Thursday, November 29, 2012

Love at First Ride

My new saddle arrived late on Wednesday. We unpacked it and I have to say it looks even better in person than it did in the photos. Today I headed out to the barn alone to meet the farrier. Brian had to work but planned to come out and meet me later. I took my new saddle inside, where it immediately got some compliments.

So pretty!

It turned out none of our horses needed their feet trimmed, so I had some time to kill. I worked on cleaning and softening the rain rot around Steen's cut, groomed all three horses then hopped on Steen for a short ride. I stayed in the indoor arena for no real reason. Steen now has a cold that seems to involve slightly runny eyes and a mild cough. I kept things very light.

Steen did not want me to post this photo. He thinks the rear cinch makes him look fat.

The new saddle felt great from the start. There are so many things that are so noticeably different. The twisted leathers are awesome. You swing on and the stirrup is in the exact correct position, waiting for your foot. The seat rises in front, which guides your balance point back over your feet where it should be. The leathers are also hung on the tree in such a way as the keep your leg beneath you instead of out front. This leads to a super balanced feel in the saddle. Also, this saddle has a slightly smaller seat than my old one. It's a 15.5 instead of a 16. It's a snugger feel, and much nicer. I don't feel like I have so much slop in front of me and behind me.

The effects of my better position on Steen were apparent immediately. He's still out of shape. He's sick. He's barely coming back into regular work after his convalescence. But we had an amazing ride. At first we just walked around while I got the feel of things, but eventually worked through a few basic maneuvers. Before long I was walking figure-eights with no hands. I can't get over how differently my legs hang. I feel like I can engage my whole leg much better, but particularly my lower leg. This was helping a lot with communication. I've never done so many good handless figure-eights on Steen before.

After things went so well at the walk, I took a little break and worked on some other things, then decided to try them at the trot, fully expecting total and immediate failure. Instead we trotted perfect figure-eight after perfect figure-eight while my reins stayed draped over the saddle horn. And just to make sure he wasn't running the pattern on autopilot, I changed things up regularly, sometimes trotting two circles on one side or changing direction. I have never done this on any horse before. Steen was entirely with me. It was exhilarating.

I only rode Steen for twenty minutes, then put him back out with the herd. Brian arrived shortly thereafter, and we tacked up our other two horses and headed out.

The new saddle felt great on Laredo too. Although he was a little spacey and fidgety during tacking and grooming, once I got on things went great.


Laredo was soft and moving nicely off my legs from the start. I could feel my better balance was helping him understand me more too. It particularly makes it easier for me to get my weight off his loin while backing, which helps him move back more freely.

Brian and I were both kind of tired, so we decided to just head out into the big pasture and poke around a bit. They are doing tons of irrigation work around the fields, and there are new trenches everywhere, some of which are open and some of which are filled. Obviously we are avoiding any ground that has been recently disturbed unless it has clearly been packed down by repeated passes by heavy machinery. In the big pasture, we followed some tire tracks up a big hill.

Laredo is still getting hills figured out. Steep uphills or medium to steep downhills just seem to confuse him. He'll start out fine, then reach a point where he just gets stuck. We're trying to be sympathetic with him about this, and be encouraging and positive when he goes up or down a hill without getting stuck. Going up the steep hill he got super stuck, so after I got him moving again I encouraged him to trot to make it a little easier on him. After that he wanted to trot up ALL the hills. *sigh.


We got to the far side of the pasture and found another open gate, so we went through. Once out we saw a field margin we'd never explored before, and took it down the fenceline and over a ridge where we found a nice sized grassy field we never knew existed. We were going to ride around it when we realized shotgun season just opened and we didn't have our vests on. We were getting a bit far afield for that to feel safe, so we saved the exploring for another day.

All through the ride, I was just loving my new saddle. The seat is hard -- no padding -- which allows you to move with the horse so much more freely. Towards the end of the ride Laredo was taking the hills with more confidence, and I was able to keep my seat moving with him and not get in his way even on the steep downhills.

So I couldn't be happier with the new saddle. Honestly I am surprised at how big a difference it makes. I didn't dislike my old saddle, but my new ride just leaves the old one in the dust.

Ride Time Steen: 0:20
Ride Time Laredo: 0:45
Horseback hours YTD: 143:50

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