Thursday, July 30, 2009

Finding a saddle

I've ridden Sati 4 times now in a few different saddles. We don't do more than about 10 minutes but I mount and dismount several times. She's great!! In fact she's much better under saddle than she is on the far anyhow. It's as if she was just waiting for work she thought would be more fun.

Anyhow, neither of the saddles I own fit her. Ketah is wide backed, but not excessively. She's got a pretty easy to fit Quarter horse type of back with nice high withers and a slope down her ribs. Sati is not so simple. Not uncommonly for Arabians she is nearly barrel shaped. Her back is wide enough (but she's not fat) to land an airplane on and she's still going to grow and change. In fact over the next couple years, especially as we ride more, she will fill out a great deal of muscle. Her shoulders, neck and back muscles will all change. So I'm in a bit of a quandry.

You see, she needs to be ridden in order for her to properly develop these muscles. However, if I ride her in a poorly fitting saddle it will be uncomfortable (or even painful) for her. She could learn to really dislike being ridden, and even develop her muscles incorrectly. So she needs a saddle that fits, but a saddle that fits now may not fit in a few years.

There are limited options for a horse with a back like hers, especially in english saddles (which I prefer). The Arabian Saddle Company makes saddles especially for wide backed Arabs, and they are really nice ones. I almost bought one off of ebay, but it had the wrong size seat for me. They are very expesive though. at least for a rider like me, people who do a lot of competing will spend several thousands on a saddle. I have never spent more than a few hundred! I found Duett saddles which are designed for wide backed horses like Icelandics. Somewhat less expensive (but still more than I've ever spent). Then there are western saddles.

Circle Y and Tucker both make saddles for Arabians and they're pretty nice. I wouldn't mind a Tucker Endurance saddle, but I don't like using that sort of saddle for arena training. I feel as if I have less contact with the horse. Of course, that's just a general problem for me with western saddles. Plus, I just don't want to spend that kind of money on a western saddle. I'm pretty biased, but I could get a brand new Cordura/Abetta Arabian saddle (mom uses on her little Arab) for about $400-500.

Last weekend I had a lady who breeds Icelandics and sells Duett saddles come out and do a fitting on Sati. Sati was wonderful! She was a good girl while we saddled and unsaddled her, sometimes cinching her up sometimes not. We cinched up about 4 or 5 saddles and I rode her in 4 of them, 2 or 3 were dressage saddles and one was a trail saddle (sort of all-purpose but designed more for trail riding). I really liked the trail saddle. It was very comfortable, and fairly light. Also seemed to fit her the best and she moved really well in it. Did nice turns in both directions which is difficult for her sometimes.

My barn manager also came across a nice Saddle King western saddle with an extra wide Arab tree and skirts (the back of the skirting is rounded in order to not hit her hips). It seems to fit her, though I wonder a little about the fit near her shoulders as she grows and changes. It's been many years since I regularly rode in a western saddle and back then I didn't pay any attention to the saddle fit! So I'm going to try it on her and ride her in it again and pay close attention to how well she moves in it.

So what are the pros and cons?

Duett Companion Trail (English)

  • Length fits great
  • Width across her back is good. No bridging.
  • Fits across the shoulders as well, there's a bit of width to grow into.
  • Seat was very comfortable for me. Felt balanced and secure. Very similar to my beloved endurance saddle. It has a wide, flat seat.
  • As she gains muscle and changes I can have the saddle restuffed ("reflocked") to fit her.
  • Sati seemed very comfortable in the saddle. She did nice turns in both directions and seemed fairly balanced herself. Which probably is a result of how balanced I felt.
  • It's leather. The leather is gorgeous, but I get nervous about using a leather saddle in the Northwest. Yes, if you care for it well then it's ok for it to get wet. Just have to bring it home to dry, condition it well and protect it with a beeswax product. But, it will also get scratched on the trail too. The trails here are so narrow that I've had holes poked in my riding tights by branches and thorns. Think what it might do to a nice saddle.
  • It's expensive, to me anyhow. $1400 new and I can't find a used one.

Saddle King (Western)

(I don't have a picture of this one)
  • Length fits nicely.
  • Width across her back looked great. Again, I didn't see any bridging.
  • Fits across her shoulders, but I'm going to take a closer look. I'm a little concerned that there's no width for her to grow into.
  • Seat is very comfortable for a western saddle. It's fairly new and better padded than older westerns are.
  • I need to try it again, but Sati seemed comfortable in it.
  • It's only $500 (slightly used).
  • Honestly, I don't like western saddles as much. I dislike the horn when trail riding (it's hard not to poke yourself when you duck) though it is useful for hanging things on.
  • I'm not sure I can train her in the arena as effectively as I'd like. I don't feel as if I have enough contact. That may just be a result of riding english mostly exclusively for the last 10 years or so. Last time I rode western regularly I knew a lot less about my seat and leg contact.
So I'm just not sure what to do. One option is buy the cheaper western saddle, use it for a few years while she develops and buy a more expensive (english saddle) for her later. I can train her properly in either saddle I'm sure. Maybe that's the way to go. Though that Duett is awfully nice...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Easy up, easy down...

Thought I'd get on Sati again yesterday. I longed her so she'd be calmer, and she was fine. But I was overconfident. I'd already forgotten how different she is from Ketah, just in her build. I stepped into the stirrup (after preparing her), found myself off balance, compensated and...

went right over her back.

She is so little! I'll get used to it, but in the meantime I have to remember to be more aware of her size. She's nearly the same height, but she's shorter backed and about 200lbs smaller. Makes a big difference.

Lucky for me (or I hope due to good training) she was pretty unconcerned. I startled her, but she just took a couple steps away and waited for me to get back up. On the other hand, I have a nice bruise on my hip from throwing myself over her.

However, we rode for about 5 minutes and she was great. We just did some circles around the arena to get the idea of yielding to my aids. I stopped when I heard the rain start because I didn't want her to freak about the sound of it hitting the metal roof. It was smart, but she didn't care one bit.

I'll wait a day or two to heal up and we'll do some more. Slowly.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Mount up!

Since shortly after I brought the young one home all of her lessons have been in preparation for what most horses ultimately do. Riding. Though I've not been good about blogging each week (though really, did you need to hear that she did more circles...again?) we have worked on each of the lessons I wrote about.
  1. Longing nicely. This is still a work in progress. Today we had some disucssions about it. However, at this point I think it's more a question of boredom. She knows what she should do, and just lets me know she doesn't feel like it.

  2. Saddling. She's been ok with this from day one. It no longer really fazes her, though she's still a little less keen on having the girth tightned. Ketah is too though, so as long as it's not a big deal (biting, kicking, bucking) I'm happy with it.

  3. Accepting a bit. This is pretty much done. She's fine with me bridling her, she no longer constantly mouths the bit. She even gives to it...some.

  4. Working on the long lines. This is really the hardest part for both of us. I've never done this work with a horse before so I'm sure I confuse her. She's doing very well though. I can ask her to walk-trot-walk, whoa and turn. What we don't do well is go in a straight line. I think that will be easier when I'm in the saddle and can use my legs too.

Along with all of these lessons I have been doing one other thing. Nearly every time we work, I take her into the small arena and ask her to stand while I lean over her back, rub her everywhere I can reach, stand up (on a block) at her side as if I were mounting, and just generally desensitize her to the whole process.

At first (months ago) she was a little - very little - weirded out by me leaning over her. She would sometimes take a few steps away. That was it though. She has never once got really upset. I have had to force myself to take this part slowly. It's tempting to just throw your leg over and sit there! What else did I get this pretty girl for if not to ride?! Pushing her too fast would have made training more difficult though. Horses need time to mature emotionally and mentally too and she was very much a baby when I got her. She still is, but she's matured quite a bit.

Well, today I did all our usual ground work. Including asking her to trot over poles on the ground (helps her learn to pick up her feet), and work on the long lines (moving foward, stopping, turning). Then I took her into the small indoor arena. It was one of those rare days that there were other people around so I decided today we'd take the next step. I prepared her by standing on the mounting block as usual and putting weight in the stirrup, pulling the saddle back and forth and then just draping myself over her. As usual she didn't pay any attention, but stood nicely anyhow.

So I stepped up and over and there we were! She wasn't in the least concerned, just a little off balance. I asked her (leg pressure) to move forward, when she didn't I added voice command (she's learned this from ground work) and she walked forward! I let her for a few steps, then asked her to stop. I asked her to walk for a second time, without voice command and she did it right away (yikes she's smart!). I let her walk for a while. Asked her to stop, got down. Got back up and then quit. She'd been great and it's best to end on a good note.

Now I'm really going to have to work to not push her too fast. This is going to be so much fun!!