the high cantle of the Tribute to keep me from getting left behind when Fergus launched into a trot, I felt a bit like it was tipping me forwards at the walk and I was struggling to keep from putting too much weight in my stirrups and having to maintain tension at all times which meant that walking felt like heavy-going.

    Correspondingly, the lower cantle on the Endurance saddle is "just right" when it comes to walking - I feel much more planted and in balance at the walk and feel like the saddle fits me perfectly.

    The flip side, of course, is that as soon as Fergus starts trotting, I don't have the currently-needed support so feel a bit like I'm flailing around.
  • The thigh blocks on this saddle are great. At one point on our ride, Fergus spooked at a corrugated plastic culvert pipe and without those thigh blocks, I would have been over his shoulder in a flash. They are comfy to jam your knees behind to make you feel snug.
  • The whole saddle is smaller (including the panels because they're supporting a smaller footprint), so I don't feel like I'm struggling quite as much with it when manhandling it. I don't know if it's lighter than the Tribute, but it's certainly easier to deal with. (As far as a weight distribution surface, the panels are still huge compared to a "normal" english saddle, though).

The different:

  • This saddle doesn't have the "trick" adjustable stirrup position of the Tribute. But that's fine - the stirrups have felt good in their location (and because the cantle isn't tipping me forwards, I didn't need to move them forwards anyway).
  • This saddle has short (dressage?) billets that fasten up under the flaps, which means I don't actually have a girth that is long enough. Thankfully, Lisa was able to loan me one. I like that the buckles are up high (frankly, trying to reach down and tighten the girth on long billets is an exercise in gymnastics, with you upside down on the horse, with the buckles only just within reach).

    That said, the trouble with the short billets, is the buckles are now tangled in the keeper-strap of the pad, so hard to find and adjust around. 

Be honest, now, how many of you can reach down below your feet, under the horse to tighten your girth without feeling like you're going to fall off??
Tribute with longer billets.                                         Endurance with short ones.

I believe the billets can be replaced with longer ones if I want. Not sure at this point which would be better.

The bad:

  • Surely riding isn't supposed to be this hard? That's my thought for the day after this morning's 3 mile up-to-the-powerlines-and-back with pft and the dogs. Walking feels really good now, but at the trot I still feel like I'm all over the place and totally out of sync with the horse. There are moments of peace and combobulation (the opposite of discombobulation) but for the most part, it isn't pretty. As an exercise in balance this morning, I tried switching diagonals every five strides - but was being bounced around so badly I couldn't find the space to stand for two strides and would end up switching onto the diagonal I was trying to switch off of. :(

    I have no idea why I'm having such a hard time finding my way with these saddles. It could partially be because I'm also trying to ride with contact, instead of on a totally loose rein - something that Fergus isn't loving either.  pft said that I look "hunched" in many of the photos he took this morning - and that's probably because I'm trying to keep that contact while keeping it soft - and failing. It may be that I need to just ride on a loose rein for a while (as I'm accustomed to) until my body finds its way in the saddle and then I can take up contact again.

    Interestingly, although I used to probably ride one-handed almost all the time, I cannot stay balanced at all in these saddles without riding two-handed.

    I have until Convention Weekend (20th February) to trial the saddle and hopefully by then I'll feel a little more competent/comfortable trotting in it. 
  • My wimpy used-to-treeless saddles bottom is still sad about the hardness of the saddle. By the time our 9 miles was done on Sunday, I was starting to wriggle around on the saddle to try and find some relief - and that was with a sheepskin cover. Yes, there are various "seat savers" in the form of gel pads or supracor material, etc, but really, the whole thing's just hard and inflexible. <sniffle>
  • I'm still having slipping problems with the saddle - both the saddle slipping back on the pad and the whole thing slipping back on the horse.

    Lisa explained that the underside of the panels are pretty slick, so many people put some kind of non-slip tape on the underside of them to keep things in place. I can live with that - this morning I tried my Dryback Skito pad and the saddle and pad stayed together. On Sunday I rode in the Woolback and had to stop and reset the pad mid-way - and by the end it was sliding out the back again, despite using the keeper straps around the billets, so non-slip "something" would definitely be good.

    As far as the saddle slipping on the horse - Fergus doesn't exactly have any upward-scoop to his back to stop things sliding backwards - he's totally flat for several yards before you get to his loin area. Saddles with smaller footprints may be able to lock into the dips and crannies on a horse's back, but the big footprint of the RP saddle doesn't have any way to lock in, so back it goes. This probably has something to do with my lumpy riding too, but in the meantime, the only thing I can do is keep my breast collar tight to hold things in place. 

Since we're starting afresh, I'm trying to do lots of lateral activity - leg yielding and backing. Fergus gets it most of the time, but gets frustrated with me when I'm giving him (I'm guessing) mixed signals.

We've been working on gate opening and closing - something that would be easier if I could actually reach the gate. Fergus thinks the whole thing is utterly stupid and even offered to rear this morning - something he never does (mostly because his body is built in such a way that it's almost impossible for him to do it). I suspect my hands aren't nearly as light as he would like them to be. Needs work, so we're working on it.

Making some headway with yielding to the right so Lucy can at least reach the gate.
Getting up to the gate post to fasten it is completely beyond his capabilities, however.

Minor hissy fit and as close to rearing as Fergus will get, thankfully.
We finished on a good note, with him sidled up close to post and gate.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Safety Observation

One of the things we are required to do at work is submit "Safety Observations" to the company database so that we may all learn by near-misses. Since my co-workers are all diligently safety-conscious (and, admittedly, since they moved most of the department to a different building four miles away, and there are actually only two of us in my area), spotting "near-misses" is quite tricky.

Luckily, I was provided with a near-miss this morning in the form of a hoof hurtling towards my face at warp speed. Apparently the weather made my horses grumpy, and their slave wasn't quick enough to provide hay bags. I'd finished mucking Roo and Uno's joint shelters and went back to get the hay, and was opening the gate to the shelter when Roo's rear hoof connected with it just next to my hand - about 6" in front of my face, spattering me with mud.

Big mistake.

To be fair, I don't think he was aiming at me - I think it was one of those buck-in-place-to-show-your-room-mate-horse-[Uno]-your-superiority leaps. Either way, however, in terms of superiority:

and this point needed to be made very clearly, so out into the mud went Roo, with a screaming banshee after him (I'm still slightly hoarse, hours later).

The hay bag was removed from the enclosure, Uno was let out to go find something to eat in the barn, while the banshee continued to supervise Roo's exile. I still had to muck ST's shelter, so multi-tasked by doing that while ensuring he stayed out in the mud by occasionally javellining my plastic muck rake in Roo's direction (apparently he didn't know I was omnipotent and able to reach 15 feet) with satisfying results.

The scene of the crime about 15 minutes before it occurred.
I love having a pearly white horse, especially when it snows.

So the term for Roo's foreseeable future will be "move the feet". There will be no Roo anywhere near Lucy unless invited to be there. The Roo's feet will be firmly ushered away from Lucy's presence (sadly for him, out into the slop) every time Lucy needs to be in the shelter, either for mucking purposes or for the hanging of hay bags. Ignoring requests for foot-moving will be met with strict repercussions. And this regime will continue until the
message is firmly re-implanted.