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!

Groom Creek Camping: Gear Assessment

A little late, since this happened back in April…but more for my own records and information purposes than anything.

While it wasn’t a ride weekend, we did manage to get 26 miles in over the course of three days, and a good array of different stuff used.

Saddle
I used the Frank Baines Reflex all three days and loved it. No back soreness for Liberty (with lots of walking, and some technical trail including a lot of step-downs), and very minimal soreness for me, which is good given I’m not in tip-top riding shape currently.

The second day I put my full sheepskin cover on it for a few reasons: a little extra cushion never hurt; I get a little more grip from it; protection of the saddle itself after a near-miss encounter with a boulder the previous day that scraped the heck out of my stirrup and barely avoided the saddle flap. My sheepskin isn’t new and super-fluffy anymore, so I didn’t notice a negative impact on the fit of the saddle for me.

The FB seems to fit Liberty well, although our technical downhills of day three had it sliding forward and hugging her neck…but given her low withers, I suspect that any saddle would have probably done that on that kind of trail. But crupper training and use will be on the menu in the future.

Saddle Pads
Day one, I used the Toklat Matrix Woolback with the Pro-Impact inserts. I’m still very agnostic about this pad…don’t love it, don’t hate it. Still hate how matted it gets after cleaning.

Day two and three, I switched to a sheepskin Fleeceworks pad. Oh, this thing is a cushioned luxury. I would sleep with it if I could. I love how the natural sheepskin repels the dirt, and it’s really easy to just brush off in-between days. It doesn’t have any extra inserts in it, but the sheepskin is a dense 1″ layer, and on a well-fitting saddle, I don’t know how much an additional foam insert layer is needed.

Stirrups
Used my Clouds on day one and two…love them, but they’re just so big and bulky. Switched back to the old standby EZ-Rides on day three and they were reliably fine. Might just end up sticking with them.

Girth
26″ is definitely the right length for her. I had one made from Hooves N Whiskers, custom colors of a black/natural twist mohair with orange mohair accents. My only complaint was the single d-ring for the breastcollar clip versus two rings, which meant I had to pay closer attention to making sure the ring was facing forward. Minor problem, but I’ll probably see about ordering future ones with two rings. I liked the felt backing behind the buckles — nice and flexible and breathable.

Boots
Liberty wore Renegade Vipers the whole time; size 140×135 on the front and 140×130 on the hinds. Day one, I used front boots only. Day two, I booted her all around, and day three, went back to just front boots — I’ve found that on an over-eager young horse, pulling boots off and forcing them to pay attention to their feet and the terrain can be a useful training tool. Day two and three, we crossed water/mud, and never had any problems.

Headgear
We started in her standard aluminum s-hackamore on day one and two. Day one she was great, day two was when she had her behavioral meltdown, and I re-assessed our methods of communication.

She really is very green still, and doesn’t have a firm grasp on flexion and giving to the bit. She has no idea what neck reining is, and tends to brace against a direct rein on the hackamore versus giving to it. She’s also apt to go behind the vertical, and has been fussy in the past about chain curb straps and “too much pressure.”

Given all of that, I opted for a fresh start on day three with a snaffle — specifically, a Myler loose ring, mouthpiece MB04, which is their answer to a three-piece snaffle, and designed to be a really good bit for green or inexperienced horses. I had consulted with her trainers at a prior ride on some of her early training history, and she had indeed been started in a snaffle and understood all of the direct rein basics.

Sure enough, with the bit installed, she was very responsive, was seeking out an active connection/contact (oh that’s what true contact versus leaning on the bit feels like…I’m looking at you, Mimi), very responsive, and I had a lot more effective communication with her. She might start a circle rigid, but then she would relax and give.

At the same time, she wasn’t this super-sensitive, flinchy, can’t-stand-contact, “don’t touch my mouth” kind of horse — I wasn’t afraid to pick up the reins and give her a correction as needed.

With both the s-hack and the bit, I used her Taylored Tack Convert-A-Bridle over her rope halter. I absolutely love the pieces of Taylored Tack I have acquired, and am slowly replacing old tack with new TT pieces.

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need to do something about the clashing oranges, though. time for a black rope halter.

Misc
I used front and rear Snugpax, which allowed me to carry three bottles of water plus plenty of snacks. After epic failing on day one to do much by way of taking care of myself (it’s only 10 miles, I don’t need to bother…), Kaity tasked me with getting back on track with regularly eating and drinking — “if you don’t built the habit during short rides, how are you supposed to remember about it on long rides?” — and I did much better on subsequent days.

Rider Gear
Love my Irideon Synergy tights and my FITS Techtread tights. Both are really comfortable, didn’t overheat, and durable. Like the full seat grip dots on the FITS, and the fact they’re a little less bulky than the kneepatches on the Irideons.

First long riding sessions with my Ariat MaxTrak boots. At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about them, but I swapped out the insoles for a pair of my running ones with more arch support, messed around with the laces, and ultimately was quite happy with how they felt. I like that they finally have more tread on them than the Terrains.

Dogs
Overall, the pups did great. They stayed on long high-lines/cable tie-outs in camp, and in the back of Kaity’s trailer in the shade when we were riding. They had their bed, their favorite red blanket from home, and I tried to stick to their feeding schedule/routine from home as much as possible.

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This was Artemis’s fourth camping trip, and Sofie’s first with me, although Sofie has been to endurance riders with her previous owners.

I would have liked to see both of them eat a little better — may have to experiment with finding something “special” to add to their kibble (wet food) for occasions like this. I always add fresh cooked chicken pieces to their kibble, but they did a marvelous job of picking out the chicken and leaving most of their kibble. So at least they were getting something. It’s not like they were doing high mileage or massive activity, though.

They got to do some on-leash exploring around the campground — massive granite boulder piles for them to climb and scamper around on.

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Foodstuffs
As I mentioned in my write-up, we ate well. Both Kaity and I like to cook and love food. Breakfasts were things like breakfast burritos, pancakes, sausage, chia pudding, and fresh fruit salad. Lunches were on-the-go snacking in the saddle, the usual suspects of protein bars, energy gels, fruit squeezies, energy chews, and similar.

I figured out that Huma Chia energy gels are the best. They’re made with real fruit puree + chia seeds, so don’t have the cooked-in-a-chemistry-lab taste that many of the gels have. ClifFood and Fuel for Fire squeeze pouches are both excellent. Trader Joe’s Apple-Coconut bars are very palatable and inoffensive just about any time.

And dinner…we had fun with dinners, especially campfire cooking. Not all of it turned out perfect…the cheese bread was a little overdone in parts, and the cobbler under-done in parts, but all imminently edible and delicious. And it’s camping cooking, not a 5-star restaurant. ;)

Dancing with Pony

About a month ago, Mimi had a change in her living situation at the barn.

Previously, she’d been in the multi-stall mare motel (Same as at every other boarding place we’ve been), and she was “typical” Mimi: kicking the stall during feeding time, any time she was hungry, or if her neighbor was “too close”; stealing her neighbor’s hay; grumpy mare faces at other horses; crunchy/puffy hind legs (from the constant kicking).

Honestly, it’s something close to a miracle that she’s even remotely sound at this point, since this has been the norm since pretty much forever, especially the stall kicking.

Apparently it had gotten pretty bad: kicking at 3AM so that the barn owner could hear it even in her house (albeit with the windows open, and sheet metal siding on the back side of the stall, which reverberates nicely…), and even the neighbors were starting to say something. (Really?!? You run a cattle operation, which involves almost constant fence banging, clanging and clattering, and relentless mooing and bellowing of bulls. No place to say anything about noise.)

The departure of a couple of horses at the barn opened up a couple of stalls, and barn owner was able to convert a three-stall shedrow that was separate from the main barn into one large standalone stall + mini turnout paddock…all for Princess Mimi.

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Pony’s new digs

She’s got about a 16×32 stall that opens up into a mini paddock space…coupled with her “big pasture” turnout with the rest of the herd for the standard 12+ hours a day.

It’s really an ideal set-up for her — there’s about a 15′ aisle between her “suite” and the main barn, so she’s got other horses close…but not too close. She also gets fed first, and turned out first, and her general response to the whole thing seems to be “Finally, I am being recognized for the Princess that I am.”

The change has been pretty amazing: She’s completely stopped kicking, she’s lost weight because she’s not stealing her neighbor’s hay, the “puffy stovepipe” hind legs are looking almost normal (just some permanent windpuffs above her fetlocks), and her demeanor in general is much more cheerful and content.

And yesterday, I had one of the best arena work sessions I’ve had with her in a long time. No hind-end tripping whatsoever, and she was eager and happy. We had the barn to ourselves (peace and quiet at the barn = happy mental place for me), I had music playing, and we danced.

She gave me some beautiful spiral sets, at all three gaits (even the canter…I was shocked), and she was beautifully balanced and light. I swear I even got what would probably be considered trot lengthenings in dressage terminology.

A funny moment: What happens when you’re working dressage-esque moves such as a turn down the center line with your former gymkhana pony? Oh, yeah. Straightaway = go time. All I could do was laugh and gather her back up. After everything she’s done for me, she deserves a change to play.

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sleepwalking pony

And finally, it’s been a long-time goal, and after a couple of years of slowly adding to the collection, I finally have a set of Taylored Tack for Mimi. (Her s-hack set-up is also TT.) Just because we’re not competing anymore doesn’t mean she can’t look pretty…and I would be remiss in my duties as a tack hoarder to pass up amazing deals on barely-used-like-new pieces of tack I stumble upon, especially when they’re the right size/color.

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a tack set worthy of the Purple Princess

The Bit Box

So, as anyone who has spent any time in a barn (particularly a barn with multiple horses or a training barn) knows, there is the ubiquitous “box of bits” always lurking in the corner of the tack room. Sometimes it’s where bits go to die, other times it’s a constant recycling program.

I learned well from my trainer, and have been slowly and quietly gathering bits to me on a regular basis for the past 15 years. I also have something of an obsession fascination with bits, especially ones that have a lot of science, engineering, and thought behind their form and function. (Myler is my preferred go-to.)  And I’m a sucker for “a good deal.” (“Oh, a normally $75 bit for $20? Let me take that off your hands.”)

I’ve sold off a few here and there, but for the most part, I just gather them and let them sit until it’s time to do their thing, since I figure at some point in life, I will eventually have a horse or horses that will end up needing exactly what I’ve got lurking in the box.

(In this case, box is a misnomer — right now they’re stored on bridle hooks in the garage.)

And it’s not just bits, either…I’ve thoroughly explored the bitless realm and have several representative options that are in regular use as well.

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I’ve got something from every Myler level, from 1 (for the future greenies) to 3 (highly trained and responsive Mimi), so basically, I’m my own bit lending program and will be able to mix and match horse and bit to my hearts content for any future ponies in my herd.

My first reaction is “Holy crap, that’s a lot of bits up there.” And then I remind myself that is also 15 years worth of collecting, and that most of my tack acquisition is done with a “sell something else first” principle. (In fact, in sorting through these, I realized there are a couple of them that are going be going by the wayside due to fit/function/found a better alternative.) And buy used/discount whenever possible.

Fortunately I’m not this much of a hoarder with everything.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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