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 tackreview.com. 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
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. :)