Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Are You Listening?

My mother has been wanting to write a guest blog for a little while. So, here's a great story about why your horse isn't gonna lie, even if you think they might....

Do you ever forget to listen to what your horse is telling you? Sometimes, it’s just that you don’t quite understand what they’re trying to communicate. McKinna has been trying to tell me something for three months now, and her communication has been growing steadily louder.

McKinna hates the saddle I bought this fall.It is now known as The Evil Saddle.

McKinna is small (14.3), but she needs a wide tree saddle. She’s shaped like an Arab through the back – fairly wide and flat. It's a bit like riding a barrel, albeit a small one. We figured this out quite some time ago, purchasing a very nice Stubben with a regular tree. It worked nicely, but tilted down in the back, a pretty common symptom of a too-narrow tree.

It wasn't pinching her, so we improvised by using a back lift pad under the Stubben. That actually worked pretty well, but being of the mindset that you shouldn’t need pads to make your saddle fit, we started looking for a wide tree dressage saddle. Since Pandora had just joined us we needed another saddle if we wanted to ride together anyway. I found an inexpensive, used, wide tree saddle at a tack swap late in the fall. I tried it on McKinna and it fit just like it was supposed to. Perfect!

Late fall turned into winter and we went about our business. I didn’t ride a whole lot in November or December – holidays/weather etc. In January, the kid really started focusing on Pandora, so I got McKinna all to myself. She's my horse in the first place, after all!

I went back to what I’d been (rather successfully) doing in the fall. We had established a wonderful, light, relaxed walk and trot with a beautifully developing contact. When I began riding wasn't there. Well, it seemed we had regressed. Not too surprising, I thought, since we’d been out of practice.

We plugged away. By mid-February I was finally starting to realize something wasn’t right. This horse under me was not my trusty steed! Instead of going in her nice relaxed way, she had become prone to rushing around on her forehand with her head high. She’d also become very non-responsive to my seat and legs. I found myself using my reins way too much, trying to steer and rate her speed. Now, mind you, McKinna is one of the most obedient, cheerful horses on the face of the earth. (I don’t think she even knows what a buck is.) She never truly acted out while under saddle, so I didn’t get it. I began to have serious doubts about my riding abilities. I was thinking, what the heck am I doing to confuse her so much?? I had my daughter get on her and she experienced much the same, though she was able to push her into a little contact and bend. She agreed to school her for me some more and I continued to think my poor riding was to blame.

Fortunately, shortly after this I decided to try out a saddle that a fellow boarder had for sale. What a strange experience! It was obviously a poor fit -- too high in the back, too narrow in the gullet -- but McKinna seemed to like it. I even commented to my daughter that McKinna liked the saddle. I could tell in one ride. However, since it fit her so poorly, we decided against it. I went back to The Evil Saddle. McKinna went back to rushing around in her best giraffe imitation.

The light bulb finally came on about a week later when she started getting girthy. She would pin her ears and threaten to nip at me while I tightened the girth, though she knew better than to bite. Where did this nasty mare come from?! McKinna has never offered to be this rude to a human. Something's clearly not right...and it's tied to the saddle.......DOH!! I get it!!

Could it be that this saddle that fits her so nicely was somehow uncomfortable for her?? I decided to try her in the original dressage saddle, which had since been designated as Pandora's. I put it on her with the riser pad and went for a ride.

I could tell THE FIRST RIDE. Back was the soft expression and relaxed, swinging gaits. Her rhythm was steady and smooth. I rode her in this saddle twice, then tried out the jumping saddle we have for McKinna just to see. Even though dressage is my thing and my daughter is the only one who rides her in that saddle, her demeanor was exactly the same. Stubben with riser pad or jumping saddle -- makes no difference, as long as I don't use The Evil Saddle. She does her job, happy as can be. She trots around, listening (for the most part!) to my seat and legs. I have my trusty steed back.

We were so convinced that The Evil Saddle fit her, because from all appearances, it did. But no matter how much you think you're right, we've learned that the horse always has the final say. It just took us a long time to hear what she was trying to tell us.

Thankfully, since she's such a sweet girl, she’s already forgiven me.

It's true, I saw it all with my own eyes ;-) There's a picture post coming up soon! The girls are in good weight and looking good.

Still, I hate shedding season. Hate hate hate. Especially when I forget that it's shedding season, and I wear chapstick out to the barn!


Promise said...

With a horse as well-behaved and even-tempered as you've described McKinna, you have to listen really closely. I wish I could say the same for my demon mare, who is simply put, not shy about telling me something hurts. This is good and bad!

I am glad you figured out the problem and can take steps to resolve it. I'm sure McKinna is glad she finally got through to her people, too!

TallDarkAndSpotty said...

Great post! I've just been dealing with that with a new bit on my guy.

By the way, I was thinking about how much I LOVE shedding season because you get to see your horse change into something sleek and shiny in just a few short weeks. At least I was thinking it until you mentioned the chapstick thing. Its SO TRUE! And so nasty every time...

Patches said...

I was just cursing myself last night for forgetting it is shedding season and putting chapstick on as I got out of the truck to unload my ponies. :) That is the WORST!

I totally understand the saddle thing too. I just mentioned my saddle thing a little in my post yesterday. I spent some good money on a beautiful Reinsman that actually fits my Midori and is sooo comfy to ride in. But as we got into the midst of drill season and I went to throw it on her at a competition, she turned around and bit me! Apparently, she completely forgot her manners, or was just so pissed off about the saddle that she couldn't contain herself. Same me thinking and I realized she really doesn't like it. Back to my trusty Circle Y that doesn't fit so hot, but she doesn't mind.

Sheesh! They just don't appreciate our efforts! ;)

Anonymous said...

An interesting thought! I've never thought about it that way. I wonder why McKinna likes the ill fitting saddle?

manymisadventures said...

I do love that they're getting sleek and shiny. Soon they will be so, so easy to clean! Though Pandora's already pretty slick. But I hate having hair in my teeth.

I find it strange that you've had a similar experience, Patches. I am far from an expert saddle-fitter of course, so I am sure there was something that I just wasn't able to see. But, to all appearances, The Evil Saddle fit better than the Stubben.

That being said, as I mentioned, the Stubben does not pinch her in any way. Even when sitting in the saddle with the riser pad underneath, nothing is digging into her back at the front of the's just not quite the perfect fit, without the pad, that I want.

But if the horse tells you so, I guess you should believe it!

By the way, McKinna has been doing great with a girl who is going to ride her at the Show Jumping rally. She looks like a little school pony - adorable. I kind of take it for granted, but it's not every horse that you can toss a strange rider on and have her go almost exactly as she goes for me...but that's why we call her The Wonder Pony!

Sydney said...

Saddle fit can be so frustrating. I swear though Mckinna and my mare Indigo are sisters. Both the same height (Indigo may have an inch on Mckinna), same breed, same colour, same human loving nature, same round, hard to fit back. Indigo has never pinned her ears or offered to bite someone but if she ever did wow would that ever be the loudest scream coming from her.

Anonymous said...

Well, Ebay is the first place I go to for saddles. I have bought and sold so many in an effort to find something suitable for me and the many different types of horses I ride. You can find some really great deals if you know exactly what you're looking for.
After buying and selling about 10 different saddles I finally gave up and got a treeless. First I got a Barefoot London, loved it but didn't fit me quite right so I sold it back on Ebay. Then I got a Heather Moffett Vogue Dressage and I fell in love. I will never go back to treed saddles again! They also have a jumping version that I really want.

Anyway, I'm glad you got rid of The Evil Saddle and recognized that it was causing a problem. After going through so many saddles I've realized that there are many many options available for saddle fit. The new Thorowgood saddles have lots of fitting options and are really reasonably priced (Dover Saddlery).

manymisadventures said...

Yup - we do a lot of buy/sell on ebay. It's the only reason we own a Stubben, because we got such a good deal on it!

I think I remember hearing some good things about Thorowgood saddles. I'll have to check them out, though we're not really in the market for a new saddle at this point. Probably the next thing will be sending Pandora's jumping saddle to a fitter to have knee rolls added (it's old school: pancake-flat, rock-hard!).

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