What We’re Wearing: Mimi, Jan 2019

I have to say, I really enjoy the gear acquisition and testing element of this sport. It’s become a long-standing joke around the house that I’m basically a revolving door of tack sales — find a good deal, buy it, sell something else that’s been sitting around.

I’m also constantly evaluating if what I’m using is still working. With Mimi, I’ve ended up changing saddles several times over the years as she has changed shape. I’ve also changed tack sets and played around with various colors — but this is nothing new, as the original barn color I picked when I got her and for our first couple of years was hunter green, before gradually migrating over to the current purple that it’s overall been for the past 20 years. And I change out bits all. the. time.

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The current gear line-up

As of January 2019, here’s what we’re currently using:

  • Frank Baines Reflex dressage saddle
    Ironically, this was the saddle I kept arguing with myself over why it shouldn’t work — it’s a proper dressage saddle, not an endurance saddle; it’s a 17″ seat, there’s no way that should work. But it’s wide enough to fit a 55-gallon drum, and it actually puts me in the best position of any of the saddles I own, and one of the better ones that I’ve ridden in, period.
  • JMS sheepskin cover
    Originally got to go my Duett, but it actually fits the FB really well, too. It’s almost 12 years old now, and parts of it are looking a little worse for the wear (such as the fact it doesn’t entirely cover the bottom of the saddle flaps), but the sheepskin is still pretty fluffy.
  • Stillwater mohair dressage girth
    Another piece that goes back to when I first got the Duett, and it’s still barely showing wear. I really like the sturdy neoprene-and-leather combo on the buckle backing. Never had any rubs or soreness with this girth.
  • Archer Equine saddle pad
    A score at last year’s AERC Convention, I am in love with this pad for when I want something that is plain wool with no inserts. It’s durable, washes up beautifully without clumping, and fits a bunch of different saddles. The company is based out of Australia, but they have at least one dealer here in the States that I know of.
  • Taylored Tack Zuni Halter-Bridle
    I love my TT stuff. I always wanted to get Mimi a set back when we were competing…but better late than never, especially since I was able to get a bunch of it piecemeal, here and there on used tack sales.
  • some kind of Myler bit (this is case, the MB41PB kimberwick)
    Even at coming-26-years-old, a snaffle is still not going to happen out on trail. We can school in a snaffle in the arena all day long, but as soon as we hit the trail, I need something stronger. Currently on rotation is a couple of different kimberwicks, a pelham, or a Myler combo.
  • Taylored Tack Best Beta Comfy Reins
    The current go-to. I change out my reins on a super-frequent basis, and probably have more sets of reins than any other piece of tack. Except maybe bits.
  • Taylored Tack Kickapoo Breastcollar
  • Taylored Tack S-Hackamore Set
    We alternate between this and the bit. The headstall is the TT Simple Hackamore Headstall that I added a snap-on browband to…because pretty. thumbnail_img_6033

Another angle

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Close-up of the head gear. I love the Zuni browband style…adds some interest and a touch of “different” to the look.

Spring Fever

Lest anyone think I’ve forgotten about the pony, I can assure you she’s still doing her best to enliven my life and keep things interesting. And promote the idea that it doesn’t matter how old or semi-retired they are, horses never lose their capacity for self-destruction.

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No clue what happened, but I’ve gotten pretty skilled over the years at dealing with this type of wound/injury, and have the well-stocked first aid kit to prove it. Clipped, cleaned, and layer-wrapped in short order, and since she wasn’t lame, we still went on to have a nice ride.

Pretty sure that was payback for being gone the previous two weekends in a row.

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Plus, I had to play with my shiny, Convention-acquired new toys.

Verdict: I thought the Archer Equine saddle pad was going to be huge (“the saddle pad ate my pony”) but it actually fits really well with the Duett. Reserving judgment until I give it several rides and wash it, but for its initial trial run, I liked it.

Myler eggbutt, MB33 mouthpiece, is pony-approved, and she worked really well in it.

And I love the mohair reins. Great feel, and weight-wise, they feel like a perfect balance between flat braid reins and round rope rein. To me, at least, a lot of the flat braid are too insubstantial and light, but round yacht rope is just a little too bulky/thick. Plus the mohair is super-soft and feels really good, even without gloves. I know I’ve had really good luck with my high-quality mohair girths washing up really well and lasting a long time, so I’m assuming the same will hold true for the reins.

Happy Monday, all, and hope the rest of the week treats everyone well!

Product Review: Two Horse Tack Riding Reins

Disclaimer: Post sponsored by Two Horse Tack. Compensation was in the form of a product of my choice to review. All opinions are my own.

Two Horse Tack reached out to me recently with an offer to select and review a piece of tack from their website. While I’ve got my tack really dialed in at this point, I’m of the mindset that one can never have too many reins, so I selected a pair of their Riding Reins.

The specs: Black super grip with Purple Beta ends, 3/4″, 9′, “trail” style (single loop, no buckle), stainless steel hardware, stainless steel scissor snaps. Retail value: $32

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I’ve had the chance to use them several times now. I’ve got a couple other pairs of reins with the super-grip beta and I’m a big fan; it’s probably my favorite option for reins.

The 9′ length is a good overall length. Maybe a touch long when paired with her s-hackamore, but perfect for with a bit, especially for a pony who prefers a long, low head carriage. It’s also a good length to double as a lead rope to hop off and lead; and while it’s probably not recommended, the super-grip is soft and flexible enough to allow the reins to actually be used to tie.

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my nitpick: white stitching, and would like more reinforcement 

My only nitpick is minor, and more of a personal taste/preference: I’m not a fan of larger, white thread for the stitching.

If I were to change anything, I would also like to see a more reinforcement at the point where the colored beta and the super-grip beta are joined. I have both heard and seen instances where stitching gave way at this point, so for my own peace of mind and paranoia, I really like either a second piece of beta stitched along the back side, effectively “sandwiching” the super-grip; or extra reinforcement of the stitching at the overlap point.

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The super-grip is really comfortable, and the grip is pony-tested — this is the only thing I can use on her that won’t rub blisters on my fingers.

Overall, I found them to be a solid option.

If you’re interested, Two Horse Tack has a newsletter sign-up (with a $10 gift card offer just for signing up), and are also offering a 10% discount code to readers:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!