Friday, October 1, 2010

Its All About the Horse

I have so much going on in my head right now I think I may explode!

The woahs of saddle-fitting have been plagueing me horribly and I have been getting more and more frustrated with the whole process. Yesterday evening our saddle fitting expert in the area pcame to pick up Milo and I to haul to Diamond Hill Ranch for a a fitting with a variety of saddles, as well as to assess the one I currently have. When she arrived at the barn she told me that her husband had forgotten to put the dividers back into their 4 horse stock trailer, and would he be ok without the divider? My overprotective Mom-self immediently thought "Omg, he cant just be tied in a four horse trailer with no divider. What if he pulls back? What if he falls?" I pushed those immediete thoughts out of my brain than thought, well, it would be a good test for Milo's trailers skills, and its only about a 5 min drive to the ranch on country roads. So we loaded him up, I tied him up to the front and tried to exhale my breath.

When we arrived, he was perfectly fine. Seemed to have held himself at an angle the whole time. Didnt try and turn around when I opened the back door, didnt try and pull back. Wow.

After unlaoding, Milo made it plain to her that his first rib was out again, most likely caused from the ill-fitting narrow saddle I have been using. Milo is a very vocal horse (not in the literal sense) in that he will always show you where it hurts, where he wants scratched, etc. She put his rib back into place and we moved on with the saddle assessments.

We talked about the one that I have, the Crates Roper Reiner with an Equi-fit tree. Equi-fit tree. A big no-no, and heres why she explained. While you would assume that a flexible tree would be a good thing, the Equi-fit tree does not flex in the ways you might expect. Nice along the horse's spine as anticipated, but actually where the seat of the saddle sits, there is a horizontal flex there meaning it flexes against the spine. That alone is a big no-no. When we pulled the saddle out of the trailer, it had the tell-tale sign of the horizontal flex - a line through the leather straight across the seat. And just for educational purposes, she did put it on Milo's back to assess the fit, and like already known, it did not fit well.

She educated me further about the way trees are built. The majority of western trees out there are downwardly oriented. This includes a lot of the saddles we know out there: Crates, Billy Cook, Bobs, etc. This orientation of the tree means that on a horse like Milo who is downwardly built, down+down means not good. We put a Cowhorse Equipment saddle on him, a saddle with a neutrally oriented tree. While it fit better than than the downwardly tree, it was not what we were looking for. We lastly put a saddle on that has an upward oriented tree. Up on a down horse means a neutral balance, which is good.

We tried on a #1 bar of a saddle by the brand About the Horse. It fit well, with contact along his back and open in the shoulder, but gave no room for growth for Milo, and after being cinched down and having the weight of a rider in the seat would provide too much pressure on his back.

So the #2 bar was put on next. It fit really well along his back, and was open in the shoulder. We put it back on with my reverse wedge pad and cinched her down. It still had nice contact along his back and remained free in the shoulder. She suggested I get on and ride around in it, get a feel for what the seat felt like for me, and how Milo would take to it.

I longed him first, as he was a bit distracted, staring at jump standards in the arena, and there was some noise of construction or something going on in the woods. He seemed to move well in it.

I got on and right away felt very balanced and comfortable in the saddle. The stirrups were long, but I didnt adjust them. I walked him around a bit in it and let him get over staring at things. When his mind was more focused on me, we started to do some work.

He began giving me a beautiful trot and was really stepping up underneath himself from the rear, lifting up into that saddle. He felt great. Our first transition into the lope was good, but he felt awkward and wasnt holding a steady lope. I realized it was probably from putting his rib back in. He finally seemed to loosen up a bit and I got some decent circles from him. When I loped the other way he felt great. In fact, he gave me the most balanced slide stop I have ever gotten from him last night. We were loping in a straight line, and I sat down and took my legs off of him. His butt went straight into the dirt. It was fantastic!!!

Getting off and taking the saddle down, I was amazed by the sweat marks left behind. On a scale of percentage (100 be 100% even sweat marks) my Crates was leaving behind about a 30% dry spot behind both shoulders. This About the Horse saddle left behind about 10% on the right side, and about 6% on the left. It was the most even sweat marks I have ever seen on him. Sarah told me that these dry spots are due to a lack of contact there, not excessive pressure. Which is good because it allows room for Milo to build into.

Observing his sweat patterns further along his body, He was sweaty under his flank and along his buttocks. Thats a good sign, he really was working under himself nicely and using his hind end.

I know that continueing to ride in my saddle isnt going to fly. Especially after riding in and seeing one that fit him so well. Today I will be taking pictures of mine and trying to sell ASAP. Upon searching the About the Horse's website, Ive concluded that to get one made will probably be around $1800. Wow. But if I can sell mine for 1100 or 1200 (which it is valued for) than that only leaves about 600-700 left, and I have another $350 to come for my roping saddle which sold, and lastly, I have my show saddle to sell, which I would like to get $400 for.

And luckily, the saddle I was able to ride in, I should be able to borrow periodically while waiting for mine to be built. So I can see that I will be working on my bareback seat frequently.

To finish the evening off well, I had Milo tied up in the barn while I watched some of the free jumping that is held at the ranch every Thursday night. He stood so quietly tied to that wall for about 30 minutes. He tried to chew on the lead rope than stopped, and just stood there. I was so proud of him for that small event. Its a big deal for Milo to stay tied quietly, he usually fidgets around quite a bit, especially with the fact that when we left at 5:00 I had given him only his grain so he was due for some hay and it was nearling 7:30.

There was an opportunity for Milo to go into the arena and try his "hoof" at the free jumping. I let him go and he meandered down to the fence dividing the arena from the round pen filled with cows. Oh Milo, we arent playing with the cows tonight, Im sorry. Than he found the best place to roll, and got up and trotted towards me saying "OK, Im done now". Oh c'mon Milo, lets try the jumps. I pointed him towards the jumps, and he cut between the standards in the chute, than meandered over one of them, than cut back out between the standards. Whatta cheater! We tried again and he "just couldn't possibly". We finally got him over them with him on a halter and lead, and Mom jumping the cross rails first. Oh OK, if Mom does it than I guess I can. He was quite a character about the whole thing.

We hauled home and he finally got his hay at 8:30. I fumbled around in the darkness, trying to get his rainsheet back on.

All in all though, I am really pleased with my new knowledge about the saddle(s). I hope I can get things squared away soon and get the ball rolling for this new investment.


Anonymous said...

Those are exactly the saddles I'm looking at for Dawn - she's downhill - unusual in a TB - and has trouble finding enough room in the shoulders with many saddles. These are very good saddles, and a number of people I respect use them - Mark Rashid among them. I think Dawn may also take a #2 tree, but I haven't been able to find one to try on yet. Good for you for taking the time to get this right - I wish more people would.

paint_horse_milo said...

Thanks Kate. I was absolutely eladed to find a saddle that actually and truely fit he and I correctly. I really hope this can all get rolling quickly, Im very excited.

I hope you are able to try them out, they really ar well built saddles.

An Image of Grace said...

You will love the About the Horse saddle! My Black Rhino is on the same tree (Grace wears a #1). I have watched Grace's back fill in over the last year. She used to have those big dips behind her shoulders, now they are almost filled in. She is able to lift her back as she is not hitting the tree when she fills the space. I swear she looks taller now! I know what a headache saddle fitting can be. I'm pretty sure only 10% of horse owners get it right. Agree with Kate, good for you for taking the time to get it right.

paint_horse_milo said...

Thanks Melissa. I dont think Ill get as lucky as you to be able to find a new one, but getting a custom one will probably be the best route for me.

Im really excited about getting this done!

in2paints said...

I've never heard of About the Horse saddles! Time to do some searching on the Google!

Lilly is also build downhill and I have to use riser pads for both her english and western saddles. Just the riser pads alone made a huge difference in her attitude... I can only imagine if I had a saddle that fit her perfectly!

Good luck selling your saddles!