Saturday, June 25, 2011

Two Fast Rides

I've spent my last two rides in the new saddle. On Friday, we rode on the strip. Steen started out very relaxed and we had some good trots. The ground was nice and dry and he was feeling balanced and attentive, so before long I transitioned up to the lope. He was mostly good at the lope, except that he got progressively more convinced that he wanted to go to the top of the strip where Brian was riding Bear. This would result in a really, really, slow, shallow, stiff turn away from them, and a really quick, dramatic turn towards them. Annoying, really, and not very easy to relax into. He was also really digging into the turns and at times I felt like my boot was not nearly as far from the ground as I generally prefer.

After loping for a while, he was keen to stop. After I let him stand for a bit he did his usual thing when I asked him to do anything but lope, he pranced around and tried to turn towards Bear. We spent quite a while transitioning in and out of the lope and the trot, and trotting and around in very small circles until I could get him to walk again.

Just like my last ride, towards the end it did feel like he finally relaxed and I was able to get him to trot in nice straight lines up and down the edge of the strip. He was moving with his head down, definitely collecting himself and lifting his back up into the saddle like he's supposed to. At the very end, he came down to a walk and didn't try to trot again as we headed back to where Brian was riding Bear.

After I got off, Steen was very relaxed and happy to hang out,

while Brian finished his ride,

beneath fluffy clouds and blue skies. It was another cool day, and Steen was only a little sweaty. When I took the saddle off, his normal dry spots in their usual places. I palpated his back quite a bit and he did not react in any way, other than to doze off. I've been reading a ton about dry spots over the last months, and have read articles by a number of reputable saddle makers that say sometimes dry spots mean bad saddle fit, sometimes they mean something else. The real indication is movement and soreness. So while I'm not happy to see the spots are still there, I'm not going to throw in the towel on the saddle just yet.

Today my goal was to lope a lot, and to further this end I decided to ride alone, indoors. Brian came out with me but took Bear to the outdoor arena.

Before tacking up, I spent a lot of time exploring Steen's back for sore spots. I found nothing. We also brought out a piece of wire to use to trace the angle of Steen's withers and shoulders, which we compared to the inside of the saddle. The two lined up perfectly. It looked as if the saddle had been built around the wire. Conversely, when we put the wire in the bear trap, the tree flared out and away from the wire.

When I got on, Steen stood quietly. I sat on him for a few moments and as we stood there one of the stall horses got loose and came charging in from outside, ran past the arena entrance, nearly fell over turning the corner into the aisle, and then ran into his stall. Steen pricked up his ears, but otherwise did not react.

Our ride was about 45 minutes, and I probably spent 30 of those minutes at the lope. I let Steen steer himself and concentrated on riding as well as I could. It is hard not to lean off the outside stirrup when he digs into the corners, but the only way he's going to learn to balance better is if I let him lope enough to figure it out. I found the more I could keep my weight on his back and out of the stirrups, the more he leveled out and began to bend. By the end of the ride, he was loping on a loose rein with his head down. Like, quarter-horse down. In my past experience, Steen always always always lopes with his head up and his back dished out. He does this even when he's not carrying a rider. But today he was dropping his head and using his haunches to bend around turns instead of skidding through them. To me, that's a very good sign.

He did get pretty tired though. I have not loped him for that long in a stretch since we moved from the old barn a couple years ago now. And I have to say wearing him out had a significant positive impact on his willingness to stay relaxed in the lower gaits.

When I pulled the saddle, the dry spots were there -- like that stray dog or annoying neighbor who just won't leave when all you want to do is sit on the porch and enjoy the sunset in peace and quiet. But much poking and prodding of Steen's back yielded no reaction. He wasn't even kind of sore in those spots. Since I honestly think he moved better today than I've ever felt him move in the three years I've been riding him, it's hard for me to take them too seriously.

So, obviously, I'm going to keep an eye on things, but I'm also going to keep using the saddle. The moment Steen shows signs of soreness, I'll reevaluate. For now I think the spots might be a hold-over from the old saddle. I know sweat glands in horses can become damaged. If they're damaged enough, even a comfortable amount of pressure from a nicely fitting tree could cause them to shut down.

After the ride, Steen was a total doll. I hosed him down and gave him lots of praise for his efforts.

Horseback hours YTD: 39:30


  1. The dry spots can be doozies to figure out. My western saddle has always left some dry spots on Windy. I've done 3 CTRs and in 2 of them, her back vet checked perfect. The one it didn't wasn't in the dry spot and it was a ride that I forgot my saddle pad and had to borrow one - so that one doesn't count. :) I think here can be dry spots that are no longer producing sweat due to old pressure points. Who knows. I guess the proof is in their movement and lack of soreness. Sounds like you are on the right track.

    I really like the looks of that saddle.

  2. Thank you Tammy. That's very helpful to know! And yeah, from an aesthetic standpoint, I'm completely pleased with the saddle. :)


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