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.

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