Saturday, October 30, 2010

An Exercise in Spinning and Mats

The owner of Jake, the 26 year old QH that Milo is pastured with, had purchased some stall mats and was planning to set a date to put them in, along with some gravel around the front of the stalls. I told her I would be more than happy to help with the installation process, as my horse would be reaping the benefits of the remodel as well. The mats arrived, and were laying outside of the stalls this past week. I waited for a phone call from Patty for when to put them in. So I was pleasantly surprised when I went to the barn yesterday and saw that the mats and gravel were all put in. By the looks of the tractor marks coming in and out through the gate, it appears that the BO must have had it done during the day Friday.
Milo checking out his new dry and mud free digs. 

As you can see they laid down the stall mats and also added some gravel to the front. Its been my experience with the other two pastures across the driveway that they get very muddy very quickly and get pretty bad. Patty told me that this pasture is no exception to that rule. In all of the pastures, I moved the water troughs around because every single one of them was in such a place to flood the stall areas when dumped out weekly for cleaning. Milo and Jake's needed moving as well, and I did, and it helps, but the natural topography from the arena to the pasture naturally drains the water down into the gate area, and also the front of the stall. So it will be interesting to see how well the gravel actually holds up. Its been my experience that gravel tends to just sink into the mud. 
Milo looks to say, "Do you see it Mom? Do you see the new floor??"

My boss was having a get together at his house last night, so time was short for riding Milo. I discovered these training videos on youtube from well known trainer, Larry Trocha, on how to better develop the reining spin. As you may remember, my issues with Milos current spin are in keeping forward motion throughout, and thereby balancing on his inside leg, as well as being light and responsive through the shoulder. He tends to drag on the rein and my leg, and I feel Im using too many aids for one small request (moving the shoulder). 

Larry Trocha's training videos for the spin are a three part series. This first one gave me a really good exercise for helping him stay on his rear and lift his shoulders. It also gave me a better idea for getting him more responsive to neck rein pressure. 

I tried these two exercises with Milo yesterday. The rein-release first, where Milo really started to get the hang of it. By the end of the short twenty minute ride, he was becoming pretty light and responsive to the neck rein pressure. I also used the turning and drive to get his shoulders up. After about a dozen of these he reallly started to lift his shoulders well and drive with his rear.

Im glad I found these two exercises, they really seem to help in getting Milo on the right step to a better spin.

In this second video, Larry Trocha gives another good "exercise" about suppling the face, as well as incorporating that into a quick response to the neck rein pressure. I touched on this lightly with Milo, only where he didnt respond to the rein-release on his neck. This second part put those two pieces together in a simple exercise, and also gave me a good idea on the sequence of pressure. Neck rein, leg, than cluck for speed. It may sound simple, but hearing that seemed to put it all together for me on what my expectations for Milo should be.

So I have some new ideas now for Milo's spin (I might add that Ive never actually had a lesson in spinning, so its no surprise that Ive been doing some stuff wrong). Ill keep posts for his progress. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Got it!

The last three rides I have really been focusing on getting Milo responsive and light to my leg cue in both two-tracking and haunches in. Last night it seemed to all come together for him.

Milo knows these cues, but he never was really reaching up underneath. His haunches were always trailing farther than his front, he was never really evenly striding front to back. As we sometimes do when riding, I just kinda never really corrected the problem. Now with working on our lead changes, I have discovered how imperative his rensponsiveness to haunch control really is.

So Ive been working on it. And Milo pleased me very much last night when riding in the indoor arena with two lessons and another rider, and Milo responded lightly to my leg and reached up under himself nicely, tracking easily front to back. I laid my leg a little further back, and asked for a haunch in along the rail, in which Milo obliged and tracked again nicely. He still drags his rear a bit more tracking to the right versus the left, which I think could have something to do with his rib again.

While I have only ridden him in a saddle once since the show (and it was a very correctly fitting saddle - the #2 bar About the Horse), I think his muscle memory has flipped the rib out again. I do the stretch exercise that Sarah (saddle fitter/body worker) gave to me to encourage his rib to pop back into place, but he never seems to push it as well as when she does it. But I will continue to try. She will see him again when we go to the next show on the 6th and 7th.

I might also add that he is really coming along with my once again quiet legs. I barely have to correct his frame with my legs, he holds himself pretty consistently on his own, with only a few reminders on my part. He sure is coming along! I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I have been riding him bareback, and not in an ill fitting saddle. This is giving his body the chance to mold his muscles correctly, without objection from the saddle. I feel changes in his way of going every time I get on. He is more naturally being round on his own now, and while he still may hold tension through his back and neck occassionally, it is almost always due to tension in myself.

Oh please oh please have my saddle sell soon. I am learning so much through my bareback rides with Milo and he and I are improving greatly, but it would be good to know that my saddle was being built during all of my bareback time.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Decisions and Goals

As most of you may know, I am quite an active cowgirl. Milo and I have enjoyed three years of riding on the Thunderbird Cowgirls Drill Team. While it is a very fun experience to ride in the rodeo every year, attend many community events, and even better, give back to the community through Corey's Day on the Farm and by raising awareness for the Northwest Burn Foundation, this year I am contemplating my continued involvmenet with the group.

Ive mentioned before how distracted and "behind" Milo gets during and after drill practices. We begin practices in February, and run all the way through June until our rodeo the last weekend in June. During this time, my other interests, reining, cows, mounted shooting get put onto the back burner as it gets to be too hectic (and expensive) to try and pursue them all.

I also end up spending nearly the entire summer after the rodeo getting Milo back where he needs to be. During drill, I am one handed because I carry a flag with the other. So that limits the corrections I can make with Milo when he gets hollow, bracing, or overly excited. I work as much as I can between practices to try and get him where he needs to be, but he is so smart he knows when we are practicing (be excited and crazy) and when we are at home (be collected and quiet). Its frustrating to feel like something that brings us a lot of fun hinders our progress in other areas.

We both really love working with cows. And we are both progressing everyday in our reining training. Ive looked at other possible shows in reining and cow work during the summer and would love to attend, but I know that the drill practices will make things difficult. Its hard on Milo (and me) to try and do it all. I feel I either need to be 100% into the drill team, or 100% into our reining cow work. 50/50 doesnt seem to work (not for Milo).

So that leaves the tough decision. Will we continue to ride on the drill team? A large part of me wants to continue to be a part of this great organization. An even larger part tells me that we want to do reining and cows and get a bit more serious in it. So I think my conclusion is to continue with the drill team - on a different horse. One problem, I only have Milo.

I plan to get another horse. But not in the next few months. Looking at maybe two years down the line. Priority first - getting Milo home. I would like to get a reining and cow bred horse to take to higher levels than Milo and I can go. If this becomes the case, than I would continue to use Milo for drill practices, and maybe mounted shooting. But this is still a ways away and doesnt help my scenario now.

I will use Milo at our upcoming try-outs on Oct 31. But after that? I dont think so. As many of my local horse friends and fellow cowgirls know, I have been mulling over this decision for a while. I will bring it up to the girls at the try-outs, and see if anyone has another horse they would be willing to let me use for practices and rodeo. If not, than I may need to step out. While I know that if I use a different horse I will miss using Milo at the rodeo, but for the sake of his training and progress I know that this is the right decision.

On to our goals. Milo is a performance and western pleasure bred horse all the way. So I know that we will never be at a pro level in reining or cow work. But it is something that we enjoy and we want to pursue. And depending on how far Milo comes along, I may or may not consider putting slider plates on his rear. I love keeping him barefoot, but it can hurt him to do hard stops on barefoot hooves.

Events I would like to go to:
  • Complete the Tacoma Unit Winter Buckle Series.
  • The Tacoma Unit also hosts their Horseplay Winter Series, put on by Lope on In. They have a reining class there as well, but it doesnt count towards any high points, but does qualify for APHA points. However, these run the same months as the Buckle Series above. Not sure if I will attend any of these.
  • The Lope on In shows consist of the above mentioned Horseplay series, but also holds the Jerry Prigge Memorial Show. It is a buckle show with buckles awarded to each division. This is held in September. I believe by that point Milo and I would be schooled well enough to give it a go. Besides I have heard it is a ton of fun.
  • Northwest Reining Association (NWRA) Shows. These run from May through September and are locatedin Lynden and Kirkland. I emailed the show steward and she said their club is geared towards beginner and intermediete reiners. Lyden is far for me, but Kirkland may be attainable. Their Kirkland one is in August. I will need to find out more information about if club membership is required, etc.
  • Ive also learned about the Northwest Reined Cowhorse Association (NWRCHA). I would be very interested in these events, as they are cow horse events, not just reining. However I cant seem to find much information about their shows including class lists, locations, or fees. Maybe since they are wrapping up the 2010 series, they will have more information posted after the new year.
Im leaning towards the Tacoma Unit shows most because they are only an hour away, whereas Lyden would be two and a half, and Kirkland about two.

So these are just some things Ive been mulling over for a while. And I feel like I have finally reached my conclusion. Hope things can get figured out, it would be great to continue riding with a great group of cowgirls and giving back to the community, while also pursuing my reining and cow goals.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

And Then it Hit Me

I was sitting on my horse with his pink bareback ad on, mulling over the ride on Thursday night.

Thursday evening began with cleaning overdue pastures, than lounging Milo on the loungeline, knowing he hasnt been ridden let alone worked on about seven days.

Milo was great on the lounge. Just a tad bit frisky, but dropped his head down, lifted his back and generally went right to work. Deciding it wasnt suicide to ride that night, (remember riding in my saddle is out of the question right now) I went to put his headstall on.

Things started out well. He was distracted at the three other riders in the indoor arena with us, and wasnt working and lifting his back as well as he knows how. My strained legs were working harder than he was, especially since I opted to not put the bareback pad on.

Well he seemed to be working well enough, so I laid my leg back and asked for a lope. Milo threw himself into a canter, than started crop hopping and tucking his head down with the evil look in his eye that he gets at drill team practices. Executing my emergency stop and throwing his rear around to the outside I told him No, No, No!

Pushed him right into a working trot again. Once he seemingly appeared to be listening and working well again, I laid my outside leg back onto him. This time we got about three "lope-canter" strides before he swiveled his ears around in a fashion Im all too familiar wish learning what the coming results are. See, Milo knows what he is doing is wrong. He gets this gleeful look in his face and his ears lift up but turn outward. He looks like he has little devil horns popping out of his head. When this second attempt happened and he threw his head down to begin a buck, I whipped his head back around for another one rein stop and moved his butt to the outside, taking away his engine. I worked him long and hard at a trot after that.

Finally, I asked one last time for a lope, upon which Milo obliged buck-free but tense through his back and beck.

So last night I sat there after a longe over poles to warm up and remind Milo to lift his back, pondering how I was going to approach today's ride and reflecting on the previous night's mini-rodeo.

I had also been slammed with a reminder last time we worked cows at Diamond Hill Ranch, that Milo's lateral aids arent as responsive as they should be and once were.

So I began riding working on his lateral aids. Moving his hip to the outside, two-tracking (with IMPULSION Milo!) really emphasizing reaching up underneath himself with his hind. He seemed to be getting better. But the thing that kept coming to mind was forward, forward, forward. I was working harder than he was.

So he was getting better. We moved into some trotting. He had some really nice impulsion at the trot. We worked on circles and two-tracking out of the circle. He was doing well, working up over his back nicely. But than I noticed he was working especially through a tight turn, that he was turning on the forehand. About 35% of our turns were with weight thrown to the front. I worked on that a bit, but knew I could only work on so many things during one ride.

I pushed him into the lope. (Goal: I would really like him to two-track at the lope instead of just speeding up) I soon realized I was having to pick up too much on my reins and my legs were seeming inadequate in aiding him to lift up his back. I got a semi decent stop out of him and let him catch some air. I sat there pondering things.

Pushed him back into a lope. I remembered a few weeks back when I would lope him and my lower legs would seem to swing effortlessly with each stride. Not constantly bumping on him to lift his back. So I tried something. I remembered to use my reins as merely support, and he was needing to be driven from the rear. Remember, work your horse from back to front.

As I relaxed my seat and tried to take the tension out of my legs, I slowed him down into a more accepted lope instead of a canter, and squeezed with my calves. There was a small effort from Milo to drop his head. I drastically removed my legs from his sides. I did this a second time. This time, when my legs came off of him he let out a huge sigh, dropped his head, lifted his back, and engaged from he rear. Being in this correct frame, brought Milo down from a semi-lope, to an actual cadenced lope. It was a miracle moment.

It hit me that I was over-using the aids. I was insistent on so much round round round that I never was really giving him a chance to get a release from my leg aid, I think fearing that if I released, he would stop being round. I was over-riding.

All Milo wanted was for me to give him a real reward for relaxing. And that reward was for me to relax.

I loped him another circle or so, with a loose rein, and a relaxed rhythmically swinging leg. Milo sure seemed to appreciate it. And I sure enjoyed the relaxation.

I brought him down to a walk and cooled him out.

Sometimes, it seems, I really do need to just shut up and ride.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Back from Twisp

The Boyfriend and I took a much needed vacay over the past week. We went to Twisp, Wa (about four hour drive for us) to where his Aunt and Uncle have a cabin set on the Twisp River. Wes and I attend their family reunion every year in September, but this time we went for hunting season.

As I may or may not have mentioned prior, Boyfriend is an avid hunter. Especially for prize mule and whitetail deer. As you may or may not remember, last year when we went to Twisp, we returned with a nice Mule buck and lots of meat for the winter. This year however, the weather wasnt quite in our favor, and Wes never saw a trigger-pulling high country buck come in front of his scope. Never fear, however, Boyfriend does have one more annual hunting trip, this time to Weippe Idaho first week in November (ahem-during my NEXT show putting my chances on going to it in jeopardy!).

I did get some photos of beautiful Twisp though for your enjoyment.
This shot is from high atop of the Okanogan National Forest on Thompson Road. Follow this road about 8 miles to Boyfriend's hunting ridge. This view is considered the Methow Valley. To the bottom right (cant see it in this photo) you cna overlook the Twisp River and the cabin we were staying in.

Boyfriend's rig, parked at the base of his ridge. Its a lonnnng hike up to his tree stand.

For amusement (and to torment himself) almost every evening we drove the Methow Valley "deer spotting". Deer become most active in the evening and night, and they make their way down the ridges to the vast and frequent alfalfa and orchard fields.

This bad boy we spotted last trip to Twisp in September. Off course, it wasnt hunting season then, and he was on private property. See what I mean about Boyfriend tormenting himself?

Here was a momma doe and her almost hidden baby off the road feeding on some fruit trees.
And another cute doe off the side of the road.

Twisp is definitely a place I could live. With it's beautiful views, home grown country folk, and outdoor activity, I think Boyfriend and I would fit in quite well. Unfortunetly, being a small town, jobs are few and far between, and the economy is even more poor than here in Kitsap County.

But after five days gone I sure was missing my Miloface. Wes let me visit him briefly on our way home yesterday. I swear he gained some weight while I was gone. Now just counting the hours until I will be off work and on my way to ride Milo.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Show Results!

So over the weekend Milo and I attended the first Reining Sorting show of the season at the Tacoma Unit. This was also Milo's first time showing reining (my second) and cow sorting.

We hauled out Saturday morning with time to get the horses acclimated and ready to go at a 10 am start. Since we were staying overnight, we got the stalls ready to go and waited for someone to show up at the show office so we could get signed up. Heather was only going to show in the sorting the following day, but I was doing reining that morning.

Everyone was able to warm up in the show pen which was great, because I therefore did not have to spend an additional $12 for a practice run in the arena (wanted a chance for Milo to see the arena before we competed in it). He warmed up well, was minimally distracted, but worked pretty well.

We walked into the arena to ebgin our pattern, stopping in the center to face the judge. Began our spin to the left than the right (remember that), loped off into our two large fast circles to the left, one small slow, simple changed in the center, two large fast to the right, one small slow, simple change in the center, begin a large fast circle to the left, beign rundown down length of arena, stop, back 5 steps.

Our stop was really harsh and he didnt sink his butt down as I know he can. When I brought him back into the warm up to get a good stop on him, I sat down and said whoa. He put the brakes on nicely. What happened in the show pen? It hit me: I didnt say woah. Wow Im special. Of course he didnt butt his brakes on, I hadnt asked him to.  

But Milo did a good job. He did everything I asked him too and made a Mom proud. Not to mention the first time I ran him entirely through the pattern was in the showpen. I didnt make him go as round as he can because he was listening pretty well and I didnt want to push anything. I really just wanted to get one good run under his belt (or saddle?) and then next month I can push him for a little more. He also wasnt quite as relaxed as he can be, but again, it was all for experience.

I waited for the placings to be called, and was dissapointed when I didnt get a placing (there was only three of us in the Beginning Reining class). So if I wasnt called out of three, I must have done the pattern wrong. Well thats weird, I got the pattern two months ago how could I get it wrong? I went into the show office to ask for the judge's scores. My walk was scored at a 1/2 I believe then from thereon out everything was marked at 0. What the..? I re read the pattern. OH. I was supposed to begin my spin to the right instead of the left as I did. Wow. But now I know, and next month I will begin my spins the correct way, and hopefully get a score. Thats probably the most dissapointing part, not getting a score for our go even if it wasnt recoreded for a placing. I just would have liked to know how the rest of our go was scored.

Because I was not the one videoing it, I dont have the embedded code to upload our video here. But here is the link to it on facebook (sorry if it doesnt work for you). Milo's first reining pattern. Unfortunetly, Heather's camera didnt have enough memory to film the entire go, but half is better than nothing!

Sunday was all cow sorting. We were entered in Green Novice only as there was a confusion on my part as to what the cost actually was. So I only went in 5 gos gor Green Novice. It was a long day of waiting as our class was at the end. We didnt begin until 4 pm. Needless to say, there was a lot of time sitting in the saddle waiting for our turn.

The morning started on a bad note however, as Milo was fidgety and very distracted in the warm up pen. All he wanted to go was scream to the other horses and stare at his girlfriend and travel buddy Missy. So that was really frustrating. But as soon as we were able to go into the show pen, he calmed down.

Waiting in the pen for nearly two hours and realizing there were a lot of more entried (86 to be exact) in only the second class (with Novice to follow before Green Novice), I decided to take Milo back to the trailer and let him relax and eat some lunch while we waited. Finally the #7 class was over and they were beginning Novice. So we got on. Still waiting about an hour and a half.

Eventually, the Green Novice class started. My first go was with someone I didnt know, as you can only go with the same partner once. Our first go wasnt very good, I think we got maybe two or three cows in. My partner didnt seem very pleased with me. Second go was again with someone I didnt know, and it was frustrating because she wouldnt get out of the hole when I brought a cow towards her. We got maybe two or three in.

Our third go was with our friend Cindy. I have video, but it is really short. I pushed too many at her holding and they snuck by out of order. Sorry Cindy! Below is video of our fourth go with another friend, Tonya. We were doing a good job, until I got ahead of myself (aka excited) and again pushed too many to Tonya in the hold.

Our last go was with our friend Heather. We were doing so good! I think we only had three more cows to move in, and as I was pushing 0 towards her (with 2 by its side) I wasnt able to split them well enough, and after a really good effort put by Heather to block the #2 cow from getting by, the sneaky bugger jumped through her barrier anyways.

But all in all, it was a ton of fun. These cows were much more tricky than I had previously worked with, which made it a bit more difficult, but also fun. These pens were also much larger including the hole, which made it a bit different as well.

Milo tries to get a bite of beef.

I just liked the light in this photo.

Milo says "Get outta my way, Cow!"

Milo doesnt know that we didnt get clean runs. He was happy regardless.

So no clean runs in the cows, so no points towards the series buckle for that, but it was ok because Milo and I had a ton of fun anyways. But I do hope ot redeem myself in the reining, I feel like we have a good shot at the series buckle for that.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Working Cattle

Wednesday night we got ot go work cattle at Diamond Hill Ranch. Not too many showed up, but we still had some good friends there and a lot of fun working the cows!

The evening started with some cutting, done by Hilary. It as a lot of fun to watch. There is a clinic coming up in Nov (same weekend as the second show, however) that I would have liked to go to. Im hoping if the clinician comes again on a time that I can make it, it would be fun to learn the ropes of cutting. I think Milo would do a decent job, and I know he would have fun!

Milo asks when its his turn in the herd.

This cattle event was different than the sorting ones Ive gone to in Chimacum. Here, instead of pushing cows, we worked the cows with a partner. Shoot, I didnt get a photo of the obstacles were were pushing them through... but there were jump standards and things set up where the goal was for you and your partner to maneuver the cows through the obstacles. One partner as the "pusher" and one as the "wing".

Here, Melissa and Grace are pushing and Milo and I are the wing.

In our first round working the cattle, at one point I asked Milo for a lope to close off a gap that the cattle were eyeing to cut through. A few strides into the lope after the cows, Milo did what he has been getting accustomed to doing at the sorting: bounding up and down with little crow hops thrown in for good measure. Since this evenings excercise was all about getting our buttons down, I bagged the cows and worked his little butt. Im sorry Milo, but I dont care if you are getting excited over the cows, you do not start crow hopping and tossing your head when you feel like it.

After I felt we had our composure back, Melissa and I tried it again. Same thing! Milo you little brat! So I took some time and really schooled him. I got him tuned back into me.

Next attempt, Milo did very well and as a bonus, Melissa and I finished the "pattern" correctly and got the cows moved through easily.

For fun, I added the photo above. It isnt a vert clear photo, but this is Sarah's saddle. Its the About the Horse #2 bar. It is very comfortable and fits Milo well. Its not my cup of tea for style (with the round skirt and darker color) but it doesnt matter cause it isnt mine! I cant wait for my Crates to sell so I can get the order placed on my saddle!

I have my final ride on Milo this evening before the show tomorrow. Just planning on solidifying what we have ready for tomorrow. Going to pack up the trailer and get Milo's grain bags made. I wont be on through the weekend, but I will have updates on Monday for y'all!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Milo's Home, a Change in Pattern, and a Bareback Ride

I thought I would tour you on Milo's current "home", until coming home that is!
This is what I see when I drive up the driveway. "Oh HI Mom! Pleasure to see you again! :)"

 Just out of reach....this is obviously where he and Jake are fed. I haven't put up Milo's name tag yet, so hes getting fed in Covergirl's old stall. But Milo finds getting mid-afternoon snacks easier in Jake's stall. 

 This is the side of the two stall shelter. 

The two stalls. 

The view of the highway from the stalls. And I'm not sure what the fenced off area is fencing off, but it is. 

Other side of the pasture, and the apple tree. 

Oh, Hi Jake! 

"Mom! How did you sneak that camera in here? Let me come get in your way." 

"See, so worthy of taking a photo of. :)" 

Upon taking Milo out of his pasture for grooming, he was less than pleased to find I tied him too short to eat the delectable grass. Sorry Milo, you have a pasture to eat grass in all day.   

I had noticed on Friday that Milo seems to be roaning a little bit. Here is a roan patch Milo has had as long as I have had him.  

And these photos don't show it too well, but it appears he is "roaning" a bit on his hind quarters now. Hes getting flecks of white throughout that he never used to have. And while he is shedding his summer coat, in the three years Ive had him, never once has he shedded out to more white.  

It will be most interesting to see what he looks like in a few more years. 
(a peak at my truck in the background too!) 

"Mom, setting me up for photos is boring."
"But the lighting is so perfect!" 

I had a fantastic "bareback" ride on Milo (used the bareback pad). He worked well under himself again today (it almost seems like a reliable aspect to our riding now!). And I'm also proud of myself. I have come a long way in 2010 to gaining my bareback seat back (as you may remember, it was one of my New Years Resolutions). While Im not 100%, and I believe there will always be room for improvement, it is great to look back and see the progress that I have made. 

Being bareback hasnt made me wary on working on certain maneuvers (lead changes, fast circles, etc). Milo gets just as much of a workout as he would under saddle, but I sure get more. I expect to be sore tomorrow, but it is all in the journey to better horsemanship. 

Not to mention, Milo really put the brakes on on our second lope-stop. It was great.

And it finally hit me something to work on to better his inside pivot foot for our turnarounds, I dont know why I hadnt thought of it before. Since I cannot see which foot he is pivoting on while I am riding, and since I havent yet been able to feel which one is correct or not (I can feel the difference between which one he is pivoting, but I dont know which feeling goes for which leg, if that makes sense), how can I show Milo which one is correct if Im not able to distinguish between the two? On Friday, I worked on our pivots on the ground, as I might for showmanship. He tried a pivot on the outside automatically, but I was able to correct him and get him balanced on the inside. Good Boy! 

Now I just have to be able to feel the difference under saddle. Its still a work in progress. But at least he readily moves off of my leg and transfers his energy forward when I feel him going backwards. Its a step in the right direction. 

Look at his gaskin! My oh my, Milo! And interesting, why is there a dry spot where my thighs were?

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.