Monday, June 24, 2013

Tale of a New Toy - Or Possibly the LONGEST Post Ever

If you have read this blog for any length of time you will know that from the moment I started riding Ben, I had a saddle fitting problem.

I've tried many, many saddles on my dear Ben. I could probably try many, many more, if I had the time, money, and energy.

Alas, back in March, after the last bout of failed saddle fittery, I cracked. Having purchased a new, slimmer designed flocked Wintec Isabell for my ArabX gelding, I started using that on Ben instead. While it kinda works and he doesn't protest, it still isn't a great fit for either of us. And seriously, while they did a decent job of slimming down the twist, the seat is rock hard. Rock hard seat on bouncy horse is NOT fun.

So I started looking around. I believe I even wrote a post about looking at some different saddles locally and through online saddlery's that offer generous trials. I ended up not doing the trials because it dawned on me that, to spend $120 per saddle to trial added up quickly - and why was I going to do try saddles that cost $3800 - 4500+ new? Sure, i could find the exact saddle I wanted but would have to wait for a used one to pop up, because honestly, my budget does not allow for such an expense at this time, especially not with 2 horses in training.

So I trialed some saddles locally instead, as well as sending off for some treeless saddles just to see if they made any bit of difference.

And in the meantime, I ordered Ben a custom saddle from Heritage Bespoke Saddlery ( During all of my searching, I vetted this out every which way to Sunday - and could not find a negative response from anyone in terms of quality, fit, etc. So I started to email with the owner, Matt, who was very helpful.

So on the last week of March 2013, I broke down and ordered a fully custom Olympia Monoflap LS:

How much was said custom saddle? All told, $1750.00 USD- WITH shipping included.

That's right folks, under $2k for a custom saddle.

The downside? A custom saddle is not returnable. A custom saddle requires you to take proper tracings and pictures. Success depends on your ability to describe what it is you want, in a way your saddler can understand.

There are no trials. There is no one on the ground helping you.

And yet, I stupidly did it anyway. On June 20th, a meer 11 weeks post purchase, my masterpiece arrived in a tattered cardboard box. I gasped at the condition of it- barely being held together by the tape. It had had a rough journey...what was to become of the saddle inside?

It was fine. Not only just fine, remarkably beautiful. The quality of leather is outstanding. Strong, soft, and yummily grippy. The seat is so, so soft. I could sit on that thing all day long.

Of course, I had to take it out to the barn to try it immediately.  I was hoping beyond hope that this would work for Ben. On looks alone, it looked to be a fair match- had I seen it at the tack store you can bet I would've taken it on trial.

So out it went. I cleaned Ben up as quickly as possible, and set it on his back. All I can say is WOW. Mr. Marlow had done it. While perhaps not 100% fit, more like 97% - this saddle looked like a part of Ben. Surely, with some break in and settling, we'd hit 100% - and quickly too.

Quickly bridled and off to our arena, err, SWAMP. Dangit- the day's prior rain had turned our beautiful workspace into a slop pit. That did not deter me, I HAD to sit in this thing.

So I mounted up and...did nothing. Ben just stood there. Hmm, this saddle is not as comfortable on the horse as it was on my feels like something is hitting my thighs, and wait- is that the stirrup bar I feel? Are my stirrups too long? Is this flap too far forward?  I coaxed him forward, and he obligingly went. Until I asked him to trot, and he said NO WAY.  I said YES WAY, and he finally went. Sort of- blip blopping around- bouncy as heck, rooting his head and dodging the footing. What the heck is going on?

We went on this way for several more minutes until I decided- this sucks. He's not having fun, I'm struggling, the footing blows- I have no idea if he hates the saddle or the footing or the humid air.

Back to the barn we went, and I realized the saddle pad had almost slid out. The saddle had settled with my weight and was too wide for him. That was a first, but also expected, as I had requested the saddle be built a bit more generously to allow for a sheepskin pad (only the best for Ben, you know). I was tempted to quickly stuff one under there and try again - but remembered the crap footing and decided to push my plans to the next day.

Day 2: The sun was shining and footing appeared to be better. Still uneven and mucky in spots, but avoidable spots. Armed with my shimmed up thinline pad, I went out and attempted to ride once again in my new saddle. This time, we barely were able to trot. I felt like I had a crick in by back and was hunched over, and Ben looked and felt dead lame at the trot. GAAAH. So it wasn't footing. Or the saddle. Maybe he has a bruise or abscess brewing?

Back to the heat anywhere on his leg, hoof or anything. All the same, we take precautions and into his stall he goes. Saddle trying will just have to wait.

Day 3: Barn manager turned Ben out on mistake. I show up to find a beautiful bay standardbred galloping up and down hills, cavorting around with his wee Arabian friend/brother. Didn't appear that there were any lame horses in that field. Huh. If he's sound enough to be doing that, he's sound enough for me to try this saddle again.

This time I decided to try my sheepskin pad, thinking that perhaps the Thinline with shims was TOO much. This might be a good time to mention that a couple of Ben's tell tale signs of "I hate this saddle" have been mysteriously missing - tooth grinding, and fussing while girthing.
Up I get, and off we go. This time the footing is PERFECT. No excuses there. The saddle, on day 3, is feeling much more comfortable for me.  I ask him for a trot, and after a few false/lazy starts, his trot feels pretty darn good. Like, everything is normal and fine good. Okay- a bit more trotting and now it is time for canter. NO WAY says Ben- I am NOT cantering. Uhh, yes you are buddy. After a few moments I finally got a canter out of him- but it was not pretty, or comfortable.

Okay- I had to get to the bottom of this. We marched right back to the barn. Off came the new saddle and on went the old Isabell. God I really dont like the fit. Back to the arena we went. I got on and YOUCH - seriously how have I been riding all this time in this thing? HAHA - funny how things change so quickly!

Asked Ben to trot - got the same, equal trot as in the new saddle. Asked him to canter - at first i got protests- but this time I pushed him - his canter came back. Not 100%, but like 80. And he wasn't being a snark-boy about it.

So here we are, Day 4. I've been emailing with the saddler. I really can't figure out what could possibly be going wrong. This saddle looks great on him. I guess looks aren't everything, though.

One thought is that maybe the girthing is not quite right - maybe he needs a different shaped girth with this saddle. The other is that maybe it is truly too wide. Or maybe he doesn't like how I sit in it. Or maybe it is just that the thing feels so unlike anything else he's ever been ridden in. Who knows.

I'm going to keep futzing with it, and we'll see where it leads us.

I've been asked if I'm sorry I made the decision to purchase this saddle. No, not at all. It is a beautiful saddle, and I think with a little adjusting, it may work well. If this thing cost $5-6k as custom saddles often do, then yes, I'd be crying in my beer. But then again, I probably would not have purchased a $5k saddle sight unseen, or in person... lol

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Show Entry Dilemma

What to do, what to do...

Every year, I make it a point to attend the Safe a Forgotten Equine Benefit Show. It is a 3 day weekend of fun- all for a great cause. This year we're going again, but the schedule of events has changed, leaving me with a scheduling problem.

Last year, we were able to do our dressage tests on the first day, and our hunters on the second day. This worked out great.

However, this year, Ben and I are members of the Standardbred Performance Society, and are in the running for year-end awards. One of the rules though, is that you have to compete at least 3x in the division in order to be eligible.

We started off the year going to our first Open show, competing in mostly walk/trot classes. We're going again on July 13th. Which means, we could do the Open main ring classes at the SAFE show in August, and be eligible for a SPS Year End award for W/T and Showmanship. However, at the SAFE show, Dressage is happening on the same day as the Main ring English Open classes.

I really wanted to sneak in a couple of dressage classes this year. If I take the opportunity to do dressage at SAFE, then I am cutting into my earned points and eligibility for the SPS awards. I'm not sure I'll be able to make it to another English open show this year, and it is highly unlikely I'll make it to 2 additional dressage shows.

Yet, it just feels so wrong to not do any dressage tests all year, with my dressage horse. Part of me is really interested to see how we'll score in training level.

I've thought/ entertained trying to squeeze in both- and the SAFE show management said they will try to accommodate me- but no promises. So it could very well be that I'd miss some of my W/T classes for dressage. It is also highly likely that it will be warm out and my horse will not have enough stamina to do both, even if the scheduling worked out.

So...what to do? Forget about dressage this year and do the Open classes? Try to fit them both in? Focus on dressage and try to squeeze in some open classes if he has energy left?

On another note, Saturday the choice is easy between Western and Hunters. I only have a dressage saddle, so I guess I'll be doing the trot pole division in the hunter arena again this year :)

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Little Bit of Work Mixed in with a LOT of Fun & Sleep

Ahh, almost summer here but it seems as though this has been a very mild year in the PNW. Lots of sunshine, mild temps- I could get used to this!

I has playtime
Ben has been enjoying his new barn & the great weather too- tons of turn out & socialization with his buddies, makes for one tired horse.

Too tired to wait for fresh shavings, must sleep now ZZZZzzzzz
 He's been great for his other rider, though their rides have been short as she has been getting used to him. This means I still ride him a bit to keep him spruced up and fresh- which is hilarious if you think back to this time last year, and I was barely able to stay on him let alone be an effective enough rider to school him. Ben so quickly likes to take the easy road if allowed, so making sure he's putting in his half of the work is important.

I've noticed things slipping a bit- he is diving into the bridle and not being very soft through his body- which is elongating his trot and canter making it much harder to for him to hold and ride. The fix for this of course is softening - transitions and bends. So that is what we did this weekend. I have been introducing to him simple changes through the trot and walk across the diagonal, and serpentines now that we have the space. These two have done wonders to his trot-canter transitions. They aren't always pretty, but they really help to keep him balanced and not falling out every which way. I've noticed now too that he requires very little aid for canter- finally just a shift with the hip and off he goes.

I'll also let you in on a little secret- he knows his leads :) I was playing with this yesterday, just seeing if I could ask for counter canter, not expecting him to keep it, but just asking- and voila- the boy knows.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Of Ribbons and Smiles

I picked up Ben's High Point ribbon today! Of course I felt as though he needed the opportunity to wear it - as should all champions :)

Ben also had another big day today. It isn't often that others ride him- to be honest almost everyone is afraid to. It isn't that he is unsafe, it is that he's a bouncy guy, and much bigger mover than the horses they are used to. But today, that changed. A friend/fellow boarder is going to ride Ben a bit while she tries to figure out her challenging/dangerous mare. We thought that perhaps a change of pace would be a good thing for her, and who better to help out than Ben!

She did really well with him, and he was a superstar. I'm pretty sure this grin says it all:
Standardbreds are just horrible to ride, aren't they?!
The idea is that she'll ride him on her own but also take a few lessons on him as well. I can't think of a better job for my guy - lending a helping hoof. That way, if/when her mare is ready, she'll be strong and able to survive :)

So, that means my posts here may dwindle a bit as I won't be riding Ben so much - only a ride here and there. Of course things change and maybe it won't work out for one reason or another which means I'll be back in the saddle and posting about our adventures!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Extended what? Oh, It's Happening!

Still ridin' high on Cloud No. 9 after last night's lesson on Ben. One of those moments I WISH I had got on camera.

Everything started off normal - suppling exercises at walk and trot. Bending,  this way and that- all routine stuff with Bennifer. Then we started our canter work, and it.was.amazing. So amazing that we decided, what the heck, lets try to do an exercise of extending and collecting the canter. OH.MY.GOODNESS. My boy can boogie! All he needed was some space!

It was so much fun, I had a huge smile on my face, and my heart swelled with such joy. I absolutely love this horse. He's got so much to give, and so willingly gives it- he'll die trying for his rider. He may not be the fanciest beast in all the land, but he sure is one of the kindest.

<3 Ben!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Move is Complete

I edge the lawn for free
Ahh, finally-  the move is complete. After a bustling weekend of non-stop activity, we are finally settled in...somewhat. Still loads to be organized, routines to be established, but we'll happily do that.

Yesterday was our first ride in 2, yes 2 arenas. We started off in the indoor- the luxury of a 75 x 145 ft space was amazing. This is coming from we cave dwellers who spent the last year riding in a 60 x 100 ft box.

We quickly moved to the outdoor arena to take advantage of the gorgeous weather. I was a little concerned that Ben would have a harder time in that space...though it is longer (168 ft) it is narrower at 55 ft (odd sizes, yes I know)...but he was perfectly well balanced and we actually had some lovely canters in there, despite my worries.

I think we'll be happy here. Apart from the 2 arenas, we also have access to endless miles of trails right across the street.  We have big pastures and stalls connected to gravel paddocks, and 2 other sand lots that double as arenas/turnout spaces for the wetter months of the year.

In other news- the show this weekend is cancelled for us - we all realized we have a ton of unpacking and organizing to do - the thought of trying to find our show clothes and spend a day away from the new facility seemed a bit unrealistic. So instead we'll play in our new space- maybe even go explore the trails. Not to worry - the next show is in July, and then another in August- hopefully we'll be able to hit those up instead.