the spot

The first week I moved into the dorms my freshman year of college, a new friend recommended a book to me.  I can’t remember the name of book or author any more, but it was a kindof philosophical exploration into taking mind-altering drugs in ceremonies reminiscent of Native American rituals and the mental, physical, and spiritual results of these endeavours.  I only got partway through the book, so I don’t know the extent of what the author discovered or wrote about.  But one thing that did stand out to me in the first third of the text was the idea that (even while not high on peyote) one could sense the energy of an empty space and find places in that space that were more or less “welcoming” to the spirit.  The author described slowly crawling around a mostly empty room in the dark, and finding that he was constantly repelled from a certain area of the room by feelings of cold and hostility that crept over him while he was there.  In one specific place, he was overcome with warmth and tranquility whenever he sat there.

So of course my new friend and I took it upon ourselves to find “our spots” in her dorm room.  We asked her roommate if she could please give us an hour of privacy, as we were going to be exploring spiritually and finding “our spots”.  Peyote-less, we turned out the lights, crawled around in the dark, bumped in to things, and proclaimed that we felt positive or negative energy in certain areas.  I don’t remember if I really did ever find a space in the room that felt peaceful and welcoming — probably not, we do have a raging skepticorn over here — but I do know that it never amounted to much, since it wasn’t my room anyway.  Upon emerging with dirty hands and knees, when asked by other people on the floor what we were doing, we exuberantly exclaimed “finding our spots!”

They were thinking of totally different spots.

Not unlike this mystical experience, though, I found a pretty magical spot in my saddle earlier this week.  Murray and I were working on walk-trot transitions while I listened to the Dressage Radio Show.  The guest on at the time was talking about being able t control the placement of the hind feet, and really being able to sense the placement of the hind feet as they move through space.  The idea  being that you can only influence the foot if you know where it is in space, so you can time the correction appropriately, and exactly where it is and where you need to move it.

While thinking about hind feet in the transitions, I also started to think about the transitions themselves.  I always want Murray to move up into a more forward trot, but what that sometimes results in is him pulling himself into a messy, downhill trot that I then have to work to correct.  Instead of letting him dump forward in the transition, I kept the contact there and asked Murray to come up right after each transition if he ran down through them (um, I think? I don’t totally remember).

equitatin’ so gud

I was also focusing on my leg position throughout the ride.  My left leg has been hurting after riding lately, and I noticed that I weight it differently in the stirrup, putting more weight on the toe of my left foot.  This stretches out the tendon (or whatever) on the outside of my leg, and makes it difficult in general to use my lower leg.  So I was working hard to keep the weight even on the ball of my foot and bring my toes in.

At some point in all of this I brought both of my legs back a touch to help turn my toes in, and suddenly my position felt perfect.  My whole leg could be on Murray without gripping or squeezing or flailing, but if I needed to, I could pressure my calf or my thigh independently or together.  I was balanced through my thigh and knee, but I still felt like my heel was sinking down.  I felt like I was sitting in the deepest possible place in the saddle, and felt connected to Murray’s back more thoroughly than I ever have before.

IT WAS SO. FREAKING. COOL.


throwback to feeling cool on my horse for like the first time ever

Murray maybe liked it too, or at least had gotten to the point of the ride where he was willing to just acquiesce to my requests, because we had some fantastic trot transitions in both directions.  Toward the end I decided to throw in a canter transition too, and he just rose up under my seat like Poseidon out of the sea and stepped right into a killer, uphill canter.  I wasn’t even thinking about keeping him ahead of my leg, and there he was — right on the aids.

only, think of him as a benevolent poseidon

I’m not exactly sure how I did it, or how to make it happen again.  I tried a bit in my jump saddle and couldn’t quite achieve the same level of zen.  But now I have a new feeling to chase!

dressage lesson: all the feels

Murray and I had a fantastically productive dressage lesson with Tina last week.  It wasn’t so much that we worked on new or exciting exercises or revolutionized how the horse went, but it confirmed that we are doing correct work, how to take that work to the next level, and that my feel for what is right is developing and becoming more accurate.  The lesson also gave me some good data on a little experiment I was running last week, but more on that later.


no relevant media from the actual lesson,
but I did the same exercises the next day with only slightly less success

We started out by addressing my (wildest) hope that I am finally able to actually feel when Murray is bending through his ribcage, and not just falling all over himself laterally.  Tina had me put the beast on a large circle, then shrink the circle in and increase the bend in his body as appropriate.  I evidently can feel true bend now (HOORAY!) because I managed to keep Murray bent on a 15m circle, even though we were tracking right (harder direction) and it was our first circle post warm-up.  Tina encouraged me to bring the circle in a little more and push for even more bend.  She wanted me to ride the edge of Murray’s ability to bend without falling apart, in order to enter that zone of maximum learning and skill building (my words! totally my weirdo words).  We got to about a 12m circle before Murray’s haunches started to lose it around the circle, and so I slowly let him back out to the 15m-ish circle before carefully and slowly leg yielding back out.

Before we switched directions I told Tina that one thing I was struggling with in this part of our education is understanding, and obviously helping Murray understand, the difference between an inside leg that asks for bend and an inside leg that asks him to move over.  She told me to think of the inside leg that asks for bend as more of a toned or firmed leg, and the leg that asks for lateral movement to actually push.  This exercise, she pointed out, would help Murray to develop that understanding of submission to the inside leg for bend vs. movement.

i only tracked left in this ride, but just pretend my work to the right was equally neato

When we changed directions to the left Murray was much more competent at the exercise, and we managed to get down to about a 10m circle with a fair bit of effort on both of our parts.  Because Murray struggles more to the right, we went back that direction once more.  Tina reminded me to keep Murray’s haunches in with my outside leg — though I probably did not need to swing it quite so far back, as the first time I tried that he promptly cantered.  But after one attempt left, he was also more capable to the right.

We moved on to the next big challenge I see: developing sit/collection at the canter.  I really struggle with this because it’s something we need for both jumping and dressage.  I also feel like Murray used to be able to sit and shrink his stride at the canter really easily when jumping, usually while  maintaining an uphill  balance.  But lately it seems that his smaller strides have been very downhill and inverted — maybe they have always been that way, but I’ve only just developed a good enough feel to tell the difference.  I also don’t know how much collection I should be aiming for — Murray obviously wants me to think that I’m being too mean/it’s too hard. But progress is hard, kiddo.


i read something about thinking of your elbows as “weighted” and tried to envision it in these rides to stop them from floating off into outer space. instead i way overcorrected and put my hands in my lap. moderation is needed. Murray looks cute though!

We cantered on the big circle, then slowed it down and brought Murray into as small and collected of a canter circle as I could navigate — probably around 10 meters.  The first time we did it was incredible, because Murray was listening really well, but wasn’t anticipating the smaller circle.  So he just sat as much as he was able and we managed a pretty good little circle.  Tina said that I should try to make the next circle even smaller and slow Murray down even more, shortening the sweep of my seat to keep the strides quick and small.  It took me a couple of repetitions to get this down, but on our third try I felt some really uphill and controlled strides from Murray on that little circle that made me very happy.

We struggled more tracking right once again, especially because Murray lost all the bend on our first small/slow circle and dropped his back.  Even though I’m trying not to hang on the right/inside rein, I can’t let Murray lose the bend through these exercises.  For the lesson Tina had me go back to our old way of overbending the neck using more inside rein, but I imagine that as we practice I will be able to transition to a lighter inside rein again.


heading in to the tiny circle. i made my transitions from 20m to tiny circle too abrupt when i repeated this exercise, and the quality suffered for it. so i know for future practice to give murray a little more spiral-down time to get into the small circle.

We ended with a couple of counter canter loops which were seriously our best to date.  They were shallow-ish as there is a big pile of poles and standards stacked in a teepee right at X, and I didn’t want to tackle going past/around X for the first time when Murray was tired and had a bunch of stuff to potentially spook at.  But for the first time our shallow loops in both directions were controlled and balanced, and we kept the tempo.  HUGE progress for us, since I’ve been struggling with downhill running through the counter canter for basically two years (also known as, I suck at counter canter and probably started it too early).

Another huge win for us: not once during this lesson did Tina have to remind me not to nag with my seat. FOR ONCE!

in love with how good Murray  looks in this pic

It was such a great lesson in terms of confirming my feel (for bend and collection) and to do exercises where I can replicate the feeling later on.  Obviously, because the pics came from there, I did these exercises again the next day with not too much degradation of quality — though of course I did make some all new mistakes to learn from.

A few other notes from the lesson and subsequent ride:

  • keep riding seat to hands/don’t get pulled forward and down in canter (especially when trying to collect)
  • ride the extended transition in the canter in the exercise also to develop more elasticity
  • hands and elbows more forward (not so bad in the lesson, but they were a bit too far back the next day)
  • likewise, shorten the reins a little for steadier contact
  • a touch of haunches in is ok for now, while developing better bend
  • still need crispness/clarity/lack of static in the canter transitions – but they are better
  • I need to work on quieting the forward-backward movement of my leg when giving different cues
  • try to develop a more uphill half halt in the canter collection
  • eventually, the goal is to get the canter collection from seat alone — but that is for a year from now! for now, develop strength and suppleness in this work with lots of support from me.
  • work the weak side more, but with lots of breaks — both walk breaks, and breaks where you work the stronger side
  • who cares about sugar-induced navicular if lifesavers keep Murray happy and compliant?!

there is no try

The quality of my rides in the last week week have run the gamut from really great, progress-making, funtimes to inexplicable shit show.  I’ve been focused on breaking some bad habits — hanging on the inside rein, letting Murray fall through his right shoulder — while developing the strength and discipline we need to think about the 1-3 and 2-1 tests.  The learning curve in First level is actually really steep.  In 1-1, you’re like “oh great, w/t/c in straight lines and circles and maybe a tiny bit of lengthening” and suddenly in 1-3 you’re doing counter canter and getting ready for canter-walk.


much readiness for canter-walk transitions

Anyway.  Megan got on me a while back about not hanging on my inside rein, so I’ve been trying to very consciously release the inside rein while still maintaining the bend and not letting Murray fall all over himself.  It’s especially hard when you use the right rein almost exclusively to keep your horse upright tracking right and prevent him from falling out tracking left.  It requires a lot more push with my inside leg — the whole leg, not just my heel or calf — than I’m used to.  Associated with falling through his right shoulder, we have three problems with working on a circle (because why not): 1) too much neck bend, 2) the haunches too far to the inside, 3) haunches too far to the outside, almost spinning around the inside front foot (a bigger problem to the right than to the left).  I can finally feel a proper bend, avoid all three of these traps, and somehow not haul on the inside rein while doing it (pro tip: it actually helps if you don’t haul on the inside rein when trying to do this) for like… a circle or so.  (This was the really great part, that was a big hurdle for both of us.)

This was all fine for a few rides.  I focused on making my body do the right things and giving Murray plenty of praise when he responded correctly.  A little bit to the left, and a lot to the right (our worse direction) with lots of walk breaks.  It’s a lot harder for both of us at the canter, but we chipped away at it and worked on big figures and it got better for more than a few strides at a time.

sometimes we can kinda do the things

There were a few minutes of bullshit here and there, but it seemed like it was mostly at the beginning of our rides. One ride took more than a moment, but I let Murray get down with his bad self a little, then went back to asking correctly and expecting him to respond correctly.  It wasn’t instantaneous, but we got there.  There may have been some inside rein hauling and a really open mouth and some really awkward tongue flapping.

Then I got it into my (stupid?) head that we should start to incorporate a little more collection and sit into the canter.  I put four poles on an 18 meter circle, measured out three strides between each one for just a little stride compression, and planned to work the circle once we were good and warmed up.  When we trotted through the poles it was fine — Murray maintained a steady-ish rhythm, and I tried to plan the next quarter of my circle to maintain consistent bend throughout.  Sometimes it worked.  Sometimes the rhythm broke down.  Some circles were prettier than others.

The canter was an unmitigated disaster.  His stride was a touch big when we entered the pole circle, so we came to the first pole a little off of the distance.  It spiraled down from there, and Murray would launch over the pole to a long landing, which made turning more difficult, which resulted in more launching, or he break to a trot, or swap leads.  Just messy messy mess.

Back to the trot it was, but this time it was really ugly.  Murray anticipated the poles and went through all kinds of theatrics — to what end, I’m really not sure.  At one point he jammed a tiny stride in front of the pole, totally inverted, and then managed to stomp on the pole with both hind feet.  Talent.

This is my fault.  When we work on poles in a circle I celebrate the most minor successes — if we get through them with one stride between them, no matter how flat, strungout, or growing the pace, I consider it good.  But it’s not good.  I’m rewarding us both for “trying”, not necessarily for succeeding.  And I say “trying”, because it’s hardly an honest effort on either of our parts to complete the exercise precisely or successfully.  Yoda came to me in this moment.

I slowed us down, way down.  I posted very small, kept my legs on, and pushed Murray around that circle into the outside rein.  I made it a circle.  I made sure the pace remained the same.  Then we cantered.  Before we entered the circle I made sure that our canter was small and collected, and I made the circle a little larger so we could fit four in between the poles. And lo and behold – we could make the distances.  And a round circle.  And keep a steady pace.  And not rely on the inside rein.

Huzzah!

More interestingly, Murray totally stepped up to this exercise when I demanded more of him.  The exercise isn’t hard, but it does require that we both think, and plan, and don’t spaz out or sabotage our own ankles for no reason. Murray didn’t insist that this exercise was too hard for him, we did it successfully, and he didn’t need me to baby him through it.  From now on, we aren’t going to try exercises, we are going to do exercises.

This isn’t a hard ask.  Select appropriate exercises.  Do the exercises correctly.  Reward success.

camelot: dressage day

Friday morning dawned drizzly and awful at Camelot.  I’d opted to stable Murray in the pipe panels (12×24) there instead of a stall (12×12), because a) we’ve done that a lot and he’s always fine and b) he literally tried to dig his way out of his stall at Twin.  I was regretting that decision while sitting in my car and simultaneously listening to the rain hammering on my roof and looking at my weather app telling me there was a 0% chance of rain in Oroville.

a 0% chance of rain, huh?

The yellow cell passed us fairly quickly though, and other than being wet, Murray was fine.  The rain also provided me with an excellent excuse not to put terribly much effort into cleaning him.  It also made braiding easier, since his mane was pre-soaked!  While braiding Murray’s forelock I discovered a huge scab at his poll, which did make forelock braiding a little challenging, but I didn’t let Murray get away with being an ass (hanging off of his forelock with one hand) and he eventually snuggled in to my chest and let me gently finish the braid.

After braiding I watched Alyssa and Bacon and a few other of the training riders.  Alyssa put in a lovely test.  Everyone was conservative on the lengthenings because the arena was sloppy from the rain.  Watching a few more tests, I realised that people were riding Training B.  And then I was like “oh shit.”  I texted a friend, and she confirmed for me that yes, we were in fact riding BN-B.  I scurried off to learn my test.

Murray tacked up quietly, and I had given myself enough time to change, do ground work, and lunge before heading in to warm up.  This was a good call, since Murray had plenty of opinions on the lunge line, but settled down fairly quickly.  From the lunging arena to the warm up the footing had a pretty drastic change, and Murray let me know his displeasure.  He settled in to warm up nicely though, and even after a few walk  breaks went back to work without a problem.

feat Alyssa!

We were running early, so I headed in to the ring early.  The footing changed again from warm up to the ring, and Murray immediately tensed up as we walked around the ring.  Extra warm up time wouldn’t have helped us, but a bit more space to circle at the bottom of the arena and a few minutes to do it in would have been nice.  Alas, it was not to be.  We trotted down centerline, and Murray decided that he wasn’t really down with the situation, so broke into a canter.  I asked him to trot again, and he was like “maybe just canter tinier? Tiny, tiny canter?”  We did eventually trot, but then I added insult to injury by having him turn right at C instead of left, and his annoyance with me mounted.

that neck, tho!

Despite having never practiced this test all the way through, Murray was great!  He got annoyed a few times and hopped or spazzed out when something unexpected came up, but for the most part he was incredibly rideable and listened to me.  We had plenty of Murray moments sprinkled throughout, like whenever I put my leg on or changed gait.  But his protests were brief and he got back to work very quickly after each one.  The best protest was after the stupid short free walk — which I thought would be easier because there is less time to get distracted, but it is harder because there’s less time to develop stretch and march!!!! — when I asked Murray to pick up the trot.  He squealed, leaped in the air, and then we trotted down centerline minus my left stirrup.

murray: flying change between A and K!
nicole: that is not a movement!!!!

The judge had been generous all morning, and I (kinda for the first time!!) felt like she was equally generous to me.  For movements where we pulled it together quickly, she scored us for the better work we had done.  The score sheet ended up with a mix of 7s/6s and 3s/4s, so we were either solidly above average or super inadequate.  I ended up with a 42, and honestly probably deserved more like a 46 — easier to acknowledge when given the more generous of the two scores, though.  This was about on par with how generous the judge was being to other riders in my division.  It also put me solidly in last place.

new favourite test comment: “not today!”

Megan and Kate had come up on their way to Horse Expo to watch me and Alyssa, and we all got a good laugh out of Murray’s display of great talent.  (I think one of them may even have gotten some good pics of Murray’s objections!) He clearly knew he had a blogging audience and had to put on his best behavior for them!! But honestly, how could I be annoyed at him for this?  He did everything I asked, he just did it with flair.  And while I’d love to have the type of horse who trots over all different footing without batting an eye, he isn’t that horse.  There’s no point wishing for something that doesn’t exist.  In the end, I’m very happy that we stayed in the ring (there’s a canter transition after a diagonal where I was legitimately worried we’d bolt out over the arena PVC) and that I kept riding.


proof!

We have been on such a roll lately — every outing we take, he becomes more rideable and relaxed, and I get better at thinking and riding to ask for better performance.  We still have a lot of work to do — Murray is still tense through the base of his neck and not totally through — but all of that work feels achievable and within reach.  This pony has come a long way from the one who couldn’t even canter in the arena because he was so tense.  And I’ve come a long way from the rider who melted down because she couldn’t get her pony to canter in the arena because she was so tense.  Seriously, it made me so happy.  So, so happy.


i loaf my pony!!!!!

ucd schooling dressage show

Because Peony is an enabler, a few weeks ago she encouraged me to sign up for a schooling show at Davis with the tantalizing offer of being my ride.  Why not? I thought.  Murray and I need the practice, and it will be fun to see how we stand up to pure dressage judging!  I’m pretty sure I still remember T3 and 1-1 from that November that I had to scratch this same show, right?

Wrong, Nicole, wrong. You do not remember T3 and 1-1 except for the first few moves, minus the halt at X.  You do not have time to practice, and seeing how you stand up to pure dressage judging is really not necessary for an eventer!


we r so magnificentz

The night before the show, Murray got some kind of weird scratch on his back that went just under the saddle region.  Perfect!  I thought.  This is a great excuse to scratch!!  But my barn manager ruined all my plans by inspecting the scrape, poking Murray rather violently, and telling me to ride.  So ride I did.

On Saturday morning, Peony’s husband kindly picked me up bright and early (second theme of the weekend: horse husbands being awesome), and Murray politely loaded directly into the trailer.  We picked up Peony, Spot loaded like a champ, and we were on our way.  I will admit, it’s very nice to have a show venue just 20 minutes down the road with the trailer, albeit a show that is frequently a little poorly organized (this year was no exception, but they were very flexible and accommodating, which more than made up for it).

When we got to UCD, we checked in and unloaded the ponies.  Murray and I went for a little graze and groundwork stroll while Peony got Spot ready for her T1 and T2 tests.  I didn’t ask Murray to do too many of our groundwork exercises, but did ask him to stop and go and back a few times, with plenty of cookies as a reward.  I set him up at the trailer with our new blocker tie ring and a hay bag full of alfalfa.  Yep.  Alfalfa.  I gave my pony a forbidden food to shut him up at the trailer.  I regret nothing (because I haven’t ridden since that day).

“5.5 – stretch never achieved” (that is accurate)

It was around this time that one of the organizers came up to me and pointed out a grievous (her word! but accurate) error she had made.  In scheduling the times, she had scheduled one ride at 10:24 and the following ride at 11:30. So really, I could go an hour earlier than my ride time — as early as 10:39 — if I wanted!  I looked at my watch. 10:10.  There was no universe in which Murray and I were ready to go at 10:39.  Fortunately, the organizers were very flexible and worked hard to make the ride times run smoothly for everyone.

After Peony’s rides, I headed over to Murray and quickly threw on a saddle.  He had pulled all the way to the end of the leadrope at the trailer, but thanks to the blocker ring was just wandering around on an extremely long leash.  Mostly it seemed like he was trying to reach the water bucket that Peony and I had put down for Spot.  Tacking up went really well.  Andy and Peony both commented on how mellow and relaxed Murray looked compared to previous outings at UCD (and elsewhere).  He really was just chilling.


“6.0, some lengthening shown”

We popped into one of the small turnouts and lunged both ways with no dramatics.  Murray just… walked, trotted, and cantered with no dramatics or theatrics.  So I walked him over to the warm up by the ring, and chatted with the organizers about my rides.  I was ahead of time, so I rode ahead of time and they said I could go in for my T3 test and immediately follow it up with the 1-1 test.  Super!  That was the best possible outcome!

As we warmed up I tried to keep a few things that I’ve been working on in mind.  I didn’t give up on my position or the reins — no giving it away just because someone doesn’t want contact.  Same thing for trot and canter cues: I know how to ask Murray for them correctly, and he knows what they mean, so there’s no reason to back off just because I don’t get what I want immediately.  And Murray respected that.  There was a moment when I felt his back back get a little tight in the canter, so I just stood up in my stirrups and let him canter around on a loose rein.

he’s looking thin here which really annoys me. our barn had to switch hay types, so Murray’s on a self-imposed starvation diet again. such a freaking diva.

Our T3 test went smoothly.  Really, both tests went smoothly.  The extra time you have to ask for canter departs between A and F (instead of at A, for example) really let me prepare and ask correctly and not give up the cue just because Murray didn’t step into the canter immediately.  But we went in, he put his head down, and did the thing! It was so cool!

After the test, the judge commented that Murray was tense in the canter and he needed more suppleness there.  Our cadence and steadiness was evident, but the suppleness was not.  She suggested a bit more hip and seat to get him bending.  That was fine by  me!  The 1-1 test has more bending than the T3 one does, so I made that my goal to improve upon for the next test.

case in point: tense and somewhat horrifyingly upside-down canter.
this got a “6,5 – bold effort” for the lengthening though

Doing the two tests back to back was HUGELY beneficial to us.  Because Murray never thought we were done working, he just stayed on task.  And because I got the feedback on my riding without a big gap, I could incorporate it immediately.  I was especially please that Murray didn’t break to canter in either of the trot lengthenings, and that he was so good at coming back after the canter lengthenings.

I was incredibly happy with both of the tests even before I saw the scores.  I’d gone in expecting to score in the 50s (I like to set my sights low to avoid disappointment) an work through some weird dramatics.  That was the whole point of going to a schooling show, to get the drama llama out of the way and into work mode.  And instead, Murray turned up worked with me!

he fucking dropped the mic on 3 of our 4 halts too — this one got an 8

I got a sweet flow chart drawn on the comments section of my test (it makes a lot of sense, actually) and came home with 2nd and 3rd in 1-1 and T3 respectively!  This has obviously got me pretty jazzed for Camelot this weekend.  If Murray and I can keep it together half as well at Camelot as we did at UCD, we will be in GREAT shape!


click (individually) to embiggen


click to embiggen

diy: paint it black

Last year — nay, nearly 18 months ago! — Amanda posted about re-dying her Childeric black, and I became strangely obsessed with the idea.  I even offered to pull it off on my trainer’s lesson dressage saddle, which is looking rather greeny-browner than black after many, many, many sweaty lesson butts have graced it.  I never got around to the project for my trainer, but once I got my Anky I knew that I would be embarking upon this particular DIY.  I followed Amanda’s excellent instructions pretty closely, but encountered enough little issues that I thought it worth another write up.

Image result for rolling rock

First, gather your adult beverage.

I have been informed that no DIY project that starts without an adult beverage is worth embarking upon.  I chose a beverage with a horse on the logo.

 

 

 

Second, gather your non-drinkable supplies.

You will need:

A couple of notes on supplies. You can’t ship deglazer to California, so I had to look around for an alternate stripping agent.  A quick search on some leather work forums and a look at the Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for Fiebing’s deglazer, and it’s mostly ethyl acetate with some ethyl alcohol.  However, the good peoples of the internet seemed to think that denatured alcohol would do just fine, and to move up to ethyl acetate only if the finish was particularly resistant.

Amanda also used foam brushes for a few parts of the application, and I used them for a few steps also, but found that they weren’t really the best tool for the job.  Microfiber cloths worked much better, but the ones I ordered from Amazon had to be cut down to a more manageable size.

Step three, deglaze.

My saddle was not in the worst, greenest state, but it was fairly faded and had one noticeably funny spot on the seat.  Based on the location, I can only assume that the previous owner of my saddle leaned back rather far in the tack and the center belt loop on her breeches made this spot.  More importantly, however, I’m sure that any and all finish that had ever graced its leather was also gone.  I rubbed and rubbed with the denatured alcohol on a rag, but didn’t see very much change.  But I went for it on all parts of the saddle to make sure that the dye would soak in well.

When using deglazer or ethyl acetate DO use gloves and work in a well ventilated area. This stuff is not good for you and can make its way into your liver through your skin or lungs.

After this step and slopping ethyl alcohol all over my saddle, I let it sit out overnight to evaporate all the spare alcohol and go finish off that case of horse-themed beverage.

Step the fourth: paint it black.

The next day, you should start your saddle dying playlist.


after two coats of dye

The leather dye came with a little brush applicator which worked really nicely to get dye into all the nooks and crannies. It also worked pretty well to get dye on the bigger areas, but in this step I also used a foam brush to get the dye on.  Amanda recommended three thin coats, which she evened out by rubbing the dye in with a rag after putting dye on to one section.  I was not that competent at making only “thin coats” with the dye, but fortunately, I found that unless you had majorly uneven sections with huge differences in the amount of dye applied, it pretty much evened out as it dried.

This part was a little challenging since I had to do the underside of the panels, which required a little creative wrangling while I painted and rubbed it down.  I left the saddle upside down to dry for a little while and imbibed some more.

For the rest of the saddle, I moved back and forth between different sections to let one area dry before applying the next coat.  My saddle soaked up a fair bit of dye, and after two coats everywhere looked good to me except for panels and knee rolls.  I ended up ordering two more bottles of dye, because I offered to do my MIL’s old Kieffer at the same time.  Since both panels are dual flap, there is like 2x the surface area of a monoflap to get covered so… this makes sense.  The bottles are so cheap that it wasn’t exactly a hardship to crack open a second bottle.

panels and knee rolls after the second coat

You should also know that the dye is super, super thin — thinner than water — and will flick all over your face if you sweep a brush toward yourself.  You may need to take off a layer of skin to get the dye off your face before the pizza party.

You can also see in the pictures that I painted over the logo buttons. I didn’t intend to, but I accidentally did it on one side and just didn’t care about the other. I do plan to pull this extra dye off, probably using a q-tip and some nail polish remover.  The D-rings and stainless buttons on the saddle wiped completely clean without problem.

Step five: Tan-kote.

I let the dye dry for a full 24 hours, then gently buffed the saddle with a microfiber cloth before applying the tan-kote.  This step was stupidly easy: pour a little tan-kote (the consistency of Elmer’s glue) onto a microfiber rag, and apply to saddle all over.  You can see the leather soaking up the tan-kote and getting a healthy-looking luster to it as you go.  I’m definitely not known for my less-is-more philosophy, and used a fair bit of tan-kote in this step.

When I buffed the saddle dry almost no dye was coming off of it, but as I applied the tan-kote there was plenty of dye coming out on the rag.  I let the tan-kote dry overnight before moving on to the resolene.

Sixth: Seal and finish.

Resolene is a sealant and finisher, and Amanda recommended that you apply it in full sunlight.  Warning: do not apply this in full sunlight on an 80+ degree day.  The resolene was drying so fast on the saddle that I couldn’t rub out any of the uneven spots.  This was also a step where the foam brushes were useless: they left streaky marks of finish and weird bubbles on the panels and seat especially.

Six-point-five-th: redo steps 1-5 where you borked it the first time

I actually did such a poor job with the resolene that I ended up stripping the seat and starting over.  I suspect that because the seat is so smooth and flat you can see any imperfections in the finish much more clearly (though ultimately, they’ll spend most of their time under my ass soooo maybe it was unnecessary).  But really… it looked absolutely awful.

I had to work a fair bit harder with the ethyl alcohol to strip the resolene off of the seat, and really scrub it on there, but it did come out eventually.  I let it dry, slapped on some more dye and then tan-kote, and went back to sealing the rest of the saddle.

The best way I found to apply the resolene was to pour a small amount onto a small rag (I cut my Amazon microfiber cloths into quarters).  I had folded the rag into a sponge-like shape so the application surface was smooth.  Then I rubbed that resolene across the saddle in one direction.  After moving indoors, I just did this in really good lighting, and for the knee rolls and flaps it was fine.  For the seat, I worked carefully outdoors in the shade one morning.

It is also really essential to let the layers of resolene dry properly between applications.  When the resolene was partially dried, I ended up smudging it around with the next layer (leading to the above snafu).  I’d give it at least an hour between layers, and if you’re doing this as a summer project, avoid doing it in the heat of the day.  I’m not really sure, but it seemed like the resolene dried out enough to get tacky really fast, but didn’t really “set” in the heat.   I ended up doing 3 layers on the seat, knee rolls, and tops of the flaps, 2 layers on the inside of the flaps, and 3 on the panels and underside of the flaps.

At left, my freshly dyed and sealed seat done much more carefully. The funny belt loop smudge is almost gone, and you can’t see it out of really good light.

Once again, you could probably go easier on the resolene than I did.  It gives the leather a great, shiny finish — the back of my saddle almost looks patent now — but it also makes the leather a little stiff and squeaky.

Seventh: finishing touches.

I didn’t even buff the saddle again or apply lederbalsam before riding, because I have a dressage show on Saturday that I really, really needed to practice my test at least once for.  The seat now has a little smudge in it from the buffing action of my butt, and the resolene around the leathers and where my leg goes has worn off already.  Honestly, this didn’t surprise me.  I wouldn’t (and won’t) re-seal those parts of the flaps in the future.  There was also a fair bit of color transfer from the underside of the saddle on to my saddle pad, just around the bottom and edges of the flaps — I chose an old pad for this ride for that exact purpose.

Overall, I definitely did not do as good of a job as Amanda.  The project required some time, planning, and thought, and wasn’t just a straight up weekend project for me (but it might be for you if you drink fewer horse beers).  My saddle was out of commission for five days, including fixing my resolene mess up.  However, considering that my saddle looks AMAZING now that it’s done, it was completely worth it.

10/10, will definitely do this again. If only I can find something else to dye…

 

 

creeping uphill

Another big life event, another week off of work for Murray.  It’s our pattern, but he doesn’t seem to hate it. That week was actually punctuated with a few days of riding as I evaluate the trial saddle, but none of them were particularly strenuous.  We come back from each mini break pretty quickly, and I’ve been very pleased with the progress made in between mini breaks.  Maybe this really is just a schedule that works for certain princess ponies?  Or maybe our new routine of ground work + lunging –> riding is really working for us.


being cute at Twin

We spent most of last week trying to rebalance Murray from totally on the forehand and dragging himself around, to some semblance of moving uphill.  On Monday I felt like we were cantering downhill during our warmup, and that I could slide off of Murray’s neck at any moment.  It was supremely unpleasant, not only because I know that’s not how we’re supposed to go, but because it’s really just rather uncomfortable.  Murray wasn’t terribly responsive to my half halts, so I took a moment to re-assess and figure out how to attack the problem without picking a fight.

our video from Twin is mostly sass punctuated by cute moments
presently pictured: sass, in case you couldn’t tell

I tried to sit up and use my core, instead of tipping forward into Murray’s downhill-ness, and started to incorporate the lateral work back in to our routine.  I’ve generally avoided lateral work since December, since Murray and I both use it as such an out: he is more than happy to go sideways if he doesn’t want to work, and when I get bored/stupid I start to think “porque no los leg yields?” instead of “let’s really shore up your shitty connection, Nicole”.


murray goes hrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

And slowly but surely, throughout the week, Murray’s balance started to come up.  He still wanted to lean on my hand and PLOW down any straight line we did, especially when they were off the wall (uh… will have to fix that before we show FOR SURE).  But I found that if I moderated his pace a little more with my seat and core — which I am finally figuring out how to use — that we could maintain a little bit more uphill balance.  There is still a lot of work to be done there, but straight lines are hard.  (Though, I’ve just realised that is exactly what JM was focusing on with me, so I could probably bring some of the straightness/slight counter flexion exercises to those off-the-wall-straight-lines and potentially achieve the same results. Food for thought.)


smile for the camera!

We also had a jump lesson where Murray was a super freaking rockstar mashing around a grid and some bigger (for our recent exploits) fences on a much bigger and more forward step.  It felt amazing.  It wasn’t the same as the pookums usually feels — there was less of that launch off the ground that sometimes accompanies bigger fences —  but great nonetheless.  And there were only two hiccups, both attributed to me riding an awful, very angled line to an airy oxer that Murray just couldn’t seem to see as a jump.  I discovered two new things in that lesson: one, my new phone’s camera is bullshit at taking videos indoors (I mean, thanks a lot you freaking potato), and two, Murray goes around pretty upside-down on that more forward step.

RBF made a very important point, which is that the big, forward step and jump is new to both Murray and I, and we’re still figuring it out.  Obviously we weren’t going to figure it out in perfect balance or make it look pretty the first time around.  She encouraged me to be patient while we get strong on this new step.  Man, RBFs.  They are so good to have around.

we’ve seen this before, but it’s soooo worth posting in HD

A big piece of the puzzle is helping Murray to understand how to use his neck while it is in a different position on his body.  Right now, he feels like/seems/is convinced that he only has access to his neck muscles (and back muscles) when his neck is pretty low — head below withers.  Actually, that’s not true.  He is convinced that he can only use his neck the way I want him to use it when his neck is very low.  He is happy to use his neck when it’s lifted a little higher — as long as he gets to use his underneck.  Which is, of course, the great secret of all dressage: MOAR UNDERNECK.


murray rejects this corner. this message brought to you by the letter H.

So my big goal has been taking that underneck access away from Murray in both sets of tack — yup, even on conditioning rides.  Add in to that the continued insistence on some kind of communication-connection through the reins (even in the stretchy trot), sitting up and using my core, keeping my aids simple and consistent, and turning my god forsaken toes in (he really has abandoned my lower leg), and it feels like I’m juggling a lot of balls to put together some okay-ish work right now.  But we really are making steps in the right direction (I think), and it’s not nearly as hard as it would have been for me to work on even 2 of those things simultaneously two months ago.

We’re getting there.  Slowly but surely.  Creeping uphill.  The only way we know how.

Anyone else feeling their progress creeping along in the good way lately?