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 again...it 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!