Archive of ‘Equestrian’ category

Boot City gets his Weld on

Most husbands are somewhat handy at wood working. Mine is decidedly not very handy at wood working; his speciality is working with metal. Therefore many structures that would be made of wood at a wood worker’s home are made of metal at our home. This makes for some VERY heavy duty bridle racks and saddle racks that you could hang a sofa from. Most recently Boot City stepped up to make a stall run for the “bed-ridden” Coco Chanel during her 6 week layup.

We had planned to have stall runs on all four stalls on the “new” barn from the get-go, but time and funding are not always readily available so nothing happened until there was an express NEED for a stall run. We did a great deal of internet research about design; how far apart should the pipes be, how far off the ground should the lowest rung measure, how heavy duty do the pipes need to be and all kinds of safety and convenience research.

Human nature is to repeat what we know worked in the past. My parents had runs off the stalls on their barn in Montana so that was the basis for our design. We altered it slightly by putting fewer pipes and having the bottom rung further off the ground to prevent trapping legs. We beefed up the size of the frame pipes and opted for 1 1/2″ sucker rod for the bottom 3 rows. This is the finished product plus horse.

Coco outside in her run on the first night it was open for business.

Coco outside in her run on the first night it was open for business.

Boot City is all about building things to be very sturdy. This time around he put posts in the ground at least every 8 feet and in the case of invasive tree roots he put them even closer so as to not have to harm the roots.The closer the poles in the ground are to one another the sturdier they are because there is less room between bracing for the horizontal pipes.

Poles in the ground. I promise that all of them are nearly perfectly straight. Boot City doesn't mess around.

Poles in the ground. I promise that all of them are nearly perfectly straight. Boot City doesn’t mess around.

The whole project took about three weeks from start to finish. I really and truly thought it could be done in a couple days, but that was unrealistic wishful thinking. The concrete had to set for the poles in the ground to be sturdy enough to weld on and the measuring and levelling is extremely tedious work. Boot City finished the fencing late on a Wednesday night and Coco will be forever grateful.  The plan is to complete her neighbor’s stall run in the coming months, but emphasis is now on putting in a property gate, updating fencing by the house and finished the “nursery” AKA the paddock fencing for Coco and her new foal come March.

Late night welding

Late night welding

Run, baby run

I’ve been on an inadvertent blog hiatus. I had the past couple months all planned out for posting then the bottom fell out of my schedule. For reals. One morning the week after the Fourth of July Coco came in from turnout very lame. I hoped for the best and that it was merely a sole bruise and gave her a week to show improvement by just treating it as a sole bruise. I couldn’t quite bring myself to keep her locked up and after 5 days of no improvement I called the vet. He diagnosed her as having injured the ligament she had surgery on about a year and a half ago. Come to find out I hadn’t been given the best recovery instructions after that surgery which made her more susceptible to injuring the scar tissue. The vet indicated that she showed signs of having been favouring this leg for quite some time and that this injury was bound to happen. The main sign being that her hoof growth was imbalanced. The good news was that she isn’t in work and being pregnant gave her body extra production of things good for healing. The bad news was that she would be confined to her stall for at least four and up to eight weeks requiring wrapping, poulticing and icing twice daily and hand walking for 30-40 minutes every day.

It's hard being a pretty princess trapped in a stall all day long.

It’s hard being a pretty princess trapped in a stall all day long.

The first 10 days went as well as can be expected. My social life was gone and spending 30-40 minutes walking in Texas summer is not my idea of a good time. She was a fantastic patient for wrapping, poulticing and icing. The hand walking was quite exciting a few times and I have the bruises to show for it. When you keep an 1,100 pound animal confined to a 14×12 box all day long they develop some pent up energy and frustrations that they take out on you during their 30 minutes of “freedom”. The vet returned to check her after 10 days and gave the go ahead to only wrap and poultice until it had been 14 days then move to only icing twice a day and continuing the hand walking. He also advised we consider building our stall runs so she could get some exercise on her own, but in a confined space.

My bruise a few days after an altercation with Coco during one of our afternoon walking dates.

My bruise a few days after an altercation with Coco during one of our afternoon walking dates.

This guidance really gave us the push we needed to get to work on the stall runs that have been in the plan since we built the new barn in 2012. The barn my parents had when I was growing up had runs on all the stalls and it made a huge difference in keeping stalls clean and allowing the horses to stretch their legs, not to mention how much better it is for their minds to not be confined to a stall all day long. We researched designs for height, spacing of bars, and different pipe materials. We knew we would build out of oil field pipe because we already had some and it is easy to acquire being in Texas. So stay tuned for a step-by-step pictorial of the building process!

Stopping for a water break on one of our sunset walks.

Stopping for a water break on one of our sunset walks.

Resurgence of an Addiction

It has been established on this blog that I grew up in Eastern Montana. I was an extremely fortunate child to have been born into an already horsey family so my love of the equines was developed at a very early age. Both my parents grew up with horses, both for work and for pleasure. When I was born my Mom was into barrel racing and my Dad was into team roping. Not surprisingly, I was on a horse as soon as I could hold my head up and sit up by myself. I definitely had inherited the horse gene and couldn’t get enough of them.

My first foray into organized horse events was as a barrel racer. My parents got me a saintly old Quarter Horse named Casey. I’m confident Casey carried many little girls and boys around the cloverleaf pattern before he came to our house. He wasn’t at all fast, but that was just fine. I didn’t have, and still really don’t have, much of a need for speed. He was safe and kind and put up with the shenanigans that a little girl does to her horse. I put glitter on him. I braided his hair. I brushed and brushed and brushed him. All of the signs were there that I would ultimately not end up being a barrel racer.

When I was old enough my parents signed me (and my brother) up for 4-H. 4-H is a program that teaches kids leadership, humanity, responsibility and a myriad of other life skills. Most importantly, it has a horse program. You couldn’t start the horse program until you were 10 years old and I was counting down the days! In preparation for entering the horse program, my Mom and some of the 4-H moms from our club signed up for a riding clinic conducted by the trainer at Diamond N Ranch outside of Billings, Montana. I have no idea how they found it or why they attended, but the rest is pretty much history. This was our introduction to the Quarter Horse show world and it didn’t take long for me to be hooked.

My second AQHA show horse: Hesa Black Associate

My second AQHA show horse: Hesa Black Associate

I showed Quarter Horses all through junior high and high school and even a little bit during college. I did all kinds of different show events from Showmanship to Western Pleasure to Hunter Hack and finally Reining. I loved every second of it, and now that I’m an adult and I can appreciate what my parents did (paid for!) to allow me to show.

My first real English horse (the taller one on the right) and my cousin on a horse that my parents had for a few years.

My first real English horse (the taller one on the right) and my cousin on a horse that my parents had for a few years.

As a kid I would voraciously read any and every horse book and magazine I could get my hands on. This is where my obsession with English riding was born. My Mom got me lessons when I was about 10 with a lady in my hometown who had supposedly ridden English at some point and later I did all the English flat classes and some jumping at the Quarter Horse shows. It just wasn’t the same as what I read about in Practical Horseman or Dressage Today. There wasn’t a dedicated jumping trainer anywhere near my hometown, so even though I did do some jumping I know now that I pretty much did so horribly wrong!

So, here I am as a (mostly) self-sufficient adult with the means to combine my love of horse showing with learning how to properly ride a horse over jumps. I posted about going to my first USEF “A” rated show back in February. This spring I was able to make it to four more shows in Tyler, Texas. Originally called the Tyler Four. I felt like I was home again. Granted, when I was showing I felt like a 12 year old kid learning how to do things correctly, but it was so satisfying to be back in the show pen (that was to see if Caitlin reads this, I’m supposed to call it a show ring). Sterling is turning out to be an absolutely delightful partner in the hunter ring. We didn’t clean house with blue ribbons, but we (I) steadily improved and (mostly) didn’t make the same mistakes repeatedly.

You know it's an addiction when you don't mind horse boogers ruining your perfectly nice shirt and still going in public with said horse boogers on your shirt.

You know it’s an addiction when you don’t mind horse boogers ruining your perfectly nice shirt and still going in public with said horse boogers on your shirt.

We have a few weeks off from showing now that it is about to be blazing hot in Texas, but I can hardly wait to start again. In the meantime we are doing lots of work on the flat (no more unsupervised jumping) to make him and me stronger. I even joined a horseback rider focused boot camp for 60 days to make my core and my stringy legs stronger for when we are back in the show ring. This is in addition to torturing poor Jaguar with posting without irons. No pain no gain!

Being a horse show horse is a LOT of work and VERY tiring.

Being a horse show horse is a LOT of work and VERY tiring.

The Case of the Lost Hunt Coat

If you follow me on social media, you may have noticed a few weeks ago that I posted about my dry cleaner losing my hunt coat. I purposefully didn’t name the business and was willing to give them a chance to make things right. So this is my story about doing business with Twin Kell Cleaners.

I dropped my hunt coat off with the cleaner early on a Tuesday morning and emphasised to the woman I left it with that it HAD to be ready to pick up by 8a on Friday morning. She was a big grumpy and seemed quite put out by my request (really, is it unusual that someone would want their clothing back in 2 1/2 days?!) but committed to have it ready after 5p on Thursday.

I left a touch earlier than usual on Friday morning to give myself plenty of time to stop at the cleaners before work. I rolled up at about 7:30a and had even kept my ticket with the bar code for them to scan and (hopefully) make it quicker and easier for them to find my coat. The nice lady takes my ticket, goes to the back and starts rolling the hangers to get to my number. After a few minutes of this I can tell something isn’t right. She smiles at me and asks the other nice lady at the desk to come back and help her look. They go item by item through at least 500 garments to no avail. They ask the washing girl if it is in with the washed items (egads!). Still no coat. By 7:50a they admit to me that they have lost the coat. I explain, as nicely as I can when starting to panic, that I HAVE to have this coat before I leave for the horse show that afternoon. They are going to continue to look and will call me before 2p.

Now this isn’t just any old hunt coat. This is a hunt coat that my Mom made for me when I was in high school. It is a lovely charcoal tropical wool with a RED pinstripe and RED silk satin lining. And it fit just perfectly.

The red pinstripe coat in action.

The red pinstripe coat in action.

Losing my hunt coat was definitely an inconvenience, but it was a huge sentimental loss, too. My Mom is an amazingly talented seamstress. She made all of my horse show clothes when I was growing up as well as all my formal gowns and all my regular clothes until I was in junior high (which is when one becomes way too cool to wear clothes that Mom made). She had always said that NOTHING was as hard to make as hunt coats. The fit has to be just perfect for the fabric to lay correctly.

The nice lady from the cleaners called around 1p and didn’t have any better news. The coat was officially lost. They suspected that they accidentally gave it to someone else, but wouldn’t know that until or unless someone returned it and there was no telling if or when that would happen. She did advise me that Twin Kell would reimburse me for a new coat if I had to buy a new coat. Well, if I was going to show I really had to have a coat. I had already texted my trainer about the debacle and she had rounded up some coats I might be able to borrow so hopefully all wasn’t lost.

I left work, picked up Sterling at home and drove as fast (and safely) as I could to Tyler in hopes of getting there in time to try on some coats at Quail Hollow Tack. If the cleaners were willing to reimburse me for a new coat I might as well get one. If they did find my coat at least I’d have a second in case something like this happened again. I got there in the nick of time to unload Sterling and run over to the trailer to try on coats. The Grand Prix Techlite in Navy fit me PERFECTLY! AND it is WASHABLE! No more worrying about any dry cleaning incidents!

I showed the next two weekends with my new coat and no word from the cleaners. I had my receipt for the new coat tucked safely in my purse, but just hadn’t been able to bring myself to go request the reimbursement. Lo and behold, two days before the last spring show in Tyler the cleaners called. Someone else had in fact picked up my coat and had returned it to Twin Kell. I was absolutely delighted. I did mention that I had to buy a new coat and that they had promised to reimburse me if I did buy one. She asked me to hold on and passed the phone to one of the owners. My heart sunk. I just knew he was going to tell me that he was sorry I had to buy a new coat, but that since they now had mine they weren’t going to cover the cost of the new coat. In fact, all he asked was how much the new coat cost and that they would have a check ready for me when I picked up the missing coat that afternoon. I told him the cost and offered to provide the receipt. He didn’t need to receipt and the check would be ready by early afternoon. I could have hugged him through the phone! What delightful customer service!

I picked up my coat that evening and sure enough there was an envelope attached to the hanger with a check in the exact amount I told him. I’m a forever Twin Kell customer now. I’ll tell anyone who will listen about how well they treated me when they truly didn’t have to treat me well if they hadn’t wanted to.

My beautiful hunt coat is now back in my closet, safe and sound.

My beautiful hunt coat is now back in my closet, safe and sound.

Conscious Incompetence

I was perusing Facebook recently and came upon a post with a link to an article titled How to Embrace “Incompetence”. Sometimes one just feels compelled to read something and so I did. I didn’t read the article word-for-word, but I did skim the highlights and what I read really hit home. The article is about Noel Burch’s philosophy of learning which contains four stages;

• Unconscious Incompetence

• Conscious Incompetence

• Conscious Competence

• Unconscious Competence

In case you are wondering, I’m at stage 2; Conscious Incompetence. This means, in a nutshell, I know what I’m supposed to do but just can’t seem to get it done.  At least not all of the time. Often when I talk to people and they ask how I did at a horse show I have some sort of snarky response about how great Sterling was, but his rider not-so-much. People who have known me a long time, and especially horsey friends will feel the need to reassure me that I’m a great rider. The thing is, I may be a great rider, but I still don’t really know what I’m doing when cantering around a hunter course! There are SO many pieces to put together and all of my riding muscle memory is from riding western or riding English, but in western style.

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One of the biggest differences between western in English riding is how the rider uses their legs. In western riding the rider will give an order with the leg and then leave it alone. In English riding there is constant contact and support with the leg with occasional stronger cues. My western trained legs KNOW they shouldn’t just be hanging there, but they still seem to be incompetent to get a move on and do what I want them to do all the time. Hence the competent incompetence.

Moving from Conscious Incompetence to Conscious Competence requires lots and lots of practice doing things correctly. I’m right in the middle of four horse shows in a row over five weekends and this is giving us quite a lot of opportunity for practice, practice, practice. The great news is that my horse is awesome. Almost no matter how things go in the warmup, or lack thereof, he’s always good in the ring. This gives me the good fortune of getting to practice creating new muscle memory and learning from my mistakes generally without having to worry about my horse spooking at something or refusing jumps. He’s also settling in much better at each show. Eating all his meals and drinking his water. Things Jaguar would never in a million years have NOT done! My trainer lives five hours away so I really only see her at horse shows. This means we are learning on the “stage”, but it has the added benefit of being at a horse show. You can never ever duplicate the energy of a horse show at home.

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Hopefully by the last weekend I will have, at least in part, moved to some level of competence and be rewarded with that elusive blue ribbon.

The Black Dot

In the horse breeding world there is a term, not really an official term, but when you say it others familiar with horse breeding know exactly what you are talking about. It’s called “the black dot”. We have  a black dot here at the farm and we are pretty darn excited about our black dot.

A little background on how you get a black dot. You may recall a couple posts back I told everyone we were going to breed Coco Chanel. On Good Friday (how appropriate, right?!) I took Coco to the reproduction vet to leave her there until she is (hopefully) in foal. About ten days after I dropped her off I got a Facebook message from the stallion owner that she had shipped semen to the vet and would be sending me an invoice. I was so excited and really nervous all at the same time. You see, the last time I tried to breed a mare nothing went right. After two years, a lot of heartbreak and an obscene amount of money we threw in the towel on breeding Noelle and I purchased Coco as a weanling. I was only going to be cautiously optimistic this time.

The vet texted me a couple days after I paid the shipped semen invoice and said that Coco had been inseminated, she had ovulated and that I could come pick her up. So I loaded Jaguar in the trailer and headed to pick up Coco. Jaguar is her best friend and since she hasn’t ridden in the trailer all that much I thought she’d appreciate having a buddy. Coco was WILD when we went to get her out of her stall. The vet said she’d been that way the whole time she was there. Most of the breeding done at the repro vet I’m using are cutting and barrel racing horses so Quarter Horses. Coco was easily 6″ taller than any other mare in the barn and I’m sure she was also the feistiest. She hasn’t been in a stall for more than a couple days since she had a minor leg surgery a year ago, she justifiably had cabin fever! She still needed a little bit of coaxing to get in the trailer, but load she did and off she went to wait for her ultrasound in 14 days.

April 25 was exactly 14 days after her ovulation and also the day Sterling and I returned from our horse show. So, I unloaded Sterling, turned the trailer around, and loaded Coco to head south. It was a Sunday so no one else was there except employees. We walked around a bit while we waited for the vet to get back from checking stallions (I presume). Coco was well behaved and I was getting more and more anxious. After about 20 minutes the vet showed up and we headed into the breeding barn to find out what our next step would be.

Coco got a little sedative to make the experience a little less uncomfortable. We led her into the stocks and the vet prepped her for the ultrasound. If you are a human (and I would venture to guess you are if you are reading this blog) and you’ve had a baby you may be wondering how ultrasounds are done on horses. I didn’t take any photos, but the vet has to put his arm inside the mare into her reproductive parts while holding the ultrasound camera. And this my friends is where you find the black dot. He had a very serious look on his face the whole time, and quite frankly I think he was messing with me, but after just a minute or so he pulled his arm out, looked up from the computer screen, smiled and said “she’s pregnant”. YYYYIIIIPPPPPEEEE!!!!!!!!!

I was too nervous and didn’t want to be “that girl” so I didn’t take any pics of Coco’s black dot, but here is what a horse black dot looks like at 14 days gestation:

A horse embryo at 14 days. AKA The Black Dot.

A horse embryo at 14 days. AKA The Black Dot.

So, now what? We wait a couple more weeks and head back to the vet to check for a heartbeat. At this stage of the game, statistics for a full term pregnancy are more in our favour than against us, but I’m not taking anything for granted! Coco is definitely eating more and her demeanour has changed somewhat. I’m looking forward to documenting the whole process and being able to look back on it when baby Cartier/Coco Chanel is all grown up and jumping jumps. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pretty excited about naming this designer foal, too.

Getting our Horse Show on!

Sterling and I got to go to another horse show this past weekend. Most places that host USEF “A” rated horse shows seem to have them for multiple weeks in a row. I’ve only been doing this for a few months so I’m no expert, but from what I’ve read on social media they do this to attract trainers. It is a lot easier to have multiple weeks in a row where the trainer can just camp out for a month or two than to go to place A one week, then drive to place B the next week and then to place C. You get my point. Right now there are about five weeks in a row of horse shows at the Texas Rose Horse Park near Tyler. I’m planning to go to three weekends of shows. Time and budget restraints prevent going to all four weekends of shows.

For non-Texans, April is a very special time of year in North Texas. It is severe-thunderstorm-warning-and-tornado season. When I drove to the horse show I listened to the radio and watched my rear-view mirror and basically outran a severe thunderstorm to get to the stables and get Sterling settled before it hit. Jaguar has done a fantastic job of being the herd boss and making all the horses stand outside during major storms; snow, rain, tornado, it doesn’t matter. This has resulted in horses that aren’t too affected by bad weather. I was able to unload my trailer, get Sterling settled in his stall, and head to the hotel before the wind, thunder and lightning got crazy. I had talked to Boot City earlier and the storm hit our house pretty hard. He was without power for a couple hours, which is pretty unusual for us. The braiders braid the horses’ manes and tails overnight so our braider texted my trainer and said our horses and ponies were all fine during the storm. Sterling was interested, but not crazy. She even got his forelock braided without me there to distract him while she braided it!

When we got to the barn the next morning this is what our wheelbarrow looked like:

That is just rainwater people. No one filled that thing with a hose!

That is just rainwater people. No one filled that thing with a hose!

That was just from rain from the sky, it was also runoff from the roof of the tent where the horses were stabled, but still. That is a LOT of water!

Considering this was only our second “A” show and at a newish place (we had been here a couple times before, but the ambience at an “A” show is completely different than a schooling show), I didn’t exactly know what to expect from Sterling. We did make some progress in figuring out how to best prep and settle him at horse shows.

Here is Sterling’s horse show list:

  1. Don’t ride him right when you get to the show grounds. He’s too busy and crazy looking around to accomplish anything functional.
  2. Generally he doesn’t eat much of his feed, but he will eat every morsel of hay he’s given. This isn’t terrible, at least he eats.
  3. Warmup rings make him crazy. There is way too much to look at and too many horses buzzing around him. Five minutes in it feels like someone hooked him up to an electrical outlet. It is much better to get to the show grounds super early in the morning, before the hunter princesses have woken from their beauty sleep, and get time in the warmup ring all alone.
  4. Use the warmup round for just that, to warm up over fences. I read a Chronicle of the Horse forum post recently asking about people not jumping their horse in the warmup before showing. That seems to be Sterling now. He’s the sweetest boy in the whole wide world and generally (knock on wood) is not at all spooky. He just needs one round to go see all the jumps and he’s good.
  5. Last, but not least, he just might like peppermints as treats. this needs further exploration, but I’m excited that there may be a treat he actually likes!

All in all it was a good show. We had very respectable placings on Saturday; a 2nd and a 6th over fences and 2nd in the flat class. Sunday’s placings weren’t as good, but I felt like I was riding much better. We got a fourth, a fifth and an eighth, all over fences. I’m super excited to do it all again soon. Sterling’s list may be a bit different, but at least we are getting his likes and dislikes figured out which surely makes the whole experience better for him!

Saturday's ribbons and a very sleepy pony.

Saturday’s ribbons and a very sleepy pony.

Coco has a boyfriend!

When Coco was born her dam (“mom” in human talk) was four years old. That means she was bred when she was three, which is relatively young for a horse. I keep in pretty close touch with Coco’s breeder and also know the gentleman who breaks their horses from mutual friends. The breeder told me that breeding the young mares often helps the mare to be calmer and less “marish” AKA bitchy. The breaker reiterated that Mai Tai (Coco’s mom) was much calmer and more submissive than younger mares often act when first getting ridden. Thus a seed was planted.

The whole reason I own Coco is because I had bought an older mare a few years ago for the sole purpose of breeding. After two breeding seasons and a LOT of vet bills I finally threw in the towel and bought a foal AKA Coco.You’d think after that miserable experience I’d have learned my lesson, but I haven’t. My parents raised horses and we had foals nearly every year I lived in Montana. I love being around the babies, teaching them all the basics and eventually riding and showing them. I value knowing every single experience the horse has ever had. I have no one to blame but myself if they missed something in their training. I also can’t afford to buy a $50,000+ show horse. Buying or raising foals makes much fancier horses significantly more affordable, if a bit more risky and time consuming.

Coco is by a Thoroughbred stallion named Coconut Grove out of a mare by a Dutch Warmblood stallion named Mezcalero. Both Mezcalero and Coconut Grove stood at the barn where I bought Coco. Her grand-damsire, Amaretto D, also stood there. She is registered with RPSI When planning what stallion I wanted to breed her to my biggest priority was temperament. I want a foal who is fun and easy to bring up and not super hot. I also have an affinity for Holsteiners. They are a German registry and many of the top jumpers are Holsteiners. Someday I’ll do a post (or 14) about warmblood registries. After growing up with Quarter Horses I’m still trying to figure out the whole warmblood registry thing. I follow a few breeders on Facebook and one stallion in particular had caught my eye. His name is Cartier R and he’s a Holsteiner imported from Germany. His breeder was running a fee special in 2013 so I talked to Coco’s breeder and asked if she thought it was a good cross. They had prepared and shown Cartier R at his Holsteiner stallion inspection so I knew they knew him and could give me good feedback. Coco’s breeder gave a thumbs up so I went ahead and paid the stud fee knowing it would be at least two years before Coco would be an eligible bachelorette.

Cartier R at his Holsteiner Stallion Inspection

Cartier R at his Holsteiner Stallion Inspection

At the time I paid his stud fee Cartier was only four years old so definitely didn’t yet have any show experience. Since then he has shown in some jumper and hunter classes and gotten some good ribbons. He started in the jumper arena, but has since move to the hunter arena which I actually prefer. My hope is that Coco or her foal will be a hunter. The jumpers still scare me. One thing about Cartier that I’m almost superstitious about is his single white left hind ankle. Jaguar has a single white left hind ankle and so does Coco. I’m convinced it is a sign of superior intelligence.

Cartier R showing in summer 2014

Cartier R showing in summer 2014

If you want to read more about Cartier R you should check out Rising Star Farm. Coco went to the reproduction vet last week and I have my fingers and toes crossed and I say special prayers every night that she gets in foal easily, has a nice pregnancy and delivers a perfect filly next spring, also with a white left hind ankle. OK, I’d be fine if it is just a healthy foal.

I’ll leave you with one last photo of the beautiful Cartier R. If you own a warmblood mare, you should give Ronda a call. She has a few lovely stallions on her farm. In the meantime think happy thoughts, so prayers, or do whatever you do to influence positive outcomes!

Another pic of Cartier R showing in the hunter ring

Another pic of Cartier R showing in the hunter ring

Saddle Shopping |The Grand Finale

So, there we were. The right saddle and size had been identified and were unavailable. I did what any savvy saddle shopper would do and I got in touch with the dealer for the brand I wanted to buy (Antares). I told him of my predicament and he made me feel a million times better when he told me he could get a Spooner. We were back in business! He did explain that the off-the-rack saddles Antares makes fall to the back of the manufacturing line behind custom orders, but he could get one in my size. I was elated. This was all happening around Christmas and New Years and the French don’t work during the week before and a week after a holiday so he wouldn’t know until the second or third week of January when the saddle might be available. No worries. It had been a few months since the this whole quest had begun so what was a few more weeks? Plus, there was an Antares meeting at the corporate office in the U.S. in January so surely that would offer the best possible scenario to get production news.

It was while I was in NYC for a fun weekend celebrating my horsey bestie’s 30th birthday that I got the text with the good news. Spooners were in production and he expected them to start arriving “in a couple weeks”. Surely I would have my new saddle before February! There were a lot of exclamation points in my texts on this day because I was so excited! There was a light at the end of the tunnel!

A couple weeks went by with no news of Spooners. Then another week went by and some other, more normal sized, Spooners arrived and now there was no prediction of when or if my 18″ would make it into production. To sooth my disappointment I started perusing used saddle websites again. I found one really lovely 18″ used Antares on the CWD used saddle webpage. I even put a deposit on it and had them take it off the website. It was getting closer and closer to the weekend I was going to show in my first “A” rated USEF show and I really wanted to have my new saddle before then. The Antares rep was going to be at said horse show for all four weeks (I only showed one of the four weeks) and he had pretty much his entire saddle inventory with him. I consulted with my trainer and we agreed that it would just be best for me to ride some of the saddles he had to get a more solid idea of what I needed and then I could get more serious about finding the right used saddle without having to kiss a bunch more frogs and send them packing back to their owner when they don’t fit.

I arrived at the show all giddy and nervous about my first “A” show as much as about finding a saddle. My division was fairly early in the morning so I showed in my borrowed saddle. Once my first division was done I went to pick up a saddle to try. It was a brand new Antares. 18″ seat with a 3A flap meaning the flap is longer than normal and more forward. It felt good, but my trainer felt that the forward flap was more forward than I needed. She advised to go back and see if he had an 18″ with either a normal length forward flap or a long but not forward flap. I returned with another brand new 18″ Antares with a 3 (long) flap. Both saddles were significantly more $$$ than I had budgeted so I was working really hard to not fall in love. Saddle #2 was a bingo! Trainer liked it. I liked it. I think Sterling liked it. I even showed in the second division I competed in the second trial saddle. Then, I did what any sane woman with an obsession with riding horses would do. I called my husband. He had all the right answers. Of course I should buy saddle #2. If I don’t buy it I’ll have to try however many more saddles and spend hundreds of dollars shipping them back and forth. Clearly it made sense to buy the saddle that my trainer liked and felt was the right saddle for my horse and me. I’ve never won the lottery, but I can’t imagine it is much better than your husband giving the go ahead to buy a schmancy new saddle.

Here she is in all her glory:

My beautiful brand new Antares saddle. BEAUTIFUL!

My beautiful brand new Antares saddle. BEAUTIFUL!

What made this saddle “the one”? I mentioned in previous posts that my horse is on the skinny side. Thoroughbreds are notoriously narrow and often have super high withers making them difficult to fit. Thankfully Sterling isn’t on the narrower side, but he’s definitely narrower than a warmblood. He is also not super tall at just 16 hands. I have about a 30″ inseam so when I ride Sterling I ride with a shorter stirrup than I would if my horse had a bigger, rounder barrel. This shorter stirrup pushes my butt back in the saddle. I don’t have extra long femurs, if I had extra long femurs I would have needed the saddle with the long AND forward flap. As it was the long flap is best. The bottom of the flap should hit the rider’s leg in the middle of the calf and the rider’s knee should have room to spare at the front of the flap when the stirrups are the correct length.

Here are some pics to demonstrate this gobble-de-gook:

Saddle fit pictures are kind of humiliating and make one feel like they should stop typing and go do some sit-ups. Anyhow. The flap hits just at the fat part of my calf like it should.

Saddle fit pictures are kind of humiliating and make one feel like they should stop typing and go do some sit-ups. Anyhow. The flap hits just at the fat part of my calf like it should.

Some squats might help, too. There are a few inches in the back of my derriere to allow plenty of room to sit back before a "big" jump.

Some squats might help, too. There are a few inches in the back of my derriere to allow plenty of room to sit back before a “big” jump.

The other side. Isn't it pretty?!

The other side. Isn’t it pretty?!

Last, but certainly not least.

Last, but certainly not least.

I’ve had my new saddle for nearly two months and I still love it. The previous saddles I had ridden left dry spots on Sterling’s back and this one leaves one big uniform sweat spot on all parts where the saddle should be touching him. My leg feels more still. It’s just too bad that the new saddle doesn’t fix all my riding problems like counting strides for me out loud and zapping me when I lean too far forward before a jump. For now I’m just delighted to be done saddle shopping.

Saddle Shopping: Stage 2

So saddle #1 was a fail. We headed to another horse show in November and this time I discussed more fully with my trainer what exactly I was shopping for. We settled on looking for an Antares and a larger seat size than a 17″. They make lovely saddles in France and have a great reputation both for their customer service (even on second-hand purchased saddles) as well as for having a quality product. We ruled out a couple other brands for quality and fit issues and kept a couple as maybes. I have a tendency to get fixated on things, so I was pretty set on getting an Antares. My trainer mentioned the Antares Spooner, which is an off-the-rack saddle that Antares offers, but I mostly blew off that idea (in my head, not out loud) because it was a few hundred dollars more than what I was planning to spend. This would become laughable later.

As I previously posted that show went pretty well (we got 6th in our first ever hunter derby) and we headed home with renewed energy to shop for that new saddle. I shopped. And I shopped. And I shopped some more. THIS IS THE ONE! Wait, no, I don’t think that flap is long enough. I love it, but it is too expensive. I talked Boot City’s ear off about the whole thing. Maybe I should try this one, or maybe this one. I got so in my own head that I didn’t even try another saddle until Christmas. And what a lovely Christmas it was.

Boot City pays a lot more attention to things than I generally give him credit for. He is unbelievably supportive of my obsession with all things horsey and genuinely supports every harebrained idea I get about what I want to do with my horses. So, Christmas morning, this is what was under the tree:

An Antares Spooner trial saddle from SmartPak!

An Antares Spooner trial saddle from SmartPak!

He took it upon himself to order the Spooner trial saddle from SmartPak for me to try. Yes, the saddle that was a few hundred dollars over the budget I had set for myself he just went ahead and got for me to try. I had to sit down for a minute. I HAVE THE BEST HORSEY HUSBAND EVER. The trial saddles from SmartPak generally only come in a 17″ (as previously mentioned, this is the most popular size seat). If you like the saddle you try, you can just keep it. Having discussed the larger seat size with my trainer already I was fairly certain I was going to need a bigger saddle, but with the trial I could make sure it fit my horse and that I generally liked it so I could order the correct size.

How does the saddle need to fit the horse? I’m no expert, but I can explain the basics. You want the gullet, the channel down the middle of the underside of the seat, to be wide enough that it doesn’t put pressure on the horse’s spine. You also want plenty of clearance over the horses’s withers (the hump behind their neck and before their back), but not hitting the top of the withers. Lastly you want the underside of the saddle to touch the horse evenly. The more evenly the panels touch the horse, the more evenly the rider’s weight is spread out. If all the rider’s weight is only supported by a couple spots then the horse is going to have pain in the spots over time. Thankfully my horses are all rather easy to fit. Sterling especially.

The back view. Not the best photo ever taken, but you can see there is plenty of room down the gullet to give his spine plenty of room.

The back view. Not the best photo ever taken, but you can see there is plenty of room down the gullet to give his spine plenty of room.

In this shot you can see there are no issues with his withers being pinched or hitting the underside of the saddle. Things are looking good!

In this shot you can see there are no issues with his withers being pinched or hitting the underside of the saddle. Things are looking good!

All signs were pointing to yes to the Spooner. Yay! Now to ride in it a few times. SmartPak very specifically says to ride in it like you own it already. Often when you try new saddles you have to cover up the stirrup leathers with a sock so as not to damage the leather and you can’t do much in it because the saddle still needs to look brand new if you opt to not keep it. Not the best way to try a saddle. So we spent the five days after Christmas riding in the Spooner as much as possible and sending myriad photos to my trainer to get feedback on fit.

Day 1:

Definitely too small, but leg position is improved. Trainer says shorten the stirrups and send more pics.

Definitely too small, but leg position is improved. Trainer says shorten the stirrups and send more pics.

Day 2:

Stirrups shortened. Getting better. Trainer requests another pic with stirrups shortened again. Done and done.

Stirrups shortened. Getting better. Trainer requests another pic with stirrups shortened again. Done and done.

Day 4 the-saddle-must-be-mailed-back-tomorrow

Looks good! Trainer says to order the 18". 18"?!?!?!?! #selfimagesuffering

Looks good! Trainer says to order the 18″. 18″?!?!?!?! #selfimagesuffering

I’m a female in the United States of America in 2015. Bigger size, means big person, which is generally frowned upon in the culture that worships young and thin. I need an 18″ saddle?!?!?! So, I ask my trainer what any female student would ask, “is my butt really THAT big?” Here I get another lesson in saddle fitting. It isn’t about how big my derriere is, it is how long my legs are and how skinny my horse is. Huh? I have long legs. What?! No one has told me that since I was 17. I thought that I had somehow become average in all aspects of size as an adult, but evidently my legs did NOT get shorter upon entering adulthood. My horse has flat sides and doesn’t have a huge barrel. This combination means I need to ride with a shorter stirrup than I would on a larger barrelled horse which pushes my seat back in the saddle and results in needing a larger seat size to accommodate all this accommodation for my skinny horse. Make sense?

At this point I have a whole new level of respect for saddle fitters and for people with hard to fit body types and horses who are hard to fit. I’m just a little bit out of whack and it made getting just the right saddle that much more complicated. But, I knew now that I needed an 18″ Antares Spooner. I boxed up my beautiful test ride saddle and sent it back to SmartPak and called to order my 18″. Except that they no longer carry the Spooner in the 18″. Wait. What?! Nope. No. Can. Do. I’m quite certain I nearly cried. I guess the bright side at this point was that I knew, for the most part, what size I needed and that I needed the long flap (not the Normal or Short flap, the long one for my long legs. I was pretty excited about having long legs again).

So, next week will be the big saddle shopping finale.

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