Wednesday, April 17, 2019

When in doubt

Buy, buy, buy again.

How many western saddles have I tried?  I've lost count.  But my treeless wasn't holding up as I upped Theo's bounce so back on the market.  I had my heart set on the DP Vario Flex, but there was this one other saddle that kept coming up in my searches.  When my annual bonus arrived, I went ahead and had the demo sent out.  If nothing else, I figured I could at least quit visiting the site and staring at the pictures and options.

This is the Harmony Western Dressage saddle (  It's by a division of Foxtrot Saddlery.  Now don't do what I did and immediately turn your nose up at the Foxtrot part.  These are not run of the mill, cheapo saddles.  These are custom made saddles that are focused on western dressage.  This means you are naturally lined up, shoulder/hip/heel.  No fighting the chair seat!  It's also very pretty.

The demo program is great.  You have a Paypal approval for the price of the saddle and they send you the Travelling Saddle with a cinch and saddle pad.  You ride in it for a week like it's your own.  When I asked for an extra day, it was no problem.  Customer service has been excellent.

The tree is elastomer which is helpful for me with the horse that has the insane back where nothing fits.  It's definitely got a tree, I can feel that added stability and support, but I didn't have to worry about the rock (curve).  I got the width right and the rest sorted itself. 

I love riding in this saddle.  After fighting every western saddle I've sat in, it was such a relief to sit down and not feel like I had to fight it even when cantering.  It's wide compared to my English saddles, my SI is still debating the wide twist, but I'm so comfy in it.  Theo is quite happy in it and moves out at the walk beautifully.  I've done two trail rides and I find the deeper seat and horn to be a great support for keeping me chill through Theo's natural, looky behavior.  Instead of grabbing his face I put my right hand on the horn and ride him western down the trail.  Loops in the reins and neck reining convinces Theo everything is fine.  I don't worry about ripping the horn off because it's part of the saddle.  It's a proper, heavy (35 pound) western saddle.  I can't rope off of it, the tree isn't strong enough, but it's very stable. 

It's not perfect, I have saddle pad slipping problems.  It's also a flexible tree so tightening the cinch after mounting is kind of crucial.  Which is most of my saddle pad slipping problem.  I'm still messing around with pads.  I hate the pad it came with, it's so freaking long it looks like it belongs with a different saddle.  My existing Five Star pad looks much better, but it's a bit thinner than I want under this saddle.  Guess I'll have to do some saddle pad shopping.  The cinch it came with is a Smart Cinch and it makes it possible for me to tighten the cinch from the saddle.  Score!

So after eight days I emailed the company and asked if I could just buy the demo.  It was the exact color and size I wanted, it matched my bridle, the tooling options picked were beautiful, and I wouldn't have to wait 6 - 8 weeks with show season right around the corner.  Sure enough, they sold me the demo.  I win!

I'm going to dump my treeless saddle (and a bunch of other tack) at the local consignment shop.  I have to finance my crazy expenditure some how.  I'm already shopping for the perfect 5 Star pad to go with this saddle.  I'll keep the cinch since I can actually tighten it from the saddle. 

Fingers crossed that I now have all three saddles and I can take a break from the hell known as saddle shopping.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Evolution of Theo

In honor of our four year anniversary.

I saw this blog hop making the rounds awhile ago and had to hop on board (yeah, pun intended, sorry not sorry).  Then I got carried away and started tracking down media from everywhere I could find it like a crazed virtual archeological dig.  It's amazing what you'll find on the internet when you know a horse's name and breed and geography.  I'm starting to think Theo is a year younger than I was told, since he's eight in a video from six years ago . . . Anyway, on to the history lesson!

First picture I've managed to track down, technically before I met him. Baby Theo, probably five or six years old and starting his life as a trail horse prospect for my vet's very sweet wife.  She bought him from a backyard breeder so no records of his breeding and not a lot of training.  Anyone else think he already looks like a trouble maker?

This is Theo's sales video from when he was eight years old and was in the throes of the 'dark times'.  He had hurt his owner and was on the market.  I randomly found it while looking for a video of him in a jump clinic.  This is where he was when he landed at my current barn as a lesson horse prospect. 

Theo's next sales ad picture when he's about 9 or 10 years old.  In the new sales video, he freaks out at a little vertical and refuses to jump it while wearing a German martingale.  It's pretty . . . special.  I'll spare you.

I did find the clinic video I was looking for.  This is November 2014, six months before I met him, when he'd found himself a leaser for a couple months.  Very much the Thigh Master.  You can also see why I like riding with Brad Giuda, he's a blast.

The first time I met him, April 16, 2015.  I wanted to ride a horse that would get me back into shape fast and they handed me the dreaded Thigh Master.  Note the 'omg go away' expression even before I rode him.  He's eleven years old and very cranky.  Doesn't really want grooming, definitely doesn't want tack or to go to the ring.  Mostly wants to be left alone.

The other expression I got a lot in spring 2015.  Such a narrow chest!

Our first outing together, May 2015.  I'm about 20 pounds heavier and he spent about half of the show trying to buck me off.  Jumping in that dressage saddle sucked.

Start of the abscess wars, June 2015.

Post abscess wars when I started full leasing him, 2015.

Our first dressage outing, summer 2015.  You can almost see that four beat canter, but we were  excited he stayed in the ring.  Back when a 20 meter circle was hard.

Pleasure show, Fall 2015.  Our great accomplishment was him not killing any of the other horses in the group classes.  Neck and back are starting to fill in.

February 2016.  Bought myself a pony!  Now twelve years old, butt is rounder, neck is much less ewe shaped.  By this point Theo is a clicker trained horse that has figured out that life isn't all that bad.  He does some tricks, he gets some treats, and then he goes back in his field.  I've discovered that the tough boy act is really an act and the magic of ear rubs.  He is eternally grateful.

April 2016, freshly clipped for the show season and our run to qualify for the regional championships for Training level dressage.

May 2016, Theo's rated dressage show debut showing Training 2 and 3.  He bronc-ed so much in his first test that the L candidates were gasping.  He managed to get a 52% and a 62% from the same judge on the same day in the same ring.  I didn't fall off and he didn't manage to leave the ring, so mission accomplished.

GMHA, June 2016, showing the weak spot in his neck.  Scoring in the 60's consistently at Training, but connection problems are already starting to become apparent.  This is the first show where he did his now patented sigh on center line where he relaxes because he knows what to expect once he's in the sand box.

UNH, our First level debut, July 2016.  Still my favorite picture of him.  Shortly after this he spooked so hard that I lost both stirrups during a canter lengthen attempt.

Saugerties, September 2016.  We made it to Regionals!  I got a major case of stage fright and we choked, but we made it and we didn't get disqualified for leaving the ring.  Quite an accomplishment for Theo's first season of serious business dressage-ing.

February 2017, showing the better tone in the rump and his neck's improved development.  Now 13 years old.

Spring 2017, Theo adds school master to his resume, picking up an adult ammy rider to teach while I figure out how to cope with my new job.  He's a chance to try out some moves that other school horses can't do like simple changes through the walk and shoulder in.  He's also the confirmed school master of jumping for the barn.  Just grab mane and point him at the fence, he will get you safely to the other side.

Summer 2017, First 3 at the Tack Shack.  No spurs, no connection, no hope.  58%.  This is when I realize we've gone off the rails with our dressage training.

September 2017 after riding with Mary Howard.  Theo is learning about flexion.  I'm learning about toughing through the hard parts.  He's already almost unrecognizable from the horse at Tack Shack.  This is the midst of the hard times when my left shoulder was almost non-functional.

January 2017.  Oh, that neck.  This is at the turning point when he stops throwing tantrums and I can ride without pain.  He's now fourteen.

Spring 2018, heading in for a clinic at Second level and looking the part.  Comfortably schooling all of Second level and heading back to the show ring to redeem himself at First.

April 2018, the bomb proofing clinic.  The hardest three days of riding in my life and a huge turning point for our relationship.  After marching through smoke, fire, and facing down a police car with the siren blasting, the dressage ring loses a lot of it's terror.  I let go of his face, rode about 100 spin and bolts, and came out the other side with a different kind of confidence. 

April 2018, Adv Elementary two phase where we won the dressage with an 18 and then jumped clean.  At the same show he carted a nervous adult ammy around a two phase for another blue ribbon, packing her through her first jumping competition in a long time.  Also the debut of my amazing purple coat.  His neck is now officially going the right way, my hands are out of my lap, and I'm jumping like I may have done this before at some point in my life.

July 2018, our best outing at First Level with a 64% and a 67% for First 2 and 3.  They actually captured him with a moment of suspension in his lengthened trot!  Theo marches around the ring like he owns it, sticks his head in to say hello to the judge, and generally looks like an experienced show horse.

July 2018, First rated Western Dressage show where he won every class he entered and I realized we might be on to something here.

August 2018, High Score Adult Amateur and  Level 1 Adult Amateur Champion at the Northeast Western Dressage Championship.  Theo is now known as a cuddly, friendly, chill horse that knows his job in the dressage ring.

October 2018, enjoying his role as school master at a schooling show.  An all new show and there were no bolts or spinning.  He went into the ring and did his job with his other rider.  He also looked amazing as Elsa's mount.

December 2018, careening back into the off season.  He's got a full dance card with his other rider and my grand plans to do Second level, a musical freestyle, and return to Saugerties.

March 2019, enter Trainer Z and the new game of forward.  More topline development and more strength for carrying as we develop collection and that elusive uphill tendency to get us ready for Second.

Theo has pulled a complete 180 from where we started mentally.  He's now almost overly interested in what people are doing, putting his nose in anything that is going on around him.  His old, suspicious nature is gone.  He's quite certain that every person he sees loves him and wants to give him scritches and cookies.  He's not wrong.  Everyone treats him like royalty, including me.

Instead of being the dreaded Thigh Master that no one wants to ride or being 'that' horse, getting to ride him is considered a privilege.  He troops down to the ring with his ears pricked, curious about what game we're going to play today.

I'd be lying if I said I expected us to get to this point.  Didn't see a bit of this coming, but wouldn't trade it for anything.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Keeping it Western

While I've been very focused on my standard dressage, I didn't forget my western dressage.  Let's face it, Theo will probably always get better scores in western dressage where his chill is more appreciated.  He may be learning to be prancy pony but his natural state is still sound asleep.

I tried moving my stirrups back to the further back position to fix the part where I end up in chair seat in the canter when I ride in my western saddle.  It fixed me going into a chair seat but they were too far back and I ended up with a heating pad on my SI joint.  Ouch.  I didn't even know that was a thing humans had to worry about until mine decided to lock up.  So that was too much adjustment.  I measured and it was about a two inch change between the two positions.  I put my stirrups back in their forward spot and bumped the cantle of my saddle up a little less than an inch.

Seriously, every part of this saddle can be adjusted, the entire seat cover comes right off

This saddle is crazy adjustable.  I can adjust the stirrup position, the width at the fork, the spine clearance, and can even move the cantle forward and back.  Bumping it forward just under an inch got me out of the chair position and stopped the saddle from trying to suck me back by moving the lowest point forward.  When I took it for a canter, it was much easier to stay where I was supposed to be.  Still not as easy as my dressage saddle, but that's more a matter of practice.  By the end of my ride, I was cruising around with no trouble.

Good thing since I spent my new saddle money on fixing my truck.  Ugh.  That truck is lucky its so sexy.  I felt like such a cowgirl at the barn today when I climbed out of my big truck in my western boots and my Carhart jacket and dragged my western saddle out of the back.  I was even wearing Wrangler brand jeans.  

So my western saddle is home and tied to my saddle rack while I reshape it for it's new size.  The cantle is what provides stability to the back half of the tree so moving it shifted the shape of the tree slightly.  It needs to learn how to saddle again.  I'll leave it for about a week, then ride Theo in it a couple days in a row.  That should be enough to reset it and make it saddle shaped again.  Theo doesn't care either way, it's purely aesthetics.  The weight is spread out, off his spine, and behind his shoulders, he's a happy pony.  The new cantle position makes the back skirt look a bit longer and more western like.  This makes me happy.  If I'm going to ride western, I want to look the part!

With that in mind, I started shopping for my western show outfit.  Last year was purely experimental.  I didn't know what look I wanted.  I went with basics that felt familiar.  The result was totally acceptable, but I felt like I still looked like an English rider.

Piper breeches, Ariat paddock boots, Charles Own helmet, and my saddle blanket is on sideways.  Is it possible I'm an English rider?

This year, I'm going ranch pleasure.  I ordered my very own pair of chinks.

I'm excited.  It's the look without the fuss of full chaps.  And not so sensitive to any weight fluctuations I might have.  You think white breeches are unforgiving?  Try chaps.  Yikes.  I got workman style chinks since extra bling on the legs makes me crazy (I really don't have the leg position to support that) and I want minimal fringe.  I don't like fringe.  I don't know how I'll survive riding western when I don't like fringe.

I'm pairing my chinks with some taller, brown cowboy boots and jean breeches.  Should be super comfortable and familiar feeling for me.  I got some tops off to show in.  One is pink, one is light tan with purple flowers, and one is black with a white geometric pattern.  I also picked up a navy one with some little bitty white horse heads on it from Tractor Supply.  I already have my royal blue one.  Top it off with a brown helmet and I'll totally look like a western rider.

No, I'm not giving up my helmet.  Just no.  And the riders that not so quietly commented on me not respecting their traditions can bite me.  I make a living off my brain and I know just how devastating a concussion is.  Helmet is not optional.

I finally found some saddle blankets short enough for Theo.  One is purple, one is pink.  What can I say, I gotta be me and I want him to match my shirts.  I'm keeping my workmanlike tack, but I did see this bridle while I was on Buckaroo Leather and it totally seems like the perfect blend of workmanlike and, well, being me.

You know Theo needs a bridle with heart conchos on it.  And there's matching reins!  Split reins are very western but I'm constantly dropping one when I lead him.  I'm better with loop reins.

My first sanctioned show of the year will be a western dressage outing at an Arabian breed show.  They're hosting an open western dressage division and we really can't be too picky out here.  Two days of showing and only two hours away?  Yeah, we'll be there.  There are not a lot of western dressage shows, so Theo and I will be overnighting at an . .  .Arabian breed show.  Yeah, we're going to stick out a bit.

But we'll look like we do western, at least.

Friday, March 15, 2019

The horse you have today

I love this horse.

The human is pretty cute, too.

Hubby dropped by to meet me for dinner after my ride and got to meet post ride endorphin fueled Theo.

Trainer Z returned for our lesson on how to be big kid dressage riders.  She had a lesson on her own young horse recently and it reminded her of me and Theo.  Her young horse has changed dramatically since the last time she took him somewhere and sometimes she forgets what horse she has now.  That made her think of me and all the years I spent correcting.  Okay, great, you got it corrected.  Now ride the nice horse you made.  Get your hands in where they belong, he doesn't need you to ride wide anymore.  Keep him in balance, he's ready for it.  Just go for it.

It's totally accurate and I told her point blank that I feel like I'm still waiting for permission to ride him like a big boy dressage horse.  She said 'you have permission' and off we went.  Contact is easy, flexion is easy, now make his poll the highest point and keep him there.  He doesn't need to come out of it every two laps, he's totally happy to stay right there.  We started out with some basic movements to make sure he was right up in front of my leg.  She commented how good he looked in his body and I mentioned his massage.  Apparently it worked a treat because he was happily using the booty and did not protest his counter canter.

Once he was bombing around in front of my leg, we ran through the Second 1 test.  In the small arena.  Those movements come up fast when you have 20 less meters to work with!  But we knocked through it with no major issues, I sat the trot the whole time without trouble, and Trainer Z took notes on specific spots where we need to focus (straight halts, looking at you).  Having all new test patterns made Theo spicy since he knows when we're doing a test but he didn't know what to expect.  Those medium canters got a bit fiery.  We worked on my geometry (aim before the letter, not at it) and not letting go of the contact just because I'm thinking about getting somewhere in a pattern. 

Theo gave me some lovely moments were he really lifted up his front end.  Trainer Z hopped on for a minute to get a feel of what he's like.

My phone was being dumb, but hey, video!  At least a few seconds.

Two big takeaways from her ride on him.  First, that moment where I half halt, he comes up, and he gets light?  That's good, I want that, stay there as long I can.  He actually rides very light once he's in collection and it's quite lovely to ride.  He'll be able to hold on to it longer and longer as we go, but he's not overly light like I thought he was.  She was surprised he started offering it so quickly, but that's a good sign!  She also loved that when I gave him little taps with the whip to sharpen him up for a canter depart, he started to snap his hind legs.  That's the start of piaffe.  Well, okay then.

The second was that I'm asking for the canter wrong.  He thinks it's off the outside leg.  He needs to really understand that it's off the inside leg.  Kind of a scoop with my inside hip while letting him jump through the inside rein.  I thought he was cantering off the inside leg, but nope.  When she got on, he started swinging his haunches and she couldn't get the transition.  Once she got it, she threw me back on to coach me through it.  Ohhhhhhh.  That'll take awhile, but Theo was happy to play along.

Between the test riding, swapping riders, and general tom foolery, we worked for about 90 minutes.  Theo was a total trooper, I stuffed so many cookies in him.  The feedback I got is that Second 1 is an easy test for him and won't be any problem.  Good one to practice my stage fright since Theo certainly won't be stressing.  She asked if I was qualifying for regionals and I said yes, but at First.  I got such a weird look, but in adult ammy land, you need a totally ready Second level horse to be competitive at First.  And while Theo isn't fancy dancy or flouncey bouncey (her words), he's very correct and that will take us far.

I am 100% okay with this being his new trot, he's actually got shoulders!

I've got lots of homework to work on, but it's getting to be more than just 'go forward'.  I've done my homework, when I put my leg on I get a reaction.  Now I get to work on my geometry and remembering how to ride when I have to steer.  Because I can't always do both at the same time.

I need the large arena.  Is it spring yet?