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Saddle Shopping, Continued

On November 1, Cordia came back out to pick up the Danube and bring some more saddles for me to try, both jumping and dressage. LOTS more saddles. Lots and lots. It was an intimidating delight to see them all lined up along the arena rail and saddle stands. We took over the entire grooming area with saddles. So many saddles!

Cordia set them all on Poe. She nixed the ones she didn’t like and set aside the ones she did. Then I sat in the ones she liked on the saddle stand. A couple we were able to eliminate based on my leg being too freaking long or me feeling like I was in a chair seat. From the remaining, she picked two jump saddles and two dressage saddles for me to actually ride in. So all the below had the nod from Cordia for fit on him while in the cross-ties.

Thornhill Germania Spring – 17.5″ W ($1350)
My first jump saddle contender! I liked it fine. He felt pretty normal going around in it (walk, trot, canter), and he was willing to back up. It’s priced very nicely, wool-flocked, and has a more forward-cut flap (by design; it wasn’t a special forward flap model). I said I wanted to keep it and try a jumping lesson in it. Cordia said wait and try the next one.

Adam Ellis Chloe – 17.5″ W ($2695)
This was the second jump saddle. It’s also wool-flocked, with serge wool panels. In this saddle Poe was like butter. He lifted his back and bent easily to the right (right bend is never easy!) and had this extra loft through his shoulders. He felt powerful and loose. It was crazy time. Very clearly the most he’s ever liked a saddle. Cordia saw the same thing I was feeling. So I said I wanted to keep *this one* for my jumping lesson the next day. It’s twice my budget but daaang. My feet/legs felt appreciably more underneath me than with the Spring or my Beval (which feel about the same). I’ve never felt in a chair seat with either of those, but the stirrup bar seemed back a little in the Chloe. I kept waiting to feel like it was tipping me forward, but it did not.

Adam Ellis Darwood – 18″ W ($2795)
Back to the dressage saddles. Cordia picked the Darwood because it’s built on a similar (the same?) tree as the Chloe. Poe felt just okay in it, and I was pretty neutral on it. The Chloe was a hard number to follow.

Ryder Zara (Custom) – 17.5″ ($3000)
This was Cordia’s personal saddle; she worked with Ryder (an English saddlemaker) to construct the tree and everything. It’s her magic saddle that tons of horses love. It’s quite deep with substantial thigh blocks. The seat was much too small for me — I was pinned in, and posting off the cantle. Despite that, Poe seemed to like this one better than the Darwood, and got back a bit more of the loft and shoulder freedom he’d displayed in the Chloe. At $3k for the custom build, I mentally crossed this one off the list. This one in particular was not up for sale, and I didn’t get a really good feeling for how one that’s big enough for me would ride.

So, I hung onto the Chloe. I decided if I really loved it, I would just postpone the dressage saddle search and do jumping and flatwork in it for the time being. The idea of not having to look at any more dressage saddles was frankly a relief. I also snuck in one more trial saddle I’d picked up from an outside source. I felt weird about having Cordia look at it (I don’t know why — stupid — but I felt strange saying I was still looking outside of her help when she was bringing me SO many possibilities), so I looked at it after she’d left. It was a County Conquest XTR jumping saddle, 17.5″ W. The panels seemed to fit well but the tree sat down on his wither. There was enough clearance that I felt okay riding in it for a couple minutes to get a feel for it, since I’d read so many rave reviews and gone to the trouble of picking it up. I just trotted a bit and cantered a circle — the saddle seemed comfortable and I liked the balance in the canter in particular. Obviously a no go with the wither issue.

On Sunday I got to the barn early, and cleaned and conditioned my Beval until it glowed, then tacked up in the Chloe. Poe had his usual moments of geeking at a few things in the outdoor ring, but those moments just did not feel as dramatic as usual. The seat of the Chloe is much cushier than the Beval, and I felt like it would be kinder on trail rides. (When I do too much walking in the Beval, delicate places can get a little raw.) Jane was an awesome set of eyes on the ground, and gave me some great over-fences exercises to get used to and test the saddle.

The verdict was that the balance was great on him and for me. My leg was beautifully underneath me. I was more relaxed to the fences, and kept my hips moving and shoulder unlocked more than usual. We did one tight rollback turn to a gate with poles set on it in a V (the tips of the poles touching in the center of the jump, and the ends coming out as wings toward the approach on either side), which Poe took from a slightly long spot with a very powerful jump, and though I stayed defensive and upright in my body (which is my go-to when jumping), I actually stayed with him. I pretty regularly get left behind, so it was a really strange and pretty awesome feeling to come in with my usual defense posture and have it actually work and not mess up his jump. I have also been struggling lately to drop my right hip and leg back when cantering to the left, and that monumental struggle was gone (or at least greatly lessened) in the Chloe.

So — I would not say the Chloe fixed all of my jumping problems, certainly, but it made me realize how much easier life could be for me. I was feeling pretty good.

And then, just before I was about to dismount, Jane said, “Oh, how’s the wither clearance?”

As you may guess, knowing that saddle searches cannot be easy, the wither clearance was not good. It wasn’t something I’d checked on any of Cordia’s saddles the day before. But trying to poke my hand between the saddle and Poe’s wither, I couldn’t get my finger past the second knuckle without a struggle. It was close on the sides as well. I even got off him, tried to position the saddle further back, and got back on. Same result. Heartbreak.

So now I’m in a waiting game. Cordia spoke to Adam who thought he could make a custom model that would fix the wither issue. I’m skeptical about taking the gamble. There are no fit guarantees (all custom saddles are final sale), and I just can’t imagine how he could fix the wither clearance without changing the currently perfect balance of the saddle or how it rides for me. I took pictures of Poe to share with him to get a more definitive answer, and am waiting to hear back.

In the mean time, the search continues. (I did find a rack Zara on mega clearance at Dressage Extensions. I was worried it was going to sell out and ordered it before I could hear back from Cordia about her thoughts. While it was on its way to me, she replied to say she’d ruled it out because of the tree shape. When it arrived I discovered this particular one, marketed under Legacy instead of Ryder, is made of a much less nice leather. Neither of us really liked it — it felt way too deep for me, and the balance was too far back. Que sera.)

Current tally: 19 (not including other people’s I’ve set on him but not ridden in)

  • Thornhill Zurich 33cm
  • Trilogy (didn’t write about this one – seat was way too small for me)
  • County Competitor 18″ MW
  • Duett Largo 18″ 34cm
  • Thornhill Danube 18″ W
  • Prestige 2000 17″ 34cm
  • Thornhill Vienna II 18″ 33cm (34cm?)
  • Bates Classic Dressage 18″ W gullet
  • County Competitor 18″ W (newer model)
  • Wintec 500 17.5″ MW gullet
  • Ideal 17.5″ W
  • Passier Optimum 17.5″ W
  • Schleese Jane Savoie 18″ MW
  • Thornhill Germania Spring 17.5″ W
  • Adam Ellis Chloe 17.5″ W
  • Adam Ellis Darwood 18″ W
  • Ryder Zara (custom) 17.5″
  • County Competitor XTR 17.5″ W
  • Ryder Legacy Zara (rack) 18″ W

Saddle Shopping: More Saddles

When I told Trumbull Mountain that I hated the twist in the Largo, their next suggestion was a Prestige 2000. I was pretty skeptical about it because it’s a 17″ and I have a long femur. In my research I read that Prestige doesn’t make half sizes, so the 17 is sometimes said to be equivalent to a 17.5. There are lots of good general reviews of them as nicely-made, long-lasting saddles; lots of people who have them love them.

Prestige 2000 – 17″ 34cm
For Poe: Hollows between his shoulders and the panels under the tree points. Spit the pad back while I was riding.
For me: Seat was definitely too small. It has substantial thigh blocks and is fairly deep, so my knees were jammed into the blocks and I was posting off the cantle a bit. I felt very pinned in.

I’ve ridden in a couple now that have spit the pad back; I need to find out more about what could be causing this. I asked Trumbull Mountain and they said the saddle could be too wide or not the right shape, causing the saddle to shimmy side to side and work the pad out.

Thornhill Vienna II – 18″ 33cm (34cm?)
For Poe: Okay?
For me: Twist felt wide. Also felt unbalanced left to right — not sure if I just got it tweaked a little when I was mounting up or if it’s how it’s flocked or what. I was kind of tipping around on it trying to find my position, and felt like the flap was too straight for where I like my leg.

Friday I picked up three more to try from St. Croix. I was going to take out a Bates close contact, but there was an issue with the screws on the gullet plates, so I ended up with a Wintec 500 instead, which is marked as an AP saddle. Que sera, I knew I would be making a return trip anyway, so what’s one more?

Bates Classic Dressage – 18″, wide gullet plate
For him: Shape seemed in the ballpark, but lowest point seemed to be more back toward the cantle than where it should be. He did not want to back up in it and just generally didn’t seem thrilled. He wasn’t naughty, but also wasn’t really relaxed and willing.
For me: The twist was on the wider side, but it was the least barrel-feeling and most secure of all the wider twists I’ve sat in. The stirrup buckles were directly under my thighs, which was super painful. Definitely a no from the buckle placement alone.

County Competitor – 18″ W (newer)
For him: Balance point too far back? Felt like it shimmied side to side while I was riding. He was more willing to back up in this one vs the Bates.
For me: I couldn’t find my sweet spot in this one. I felt like I was tipping around and couldn’t get comfortable — behind the motion, rise felt steep, etc. Sitting trot was more difficult than usual — I had trouble keeping the stirrups, even when I’d pulled them up two holes. I definitely didn’t like it, which was weird because I Loved the one from a couple weeks ago.

Wintec 500 – 17.5″ MW gullet
For him: I felt like the back of the panel looked too pointy for him — like it was going to jab into his loin.
For me: No. I was posting off the cantle and just generally not the right balance.


So, once again, bad blogger. A lot’s happened since my last update…

First, I rode in a clinic with David DeWispelaere in April. I really enjoyed it, and intended for a long time to write about it — but less than a week after the clinic, Poe came out of the pasture lame. NOT HAPPY. I’d taken him out back for walking and trotting hill work on Tuesday and had a really nice jumping lesson on Wednesday. He felt a bit sluggish by the end of the lesson, so he got Thursday off. Then Friday, lame. LAME. I called my friend Lennie, who happens to be one of the most knowledgeable horsepeople I know, and she graciously came out to the barn to watch him jog. It was definitely left hind (my eye for lameness is terrible, but this was pronounced enough even I could see it). He didn’t seem to want to place the foot, so Lennie felt it was an abscess brewing, and best thing for it would be chuck him back out in the field and wait.

The next Wednesday he was still about the same, maybe a touch better than that first day. The vet was coming out to float his teeth anyhow, so I called ahead to ask that he watch Poe jog, throw the hoof testers on him, etc before doing his teeth. The vet kindly squeezed it in. He saw the same left hind lameness, but couldn’t find any reactivity with the hoof testers, no heat, no swelling, no difference in pulse between the legs. He didn’t have time for further diagnostics and couldn’t tell anything based on what he’d seen. So I set up an appointment the following Monday (soonest I could get someone), and put him on a couple days of bute.

Monday the second vet watched him jog on and off the lunge, did the hoof testers, and did some flexions. Poe was a total brat about flexing his left stifle. He wasn’t fantastic about his right either, but worse for the left. No real heat or swelling, and no difference in the jog before and after the flexion, but he also wasn’t able to hold it all that long. Inconclusive. We were set to do nerve blocks next, but Poe was a bit fried and refused to have the twitch put on, and reacted rather violently to the vet’s attempt to get the needle in without the twitch, so we scrapped that. He is usually an easy horse to handle so the whole exam was a bit disheartening. Much moreso because we were no closer to an answer than we’d been last week. The vet advised I give it another couple of days, and set another appointment if there was no change, possibly bring him in for x-rays.

By Wednesday there was no difference. I don’t have a truck and trailer, so hauling him up to the clinic was not a great option. A third vet was able to schedule to see him on Saturday. He’s the one who usually handles emergencies so they don’t schedule him, but I was very flexible about when I could see him so he worked me in. He repeated everything we’d done Monday, with a bit better success on the flexions, since Poe was feeling more cooperative. Same result: he flexed fine. Back in the barn the vet pulled out the hoof testers — and voila! Tenderness in the left hind. It was the first time Poe had reacted to them, but there was a definite, repeatable reaction. Probably a stone bruise. And a huge, huge relief. The vet had also brought out the thermography camera, so he had a look at both of Poe’s back legs with that. Really cool little device — and also a relief to see no difference in heat between the legs. The vet felt there was a small amount of swelling in the left stifle, but nothing super alarming.

He prescribed a 3-week course of bute (2gm twice a day for three doses, then 2gm once a day for 10 days, then 1gm once a day for 10 days), and said I should ride him. Nothing super strenuous, stick to large figures, no jumping — but he felt the bute would address any inflammation, and that moving would help him strengthen/loosen whatever he’d tweaked, and things would either improve and be fine or get worse so we might have a clue what else was going on. We discussed other options too — injecting the stifle, taking him in for x-rays — but we both felt this was the best next step. So, after over 2 weeks out of the saddle, I got to climb on the pony-face again! It was a fantastic feeling just to walk and trot him around the arena.

That was mid-May. I honestly feel like we’ve still been getting back into work since then, which is kind of pathetic since it’s been 2 months and he wasn’t out of work that long. I feel like he’s had good days and bad days, though. He’s consistently more comfortable on the footing in the indoor, but sometimes he feels pretty great in the outdoor too. We went back to jumping a month ago. We haven’t done a lot, but he is SO so excited and happy every time we do.

I’m still freaked out that my horse is secretly broken, though. Every tiny bobble and misstep scares me. I’m terrified I’m doing wrong by him somehow, that I will ruin him. So, I’m trying to take things in baby steps. Baby baby steps. I’ve launched Operation: Super-Stifle! and am walking him up and down the hills out back at least once a week. It’s something we can do even in this insane heatwave. (A couple weeks ago we had a heat advisory all week, with temps around 100 and insane humidity — so that was a week of a lot of baths and zero riding, which hasn’t helped the feeling that we’re woefully unprepared for anything right now.) This Sunday we’re going cross-country schooling at Steepleview. I’m prepared to quit the minute he starts feeling tired. I’m also using it to gauge whether or not to sign up for their recognized show over Labor Day weekend. Some moments I feel like it would be the most fun thing ever and we just have to go do it — and other moments I remember how showing leaves me wanting to vomit the entire week beforehand, and pretty much every moment during it that we aren’t running cross-country. Still, if I never show the nerves will never get better.

To that end I did a little ride-a-test schooling thing a few weeks ago at my barn. You could pick any test, ride it once for the judge, get feedback and a mini-lesson about how to improve that test immediately, then ride it again. I had the best score ever, and while I was tense I did not entirely lose my mind when we hit the ring, so it was an improvement. It helps that the judge was Jodi, who I used to train with. And she had some awesome advice for us, and some really concrete specific thing we should be working on. Namely: shoulder-fore at the canter, especially on the right lead. Do not let him trick me into hold his head up with the inside rein to that direction. Use the long walls instead of circles until he’s more balanced. We have not been doing this enough — I know it will help us enormously, and need to start busting it out now that the weather’s broken.

Okay, this was a really rambling catch-all, but I think I hit all the highlights of the last couple months. Oh! Except the saddle! I bought a dressage saddle. Update for another time.

Poe walk, July 2012

More Saddle Shopping

dressage saddles

First world problems: I’m in saddle shopping hell. I feel like I’m probably complaining too early, calling down the wrath of the dressage saddle gods (You think it’s bad now? You haven’t SEEN bad…) — but this is HARD. There are so many variables, and it’s SO MUCH WORK to try saddles. All of them have to be hauled into the barn to be set on him, and then there’s the mystifying experience of trying to guess how they fit. There’s a lot of eyeballing and hmming and jiggling the saddle around. I’m very lucky that there’s often one or two dressage instructors floating around who are incredibly sweet and generous with their time (and probably really don’t want to have to watch Poe laboring under an ill-fitting saddle for the next however long), and have taken pity on me and given me some really helpful comments on how the saddles seem to sit.

Once the initial assessment is done, I have to scrounge up a dressage girth, since I don’t own one, then haul the million saddles and the pony down to the arena to give them all a test ride. The stirrups have to be wrestled on and off each one in turn, and adjusted, and BLAAAH. All of this while trying to keep the pony’s wet nose off of them, while he’s high as a kite from being on lock-up and bored with all of this standing around being saddled. He does not understand that we are shopping for exciting expensive new things for him, and it behooves him to cooperate.

Here’s the run-down of what we’ve tried so far:

  • New County Competitor: Current best fit: 17.5″ medium tree. Medium wide fits well with sheepskin half pad. The new Countys have flat panels that sit well on his back. (I actually don’t have a clear memory of how these sat on his back; I had the County rep out and am relying on what she told me about it sitting correctly. So, grain of salt, knowing she’s the rep for just that brand.) I felt like I was swinging around a bit in the seat, and like I was really sitting on the tree — it seemed to hit me in a weird place inside my thighs. But that could also be lack of familiarity with dressage saddles in general. Maybe the saddle needs breaking in. Maybe I just need to find my seat in it and it would do a world of good for my riding.
  • New County Perfection: Same fit as above. This has a different leather, deeper seat, and external thigh blocks. I felt more secure in this one and the canter in particular was awesome — I was just stuck right with him. Unfortunately this one also has the biggest price tag, and is way out of my range. I wonder also if I would end up not liking such a deep, holding seat?
  • Old County Competitor: 17.5″ MW (#4). This is the older model with the unfortunate banana panels. It badly needs reflocking; I’m still waiting to hear how much that could help the fit, because it’s fantastic to ride in, and a fair price. It seems to sit on him well with the sheepskin half pad — but I’m not sure I want to spend that much money for something I need to pad that looks so atrocious just sitting on him. Still, so comfy!
  • Stellar Calypso: 17.5″ wide tree. Never heard of this brand before. I expressed skepticism at the saddle shop about even trying a wide since he’s currently a medium, but she said it looked like a really narrow wide. It didn’t sit well on him at all, way too wide, so I didn’t even ride in it.
  • Bates Classic Dressage: 17.5″ adjustable with medium gullet plate. From the group of four this one sat the best on him — flattest panels, and sat the best on him (didn’t shift around much when jostled). This one has the Cair, but I know it’s also available wool flocked. Wish I could’ve tried the wool. The ride on this one wasn’t bad, but I also felt the furthest away from him; I didn’t have a great feel. One of the dressage instructors who’d seen me riding in the old County said my leg was better in that: the Bates put me a little behind the motion.
  • Thornhill Zurich: 17.5″ medium tree. In the initial fitting it swam around on him more than the Bates, and the billets were a little far back. This one has a deeper seat than the Bates. Riding: The instructor felt it sat better on him and that my position when walking was better (she left before I trotted in it), but I felt like it pinned me in a bit and I kept touching the pommel when posting. (Probably I post wrong. Probably everything about my dressage riding is wrong…) Didn’t like it.
  • Passier Grand Gilbert 18″ medium wide. In the initial fitting it swam around more than the Bates, and came up at the back a little. When I girthed it up on him I felt like the flaps were almost going back vs sitting straight — maybe the tree was a bit too wide and coming down on his withers? Riding in it I felt like I couldn’t wrestle my leg underneath myself — my knees were stuck in the thigh block. The instructor didn’t see my ride in it but we spoke about it afterward, and she said it may give me the best position in the long run — that my hips flexors are probably too tight right now to allow my thigh to open and drape downward properly. I may give this one another try with the fleece pad; two dressage instructors at my barn like the Passiers and think they should fit Poe’s shape pretty well. I did sit two other Passier models on him — I wish I’d written down the specs on them! Neither fit him quite right and I didn’t ride in either one.

I left the barn last night feeling grumpy and defeated. It’s such an investment and so hard to know the right choice, and SO SO many other options out there to try…

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