Calm, Forward, Straight

Calm, Forward, Straight

Thursday, January 26, 2012

In the Arena # 102 - No pain, no gain + awards!

I love when awards roll around the blogosphere. It's a great opportunity to discover new blogs, and share your favorites. (And prizes make me happy!)

We've been given the Liebster award by Amy at Slow and Steady Wins the Race, and Annette from News From Aspen Meadows. Amy's blog shares how she manages to train her ottb Steady to be an eventer - her passion, as well as run a farm and be a full time mother. She tells it like it is, with a great sense of humor. Annette rides dressage, cooks good looking food, and has a most beautiful ranch with many lovely residents, featuring her horses Jackson and Winston.

Liebster means “dearest” in German, and the award is intended to help up-and-coming blogs get the attention they deserve. Here are the rules:

1. Copy and paste the award on our blog.
2. Link back to the blogger who gave you the award

3. Pick your five favorite blogs with less than 200 followers, and leave a comment on their blog to let them know they have received the award.
4. Hope that the five blogs chosen will keep spreading the love and pass it on to five more blogs!

Here are my choices - spreading the love. :)

Paradigm Farms Horse Retirement - Melissa and her husband Jason run an absolutely perfect equine retirement farm in Tennessee. Besides providing loving, conscientious care to the residents, somehow Melissa and Jason find time to (frequently) document their goings on with photos, video and stories. What a bonus for the horses' people!

Collecting Thoroughbreds - Sarah's blog documents she and her ottb Derby's dressage journey seriously, but always with humor. I relate to her so much - and am very jealous of her awesome trainer.... see next award recipient.

TB at X - Christy is a sensitive, thoughtful dressage trainer who uses patient classical methods to train her two ottbs and a number of students (see previous award recipient). She is also blessed with the ability to put her knowledge and experience into words, clearly and concisely. Her blog posts always resonate.

Of horses and boys... and everything in between - horsemom balances motherhood and her dressage journey with humor and passion. We're on the same page about putting our horses first as we navigate the realm of classical dressage.

TB Friends - Joe Shelton runs a super successful thoroughbred rescue and re-homing operation in California. He saves injured horses right off the track. He deals with the kill buyers. He helps folks who are losing their farms. He has a loyal group of volunteers as well as a huge online following. A more humble, dedicated man you may never meet. Beautiful things happen because of this blog. Visit - you'll be inspired.


Anti-saddle bareback campaign ride #2... an effective ride with tons of trotting. Forward is coming back. I believe I'm getting the hang of the posting without stirrups thing. Iron thighs and a core of steel when this is all said and done... and tomorrow I expect to hurt. Badly.

Terry from Moondance Ranch left me a great comment on my past post, with a link to the series of 9 Schleese videos about proper saddle fitting. Great resource. I wish I had seen these before I bought my saddle. I feel like I can make an informed choice about saddle fit now - and be a proper advocate for my horse. The videos absolutely confirmed that because of his shoulders, Val needs a wider tree. Even though he has sufficient wither clearance with a medium, he doesn't have room to move his shoulders. I hope we haven't done too much damage.

Speaking of Val - happy 10th birthday my mane man!!! The new saddle is coming, but until then....

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

In the Arena # 101 - There's more to it than meets the eye...

I've made peace with the fact that my saddle isn't a good fit. The best course of action is to find another. Upping our work schedule substantially in December, (and sitting to the trot) made Val uncomfortable enough to let me know. Budget constraints limit me to a used saddle. I'm prepared to search until I find a very good fit. Hopefully I can sell my current saddle. If I break even, I'll be satisfied. In the meantime I will ride bareback. We had a lovely ride today. Forward, good steering, and most importantly, when I asked for the trot, he transitioned without any hesitation.

I'm officially in the throes of saddle fitting / saddle shopping. I have to admit I was overwhelmed at first, with assessing the fit, and then forming a plan of action for shopping from the hinterlands. I'm located at least five hours from the nearest decent saddle fitter. This, and ignorance about proper saddle fit kept me riding in a poorly fitting saddle for too long.

Last week, I contacted a fitter who was recommended by a fellow blogger. Oddly enough, a few years ago he came all the way out here to fit the trail riding business that is two minutes down the road from me. That was then, this is now. He said to email some pictures, which I did. Hoping to get some input from him soon.

The most relevant info pertaining to Val and I... my saddle rocks toward the withers, and is likely too narrow. A too narrow saddle will show more wither clearance. There is no helping a too narrow saddle. Pads will only make the fit tighter, and worse. Better to have a slightly wide fit, which can be improved with padding. I have ridden for two years in a sheepskin half pad with my likely too narrow saddle. Sorry Val - you tried to tell me. :)

I will bite this saddle when she takes it off...


Highlights from the online research:
  • Measure from the button, diagonally to the center of the cantle, for the seat size 

  • N, M, M/W, and W are fairly arbitrary size measurements, differing for each manufacturer. There are apparently centimeter measurements that correspond to N, M, M/W and W - but I haven't confirmed where you make that measurement. I've seen it referred to as "dot to dot"...
  • The fist method. A clenched fist (4") set into the the saddle under the pommel. 1/2" - 3/4" space on either side = M, 0" - 1/2" = N, >1" = W. Also seems arbitrary - all fists not being equal.

  • The angle method. 90° = M, 86° = N, 96° = W. Good if you see the saddle in person and carry a protractor around.
  • The stated size of any saddle may not be accurate when the saddle is used, due to wear and / or work done on the saddle.
  • Hoop trees vs standard trees? Picture an upside down U shape instead of a V shape. Val has plenty of whither, but is also wide, somewhat flat backed (side to side) with big shoulders. I'm thinking a hoop tree might be good for us, regarding how the saddle impacts (or not) his shoulders.
Checking your saddle fit...
  • Is it placed correctly on the horses back? One hands-width between front leg and girth, two fingers behind the shoulder blade. Seat should be parallel to the ground.

  • When girth is tightened there should be plenty (but not too much) clearance between withers and pommel. Slightly less with rider in saddle. 

  • Gullet should span the "spinous process" - three fingers wide from front to back of gullet. Many saddles' gullets narrow towards the back.

  • Bridging is uneven pressure along the spine - under the pommel and cantle but not even from pommel to cantle. Rocking is tipping motion when pressure is applied to pommel or cantle. The saddle should remain stable when pressure is applied.

Two very helpful resources - Sustainable Dressage and Lorien Stable

Monday, January 23, 2012

We interrupt this regularly scheduled program....

Thanks so much for all of the helpful and encouraging comments on the last post. I'm working on a saddle search update post, however, all of the extra research time online has made my head hurt. (time to call the waaaambulance) In the meantime -

Happy Chinese New Year! It's officially the Year of the Dragon now. The dragon is my Chinese astrological sign - ( edited to add: yours too if you were born in 2000, 1988, 1976, 1964, 1952, 1940, 1928...) - so I'm looking forward to a spectacular year - which should definitely start off with me finding the perfect next saddle!!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

In the Arena # 100 - The devil is in the details...

We had a decent ride yesterday. On the buckle warm-up, picked up and maintained decent contact. Lots of changes of direction and lots of transitions. But - what the heck happened to forward??? Val did not want to trot. We did trot work, but he was very reluctant. Spent most of the ride getting a timely response to my aid. Now that the hay strike is behind us, why not set my sights on another stress inducing dilemma...

Over the past few months we've been moving in a really good direction with some very effective rides - motivated, forward, even on the bit. However, there are also rides spent slogging around, feeling like Val would rather do anything than work. More of the former than the latter, but still...

Something isn't right. Pain, smart / bored horse avoiding work, inconsistent + timid rider or uncomfortable tack... I'm attempting to address / eliminate these variables in a systematic way.

Val gets monthly adequan shots for a hip injury sustained before I brought him home. The issues don't seem to correlate with the timing of his injections. I have ridden him after a dose of bute recently as well. He indulged in multiple flying changes and pogo sticky airs above the ground just yesterday. Pretty sure he's sound.

(Edited to add - Val moves very freely when we ride bareback + better steering. Haven't trotted without a saddle recently - will compare his enthusiasm next ride.)

We've incorporated ground poles, cones, games and all the ingenuity I can muster to keep our rides interesting. I've learned to let things go, to reward the smallest try, and to know when to stop - on a high note - backing up to something simpler that we do well, if necessary. Sadly my beach riding partner hasn't been available in ages. I don't feel confident enough to take Val to the beach or out on the trails alone, so off property trail riding isn't an option now.

I have reinstated my yoga practice. I've summoned patience I didn't know I had. I focus on soft following hands. I've gone out of my comfort zone asking Val to move out when he resists. (the benevolent dictator) Often, once I get firm, he's with me for the rest of the ride, (we just had to get over a speed bump), which seems like he may be testing me. I don't want to deaden him to my aids. I also don't want to miss something he's trying to communicate. My lack of experience makes me question myself. I can only hope this will improve over time.

And that leaves tack. Specifically saddle fit. I know I've had trouble with balance and staying even - I suspect Val may be having issues with his shoulders. This week, on a whim, I looked looked up my saddle, (Beval Natura), on I couldn't find it. Then I googled it. Couldn't find it anywhere. No review, not for sale, nothing. So I went to the manufacturers site. They have discontinued production. My saddle is for sale new, for less than half of what I paid for it new, two years ago. I called the manufacturer to ask what happened. They didn't give me a straight answer. Can't say much anything good about their customer service...



I've contacted a saddle fitter. I've emailed him pictures and info - we'll see what he thinks. In the meantime - my research has led me to a really good used option - a older County- in just the right size for both of us, and affordable... (theoretically.) It's the saddle I wanted on my original saddle search. Older but worth it. I used to ride in one at my trainers. The horses loved it - it fit all the horses at her barn - and my position felt effortless when I rode in it. Not because of big knee rolls or extra leather to hold you in either...

So maybe the possibly worthless faulty saddle has done me a favor, by leading me to the saddle of my dreams. We shall see. I've got a good feeling about it. :)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

At the Barn #53 - It ain't over 'til it's over...

Hallelujah - the hay strike has officially ended. I could not be more relieved.

The thought of moving one and a half tons of hay another time:

one to get here,
two to load into the old hay barn ( fell out of my trailer when the hay hook came loose),
three to put it onto a second set of palettes as the hurricane waters rose,
four to load into my truck heading to the farmette.
and five into the new hay barn (almost blew my knee out and got crushed by a bale),

was making me sick. Literally.

So was the thought of watching my horse get thin.
So was how the math of replacement hay would affect my budget.
So was figuring out where I would find any decent hay this time of year.
So was deciding out what to do with the offending not good enough hay -
(Please buy my extra hay even though my horse won't touch it - no really - I swear, it's great hay!)

Thank you Val for giving in before I had to.

This morning I rolled the manure cart with yesterday's discarded hay into Val's paddock. He dove in as I moseyed over to his stall to make my morning how much hay did he leave check. What? There's not even any manure in there for you to eat around, my beloved steed...

SO much tastier from the big bowl...

nom, nom, nom

Just can't get enough...

My friend likes it too!

and --------- yesssss! Bags were almost empty.

Nibblenet retired (temporarily)

Still, I wasn't 100% convinced. I cleaned the stall and mucked the paddock, wondering "but will he eat this morning's hay?" and "do I need to continue peppering with the tasty alfalfa meant for trailer rides?" As Val devoured his pellets I filled and hung the breakfast hay bag, unadulterated. For the first time in ages, he left his most favored bowl of crunchies and walked over to the hay bag... sniffed...

(Critical moment. For the last several weeks, he would sniff the bag - look at me - sniff again - push the bag with his nose - sigh disgustedly and walk away.)

... and yanked out a big mouthful. For this he got a kiss on his nose and my undying gratitude. Well, he had that anyway. :)

Hay - this is good!

Monday, January 9, 2012

In the Arena #99 - Two steps forward, one step back...
From the Farmette #8 - I feel the earth - move - under my feet...

There were several drain the hoses, weatherproof the well pump days this past week. The first real cold weather so far this winter, and thankfully, it was temporary. Saturday was absolutely beautiful.

Our ride - not so much. Kind of "all's well that ends well." Initially, contact was intermittent - forward nonexistent, though I felt good about the quality of the contact while we had it. Val was once again very reluctant to move out. I attempted to reinforce a lighter aid with numerous transitions, concentrating on soft following hands. We finished off working with the trot poles, and making some decent circles with nice bend when we were focused. I finally got Val motivated at the trot, and we stopped there.

This lack of forward has me stumped. I wonder if I am blocking him? And if so - where. Did I break him sitting the trot a while back? Or could it be the saddle?! All I know is the bareback rides always seem much freer and more fluid for both of us. (Please don't be a saddle issue.)

Just the other day I noticed online that my two year old Beval Natura dressage saddle - has been discontinued, selling new for half what I paid for it. That doesn't bode well for a possible future saddle shopping budget now does it. The saddle has plenty of withers clearance, but I wonder if it blocks his shoulders? Has he changed shape? Did the saddle ever fit? Is the saddle affecting my position negatively? It does have more of a knee block than I like and is fairly deep. Stay tuned - I've been lurking around on ebay... ;)


I'm in love. With a big, orange, manly machine. I spent nearly all day Sunday on a borrowed full sized Kubota tractor. I sorted and moved 2 years x 2 horses worth of manure. I've got my composted, ready to plant in pile, my give it a few more months now that it's turned pile, and my needs more cooking pile. Plus I filled a few low spots on the property. Plus, I have backup space. What a relief! There are only two horses here - and they could bury me in no time. Can't wait til I can go tractor shopping. :)

action shot

big orange krush + little orange krush
black gold

How do you all respond to a possible hay strike? Val just finished up a twenty five bale load stored in my trailer, so it was time to start using the fifty odd bales in my hay shed. The hay from the trailer was light weight bales of stemmy, late cutting mixed grass hay. I'm guessing it was sugary - it smelled that way. The shed hay is 75 pound bales of orchard grass that is still fairly green. If I were a horse, I'd choose the latter. Val however, has turned up his nose, consuming half what he was just a week ago. I slipped some handfuls of special trailer ride only alfalfa here and there in the hay bag, which helped a little. I'm assuming he'll change his tune eventually, before all my hair turns grey...

Sunday, January 1, 2012

In the Arena #98 - A very good place to start... (happy birthday thoroughbreds!!)

We finished off 2011 with two rides, and began 2012 in the saddle as well. Couldn't ask for more - perfect weather conditions and happy horse + rider...

Unless it would be a freshly renovated tack room...

or a brand new manure composting space.


I made a few changes to our regular ride routine. Hoping to pique Val's interest in our work, I set up a course of cones and ground rails. I also lowered my stirrups and left Val's boots in the tack room. The contact and energy came and went, although they improved in each successive ride. This indicated a lack of steady focus on my aiding I suspect. I've also gone back to a lengthier warm-up, working on the buckle before I take up any contact. Our big walk improves with every ride. It seems to work best to ask for it after a number of trot transitions. Regarding my posture, it was also effective to sit up and back so far as too feel like too far, which I think is just far enough.

What really excited me was how engaged Val became with the introduction of new elements in the arena. Despite his cleverness, he was unable to correctly predict what I would be asking for next. There were just too many choices. Balkiness and steering issues vanished. :)

Would we ride over the rails, or perhaps through them? Circle around the entire complex, or figure eight with a diagonal change through the rails? Turn-on-the-forehand at each cone? What about halting squarely in the rails. (practice for halting at X!) We transitioned and backed through them as well. It was enough to make a poor horses head swim...

One question I have is how to determine the correct distance between the ground rails. Any suggestions would be appreciated. I'd like to set the distance so they wouldn't have to be adjusted for the trot work. Thanks in advance my blogger friends.


I likes my mints in me...

and on me :)


Other news - there has been progress on the new arena. We've dropped and spread seven tandem loads of sand so far. In addition to the arena itself, we're adjusting the grade of the whole property to facilitate drainage. If it sounds expensive, it is. Who could believe you'd have to pay through the nose for sand when you live on an island made entirely from it?! We're getting there slowly but surely...

Whatever will she think of next?!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...