One Size Fits…None.

I may be jinxing myself by saying this out loud, but I have made several high-priced used tack purchases on Ebay and I have yet to be truly burned. That being said, I have overpaid for items and I have been frustrated by what I felt like were some sizable disclosures that were omitted from descriptions.

You see, Harley and I just recently passed our two-year lease-a-versary which makes this easily my longest term relationship (both human or equine, but that’s a different story). Harley was not my first lease horse but he was my first FULL lease. I never had a reason to own tack and had never even thought about “fit” for several tack items. I understood that bridles and saddles had to fit the horse but learned quickly that very few items are one-size-fits-all if they end up on the horse. A saddle pad is a saddle pad, I thought, you can just buy any style or color you like! Nope. What’s the spine length? What’s the drop? Does it fit your saddle? Does your giant horse make it look like a postage stamp? Is it contoured enough for his shark fin? How did I learn to consider all of these variables? Oh, the hard way… by buying incorrectly sized things.

Harley came to me with a bridle, a sheet, a blanket, and a cooler. Which, was pretty freaking awesome! The only thing I had to get right away was a saddle. It was a tall order. I have posted about it previously. At the time, I thought I had found a good deal but new information and new market situations have since changed my mind. I searched for several weeks to find that ONE used saddle and then I was pretty much stuck buying it. I felt like it fit Harley reasonably well but I never felt like the saddle fit me. I battled for an entire year and half to resolve the issue with various “bandaids” like half pads, riser pads, offset girths, etc and still never felt comfortable.

 

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Doesn’t look too terrible…does it? 

 

A few months ago, Harley once again, spooked and bolted me off during one of our rides in the arena. It has been an issue for us in the past but he hadn’t done that in over a year. It is always some kind of noise that triggers the spook but then it’s as if he feels like the monster is on his back and as soon as he gets it off- he stops and just stands there. No longer afraid of the noise, or spooky corner that triggered the bolt in the first place. He had some moments of mild soreness or lameness that I couldn’t attribute to anything in particular and he also slowly started to become resistant to standing at the mounting block. I tried some things: gave him some time off; upped his calming supplement; worked with him on the ground; had the trainer ride him. Of course, I also did the thing, where I was like, “this wouldn’t happen to a better, skinnier rider so I should probably end my lease and let him retire”.

I became increasingly frustrated that despite the number of lessons I took or rides I gave him, I had so much trouble with my seat. Every ride felt like a battle. It seems fairly obvious to me now, but you know how these things work- it’s never so simple when you’re in the middle of it. It finally hit me that maybe saddle fit was playing a bigger role in all of this than I was willing to admit.

Around this same time I started to see a huge number of used Albion saddles go on the market. Suddenly they were everywhere! Facebook, eBay, used tack sites. These things must trend kind of cyclically, I haven’t heard of people trying to “unload” Albion saddles for any particular reason, but maybe I’m missing something. All I know, is that two years ago when I bought my repaired, base model, MW Albion SLK HH, I had exactly 2 purchase options- the one I bought or a new demo model for around double the price. Now there were choices! Several high head models, different price ranges, different saddle configurations. On Ebay I stumbled across a beautiful used Albion SLK Ultima HH in a wide with 3″ rear gussets- newer, upgraded leather, better condition, and $500 CHEAPER than my old saddle and I started to get ideas…

I took off all of the gadgets and gizmos I had been using to try to force the saddle to fit and I put it on him sans pad. Looking at my saddle perched slightly-crooked on his frame, pommel high, lacking even panel contact- I was sold. I bought the new saddle.

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not horrific

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until you look from the other side

 

The price was so unbelievably good on this new saddle that I thought I could likely even flip it if it didn’t fit Harley. When it arrived it needed a little love- it must have been sitting uncleaned in the sellers tack room for awhile. But once I finished cleaning and conditioning, I knew I had found a hell of a deal. Now, would Harley and I like it?

 

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The new saddle! straight girth, no rear riser

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Long story, short… we LOVE it. 

 

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Harley immediately moved freer and started to offer his back and carry himself during our WARM UP. I was floored. The upgrade Ultima leather is nice and tacky. The larger blocks and deeper seat fit me SO much better and though, I am by no means a great rider, I finally felt comfortable and aligned while riding. I nearly cried. So many emotions. I had no idea that the same model of a saddle could fit a rider so poorly – I thought I had bought the same saddle my trainer had and that I was set. I was completely naive to these tiny details about fit that make such a huge difference. I felt awful that Harley was uncomfortable in it, though I have no way of knowing for how long it has felt this bad to him. My confidence even got a little boost thinking about how many times I have thought- it’s just me- I can’t ride this horse- I can’t even sit normally- we’re never connected. I’m not saying a saddle swap is about to make me ride like a pro, but I am hopeful that I can make even more improvements to my riding now that I am not fighting my own equipment so much. I am so so so happy Harley is more comfortable, too!

 

 

 

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Road Trip!!

Last weekend my extremely diverse friend group packed up a few cars and headed up to Columbus, OH for Equine Affaire. We rented a super little house on AirBnB that comfortably slept all seven of us and worked out great for making breakfasts and staying up late around the kitchen table chatting and drinking wine.

 

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Not sure what…but it’s here.

 

This was the first real trip we’ve taken as a group and it was a total success! We all acknowledge that we are… a lot… especially together, and I think that helps all of us cope individually when there are disagreements. In a group this diverse, there are bound to be disagreements: our ages range from 29 to 69; mothers, divorcees, happily married, singles; apartment dwellers to farm owners; control freaks and Type Bs; driven, competitive riders to non-riders; and multiple-horse owners to horse appreciators. It is a magical thing and a privilege to co-exist in the midst of these wonderful women and I am proud of us for all working hard to make sure everyone had a good weekend as we shared our greatest mutual passion- the thing that brought us all together in the first place- horses!

 

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Fun, kitchy AirBnb

 

We all decided to drive up sometime on Friday morning so we missed Thursday and some of Friday but we were able to catch a ton of the demos and seminars and get in plenty of shopping over the weekend. I had never even heard of Equine Affaire before moving to Indiana, but my michigander friend assures me that it was always THE midwestern horse event when she was growing up and that it would be amazing. I didn’t quite know what to compare it to. I have attended the Minnesota Horse Expo a bunch of times; I went to Rolex couple of years ago; I’m no stranger to the Kentucky Horse Park;  I’ve been to various horse theater/circus type performances; and I volunteered at the World Equestrian Games in 2010 so I was trying to imagine what Equine Affaire would be like. It’s kind of a combination of a few of those things- smaller in some regards and bigger in others. It’s not a show, though there are a few shows in the program. The seminars and demos were great- this is obviously this event’s bread and butter (and the shopping, of course).

 

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Stacy Westfall

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Massage guy…doing the five seconds of actual massage in his demo

 

There were clinicians from several disciplines that offered both demos and presentations on various topics. My friends and I did some “divide and conquer” but also ending up in several of the same talks/demos throughout the day. I attended many demos/talks with Jan Ebeling who was the main dressage clinician for the event. I found him to be a really great instructor but our group was a little less enthused about his actual riding. We all enjoyed his pronunciation of volte with his German accent. The woman rider he taught was a very competent, fair rider on several dreamboat warmbloods throughout the weekend. Jan helped her improve in every short lesson and even got her to attempt a line of two-tempis that she had never ridden previously on one of the horses. She nailed them. The audience lapped it up.

 

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Jan instructing a dressage demo

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Jan riding during another of his dressage demos

 

I watched some of the western/natural horsemanship guys- really enjoyed James Cooler. I watched Hunter/Jumper Jeff Cook lead a group lesson and loved his style and his feedback to the riders. I listened to talks from a couple DVMs and biomechanics buffs.

 

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Jeff teaching some jumpers

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James talking about soft feel

 

We also got tickets to attend the Fantasia show on Saturday night. I loved the dressage freestyle, the garrocha, the drill teams, and the Percherons and Minis. There was an Icelandic horse part of the show that was mostly just confusing and focused too heavily on malfunctioning sparklers and unfortunately the vaulting/circus crew missed several of their tricks. I get it, that stuff is freaking hard and this was their 3rd night performing it.

 

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omgggggggggg SO cute

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squeeeeeee!

One of the things that impressed me so much about nearly all of the riding seminars and performances was how professional and chill the majority of the horses were. Horses of nearly every breed just casually strutted their stuff amid train noise, sliding doors, people walking everywhere, scary arena ventilation fans, cheering crowds, inclement weather, blowing plastic bags…. I mean the whole thing was like de-spooking clinic and none of these horses batted an eye! Meanwhile, I sat in the dressage demos getting nervous over every noise, moving thing, or gust of wind that would have sent Harley bolting into the next county and me promptly into the dirt. Mad props to all the consummate professional horses out there wearing their big boy and big girl pants for their riders and/or props to these riders for making it seem like their horses are all bombproof.

There were only a couple picky criticisms of the event- there wasn’t enough event staff especially to deal with the parking lot traffic and I attended one demo that didn’t thrill me- it was about massage for the sport horse and the guy was just very repetitive. It was supposed to be a demo showing massage tips you could use on your own horses, but he more or less spent the whole time emphasizing icing and did a kinesio taping demo. I was hoping for some hands-on examples of massage techniques. But, hey, if only one demo ended up being so-so, that’s pretty good! Overall, it was a great weekend, a really nice experience, and a blast with my friends!

 

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Holiday Hoopla

We had a tiny little ice storm today where I live but apparently I missed the memo that it was “coming in to the office is optional” day. I’m a little bitter… so I am blogging! I realize it’s already a couple weeks into January but I have a few more holiday antics to catalog on here for posterity before I jump into 2018.

For the past several years, I have annoyed delighted my dressage trainers by dressing up like a fool for my last lesson before Christmas. I always do something a little different and since it all started with wearing a goofy hat over my riding helmet- I have continued that tradition with a new hat every year. I used to only dress myself up for lessons because I was never riding my own horse. Harley and I have been together for almost two years now so he also participates and last year we started assembling recruits to join in the fun as well!

 

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Harley says you can always make your own Santa beard!

 

I knew I was going to have the big holiday ride the night before I left to go home to the Northland for Christmas, but to keep up the tradition, I also had a holiday themed dressage lesson. My barn does a voluntary Secret Santa which is a lot of fun and a couple of my barn mates had been pulling some lighthearted holiday pranks “jingle jokes” along with leaving their gifts. My friend sneakily filled our trainer’s treat pouch with jingle bells instead of sugar cubes! She only found out when she started trotting and jingling during her lesson with her trainer!!! Priceless.

Trainer thought she was being so clever when she took those jingle bells and zip-tied them to MY saddle but I just rolled with it and we jingled festively through our whole lesson.

 

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Sorry Trainer, jingle joke’s still on you!

 

This year for the main holiday ride, I made my own hat and Harley got to be a little more involved in dressing up as well. We ended up with a pretty good-sized group with riders aged 12-45 and horses aged 3-20. I went with a frosty the snowman theme and got to wear a tutu and there was plenty of leftover decor for the rest of the crew to borrow!

 

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Harley had some feelings about his antlers but his plaid polos are perfection.

 

I texted my old trainer so she wouldn’t be sad about missing out on the fun this year.

 

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The whole festive crew!

 

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That extra special between the ears

 

We all had a great ride and decided that tutus should be a riding staple. The ponies were all very good sports, got lots of candy cane rewards, and solidified their precarious spots on Santa’s nice list. 😉

Bright and early the next morning I headed home for the holidays and enjoyed a lovely break with family, friends, and furrbabies.

 

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Christmas cat can’t hang

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This is obviously MY puzzle, and you people clearly needed help holding the pieces down.

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Considers himself a gift to humanity

 

I spent New Years Eve back here in Indiana with my friends and we celebrated in style despite the frigid weather. I went out on New Years Day to visit my main man and we shared some frozen selfies.

 

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That face you make when your pasture buddy tries to steal your cookies

 

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Chillin in my warm new blanket because I destroyed my old blanket last year

 

We have had a few great rides to kick off the new year and let me tell you, after a few months of weekly trainer rides this guy is fancy AF. I can’t believe he’ll be 20 in March and in April we will celebrate two years together!

Thanks for tolerating my sh*t, Harley, and for always letting me kiss your mustache.

 

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2017 Equestrian Blogger Gift Exchange

I was running around a little stressed out the other day as I was trying to close things out for the year at my office as well as packing to head north for Christmas. I arrived home to find a package outside my door. It was in an Amazon box so naturally I was like…dangit self! What ELSE did you buy this week?!?!?! But, upon closer inspection, there was a handwritten address label- awww yusssssss!! My Secret Santa gift!

 

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I could not possibly be more thankful for Allison and Juice over at Pony Reboot for the perfect gifts this year! My old thinsulate lined SSG gloves finally gave up the ghost and I have had nothing to wear in the cold especially before and after rides and for auditing clinics. I asked for a pair of gloves, but I know Allison went a bit beyond the budget to get me such a nice pair and even included some treats for me and Harley, too! You guys rock and I am excited to have found a new-to-me blog to follow!

 

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Wearing these bad boys tonight for my annual Christmas ride!!! Thank you, Allison!

 

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The Great Escape

Whoops! Sorry I kinda ghosted you guys in November. It’s been busy! I have been doing a lot of traveling and, of course, plenty of riding too.

My trainer continues to ride and take lessons on Harley which is still nice. She doesn’t go out of her way to offer to give ME lessons on him (I haven’t taken a formal lesson this month) but at least she is more forthcoming with feedback from her rides on him that I use to decide what I will work on when I ride him. Changing trainers is tough…but we are doing pretty well, all things considered.

 

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I extended Harley’s clip a little bit, with much less success than my previous attempt. Must have been some beginner’s luck in my favor on that round.

In late October, Harley and his buddies went on a fast-paced tour of the farm and surrounding neighborhood thanks to the antics of one naughty pony barreling nearly over his owner and throwing open the pasture gate. This all occurred during a dressage clinic at my barn which I was auditing at the time. The area’s main trainer was aboard her horse schooling canter pirouettes and before we all knew what was happening she yelled “loose horses!” and we all clambered up from our chairs to close the arena doors in time to block the incoming stampede. My eyes bugged out of my head as I realized that it was MY horse and, since his pasture is quite far from the arena, something very bad must have happened. I swore and fast walked out of the arena through the barn hoping to head them off at the gate and hopefully keep them in an area that could be enclosed. Other barn members had heard the commotion and had already closed the gate. Harley and his herd mates continued to run around like idiots for a few more minutes refusing to be caught until finally Harley let himself be caught by my trainer while I managed to corral his stall buddy and the herd mare. Everyone grabbed a horse and we all walked them back to their pasture to turn them back out where they returned to eating grass and looking at us all doubled over in the driveway like “What?! We didn’t do anything.” It was intense. Thankfully, no people or horses were harmed in the great escape despite the whole herd crossing a fairly busy country road to frolic around the neighbor’s house.

Anyone who read my last post and thought I was being a stick in the mud about the pony tearing down the decorations while taking photos should keep this in mind… manners matter. This was the same pony.

Anyhoo…our barn has recently become a gated-entry facility! We’re so fancy.

 

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I have been continuing to use my theraband off and on while riding. I think it’s a good tool but I don’t want to become reliant on it either.

 

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Sorry all you get are the crummiest screen grabs from low light iPhone videos.

 

I am making a conscious effort while riding to be more aware of my body. Harley and I have fallen into a much more comfortable groove where I don’t have to be so constantly vigilant about external stimuli. He still spooks all the time at the dumbest stuff but I know his triggers and can read and feel his tension better now. I have noticed most recently that he rarely lets my right hip lead. There is plenty of chicken and egg argument going on here because my right hip doesn’t actually ever WANT to lead. Due to all of my knee problems being on the right, I am very weak on that side, too. I have to make a conscious effort to lead with my right hip when I walk so it just makes sense that I am not helping Harley’s left side weakness. This is what I now focus on during most of my rides.

The two very simple exercises that seem to be the most clear in helping me focus on this are: pushing my right hip to lead on a 20m circle to the right while focusing on keeping my weight balanced. The other exercise is leg yielding to the left. It’s important to focus on working the stiff side in both directions and it is so painfully obvious how much attention is required because when I come around the turn on the short side tracking left, I really have to actually think counter bend coming out of that turn or he will throw his shoulder towards the wall the second I ask for a leg yield. Both of these exercise provide some really good, and immediate, physical feedback so I know (even without a trainer) if I am doing it correctly or not.

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I went home to the northland for Thanksgiving and lavished attention upon the two most spoiled creatures in the universe.

 

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And on Thanksgiving Day in the middle of my third cocktail, I received this photo from my trainer.

 

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The cutest.

 

I hope you all had a really nice holiday and got to spend quality time with family, friends, and beloved four-leggers.

swl