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