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Hey Lady, GET OUT OF MY FACE!!!

Hey lady cash 2
He was giving me a stern lecture on how I’m supposed to use my hands.

Well Cash and I had not only a revolutionary moment in our riding, but I must admit I think we have had one of the best sessions I have EVER had with him yesterday.

We weren’t doing anything extravagant. In fact it was just big trot-walk-trot, circles around the big pasture in my new treeless saddle. I wanted a longer more true ride on him to check how everything is fitting and what else needed to be tweaked in the saddle.

The first few minuets Cash felt really fresh and I began to wonder if maybe I should have lunged him first….but I was already on him sooooooo why not give it a whirl? (and hope AND pray he didn’t decide to be a bronc today) Well we started out with just a quick warm up walk before I asked him to move into the trot. Since he was feeling a tad fresh I was making sure I had good contact on the reins “just in case” and a  deep seat. So Cash did what he does best in most situations.

He stuck his nose up in the air and tried his best camel impression! It was quite a glorious one. I could literally see his nose above his ears. I tried pushing him forward at tad and when I asked for that he just flung his head into the air, back down and the back into the air again. I was rather confused since Cash NEVER tosses his head.

He will pull, he will chomp his teeth but he never tosses his head when I’m on him. It was around that moment I realized that somehow I had gone from steady contact to a death grip on the reins and I do Mean DEATH GRIP! Those suckers weren’t moving in my hands. Cash was literally yelling at me in his horsey way “Hey lady,  Let go of my freaking face!!! I’m not gonna kill you I swear but your rubbing my face raw!!!”. Even though he’s in a bitless bidle that rawhide piece can get uncomfortable and probably down right painful if hauled on and he was letting me know I was right near painful!

So I aimed Cash for the far pasture fence and with a big sigh (and a small prayer to the horse gods)  I relaxed my hands and let the reins slide through my fingers until I was at the buckle. At this moment Cash immediately relaxed his head and dropped his neck. He pushed off from behind and for the first time that I can remember I felt him reach forward and lift his back! I could literally feel him engage his muscles and swing his back! His stride grew long and ground covering and I had the most giddy feeling in the world. Cash was in the first step of self carriage! His head was low but he was engaged, and listening. He was soft to my leg, listening to my seat and responsive on the reins. It was like he said “Finally woman! I can breathe!!! You just gotta have a little trust in me”

I didn’t want to breath in case the feeling disappeared. I stared down in stunned silence at his shoulders wondering if I was hallucinating or somehow in a day dream. Could Cash really be truly working on the flat???

To make sure I wasn’t in some weird alternate reality I brought him down to walk and asked for trot again. He did it again, and again. I wasn’t dreaming I really wasn’t!

The second I tightened up on the reins his stride became choppy and he threw his head back up. Then when I realized what I was doing and relaxed he went right back to being engaged and relaxed.  He gave me everything in a way I’ve never noticed before. I don’t know if it’s because I don’t have a tree in-between me and him or if for what ever reason I was just more in tune with him but I’ve never felt that engagement before with him. I’ve never felt the currents of power rolling through his back before. There was always a block somewhere either stress, pain, miscommunication, or  fear on mine or his part. But today that had disappeared into the most amazing ride!

I’m still on cloud 9! I can’t even begin to describe the giddy feeling coursing through me right now. This is the first time I’ve ever felt like we truly connected doing flat work. He was so in tune with me and I was relaxed and listening to him. Other than a few times he tried to dodge out of the pasture to his favorite apple tree (He can’t be completely perfect now.) We had the best ride we have ever had.  It was truly a gift today and an eye-opening moment. I swear he continues to have more and more to teach me and the moment I feel frustrated with him he turns around and gives me the world when I just relax and trust him!

Cash is both a friend and a tutor. He has taught me is how to over come my fears and to trust again. To learn to listen with more than just my ears. He has taught me how to speak with no words and to work in harmony and not against a horses nature. With out the lessons he has taught me I wouldn’t be having near the success I am with Jack or even in my professional world working with dogs and even people for that matter. I just have to remind myself to stop and look at whats going on and RELAX! (breathing helps to….ya know the whole staying conscious on your horse thing tends to vastly improve a ride)

Thank you Cash-man for the best ride! I do think my new saddle EZ fit saddle is worth every penny if my rides keep going the way they are going!

Until next time

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Going Treeless Part 1

Jack sunflowerCash Treeless 2
Many of you may have pondered the phenomenon of Treeless saddles. Now this is a huge controversial topic and I’m not trying to start any wars here, but I have been giving it some serious thought. Treeless options are not for every situation or every horse but due to Jack out growing almost all of my saddles and the few I “borrowed” from my parents, I began to wonder if treeless especially for young horses that are constantly growing and changing might not be such a bad idea.

As I began to ponder this idea I started riding Cash bareback ALOT! I have noticed when I ride him bareback not only am I more relaxed but so is he. It got me thinking just how much the saddles I have might be slightly uncomfortable enough for my horses to no relax and that maybe for some reason i’m unknowingly more tense in the saddle.  I think what has helped me relax completely with him bareback is the amount of communication I seem to have with him.  While a lot of things still need work I feel like we are speaking on a whole new level together. He is more intone with what I am asking and I rarely have to go to the reins unless it’s for whoa. He is even starting to lift and relax his back and is starting the baby steps to self carriage (in a bitless bridle I might add)  and that is truly an amazing feeling!!!

However the more I ride bareback the more I was want a saddle that mimics the feeling I get riding bareback. Now everything isn’t going to be exactly the same since I obviously still have a good layer between me and the horse but maybe having something that will flex around my horse and gives me the stability of the saddle.  Enter treeless saddle here. (I love ya Jack but I’m not quite THAT bold with you to ride without a saddle yet)

Now before I go any farther I want it noted that I’m not a complete convert. I still love jumping and I refuse to give up my old stubben saddle!!

I’m a person of research too. I love throughly reading about something before I commit financially to anything. I’ve been known to jump into the deep end before but I try to avoid being completely blind when I do it. Now if you’re someone looking into treeless saddles there are about 100,000 different kinds of treeless saddles out there ranging in price from $150 – $6000.

There is SOOOOOO much information out there. Why you should go treeless, why you shouldn’t go treeless. Use this brand not that brand, this pad not that pad. People vying  for one over the others in EVERYTHING. It was a very frustrating stream of information to dig through. I appreciated a lot of the studies on treed vs treeless saddles, but I noticed that the most recent date was from 2008. How am I to judge the newer technologies and brands with no studies that show how the new type of treeless saddles handle pressure points? And you want to tell me all treed saddles are comfortable? Most of the treed saddles they used were fitted to the horses. Not all horses/people have that luxury…but i get it for the sake of a study. Then you have the people saying the pressure points are way to much….and yet there are endurance individuals doing 100 mile endurance rides in them with a clean bill of health for the horses back.

The next frustrating thing I found is rider weight. I’ll admit I weight over 175 pounds not much more but enough to become very frustrated. (It’s all muscle I swear *shifty eyes*).  What a lot of people don’t mention/know  is that most treeless saddles are meant for people weighting 175 pounds or less. It’s usually written on an off page in fairly fine print. Most websites do have it somewhere you just have to dig for it.   So if you do weight more then that you either need to invest in some really good saddle pads or look for the ones that are made specifically for heavier people…..or just go with it and pray it works!

The next thing that knocked down the list even more was price. Most really good treeless saddles cost boat loads of money. Like I could buy a brand new custom Stubben for the same price or maybe even a brand new Schleese dressage saddle. I was amazed at how proud they are of these saddles, not that I could blame them but still it really hurt to look at those prices that everyone was saying was “worth it” and wonder how I could afford it while I was already practically living on PBJ and Rice. But the more I read the more they said “you get what you pay for” with these saddles. That $150 indian brand on eBay  was so tempting but I figured I couldn’t be quite that stingy.  So as I began to look through the multitudes of brands and sifting through treeless forums these were the most common I heard/read mentioned:  Sensation, Barefoot, Bob marshal, and Ansur. However,…. almost all of these are over $1500. Except barefoot which is much more in the “I might be able to afford” price range. I believe their most expensive was $900.

So as my pocket book was screaming and I was becoming very disheartened and thinking that maybe I’ll have to stick with just bareback I ran crossed a little known gem.

They are called EZ Fit Saddles. They are saddles individually handmade by an amish gentleman in PA. He will even custom make the colors for our saddle!  Now they aren’t specifically marketed for Heavier people. They actually don’t say anything about it anywhere on their website (that I could find) but on doing some research I noticed a lot of not so petite people riding in them and pretty much every review I managed to dredge up from the unknowns of google were great reviews. Though they are still $1,000 brand new, it was better then the 3k most companies wanted, and I could custom make the colors with a slight fee.

Now I was really, really debating between EZ fit and Barefoot. Barefoot has a saddle specifically designed for a heavier rider, but upon reading reviews many of them stated it had no twist to the seat, which makes sense really.The EZ fit saddle, every review I could find said it incredibly comfortable, with a decent twist to the saddle and over all comfort for horse and rider.

The barefoot saddle I was looking at was about $700 new. So price wise they were pretty close together though the few hundred dollars difference could buy me a really really nice saddle pad! Surprisingly treeless saddles seem to hold their value really, really well used and since the saddle I was eyeing from Barefoot was a brand new model there weren’t any new ones out yet and the one used one I found for the EZ fit was still $700 so really it didn’t help weed out one over the other.   Then I stumbled on the EZ fit group on Facebook and a lady listed a used EZ fit for sale. For a glorious $500.00 I took a chance and snatched it as fast as I could!

Well this beautiful gem finally arrived in the mail this past friday and boy oh boy was I excited!!!

So after getting it out of the box and drooling over it I had to go try it out on the boys!! So I grabbed Cash-man first because I knew he probably wouldn’t buck me off if he didn’t like it and threw it on with the good old western blanket I had. (it surprisingly matches my saddle). Now A feature I found out and LOVE about this saddle. The rigging for the girth, the stirrups AND the seat are all adjustable!  Yup you heard that right, I can maneuver it around as much as I need to to get it comfortable for myself AND my horse!  Also the panels underneath to create a spinal channel to keep it up off the spine are completely maneuverable as well!!!  Oh and the whole saddle weighs 15 (Yes 15!!) pounds!

Not wanting to take an extraordinary amount of time to adjust it just right I jumped on! (I was a tad to excited) The first thing I had to say was WOW!!!! The saddle fit my butt like a glove.  I felt completely secure and yet not stuffed into the saddle. The stirrups ended up being in the perfect position for my legs, though I don’t like the stirrups it had come with. They are a tad unstable for my liking and wanted to bend when I posted. The front of the saddle has a nice aussie “oh shit” handle that will probably someday come in handy. The front is made out of foam so it will flex and bend with the horse as well and there are no truely rigid parts other then the cantle of the seat.

Cash seemed to love it. I only rode for a few minuets as I felt a bit unstable with those stirrups and Cash was SUPER sensitive to my moments. I don’t think he was expecting to feel me as much as he did, or me him, through the saddle and we both kept catching ourselves off guard. Now the rigging for the girth needs to be moved just a tad so it hits the girth groove right for Cash and i’ll need a bigger dressage girth for him but overall it was a great fit. It was a wee bit tight on him due to the small girth but he wasn’t overly worried about it either.

I must say the way Eli riggs the saddle makes them incredibly stable on the horse. I didn’t try it but I think I could easily mount from the ground if I needed to. I intentionally shifted my weight left and right and there was barely a budge either direction! That is something I’ve noticed most treeless saddles have major issues with. A lot of people say they slip badly left and right and if you have a horse with low withers it’s a real concern.  and some tend to slip backwards more then others. I didn’t have any breast collar or crupper on and just a plane old western saddle pad and I don’t think it would budge much at all unless you were literally hanging off the side of the horse for a long time.  I’ll have to ride some hills to see if it will shift forward and back but i have a feeling it’ll be pretty stable.

Next up was Jack. Now considering I knew I had some things to adjust on Cash I figured many would be similar on Jack and since I didn’t have stirrups to switch out with on hand (I was to lazy to go drag out my western saddle and steal the stirrups) I choose just to see how he would do lunging with it. Now here is where I noticed the biggest difference with him. He usually throws a bucking fit within the first few minuets of lunging after a few days off. He didn’t do that. He squealed and did some baby head shakes but he didn’t buck and carry on like he usually tries. He seemed so much more forward and relaxed in all gates. Now I didn’t ride him but I was extremely happy with what I saw!

So this is post 1 of hopefully several about my new treeless endeavor!!! I want a few more rides and a few longer rides to see how it truly feels after a while in the saddle and working with it to see the horses reactions to it after more then just a few minuets!  So check back to see how it’s going!  (If you’d like to read Part 2 check it out HERE!)

Until next time

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Sometimes It’s Not What We Are Asking But How We Are Asking It

 

By Norman Thelwel
By Norman Thelwel

Have you ever been that person in school or at work, that no matter how your teacher was telling you, you just didn’t understand what was being asked. You tried and tried but kept getting the wrong answer and the more you tried and the more you were told “no” the more frustrated you got until you did nothing but give up or explode into a rage?  Then you get that one person who leans over and goes “Have you tried it this way?” and suddenly it just clicks. That light bulb moment just goes off and you wonder how you didn’t see it in the first place?

The more I work with horse the more I realize that like us each horse is as much an individual as we are. Some learn faster and some learn slower. And the more I see each individual personality the more I wonder why we have such rigid training systems. Every rider wants to know “how do I do this? Or get my horse to do that?” and  much like doing math they expect A+B=C and it should be that easy and that perfect all the time, with every horse.

But we are dealing with sentient beings (If you don’t think that’s true you really shouldn’t be dealing with horses)  so what makes us think that by giving half halts and holding contact, and giving that perfect leg aid is going to translate into the same response each time to every horse?  That every horse is going to understand it exactly the same way and we will reprimand them until they get the right answer?

I’m obviously not saying everyone is this way. There are MANY “out of the box” thinkers out there. But if you prescribe to dressage, or equitation or hunter/jumpers the majority of trainers seem to fall into the same lines when teaching (unless you have that 1 in a million trainer. Then hang on to them with both hands and maybe handcuff yourself to them to be sure they can’t run away)

The more I trust my horses and the more I allow them to find the right answer on their own in their own time and praise, praise, praise them when they get it right and just ask them again when they are wrong, the more I see their personalities coming out. The more I see them being excited and willing to do what I’m asking. The better partnerships I end up having with my horses.

I don’t want to be a dictator to my horses. I don’t want them scared to misstep and fearful for a whack with the whip due to a misunderstanding. (There are surely times it’s needed but they are fewer then people realize) But just like those olympians who got disqualified for excessive use of whip and spur. When does the wish to Win prove too much for partnership and we let it slide into dictatorship?

The more I watched the olympics the more that lack of partnership showed. Those words we tout to everyone. Partnership.  And yet how few people let the light of their steed shine through to showcase their best strengths in the best way possible? Instead they work them in false frames and through the use of gadgets to get that perfect look regardless to the pain and silent suffering of their so called partners. Again I’m not saying everyone is like this but there are enough in the lime light to show a startling trend.

How many of those horses would prove to be better then Valegro, if they had just been given a different phrase to the same question? How many of those would be pushing 90’s in dressage or jumping Grand prix even faster?  If a bit of patience and willingness to let the horses figure out a question on their own first before forcing the horses into a moment or over a jump, maybe we would have an entirely new standard of riding and enjoyment.

So out of this long tirade, If you are having problems with your horses. If you’re frustrated and unsure of how to continue and you just want to throw in the towel. Stop and remember what it was like when you couldn’t do something right until someone else gave you a different way to view the problem. Think how you’ve been asking what you want from your horse and maybe by just a bit of tweaking the question you can get that lightbulb to go off for your horse. Don’t forget that if you want that true shining and amazing ride you have to do right by your partner and they will do right by you!

Until next time

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Back In The Saddle Again!

Jack morning light

So for the last few weeks I have been very quiet and I do apologize for that. Other then a few pictures posted across social media I’ve been quite boring.

I had some very big doubts about my horses and my skills for a while. I took a good fall off of Jack who decided that my working student was terrifying and tried his best bronc action. Which I will admit now that it wasn’t that bad and on a normal day I would have easily ridden it out. But the little stinker managed to catch me as I was adjusting a stirrup and as he bucked towards a tree I decided I’d take my chances with the ground instead of a tree. I ended up landing on a rock and for once I ended up taking my own advice and went to the emergency room to get X-rays. I seriously thought I had broken my hip. Thankfully it was just some serious contusions to the muscles and about 2 weeks later I was good as new.

Now I will admit it has been ages since I was in that much pain after a fall. The only other time it was like that was after I injured my back falling of Cash and for once it wasn’t the fear of riding my horses that was stopping me. It was the fear that if I got injured everything at my house comes to a screeching halt.  I’ve got my working student but I can’t thrust upon her the responsibilities of running my house, feeding animals and working the fruit trees and garden. She’s got a life too. So suddenly I was worried that if I continued riding my youngster, eventually I would end up getting hurt bad enough to where I couldn’t do anything.

It took me a long time to think this through. To realize that in my line of work (so I can feed said horses) I could get seriously injured tomorrow. I don’t have a desk job, or a extremely safe one for that matter. It could all go to hell in a hand basket tomorrow and theres nothing I can do to stop it. So why am I putting the breaks on working my horses for the same reason?

So yesterday I finally pulled on my big girl patines and saddled up Jack. He must have heard me mumbling about selling him because he stood like a champ when he usually tries to dance around a bit. Not a hoof was misplaced. He let me spray him with fly spray, and still didn’t even twitch. I got on and off we went and had quite a wonderful, albeit slow, ride. And I was reminded that a lot of the issues I had were just that. MINE. They aren’t reflected back at me with my horse they are purely what my brain has made up to make me anxious and a bit worried.  The second I took a deep breath and started to forget my worries and just enjoy the ride everything went swimmingly. Other then a few quirks of Jack trying to get treats it was a great experience and one I intend to repeat until it gets to be winter.

So I’m back in the saddle again both literally and figuratively. Be expecting a lot more blog posts now that the boys are both going great under saddle! *knock on wood* I have missed you all, and I do hope you have missed me.

Until next time