January 2023

For the first time in years, I bailed on my New Year’s Day tradition of riding…because it was pouring rain. Now we’ll find out how superstitious I am (or not), and if this jinxes me and my riding plans for the rest of the year.

To that end…Tonto Twist did not go according to plan. (What is it with me and this ride??? 1/4 on competitions versus attempts…I think I just need to stop. Which is embarrassing considering it’s my “home turf” and trails I utilize on a regular basis.) Ride story still to come on that…because we had a really great ride, right up until we didn’t, when she pulled up lame in the last mile of the first loop. Subsequent vet exam revealed an extremely sore spot on her hoof, so either a bruise or an abscess, and a week later, she was totally back to normal.

My Dream SaddleTM arrived at the beginning of the month. It is a Reactor Panel, Heraldic model with the Tribute tree. It was actually a demo saddle, made at the very end of 2019…but obviously didn’t see a whole lot of use, given the timing…so it is still in outstanding shape, and the leather even still smells good. I waffled back and forth on getting the demo versus a brand-new custom, but the immediacy factor, and the fact that the specs on it are exactly what I was looking for had I gone custom, convinced me to stick with the one I had in my hands. (Besides, me and my indecisiveness on color and design would probably still be sitting here trying to figure out how I wanted to customize it.) This model looks all-black from a distance, but the skirting and cantle inset are actually a super-dark chocolate brown pebbled leather, and I love it. It’s super-classy, with a very subtle contrast. And looks really good with the white tack. So far I’ve put about 75 miles on it, including the 30-mile loop of Tonto we did, and it’s been fabulous right from the start. This is a couple decades of saddle dreaming finally fulfilled, and I couldn’t be happier with it.

I wish I could sort out her bitting/headgear situation as readily, though. I thought Mimi was a challenge but this one has taken that to a whole new level. She’s a tricky combo of sensitive, fussy, and strong. Especially when following in a group. By ourselves, or leading in a group, I can ride her in a sidepull. But put her behind, and I have to really actively ride and remind her that tailgating other horses is completely and utterly unacceptable…and the sidepull doesn’t quite cut it in that environment.She used to go in an s-hack before I got her, but I rescinded those privileges after figuring out she needed a lot more education before the hack could be properly utilized. And she’s still not really at that point to be using something that is, in essence, a curb bit, or at least the same effect of poll/curb pressure and working primarily off of seat and leg.

I have a whole box of bits (and that’s even after selling some), and all of them meet varying degrees of disdain, everything from “will vaguely tolerate” to “absolute fit-pitching.” And she clearly didn’t read the descriptions on some of the bits, either…by all rights, they should be exactly what she needs, and she couldn’t be more unimpressed with them. Work in progress, that’s for sure. Yes, I have a fascination with bits and collecting them, but this extent wasn’t quite what I had in mind…

(And the obligatory disclaimer that she’s been fully examined by veterinarians, equine dentists, equine veterinarians who specialize in dentistry, bodyworkers, clinicians, consults with bit manufacturers, has regular dental work and body work. When it comes to face/mouth pressure, she’s very…particular. And opinionated.)

I may need to look into a career in bit fitting and consulting at this rate. (Any bit companies out there want to sponsor me? [My favorite bits so far have been Bombers, followed by Neue Schule and Myler.])

On the Pony front…Mimi will be 30 this spring. !!! She’s still spunky and bright-eyed, and runs in and out of turnout daily. We have a routine, in which I pull into the barnyard, get out of the truck to hitch up the trailer, she shrieks at me, I go dispense cookies and kisses, then go back to hitching the trailer. She’s happy, and doesn’t care two whits about the amount of time I spend with Liberty as long as she gets her cookies. She’s living her best filthy, semi-feral pony life, and looks about two yaks removed from her former show pony life…but she’s more than earned it.

One last ride to round out the month up at Camp Creek (far NE part of the Valley, on the west side of Bartlett Lake), which included water running in part of Blue Wash. Pretty scenery, good friends, and excellent training trails…can’t ask for more than that.

Monthly Ride Stats
91 miles
1 [partial] endurance ride
5 training rides
1 arena ride

Big Horn Saddle: From Barrel to Endurance

In my last post, I touched briefly on the topic of my old Big Horn barrel saddle, and how I’m pretty convinced it’s the one saddle I can never actually get rid of…because after not touching it for several years, it’s suddenly the saddle that’s working best for me.

This is one of my last holdovers from my show days. I got the saddle back around 2000, shortly after I upgraded my western show saddle, and didn’t want to use my “nice” saddle for almost-daily riding/lessons. In addition, the nice (heavy) western saddle wasn’t all that conducive for being used as a gymkhana saddle, either.

So I saved my pennies and bought the Big Horn — it was my first saddle I bought for myself completely on my own, that also didn’t require selling another saddle in order to get it. I don’t remember the exact model number, but it’s their Cordura Barrel Saddle with Full QH bars.

When I started taking Mimi out and trying our hand (hoof?) at trail riding, it was my go-to saddle. No way was I going to put “desert pin-striping” on my show saddle…and there was no way I was going to brave the trails in my English saddle. (Famous last words, as English saddles are now my go-to preference.)

That Big Horn saw us through a year+ of conditioning and to our first NATRC ride in the spring of 2001. Despite jigging for 90% of the ride, Mimi finished with no back soreness, and we came away with 1st place in both Horse and Horsemanship for the Novice Junior division, then repeated the performance two months later at our second ride.

However, I was less than enamored of the horn on there, after hooking my NATRC number bib on it a couple times, and my knees were also calling in their complaints over the western fenders. (And given the fact I was 16 at the time, I thought that was a little unfair for my body to already be finding something to bitch about.)

Since we had survived two NATRC rides and I had determined that I actually had a really good trail horse pony in Mimi, I decided to be brave and try an English saddle. Got a Wintec Endurance saddle, and spent a couple of years with it before Mimi’s ever-broadening frame outgrew it.

By this time, I had already been to Tevis to crew and been bitten by the endurance bug. The Wintec wasn’t working, and I was hemming and hawing over what to do for the next saddle. In the meantime, the Big Horn was still patiently sitting there.

And since it was just sitting there being a dust-catcher, my dad suggested I try sawing the horn off — what did I have to lose if it was just going to sit there anyway? So out came the hacksaw, and off came the horn. A couple of wraps of some leather scraps around the pommel and from a distance, it looks like a regular endurance pommel.

(It was over 10 years ago this act of saddle butchery was committed, so I’m a little hazy on the details. I just know I got dad to do the actual sawing part, since I was afraid I was saw my saddle in half or something. Plus there was a part of my show ring upbringing that was a bit horrified about the idea of sawing apart my saddle.)

A bonus to this was the saddle had always been pommel-heavy on the balance, so sawing off the all-metal horn actually lightened up the front end of it a bit.

I had also done some internet perusing and found 2″ wide, super thin and flexible biothane fenders to replace the bulky Cordura fenders, as well as converter straps to turn western latigo rigging into an English billet set-up.

I trained all summer in this set-up, and was very pleased with how it felt. An added bonus was the extra security I felt in it compared to the English-style Wintec, and since Mimi and I were venturing out for our first solo training miles, it was a little extra reassurance for me. (Not that I actually needed it…she’s just as bold and non-spooky by herself or with company.)

We did 3 LDs, plus another 4 NATRC rides in this set-up, overall quite successfully. The only time she ever had any soreness was when I deviated from using the tried-and-true purple Skito pad and experimented with an Equipedic.

Along the way, I also added some extra rings to the pommel, and a crupper bar to the back.

Unfortunately, the saddle wasn’t all that comfortable for me. It has a pretty wide twist to it, and I would generally finish rides feeling worse for the wear. When the idea of 50s started looming, I decided I could not handle 50 miles in that saddle, which is when I ended up getting the Duett Companion Trail that I’ve done the vast majority of my endurance miles in.

The Big Horn has lived down at the barn as my back-up saddle, or for the days that I just want to grab a quick ride and don’t want to pull the Duett out, haul it out to the vehicle, lug it around the barn, and then reverse the process to come home. (It weighs like 22 pounds without any fittings, so it’s not exactly a featherweight thing to heft around.)

A few weeks ago, I had one of those days where I wasn’t committed to the idea of riding…until I got down to the barn and decided that I did want to ride. Hopped into the Big Horn…and hold on, when did this saddle become this comfortable? I’ve been paying a lot of attention to riding position and form over the past year, and when I sat in the Big Horn, I didn’t have to fight to find my position. I felt very balanced, and nothing felt forced.

This past weekend, I did two days back-to-back in it. My seatbones were a little sore, but I think it’s because it’s a slightly harder seat, even with a fleece cover, and wider than the English saddles. But not uncomfortably so. The “too wide” twist that had bothered me previously now feels really good.

Over the years, I’ve messed around with the different fittings on the saddle to end up with its current iteration:

I’m really satisfied with how I’ve got it set up. JMS Deluxe Western seat cover, JMS covers over 1″ Zilco leathers to replace the fenders, and biothane English billet straps have all been the major contributing factors for ease of use and comfort.

And I’m getting a chuckle out of the fact that 17 years later, this saddle has once again become my go-to saddle.

saddle time

Since I’ve got the Tevis Educational Ride coming up in a week and half, I figured it would probably be a good time to remind the riding muscles they have a function beyond just meandering a few circles in the arena.

Running the Renegade Hoof Boots trade show booth at The Mane Event last month and Western States Horse Expo earlier this month was a really good boost to my mental state. Not only was it a good confidence booster both personally and professionally, but that kind of immersive horse experience got me excited about riding again.

With as hot as it is (we got a blessed reprieve through the first part of June with a somewhat delayed summer, but we’re into it now…commence heat training), I’ve really backed off on how much trail running I’m doing, choosing instead to walk with the dogs or put in the treadmill time at the gym.

The flip side of not running as much means time to ride. And this weekend, I managed to get down to the barn both days, which is an almost-unheard of phenomenon for the last several years. Used to be par for the course, but more recently, between travel, work stuff, dead-truck-for-a-time, family stuff, running, and just plain old can’t-be-bothered-to-make-the-drive…it’s been a while since I’ve had both weekend days free, and felt sufficiently motivated to do something with it.

Doesn’t hurt I got a couple new toys to play with, either.


Taylored Tack “Zuni” Bridle and an original handmade Myler kimberwick

At the Western States Horse Expo, we were right next to the Western States Trail Foundation booth — aka “the Tevis store.” And my wallet ended up making some contributions to the trail. ;) They had this gorgeous Taylored Tack bridle hanging up…right next to me…after a day and half of being taunted (they also had the same bridle at the AERC Convention earlier in the year) I finally gave in and it found a new home.

Who says retired ponies don’t deserve nice things? By now, that pony probably deserves a gold-plated tack set, but that would be harder to clean, and probably not as flexible or easy to fit as beta-biothane.

And the Myler was an eBay find. Original handmade, not one of their production line. Sweet iron mouthpiece, which you can only get on English-style bits by custom order. And interesting hooks on the kimberwick cheeks. They’re half loops versus the fully-connected loops, so the reins end up with a bit more slide to them, especially on the bottom loop. I have no idea what the purpose of it is; I’ve never found any published info out there from Myler as to this style versus closed loops. But Mimi loves this thing. Like, grabs it out of my hands, and I have to practically pry it out of her mouth at the end. It’s the MB33 mouthpiece, which she really likes, but I think in this case, the sweet iron is what’s got her so nuts for it. This is the absolute softest I’ve ever seen her with a bit. No fuss, no fidget, no weird jaw crossing.

Sleepy side-eye when we were done. We wrapped up before it cracked triple digits, but it was still warm. Windy, too. But she knows she looks good. She knows when she gets new tack.


Have realized I can never get rid of this saddle

Irony is: When you have three saddles, and the one that currently fits the pony the best and is the most comfortable/favorable riding position is not the fancy dressage saddle, or even the saddle that did probably thousands of ride-and-training miles…no, it’s the old gymkhana-saddle-turned-endurance-saddle.

Yep, the old Big Horn has been pressed into service once again. The old Big Horn, circa 1999 (I think?). My former lesson and gymkhana saddle. I guess it’s no wonder I feel so comfortable in it…spent hundreds of hours in it when taking lessons and running gymkhana at shows.

This saddle deserves its own post, especially detailing out all of the alterations its gone through, but long story short: when I started distance riding, I sawed the horn off (if my trainer from show days is reading this, she probably just died a little at that part…) and gradually made changes like swapping fenders for English leathers, and putting girth billets instead of cinch latigos  on it.

It’s not always been the most comfortable saddle for me in the past, though…mainly, too wide of a twist. But I’ve kept it around as a back-up saddle…it lives down at the barn for the days I can’t be bothered to haul one of the saddles from home.

Funny thing…I’ve been playing saddle “Round Robin” for the last several times I’ve ridden…and when I hopped up and settled to the old Big Horn yesterday, it felt wonderful. Of the three saddles, it puts me in the most comfortable position, I don’t feel like I’m fighting it at all, and I feel really secure. And for whatever reason, the twist doesn’t feel too wide.

Mimi’s moving well in it, too. I’ve always had good luck with this saddle on her. We used it for half a dozen NATRC rides, and several AERC LD rides, and the only time she ever had any back soreness was when I used an Equipedic pad instead of the above-pictured purple Skito.

So I guess we’ll just keep on busting out the old Big Horn for now.


And finally: discovering the sneakers you put on by accident/force-of-habit because you forgot you were riding, not running, actually make for fantastic riding shoes. Still like my Terrains, but not for hiking since they have no tread. I’m not sure how much of the Ed Ride coming up might involve hiking, but since I’d like to be prepared for that eventuality, I’ve been scratching my head and wondering about what shoes to bring. Yesterday’s “happy accident” was further confirmed by deliberately wearing them today, and that settled the matter — these are definitely going on the packing list. Super comfortable, no foot numbness, good tread, and very breathable.

11 days out from Tevis Ed Ride departure day. Counting down!

A Home for Frank

I have a new man in my life. Frank is stable, supportive, looks good, and smells amazing.

I’m talking, of course, about the Frank Baines Reflex dressage saddle I brought home with me after Wickenburg.


I have “joint custody” of Frank to love, coddle, and breathe in the smell of new fine leather…and ride, of course.

The hours in the saddle at Wickenburg showed that Frank is obviously a good fit for Liberty…and the fact I could ride 25 miles (and 6 hours in the saddle) and still be walking that afternoon and the next day showed it worked well for me, too. I hated the idea of it sitting around gathering dust, so I offered to bring it home and keep it in my house where it would be climate controlled…and maybe I could try it on Mimi and use it if it worked?

Guess what? It works.

As Mimi has gotten older, her back has gotten more rock in it, and I’m starting to suspect the Duett might be a little bit too flat for her anymore. So I toted Frank down to the barn a couple weekends ago and plopped it on her back.

I love the point billets on this saddle — they actually align with her girt groove, so the saddle doesn’t slide forward.

She moves really well in it, and I really like how this saddle makes me ride. I can’t “ride lazy” in it — but I don’t have to work to engage my core/inner thigh contact.


And Saturday was the second ride…and I got a solid 45 minutes of really good work out of her. She’s still doing a little bit of hind end tripping, usually coinciding with a deep spot of sand, which means she’s dragging her feet.

But she keeps willingly offering a canter, which is huge, so I think it’s probably mostly mechanical at this point, and it just means I have to ride her with a little more contact and support. Fortunately, this saddle makes that really easy.


the face of long-suffering when subjected to my “exploded box of Crayolas” color schemes

The shaggy yak is frantically dumping her coat, and she got the First Shampoo Bath of the Year (always an occasion) this weekend.


two weekends ago; previous photo in the crossties shows this past weekend’s offerings

And Frank has a new home in my bedroom…which makes me feel like I’m living in a tack room, as I now have two saddles hanging on my bedroom walls. At least all the biothane tack lives out in the garage.


that’s okay, I don’t actually need space in my bedroom or anything…

trial and error

The trial: A Sensation Hybrid that I dragged home with me from Tevis, on loan from a friend to “see how I like it.” (More accurately: To see how the pony likes it.)

After a half-hour workout, in which she kept getting happier
and happier. Workout shortened due to extremely nasty heat
and humidity…and the fact I still had to trim her feet in said
nasty weather.

The error: Oops. Apparently I’m going to need a new saddle, since after about five minutes, the resounding opinion was, “This is delightful.” Just putting this out there for people: Just because your horse is 20 years old, doesn’t mean they don’t stop growing/changing/driving you nuts on saddle fit. And just because we’re not competing anymore doesn’t mean she doesn’t still deserve to be just as comfortable when we do ride.

“I can haz new saddle?!?”

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been noticing a decrease in forward enthusiasm and an increase in bitchy mare face when initially asked for a trot. I’ve seen this before, and it usually involved the need for a new saddle. This time, I kept hoping maybe it was just related to her getting older and crunchier. Apparently not, since she even wanted to canter again today, something she’s been increasingly reluctant to do.

And so begins the great saddle hunt, scouring the internet for a good deal on a used saddle. My preference is for a Sensation, since they’re really well-made saddles, I love the weight-distributing stirrup hang options, and they seem to have quite a bit of “structure” for a treeless. Personally, I would really like either the english trail or dressage trail model.

It looks good on her: Somewhat proportional, versus being
swamped by saddle flaps. (Love my Duett, but the flaps
could be smaller.)

I’ll test the one on loan for a few more weeks, just to make sure we both really like it (although based on Opinionated Pony and how strongly she lets me know whether she likes something or not, I’m thinking she likes this one), and hopefully will be able to find something that fits what I’m looking for.

Because, really, how can you say no to this face?
Thank you for this brief interruption…we will now return to our regularly scheduled Tevis programming, at least for the next few posts.