notorious ottb makes his triumphant return to intro-level eventing!!!

A couple of weeks (March 23rd! ugh! so long ago!) before the #toitnups I got to take Murray to Fresno to school XC, which was a good way to knock a couple of goals off my list and have some maaaaajor flashbacks to four-year-old Murray.

Murray marched out to cross country at a strange place boldly and with only a few idiot moments as we crossed tiny ravines or gravelly rivulets from the intense recent rains. The fantastic thing about Fresno is that it’s super sandy and just soaks up the water like nbd, so the course had a couple of mucky spots but was, overall, in pretty good shape.

As was Murray’s attitude.

let me tell you what i think of this perfectly nice, well-groomed track

We got out on XC and Murray was like “ahh, no, I won’t be trotting around in straight lines or circles, thanks all the same”. He kept turning in off the tracks (where the gopher holes were rife) and balking. He was a little ball of tension, so I just focused on giving him a job without putting on too much pressure: just go forward and steer-ish and all will be forgiven.

And then the train came.

A really, really long train. Right along that track that you can see just behind us in that picture above.

To his credit, Murray did not utterly lose his shit like the last time we encountered a train. He did, however, decide he was going back to the trailers. Now.

So he would turn toward the trailers and I would turn him back onto the course, and he would turn toward the trailers, and I would turn him back toward the course. In this manner we made our squiggly way 50 meters or so away from my trainer, but managed to at least stay out on cross country.

We warmed up over a little cabin, which Murray stopped at the first time and was like “err what is this again?” But after that he was pretty much on board with the jumping thing.¬† It was just getting to and from the jumps that was unexpectedly difficult.

Our next set of antics came as we approached a log box with 3-4 strides after landing to a¬†steep downhill. I was pretty worried about the whole steering + Murray + downhill, so when he came to a stop at the log box I decided we’d have to tackle that question another day. Instead, I tried to ask Murray to settle down and canter politely in a circle in the grass.

To which he responded thusly.

Which was, of course, greatly appreciated by everyone involved. Especially the people trying to have a dressage show just across the way from Murray’s absurd antics. Sorry, dressage peeps!

At this point it was pretty clear that I was going to have to come back to Fresno if I intended to get any serious schooling done, so I decided we’d just go back to the baby basics: walk around, jump some easy jumps, try not to be a freak show.

Murray seemed settled enough at the walk and marched around the course just fine, but he was really spooked by the bigger fences and whenever I asked him to canter he started to flail around and go sideways. Every time. Pretty much until we were right in front of a fence, at which point he’d sit back on his butt and drag us over the fence. It was… confusing.

I realized at the end of the day that this was pretty much exactly what Murray used to do when we would take him schooling as a 5 year old. It took me a while to remember that. But I used to only be able to canter him if we were 8-12 strides out from a fence, and never in a group.

yes, my favourite thing ever is re-training the horse i hope to take novice in 6 weeks over intro fences.

The new monkey wrench in the ride was that upon landing Murray would immediately throw his head in the air and pull hard to the right. Which he had kinda done since we started jumping again this year, but was accentuated to an absurd degree while we were schooling.

We did still manage to get some good fences in. And, a train came by not one, not two, but¬†three more times while we were out there (after which it came¬†never again that day). Each time Murray got progressively less anxious and slightly more angry. During the passing of the third train he even managed to anger-eat a few bites of grass! I imagine that he’s thinking of the grass as me, and biting into it with all¬† the feels he wishes he could gnaw into my flesh. Or maybe he’s imagining he’s killing a train. Who knows.

Overall not the most productive schooling outing ever, but there were definitely some positive moments. We can still mostly jump, I can still mostly not fall off my horse, and our steering showed definite improvement as the day went on.

A week later during a jump lesson I discovered the likely cause of all the flailing and pulling right upon landing: the flocking on the panels behind Murray’s shoulders is pushing into his newly-formed-and-oh-so-ripped topline muscles. Which is a good thing because yay topline! But it’s a bad thing because I literally¬†just¬†got my saddle reflocked, and think I’m outside of the 30-day free callback that my fitter offers.

Ultimately, I decided not to enter the Fresno HT because there just wasn’t enough time… with wedding planning, job crazinesss, and my horse coming back into the world of jumping like he’s a four year old (just bigger, stronger, and cleverer than before), there was just no way could get the two of us ready in time.

and uh… whatever this is

But we’re back at it! And there will be plenty more shows for us to flail around at later this year. In the mean time, there will be plenty of flailing Murray antics to enjoy!

xc schooling: just keep learning

I spent last week in San Diego for a wedding (+ friend & blogger adventures) this week, which is why the long, pensive silences and deep sighs.  But before I left, on Tuesday morning, I managed to squeeze in a quick XC school at WSS with trainer and my RBF (and others).

I wanted to get out and ride the Novice fences to build my confidence before Camelot, and also because the Novice course at WSS is cool. ¬†RBF wanted to school her new, awesome mare. ¬†One of our friends is working on getting to know her mare and settle her on XC, and the other was trying a mare she is interested in buying. ¬† So it was a total girl power party — Murray didn’t feel out of place in the least, because as we know he is really¬†a mare at heart.

big novice fence, a little cruelly set very early in the course

We had some minor struggles, which are interesting and gave me something to think about. ¬†Part of it may have been due to Murray feeling sore or not quite himself — our Monday ride he was hollow through his lower back and I spent a long time just trying to encourage him to lift and become connected. ¬†But it’s also a new height and new challenge for both of us, so likely that was contributing. ¬†I started out the day with the goal of focusing on my position: I wanted to keep my lower leg underneath me a little better (instead of swinging it out ahead of me — went too far on that one), and follow the motion over the fences better. ¬†I rode differently because of this, and maybe that added to Murray’s confusion.

Anyway. ¬†We warmed up over a little log. ¬†Murray wasn’t pulling me to fences the way he did at Camelot, but he was forward and happy. ¬†Then we hit the log and cantered down to a log box. ¬†Murray turned on the gallop in between the two fences, I fell into the trap of assuming speed is bravery, and he stopped. ¬†It was fine, we looked at it, turned around, and went right over. ¬†I¬†know that’s a problem we have, and should have actually put in the effort to get Murray looking to the next fence before we were on top of it.

I love decorating this produce table fence!

We jumped the next few fences (a coop and another log) successfully, then came up to the big red table. ¬†This is a max size novice fence and it looks and feels BIG — part of that is that the ground around it has sunk and been worn away, so it has gained an inch or so since it was first put in. ¬†(I’m guessing we will need to dig it down or replace it for the September events.) ¬†Galloping up to this fence Murray had a great, forward step, and I tried to keep my leg on with gentle pressure to remind him to keep moving forward. ¬†But, as you saw earlier this week, it did not go as planned. ¬†Murray slammed on the brakes pretty far out — we had huge skid marks leading up to the fence as we stopped. ¬†(Riding the stop I had felt like perhaps I should have kicked him over the fence anyway, but after watching the video I’m SUPER glad I didn’t, as we had no power after skidding so far.)

I turned to my trainer and said “I have no idea what’s going on with us right now. I don’t know if it’s him or if it’s me.” ¬†She told me to try again, let him shrink his stride and get deep if we wanted, and she’d watch us. ¬†We jumped it, but we got really close and I felt like Murray had to put in a LOT of effort to get over it. ¬†I wanted to jump the fence from a more open, galloping stride and better spot, so we tried again. We had a good pace, the step was a little short but not too bad, and yet we stopped again.

I chose to back down to a simpler question. ¬†We both needed to be confident that we could tackle this stupid table. ¬†We jumped the green coop (you can see it in the background above), and Murray was fine. ¬†B suggested I turn around and take it immediately the other direction to give Murray something “different” to object to. ¬†It worked — Murray stiffened his front legs on approach, and I smacked him behind my leg where I wanted him to take off to let him know that we¬†really were going. ¬†We went.

So we tackled the red table one more time. ¬†I kept my leg on, but didn’t chase Murray with my leg or seat. ¬†I insisted he keep an open step, and didn’t pull him back at the last minute. ¬†I didn’t look down, I didn’t stare at the fence, I stayed calm. ¬†I say I did all these things, but really what I probably did was ride slightly less like a drunken monkey. ¬†And we did it, and it was awesome!! (Pic evidence at the top of the post.)

The rest of our adventure was really smooth sailing. ¬†Murray and I really enjoy the technical elements presented at Novice — they are close together enough to be fun, but really welcoming easy to navigate.

We killed it at the half coffin, and the up bank combinations. Murray was slightly less forward than I wanted, but after the success at the red table I wasn’t going to be too pushy. ¬†I know that neither of us handles a lot of change at once well, so I tried to keep it simple-ish: forward step, no more stops. ¬†It worked — Murray was super for everything else on course. ¬†I’m super proud of the pony. ¬†Sure, we had hiccups, but he did the things! ¬†And it has me feeling pretty confident for Camelot, since I’ve seen all their Novice fences and ours are bigger (lollll). (Please don’t change your course suddenly, Camelot!)

novice pencil, four strides to a quarter round (but we made it five, natch)

There’s a lot I’d like to change about my jumping position after watching the media of this school — and that was WITH me trying to change some of those things on the day of! ¬†I’ve always ridden defensively and “unfolded the landing gear” faster than I should. ¬†I also tend to be behind the motion of the fences a little. ¬†Murray is pretty trustworthy now, so it would probably be a good call to make his life a little easier by jumping with him a bit more. ¬†I see grids and no stirrups work in our future! ¬†And if you have books or videos or other resources for me to practice on the ground with jumping positional stuff, I will gladly take them!

saddle fit part two

Murray and I had our second saddle fit appointment this weekend.  After a couple of emails back and forth with Robyn, wherein she asked a bit about my budget and purchase timeline desires (free/asap ideal, but less than $1200/this month will do), she shoved* a bunch of saddles for us into the car and met me first on a day full of appointments in the area.

* Honestly she probably placed them with care and attention. But what do I know.

happy turned-out ottb besties

Murray got a brief topline exam again while naked, and Robyn said he looked less sore and sensitive than at our last appointment (because I stopped riding! hah! take that, soreness).  She asked what I had been doing (not quite the prescribed lunging over poles, but lots of turnout and only riding and lunging in wider/better fitting saddles), and seemed to think the break had  helped rather than hurt, which was good news.  Then it was on to fitting some of the saddles Robyn was proposing for us.

Murray, of course, had other ideas. ¬†Idea number one was to not let a single saddle touch him, no way, no how. ¬†When I tried to hold him and put the first saddle up he actually ran away fast enough to dump the saddle in the arena sand. ¬†I managed to save it from hitting the ground full force or skidding, but it¬†did¬†hit the ground. ¬†Robyn, shockingly, did not fire me on the spot. ¬†(I ran to get our barn manager and she held Murray for a few minutes, then whispered “DON’T make me come back out here,” in his ear, and he was relatively well behaved for the rest of the appointment).

img_20170209_103157they continue to grow into fat happy sausages, and
Ginny continues to be my fave!

Robyn tried four saddles on Murray without telling me a whole lot about them. ¬†Then she padded up an English saddle stand for me to sit in each saddle. ¬†She asked me how the first saddle felt and if I thought I would hit the pommel sitting in it, and I honestly couldn’t tell. ¬†But when I sat on saddle two, it was clear that I liked this much more than saddle one. ¬†Saddle three felt immediately a bit funny, like I couldn’t get my seat bones firmly on one side or the other of the seams on the seat. ¬†I told Robyn this and she had me get off immediately, as if my seatbones were sitting right on the seams there was no way I would ever feel balanced in the saddle (who knew?!). ¬†Saddle four was okay, but the pommel was high and we thought it might interfere while I was riding.

So on I got. ¬†Fortunately, the saddle I liked most was also the one that seemed to fit Murray best. ¬†We girthed up slowly (Robyn: You just walk around and take all the time to tighten the girth that you need. Me: Oh, I think it’s tight enough now. Robyn: Doesn’t look tight enough to me… Me: Trust me,¬†you can get away with a much looser girth than most people think.), Murray was fairly reasonable. ¬†But who knows what his tacking up behavior means from day to day or saddle to saddle — certainly not I. ¬†I rode in saddles two and four, and Murray was fairly compliant and starting to stretch down and forward a little in both saddles. ¬†Robyn said she could see a little more tension in Murray’s neck while I rode in saddle four, but I couldn’t feel it.

In the end, I decided to take saddle two on trial. ¬†(In fact, Robyn insisted that I take any saddle I was really interested in on a week trial.) ¬†It was a little more comfortable right off the bat for me, and Robyn liked how it fit Murray. ¬†It’s an ANKY brand saddle (perhaps the Salinero model, but I’m not sure), used, and in good shape. ¬†It feels different than any of the saddles I’ve ridden Murray in, but I’m cautiously optimistic about it. ¬†I’m trying not to swing too hard to either side — no OMG I LOVE IT IT CAN NEVER LEAVE but also no OMG MURRAY DIDN’T BECOME A GRAND PRIX HORSE SEND IT BACK.

img_20170210_133159I was so close to taking a cute selfie with my horse. Then
SOMEONE had to go and ruin it.

So that’s that for the dressage saddle. I’ll know by Sunday if I’m keeping it or not!

The jump saddle situation is a little more complicated. ¬†Robyn didn’t have any on consignment that would work for us, but she showed me what to look for. ¬†Briefly: a medium wide saddle with a high-ish pommel, generous gullet (especially at the pommel, hard to describe) and panels (no narrow gullet and thin panels like some saddles, including my current one), plus rear and (if possible) front gussets. ¬†It’s helped me narrow my search a lot, and Robyn has been super helpful looking at pictures to help me decide.

We’ll see how it goes with the Anky this week (spoiler alert: Murray broke his halter in three places and somehow shoved a shoe halfway back on his foot so that was nice), and if it looks good, it will stay. ¬†Altogether a shockingly pleasant saddle shopping experience compared to the past! ¬†I was pleasantly surprised.

and then Murray tried to bite my cell phone

oh honey, that does not fit

Last Friday I had Robyn Dorius, certified saddle fitter at Advanced Equine Saddle Fit, out to check on Murray (along with a few of the other horses at the barn). ¬†I was running late all day so showed up late for my appointment — just what I wanted, to be late and underprepared for an appointment where a stranger would be slapping saddles on Murray’s back.

Fortunately, besties to the rescue and one of my friends had Murray bridled and was lunging him a bit for me. ¬†He was unappreciative and recalcitrant because… Murray. ¬†Robyn started out by examining Murray while he was naked, and palpated both sides of his back and along his topline. ¬†I prepped her by apologizing profusely for his potentially bad behavior and told her to let me know at any time if I needed to just kick his butt a little. ¬†She collected a little information on me — what disciplines I ride in, what level, and whether or not I compete.

camelot (265)-(ZF-8462-66896-1-003)
sometimes, and with varied success

Robyn started me in the dressage saddle and comforted me when Murray made his most ridiculous girthy pony moves. ¬†Interestingly, she commented that she knows a few horses that go “girth lame” during tacking up — Robyn attributed it to the horses getting so tight in their pecs that they can’t walk properly. ¬†She felt underneath the saddle on both sides before I got on then had me walk and trot both directions. ¬†It didn’t take long before she called me in to the center to give me the bad, but not unexpected, news: my dressage saddle doesn’t fit.

Robyn was forthright and blunt without being unkind. ¬†“For what you want to do, if you want his topline muscles to develop properly, you cannot keep riding in these saddles.” ¬†She also took the time to explain to me exactly what was wrong with the saddle. ¬†To start with, the tree was too narrow. ¬†Exacerbating the problem was that the tree is the wrong shape. ¬†And adding insult to injury is the fact that it was really, weirdly tight in the gullet around Murray’s withers. ¬†Robyn showed me where she¬†should be able to slide her hand in under my saddle but couldn’t (at the wither behind the shoulders), and where she shouldn’t be able to slide her hand under the saddle but could (under my seat).

probably not a coincidence that my best-ever dressaging was done in not-my-saddle

We switched to my jump saddle. ¬†Murray was being as bad as he ever is about warming up (I’ve been lunging him to warm up lately and that helps a lot), but Robyn insisted that seeing him on a bad day was actually a good thing. ¬†After a couple of circles in each direction Robyn showed me again the problems with the saddle: this time it wasn’t too narrow, but the tree was still the wrong shape. ¬†The bridging problem¬†was exacerbated even more in my jump saddle and Robyn managed to get essentially her whole arm under my butt while I was on Murray’s back.

Murray did not really appreciate, but behaved.

So with that in mind, Robyn suggested that we put a saddle with a more appropriate tree shape on Murray to see if it could change his movement at all. ¬†She started with a dressage saddle that she had taken out for one of the other girls. ¬†I felt underneath the front panels and up in the back and wasn’t really sure what to look for, so Robyn guided me in what she was looking for in the saddle. ¬†Ultimately she decided to go and get a different saddle from her truck to try on Murray. ¬†This second saddle, a Custom, fit him much better than any of the others we had tried on so far, though Robyn said that if it were his saddle she would have changed the flocking a bit over the withers. ¬†(During this portion of the appointment Murray was biting the air above my jacket sleeve and giving Robyn and me the side eye. ¬†It was like he knew he wasn’t allowed to bite me — he’s not — but had to get his dissatisfaction out in some way so the air was what had to suffer. I was amused.) ¬†We tacked up a third time and I got on.

murray: is this REAL LIFE?! is this FOREVER?!

Immediately Murray’s walk felt bigger. I complain about his walk a lot. ¬†This was not his walk. ¬†We walked and trotted and at this point Murray was well and truly sick of my shit and threw in some haunches swinging and sass of his own. ¬†Getting tacked up and half ridden at the walk and trot only three times in an hour is not on his list of favourite things to do. ¬†This was no magic bullet, and I didn’t expect it to be, but I did enjoy sitting in the Custom. ¬†Robyn had me feel under this saddle again too, and pointed out where it was a little tight against his withers – she said she would change the flocking there (if it were my saddle, that is).

In the end, Robyn suggested several saddle brand trees that might work for us (Custom – but I don’t like big blocks so it’s probably moo), older Schleese’s, and… some other trees. ¬†I don’t remember. ¬†But she said that if I got a saddle/saddles out on trial she would happily evaluate them for me and could bring along a few of the consignment saddles she has at home to do a full on comparison. ¬†(I always keep an eye on The Horse Of Course consignment saddles, because I lust after a Sommer, and Robyn said she’d happily evaluate those for me too.)

can you believe how good I’ve been, putting up with your
saddle-fit garbage, Nicole?!

So there it is. I need two new saddles. ¬†But honestly, I’m not even upset about it. ¬†Robyn took the time to teach me her saddle fitting philosophy and how to look for signs of good and bad saddle fit on my precious pony. ¬†I’ve played around with a few saddles since then and can see which ones totally suck (like my dressage saddle) and which ones seem to suck less. ¬†This is a major improvement over my previous level of saddle fitting knowledge.

And look at the even brighter side: it turns out that my SUPER sensitive pony has been toughing it out and showing up through a couple of pretty poorly fitting saddles.  Very, very proud of him for that.

Cherry on top: knocked one off the 2017 goal list already!

more meltdown musings

I just cannot get over the alliterative potential.

To round out the week and make it absolutely all about Murray’s Monday Meltdown (MMM was a radio station in Adelaide when I was a child, but if I recall correctly it was nowhere near as cool as its competitor station, JJJ), I have some additional thoughts on the event brought on by discussions with some very thoughtful and kind friends/observers.

we get by with a little help from our friends

SB pointed out the C-rage has impeccable ground manners but just can’t tolerate one wash stall at their barn because of slippery footing. ¬†Our barn does not have the grippiest floors around, and Monday was cold and damp which always exacerbates the floor being slippery. ¬†Murray skittering around like a spider on ice supports this idea. ¬†But even more evidence lines up when I think about how tentatively he steps inside the barn, almost like he’s on tippy-toes, and how much more reasonable he can be when we are on grass, gravel, or sand. ¬†So maybe I need to separate the standing on unpleasant surfaces from the tacking up while I’m trying to get one or the other handled. ¬†I can tack up in his stall, or at a different spot in the barn, or even — imagine this! — in the arena where the footing his nice and grippy. ¬†There are things I can do to make this better for him.

Or maybe there are other factors about our barn (or being inside or barn) that are making Murray struggle with behavior there. ¬†I do not think Murray hates his living situation by any means — he loves going out for turnout and he loves coming back in, he naps inside his stall and out in his paddock, and loves playing with his friends. ¬†But there are things he does not love. ¬†Is this something I’m willing to change for him right now? ¬†Nope. ¬†I like where I’m at for many reasons, and there is no guarantee Mr. Sensitive will like anything else more than this. ¬†But we’ll circle back to this theory if/when I inevitably have to move (for work).


My barn manager asked me if I thought his magnesium was working. ¬†Murray has been on Animed Remission for more than six months at this point, and I have so far been very satisfied with it. ¬†But we did just open a new box. ¬†And if magnesium helps treat anxiety,¬†and Murray is particularly anxious at the moment for whatever reason — it’s cold, he isn’t getting turnout at this moment, I went on vacation and abandoned him for a month and he missed me¬†soooooooooooo much — it also stands to reason that he should be getting more magnesium. ¬†That’s an easy fix: doubled that.

And then there’s the thing that I actually don’t think anyone has suggested to me yet — or have you all? — saddle fit. ¬†I always assumed that Murray’s issues with tacking up didn’t have anything to do with saddle fit as they have been bad across a variety of saddles and for years and years and years and go waaaaaaaaay beyond just having a girth put on. ¬†For real. ¬†But I had a saddle fitter out and these words actually, literally,¬†left her mouth: “I see this type of behavior all the time with horses who have poor saddle fit.” ¬†Murray’s behavior has been better and worse in a variety of saddles, and I’ve never taken enough data on it to see real patterns. ¬†I’m looking for two new saddles (yes two, if you can believe it), and we’ll see if there are any changes/differences.

I hate your stupid ebay tack!

Proactive/reactive coping style — I went to a really interesting talk on Friday about coping styles in pigs and behavioral and physiological correlates of two different major coping styles. ¬†Sows that are proactive (run away from you, resist handling, approach novel objects) gain more weight and (in a few studies) have more surviving offspring than sows that are reactive (freeze during handling, reluctant to approach novel objects). ¬†Are there behavior/temperament/coping style differences between horses? ¬†You betcha. ¬†Do I know anything about them? ¬†Nope.

So that’s where I’m at. ¬†If I get it together to do so, maybe I’ll put something together about horse personality types for you all.

a poor workman

I have basically never been able to sit the trot.¬† I have only been trying to do so for about, oh, the entire length of time I’ve been riding seriously (admittedly not that long).¬† I don’t have the advantage of having developed an independent seat as a wildchild galloping around bareback on my pony, but I’m not sure many people do these days.

Over the course of three consecutive evenings, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will trace the history and evolution of motion picture formats from the silent era through the current digital age in √íBehind the Motion Picture Canvas: Film Formats through the 21st Century,√ď beginning on Wednesday, September 9, at 8 p.m. at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.  The presentation will continue with screenings of √íManhattan√ď (1979) on Thursday, September 10 and √íThe Black Stallion√ď (1979) on Friday, September 11.  Both screenings will begin at 8 p.m.  Academy Science and Technology Council member Rob Hummel will host each evening. Pictured: Kelly Reno rides the title character in a scene from THE BLACK STALLION, 1979.Can you imagine the unimaginable places horse hair would have gotten shooting this scene?!

What I did have was determination and desire.¬† I didn’t know how to sit the trot, and practicing just seemed to end in sore seat bones and inner thighs.¬† Practicing something incorrectly was not helping, so obviously I needed to learn how to learn to do this.¬† I read a lot of things.¬† You have to trot slower.¬† You have to remove your stirrups.¬† Relax this.¬† Tense that.¬† Move your pelvis.¬† Don’t cling.¬† Hug with your thighs.¬† Hug with nothing.¬† It is a mystery.

he was perfect in other ways

I never had the perfect horse to practice on, as lesson horses are probably predisposed to especially hate attempts at sitting trot.¬† My bouncing and jiggling never seemed to impress them, and there was more than one occasion that I nearly bounced myself off the side of Quincy, cartoon style.¬† Then I started riding this adorable four year old and I was like “Wow! Trying to sit the trot on this weak, tense back would be a huge disservice to this horse. guess I don’t have to try any more!” and I had a sweet out to stop trying to sit the trot for two years.

fistbumpbabyThen MIL said I had to sit the trot half of all my rides and I was like… wahh.¬† But my knees kept bumping the knee rolls.¬† And I was bouncing.¬† And I thought… maybe I should try another saddle.¬† I KNOW, I KNOW.¬† IT’S A POOR WORKMAN WHO BLAMES HIS TOOLS.¬† But I was desperate, and curious.¬† So I sat in my trainer’s new Stubben Euphoria.¬† And it was… if not quite euphoric definitely better than my saddle.¬† So in about four seconds I decided I was getting a new saddle.¬† Since then I’ve tried about four different saddles and all of them have been a marked improvement on my saddle in terms of sitting the trot.¬† I suspect the larger seat size has something to do with it — I’m not bumping up against the cantle or the knee rolls.¬† As it turns out, despite my flat-as ass, my spider monkey legs mean that I need a bigger seat than I thought.

So while I’m not putting all the blame on my saddle, I suspect that I’m going to have a lot easier of a time learning to sit the trot in a saddle that actually facilitates the correct position.¬† I’m going to go ahead and pretend not to be a poor workman blaming her tools, and just get tools that are better suited to the task because they fit my tiny ass and weird long legs better.



Hot or Not: Bua Saddles

Have you guys heard about Bua Saddles?  Yeah, me neither.  An article about them popped up on my Facebook feed on Sunday night and I popped on over to the page to check out these brightly colored, flashy, odd looking things.

bua2From behind you can clearly see the cantilevered tree, with separated seat and tree pieces. Screenshot from the Bua saddles/vimeo.

All that seems to have been released at this point is a video (embedded below) and a Facebook page.¬† There are also print articles somewhere I don’t have access to.¬† I’ll sum up some of the points of the video for you if you don’t feel like getting through it (but adorable accents make it a worthwhile five minutes).

Bua Saddles from Standpoint Media on Vimeo.

It sounds like the creator of Bua Saddles, Martin Ryan, set out to design a saddle that met modern standards of comfort and performance for both horses and riders.¬† In doing so, he completely changed the shape of the tree, and created something… else.

Okay so it’s still a saddle tree.¬† But it’s a cantilevered saddle tree.¬† The portion of the saddle that affixes to the rider’s seat is not connected directly to the horse’s back below it; instead, the force translates through the attachment point of the tree (which is at the pommel of the saddle).

Technical diagram of a cantilever. We all know what these are — close to every saddle rack I’ve ever used is a cantilever system.

The tree itself is made of a “thermoplastic composite” which basically means “really really ridiculously high tech plastic” to me.¬† I know really really ridiculously high tech plastics are used in all kinds of sport and have some fantastic shock absorption, impact resistance, and durability features.¬† Just think about the way ski technology has changed in the last 50 years — if the skiiers can do it, it’s probably time for equestrians to catch up.

Additionally, every soft part of the saddle is interchangeable, allowing for a completely custom fit.¬† Hypothetically you could also pop off your jumping flaps and pop on your dressage flaps so that you don’t need two saddles to do two different disciplines.

They do the Ikea-style (okay, probably not invented by Ikea, but certainly prominent in their stores) repetitive motion testing that always makes me giggle.  Over 2 million reps and counting!

Photo from the Bua Saddles Facebook page

So, what are my thoughts on these newfangled butt cushions?

I will admit that at first I was like “we don’t need no new stinkin’ technology!!!!”, but then I squashed my inner 85-year-old neophobe and just listened to the video a bit more.¬† After opening my mind, color me extremely intrigued.

I have some concerns, because I know just enough about physics and engineering to be dangerous.¬† Doesn’t the cantilevered design mean that the way force is translated through the saddle is uneven?¬† Certainly the majority of the force would come down on the join of the two parts of the tree, and that seems to¬† be right where most people don’t want force slamming down on their horse’s backs.¬† On the contrary, the horse in the video jumps around some pretty big fences and didn’t seem to have any issues.

Also, the bouncing of the seat kinda weirds me out.¬† I’m not used to riding with a seat that has in built shock absorbers like that, and that is bound to change the way that we ride.¬† This is not necessarily a bad thing.¬† As much as the movement in the seat makes a ride smoother, would it also not propel one up more in the case that forces were translated from horse to human in that direction?¬† I mean, the laws of physics are still a thing….


Looking at just the saddles, they definitely don’t have the visual appeal of a well-made traditional saddle (except the fact that they appear to be amazingly colorful, which I obviously love).¬† This is also a neophobia thing (lots of studies on neophobia in mammals, it’s a thing, we just have to live with it and try to work through it).¬† But it’s also a totally superficial/cosmetic/insomewaysextremelyridiculous thing.¬† With a rider up, the saddles don’t look that different from other English saddles I’ve seen, and I’m sure with time and demand the creators could easily adapt their unique design to something that appears more traditional.

Does this sound like it could be a fabulous innovation for horse’s backs?¬† Yep.¬† Is it worth looking in to more?¬† Definitely.¬† I’m very much looking forward to hearing and seeing more about Bua saddles as more people get the opportunity to try them out.

What do you think?  Hot or not?  Share with me your thoughts on these fascinating new saddles.

too smart by half

Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts and well-wishes last week.  I am happy to report that the Wragg fire is contained and mandatory evacuations have ended, and all our bonus-ponies get to return home!  I am even happier to report that no lives were lost in the fire, and that the emergency crews are unscathed.  Unfortunately, there are yet more fires burning in California, and fire crews will have their work cut out for them for quite a while.  My thoughts are with all of the emergency responders working to contain fires in California.

The Murraycoaster continues its thrilling and wild ride.¬† I didn’t ride too much last week — enough horsey drama was had and I needed sleep! — but I did get in one ride Friday and then Saturday we went schooling at Woodland Stallion Station.

During Friday’s ride I tackled one of those delightful goals from my list: determining if I need a new saddle.¬† One of my concerns about Murray’s fussiness and stopping jumping was that my saddle might not perfectly fit — I’d seen pics where the back of my saddle was lifting as we jumped — and I know that is not ideal.¬† So assistant trainer and I had a look at my saddle as well as some other saddles to determine fit.¬† Murray is not AT’s biggest fan (she usually has to twitch him/drug him/deworm him/etc., but she also gives him lots of love and pats) and he objected MIGHTILY to having a bare leather saddle put on his back by trying to run AT right over.¬† Fortunately, this was not her first time at the Murray rodeo and she was like “get a grip dude” and he settled down.

The even worse part of this bit of news is that my saddle really doesn’t fit.

IMG_3844You can kinda see the lifting here.

Cue epic sadness.

It’s too wide in the front and sits down on Murray’s shoulders, which could definitely cause some discomfort for him while I’m riding.¬† We popped a few different saddles on (“NOTHING EXPENSIVE!” I insisted.¬† Why? “I CAN’T AFFORD ONE.”) and one of the lesson saddles (a Pessoa) fit so AT suggested I go ride around in it.¬† Which I did.

Murray did not seem to have any problem jumping around in the lesson Pessoa.¬† Unfortunately, I hated it.¬† Absolutely hated it.¬† I hated it so much I nearly cried.¬† Murray jumped over everything, only balked once (and it wasn’t even at a fence), and I couldn’t ride in that thing.¬† I just couldn’t.

IMG_20150624_193357Plus that would have completely thrown off my recently-posted everyday tack setup

So I went back in, put my saddle on, and jumped around in that for AT.¬† Murray was fine.¬† No discernible difference from jumping in the Pessoa.¬† But AT could see that it really didn’t quite fit — with me in and out of the saddle, it still pressed down on Murray’s shoulder blades.¬† Off I ran to get a wither riser pad.


A saddle that fits the way it’s supposed to!¬† I was also really pleasantly surprised with the way I felt with the saddle raised in the front.¬† It was much easier to sit up straight and my leg felt good.¬† I popped around and was really happy.¬† And then I realised how abjectly tired and emotionally drained I must have been, because I nearly cried over saddle fit.¬† Saddle fit.¬† That is not something I typically cry over.

I tried to sleep early that night, but did not succeed, and thus when I headed out to schooling on Saturday I was still tired.¬† I probably should have trusted my instincts and no schooled that day, however I didn’t want to force a second trip (joke’s on me, I’m going on another trip to school there in two weeks) just on my behalf, and so I sucked it up and went schooling.¬† I rode terribly, and I cried twice, but I did it.¬† For the most part.


Murray ditched me within 30 minutes of getting on, of course.¬† We were cantering towards a fence and the rest of the group happened to be walking in the opposite direction and when we passed Murray kinda lost control of his body and I ended up in the dirt.¬† I kinda landed on my feet but as Murray fruck out I lost my footing, and then did that thing you’re not supposed to do (hang on) and got dragged through the dirt because hell if I was going to let him gallop half a mile back to the trailers.¬† I can just see it now — Murray’s ass happily fleeing in a cloud of dust as he gleefully returned to the place from whence he came.¬† (At least he likes the trailer?)

Once again the exhaustion hit me and I started crying, but we cantered back, jumped the fence, and all was well and good for a while.¬† It’s hard to cry while you’re actively riding.¬† I’m pretty sure it’s a strategy of Alana’s to get me out of my head.¬† Oh Nicole, go do that thing over there! Yay you did it, happy now? Good girl.

We had some trouble at the next fence too, a Novice-sized house that I was totally amped to jump.¬† But coming up to it, all I could feel was Murray getting faster and stronger toward the fence, and I felt like I had zero control, and when I half halted to get a little attention back we came to a not-even-that-dramatic stop right in front of the fence.¬† I was like “look Alana, I’m not jumping anything bigger than BN or in any way scary after this fence, but I just have to get over this thing and then it will be fine. WTF.¬† I have no control.¬† He’s fast and strong and I don’t know what I’m feeling and I don’t trust him to go.”¬† And Alana was like “Girl, just sit back and dressage that shit. What you’re feeling is your Notorious OTTB rocking back onto his hindquarters before the fence, but he’s using any bit contact as an excuse to say no because he’s a rat bastard. So just half halt that monster with your seat and core if you need to*.”¬† And damn if it didn’t work.¬† Of course.

* Alana doesn’t actually speak like this. Much creative license was taken.

IMG_3800Beautiful uphill canter

After that I reminded myself to take the small options from now on because I clearly couldn’t life and did not want to overface myself or my horse.¬† Of course, that doesn’t mean I didn’t still somehow fuck it up.

jumpfailThat approach is way steeper than it looks and Murray slipped in the loose footing the first time and was like “NO WAY” (and slipped) the second time.¬† Both were spectacular fails.¬† I’m saving the other picture for my Everyday Fails wrap up post.

So yeah.¬† I’m struggling right now with not trusting my horse, which is shitty.¬† It’s not really a position I ever thought I’d be in.¬† For a long time I could at least trust him and myself to get over it, even if it wasn’t pretty or perfect.¬† I need to get my confidence in Murray back, get my lower leg under control (I’m putting those stirrups back down until he stops spazzing out over random artifacts in the arena), and both of us back to that place where we can trust one another.¬† And also that place where I don’t suck at riding.


MacRider USA saddle-fitting videos

If you haven’t already, you should check out these videos made in collaboration between The Dressage Connection and MacRider USA saddles. ¬†I am in no way a saddle fit expert — except, perhaps, in that I cleverly “chose” a horse with an easy to fit back!! — and these videos are informational, entertaining, and short enough to be easy to fit into your schedule! ¬†I also find the host super entertaining, and the topics to be very relevant. ¬†As they make more (because they will! I will die without them!), I’ll continue to share.

On the MacRider gullet system

On tree adjustability