Friday, May 27, 2011

Shark Fins and Saddles

When I bought Spider, I owned four saddles.  None of them fit him.  I tried at least a dozen more.  None fit.  I had to bite the bullet and have a saddle custom made for him. 

It's Spider's giant, shark fin withers that make things difficult.  He's narrower than a "narrow" tree, and they just don't make off-the-rack saddles in tree size "shark fin". 

"Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum"  (scary 'Jaws' theme music)

The thing about custom saddles is that they're, well, custom.  They're made to the exact specifications of the horse's back.  But, horses' backs change over time and the flocking in the saddle gets worn and compressed and thus the saddles have to be checked and refitted periodically.  The saddler's reccomendation is to check the fit every year for a saddle that gets used as much as mine does, but it has been two years since mine was checked.  Bad owner!

I've observed over the last few months that I'm leaning forward badly when I ride.  Others have noticed this, too (my trainer said I looked "like a Hunter").  This past week I also noticed that Spider seemed a bit bridle lame in the trot.  And the canter work has been ridiculous: tense, refusing to come round, breaking gait, just bad.  I finally put two and two together.  The saddle wasn't fitting properly.  It was coming down on his withers, pitching me forward and causing Spider to bobble onto his forehand.  No wonder he was resisting sitting down in the canter, every time he did that saddle must have been slamming into his withers!

So yesterday I had the saddler out.  He confirmed my suspicions:  poor saddle fit.  The fun thing about the saddler is that he takes tracings of Spider's back every time he evaluates the saddle.  That means I have a sort of record of the shape of Spider's back over the years.  This year's tracing was shocking.  Somehow, in spite of being in consistent work, Spider's back has gotten narrower and his wither higher!  I made the poor saddler redo the measurement to be sure.  I suppose it must be age... Spider turned 16 this year.  Or perhaps he isn't quite as fit as I thought he was.  Who knows.

We decided not to take the tree in any further.  The saddler reflocked the saddle and I'll put a no-bow pad under the pommel for now.  We'll re-evaluate the fit in the fall.  If Spider's back is still the same after a summer's worth of work, then we'll take in the tree. 

No-bow pad under saddle pommel.  I moved the saddle back a bit for illustrative purposes, ordinarily it would be further under the saddle.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Today we were supposed to work on lengthenings.  That was my plan.  I should know better.  Plans are silly, ephemeral things.

In a lengthening, or an extension, the tempo of the gait should not change.  When done properly, you should be able to close your eyes and listen, and never be able to tell that the horse performed the lengthening or extension.  That requires relaxation.  If the horse becomes tense, the steps of the lenthening become quick and the rhythm of the gait changes.  The stride becomes choppy and, when asked to come back from the lengthening, the horse breaks his gait or sucks back behind the aids.  Tension is the enemy.

Unfortunately, someone was being tempermental.  It just so happened that two cats were fighting in the woods behind the arena. They seemed to just be regular house cats to me, but Spider knew better: they were actually wild lions hell bent on eating horses.  Also, they were ten feet tall and had lasers for eyes.  Thank goodness he was there to warn me of the impending doom we faced.

Thankfully (due to his diligence) we were not eaten by the tiny, domestic housecats Laser Wielding, Ten Foot Tall, Horse Eating Wild Lions.   We also didn't really do any lengthenings.  We did figure eights and serpentines instead.  I find that working in complex patterns is excellent for taking a horse's mind off of lions and other things that lurk in the bushes (like velociraptors).


Monday, May 16, 2011

Before and After....

Long time no post, eh?  I've been busy.  Spring is always busy: there are pastures to seed and fertilize, gardening to be done, stalls to be stripped.... the list never ends. 

In one of my last posts I mentioned that Spider was rather lacking in muscle in his hind end and talked a bit about what I was doing to correct it.  I mentioned taking "before and after" photos, so here is the "before":

This is not the greatest photo.  Spider was in the process of shedding out.  His winter coat is seal bay, his summer coat is reddish bay.  This gives him a rather odd "two-tone" look in the spring.  He also managed to get a nice scrape on his hip and he was refusing to hold still for his picture.  All in all, he looks like a wreck here.

I took that "before" picture on May 6th.  Since then, we've done raised cavaletti, tons of transitions between gaits and worked in the pasture on the grass.  I took this "after" picture yesterday:

Not bad for 10 days, especially considering that he didn't actually work for all of those ten days.  One of the many things I love about Thoroughbreds is how quick they put on muscle.  I work him about 4 days a week: one day lunging over raised cavaletti, the other three under saddle doing various exercises (mostly 1st and 2nd level stuff).

As far as my back goes, I waffle in between being totally bummed about it and being completely defiant.  What do doctors know anyway?  Horsemen are cut from a different mold than the rest of humanity.  We put our bodies through stresses that most people would crumple under for fun.    A little bit of back pain isn't going to stop me.

I think my husband said it best.  After listening to me whine about my back for a day or so he said "You're still the same as you were before you found out how bad your back was."  He's right.  Three weeks ago I had a sore neck and rode my horse just the same.  I was blissfully ignorant of my degenerating discs.  I can't let a mere diagnosis get in my way.  I've learned over the last five years that activity is my friend, no matter what the doctors say, and that no one can tell me what I'm capable of besides myself.



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