Friday, May 31, 2013

Goldilocks and the 50 Million Saddles Episode 1

Back in April I had a saddle fitter check the fit of my two saddles. The whole experience was wonderful! D is extremely knowledgeable and does not work for a saddlery or tack shop which is great because I didn't feel pressured in the slightest to buy anything. Currently I own two saddles: a Wintec 2000 All-Purpose and a Wintec Pro dressage saddle. Both saddles were purchased new around 2001 (so they are over 10 years old), have been meticulously cared for, and have served me well. I explained up front that I was interested in making both saddles work for the meantime if possible since I'm not looking to buy a new saddle until at least December. She took Kwik's measurements and made tracings, evaluated the fit of both saddles on Kwik and while I was riding, and we experimented with different pads, shims, and tree widths. While she was poking around in my saddles, we discovered that they are so old they are synthetically flocked and do not have CAIR panels! All in all, she was satisfied with the fit of both saddles, although I'm going to try a MW blue gullet plate in my dressage saddle to see if that gives him a little more clearance since she did not have one on hand. We also tried some of the boarders' jump saddles on Kwik (with their permision!) to evaluate fit. The Amerigo was an instant NO, but she loved the fit of the Stubben Zaria and the Black Country Quantum (gulp, of course she did!). She emphasized the importance of purchasing a wool flocked saddle over something with CAIR or foam panels, and she let me feel a CAIR panel she had on hand. I really was suprised at how janky they look and how hard they are!

My problem right now is that I've ridden in the same two saddles for over 10 years and I really don't know what I do and don't like. Ann and I talked a bit about what I should look for in a jump saddle, and here's what I think I want at this point after talking with Ann and my saddle fitter:

1. Wool flocking
2. Front and rear blocks
3. Medium deep seat

With my budget in mind (~ $1,500), I've started to look around at my options. The Stubben Roxanne looks like something I'd like to try as does the Duett Bravo. While Duett is known for making saddles for wide horses, I'm curious if they could narrow a tree to fit Kwik. The Bravo just looks like a very nice saddle for the price, and Stacy over at The Jumping Percheron has two Duett Prestos and raves about them! I may email Duett to see if they have demos available.

Anyhoo, I mentioned that I got to ride Sierra the other day, and subsequently I got to ride in J's Fairfax monoflap dressage saddle. Although I'm looking to replace my jump saddle first, I'm definitely filing that experience away for when the time comes to replace my trusty Wintec Pro because I LOVED it! The external blocks were strange at first, but they really kept my leg in place and the deep seat was awesome. It really felt like the saddle put me in the proper position, and I felt secure but flexible at the same time. Lovely!

Fairfax Monoflap Dressage

PL brought her old Collegiate (I think it is similar to the Collegiate Senior Event saddle) out for me to try as well. I like the fit on Kwik- it seemed to make nice contact and gave him enough wither clearance. It smelled great (I'm not used to a saddle smelling like leather!), and I couldn't wait to ride in it. While I think the seat may have been a tad big for me, I felt like the seat was a little flat for my taste. It was also very loud!! I don't know- Wintecs don't make noise. This creaked and made noise with each step. I don't really think I felt all that secure in that saddle either, although it did not have the rear blocks. Will I just know what's right when I feel it? I sure hope so because purchasing a saddle is an investment. I definitely want to make the right choice!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Trail Riding Ann Style

Overall, Kwik's been great on all of the trail rides we've been on recently. We did have one failed attempt on Thursday when we rode up to the schooling show dressage arenas with PL and Drifter for some flat work and a short trail ride. It was a beautiful day, and I think many of the Ashland members had the same idea. There were several trailers parked at the schooling show grounds and horses riding in the arenas. Kwik was a little rattled by all of the excitement, and I just didn't feel like falling off. So I hopped down, walked him all the way back to the barn and put him to work in the barn arena where he proceeded to be a perfect gentleman. I also had to hop down and lead him for a bit on Saturday when we went out with J and Sierra, but I got back on and finished the ride. J and I even swapped horses towards the end and I got to ride sweet, dainty Sierra! What a treat!

When I talked with Ann about the plan for our Sunday lesson, she offered to haul her horse to Ashland so we could hit the trails together. I firmly believe trail riding requires all of the skills you've been practicing in the arena, and you can learn to be a good trail rider. Here's how the ride went:

Me: Here comes a downhill slope. We have problems with these- Kwik likes to barrel down and then I feel like I have no control.

Ann: Ride downhill in what I like to call 4-wheel-drive. Sink deep into your heels, sit deep and back into your seat, and really think about being fluid through your arms and elbows. Ask him to come onto the bit and use his back end to walk straight down the hill. Eventually when he feels you shift your weight like this, he will know to engage his hind end.

Kwik: These flies are really annoying. Maybe if I jig and try to trot they will go away.

Ann: When you stop being in charge sit deep and ask him to come onto the bit with low hands that are a bit wider and very giving. Really use those elbows and say "we're just going to calmly walk on the bit, just like we do in the arena." You want to be in charge, but you don't want to be tense. When he starts to settle back in, reward with a longer rein and less contact. After a minute or so of good work, test him by asking him to come onto the bit. Then reward again with a longer rein. This is like your reset button.

Me: Here comes an uphill slope. We have problems at these too. Kwik likes to charge up and again, I feel like I have no control.

Ann: Ride uphill slopes by putting your calf on, lean forward and rise slightly out of your seat, push your hands into his neck at the breastplate strap, and ask him to come onto the bit and again, use his hind end.

Kwik: Do I hear chickens? Is that a house up ahead with strange people?!

Ann: When you come upon something new and potentially exciting, talk in the direction of the new and exciting thing.

Ann proceeds to call a greeting to the neighbors. They talk for a minute about their plans for the holiday weekend.

Kwik: Holy crap, we're walking in the cross country field. I'm supposed to be galloping right? Let's at least trot up this hill!

Me: Maybe I should get off...

Ann: Put your calf on, lean forward, come slightly out of your saddle, and press your hands into his neck. Play with the rein a bit and ask him to come onto the bit.

I'm really not sure why or how this worked, but it did. I think Kwik was just daring me to get tense and take a death grip on the reins. Surprise! I couldn't do that if my hands were pressed into his neck.

We walked around the show arenas, stopped to chat with people and horses parked there, and then made our way back home. I got some more practice with up and downhill slopes on the way. I can't tell you how helpful that lesson was, and I'm hoping we can do a few more lessons like this throughout the summer. Hopefully by the end of the summer I'll have learned to ride any sort of shenanigans he can think to throw my way. I'm so lucky to have a trainer like Ann that is willing to teach me to ride my horse not only in the arena but on the trails too!

Friday, May 24, 2013

That Deserves 100 Cookies

This post is dedicated to Carlos. He is the poster child for the OTTB- talented, full of heart, and the kind of horse every girl dreams of owning. I can only hope that one day Kwik and I will have the kind of bond that L and Carlos shared.

Our jump lesson on Tuesday with Ann was awesome! No surprise there though because Ann is our magical miracle worker. It was hot (probably about 85) and HUMID, and Kwik was lazy lazy. We worked on keeping up the energy at the walk and trot, focusing on looking in the direction I wanted to go and giving Kwik a purpose. Then we moved into the canter. I can't believe I'm actually saying this, but I think our canter work is better than our trot work right now! Kwik seems to have found his balance at the canter (probably because I am riding much better) and now easily carries himself. The left lead is a little more tricky for us, and he picked up the wrong lead the first time I asked. Our transitions are much MUCH smoother now. We are now able to circle at the canter, do a simple change across the diagonal, and pick up the other lead! It's a great feeling to see the canter becoming something we naturally incorporate into our everyday rides and not just something special we do in lessons. Now it's something we can practice and improve upon with each ride.

Ann set up a little course of jumps: one single crossrail on the rail, one vertical on the rail, a vertical-pole combination on the inside line, and a rail-crossrail-rail combination on the centerline. Ann always starts off with a little course. I actually kind of like this because it gets me and Kwik thinking right off the bat and gives me more practice memorizing courses (which I'm terrible at). We started over the crossrail pole combination, around to the single crossrail, over the pole-vertical combination, and then over the vertical. Kwik wasn't quite sure what to do over the pole-crossrail-pole combo and sort of just walked clumsily through the entire thing. He jumped the single crossrail nicely, and we had a good approach to the pole-vertical combo. Again he sort of ran out of gas at the pole, but I pushed him back into the trot on the approach to the vertical. Again, he wasn't quite sure what he should do and stopped at the vertical. By this time I had finally realized he wasn't going to take off with me and it would be okay to put my leg on and ride him confidently to each obstacle. After that, we didn't have any problems with stopping. He did feel hesitant a few more times over the vertical with the box, but all I had to do was put my leg on and ride with confidence. In addition, I learned to ride with a more relaxed rein so Kwik could use his neck over the jumps. This helped boost his confidence, and he started to jump better as a result - he even had quick (Kwik!) feet on our last trip through the pole-crossrail-pole combo!

My take home messages from this lesson were:

-If I ride confidently, Kwik pretty much jumps anything I ask him to
-Trust a little more and ride with a more relaxed rein over fences so he has more freedom to use his neck
-Focus on maintaining a balanced seat on the approach to and away from a fence and anchoring my lower leg over the fence

Hopefully these things will get easier and easier, just like the canter. I think this lesson makes it about 6 times Kwik has jumped EVER? What a good pony!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Our lesson with Ann went reeaaaaalllly well, and we jumped! Emily got some video, so once I get that uploaded I'll share it. In the meantime I thought it would be fun to take a trip down memory lane and aswer the Q&A from Viva Carlos. Here we go!

1: A time you've been scared for your life on horseback.
Umm... all the time? Kidding, but I really am a timid rider. It's getting better though!

2: There's a huge party at your friends house or you could have a lesson on the same night, which do you go to?
I'm all about making it work. I'd probably go to my lesson, haul a** home, shower, and hurry over to the party, wet hair and all.

3: Favorite markings a horse can have.
I think palaminos are lovely.

4: Would you rather deal with bolting, rearing or bucking?
None. If I HAD to choose one- bucking.

5: Agree or disagree; To have good eq means to be a good rider?
Disagree. Ditto L. Williams. I believe you can be an effective rider with not so perfect eq and vice versa.

6: If you could try any discipline on any horse for 1 day, what discipline and what horse?
Barrel Racing!

7: 3 horses you'd want to ride/meet the most?
North Forks Cardi

8: On a scale of 1-10 how good would you say your seat is?

9: One of your goals for the next year, horse-wise.
Become a more confident rider, take Kwik to his first dressage schooling show/CT

10: Would you rather teach lessons or train horses?
For now, train horses.

11: Have you ever given a lesson for money?

12: If you were a trainer, would you want to train little kids, pre-teens, teens or adults?
Little kids or adults

13: Have you ever ridden someone's horse for money?

14: If given the opportunity, would you exercise track horses?
No way, no how. Ask me again in 2 years.

15: On a scale of 1-10 what is your confidence like in the saddle?
Honestly, a 3 at this point. I had a pretty scary incident with another horse last year, and my confidence was completely shattered. Kwik, bless his heart, is doing wonders rebuilding it little by little each ride.

16: 3 things you need to work on, riding-wise?
Arms/elbows, leg

17: 3 things your horse needs to work on.
Confidence in open fields, balance, fitness

18. Top 3 favourite riders?
I just don't even know!

19: Is there anyone you'd say is a bad rider ? (don't give names)
 Not really. I think we're all trying to learn to be the best riders we can possibly be.

20: Are you better on the flat or over fences?
Defintely the flat at the moment.

21: How high do you think you've jumped?
3' loooooong time ago

22: How high do you think your horse would be capable of jumping?
Who knows! Definitely 3' - I'm not sure I'm brave enough to think about anything higher.

23: Opinion on tackless riding.
More power to you!

24: Have you ever lied or over-dramatized anything about your riding?
I'm sure. I'm probably overly critical of my own riding, but hey, you're always your own worst critic!

25: Do you think you're a good rider?
I think I'll get there one day soon!

26: Ever had barn drama?
Of course! Who hasn't? I just try and stay out of it ;)
27: Favorite things about the barn you're at?
Everything. The barn itself, the people, the wonderful care my horse gets, the trails, the schooling show facilities, the xc course. It's horsey paradise.

28: Will you show next year? If so in what?
I sure hope so! Dressage and combined training

29: Plans for your horse over the next year?
Increase fitness, become a solid trail horse, begin participating in clinics and small schooling shows

30: Would you share your tack with people?
Of course! Although it's pretty much ghetto central in my tack locker so I'm not sure anyone would want to borrow my tack.

31: Has a horse ever shattered your confidence?

32: Ever been scared to get on a horse?
Yes. More often than I care to admit.

33: Do you get nervous before shows?
Yes. Well I used to. I haven't been to a show in like 7 years, so who knows. Maybe I grew out of show nerves- hah!

34: Hunters or Jumpers?

35: Last time you fell off? What happened? Were you hurt?
Probably about a month ago. Kwik was coming back into work after an injury and 2 weeks of stall rest and was feeling VERY good. I couldn't stick his impressive display of rodeo bucking moves. Other than some nasty bruises, I wasn't hurt.

Monday, May 20, 2013

To Camp or not To Camp

Despite the scary storms we had Saturday night, I managed to make it out to the barn for a ride on Sunday afternoon. The arena was pretty sloppy so we worked for about 20 minutes in the grass dressage arena. I focused on keeping my elbows bent and arms at my sides. It really is amazing how positively horses respond (even green horses) when you make a positive change to your position. Once I felt balanced and comfortable, I asked for a little more forward motion, and Kwik responded with a nice springy trot that was energetic and connected but not zoomy. Yes! Afterwards we worked on our walk-trot transitions. We haven't really done much of this, and our first couple of attempts were pretty comical. Eventually we went from lurching into the trot to nice smooth(ish) transitions. We ended with a short hack down the Dogwood loop trail. I was feeling adventurous so we changed up our route and wandered down the longer loop. Kwik was perfect, and I felt pretty accomplished when we got back to the barn. We have a lesson with Ann on Tuesday evening, and the plan is to work on the flat for a bit and throw in some gymnastics at the end. I'm already excited!

Happy Trails

I actually have a little dilema. Each year, SA, a trainer I worked with when I had Finn, organizes a spring trail ride/camping weekend at Hard Labor Creek State Park. This year's ride is coming up at the end of the month, and yours truly got an invite. It has always been on my riding bucket list to go on an overnight trail ride, and I'm dying to go. I'm just not sure I should go. Kwik has been a rockstar lately, both on the trails and in the arena, and he's morphed back into the cool customer I met last fall. We've been on off-site rides before, and my gut tells me he'll be just fine if we stick to the walk-only low-key rides. My "take everything one step at a time" plan dictates that we should keep on keeping on at the Ashland trails, arrange some off-site day rides throughout the summer, and make plans to join the group for the fall campout. Plus, the only trail ride that he was not a perfect gentleman for was with this particular group. Some of the horses just aren't as rock steady as Annie and Sierra, Kwik's recent trail buddies.

Hard Labor is about a 30 minute haul from the farm, and from what the gals tell me, the trails are nice and inviting. I certainly don't want to push my luck, and there will be another opportunity for a campout in the fall. If the ride was scheduled for later in the summer, I wouldn't hesitate to sign up. I don't want to miss out, but I also want to make smart decisions. What to do?!?!?!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

I'm Alive!

Whew! It's been a whirlwind week and a half. I drove up to Knoxville to see my little sister, Emily, graduate from nursing school last Tuesday and made it home in time to work a half day on Thursday. I desperately needed the weekend to get my life (and house) back together so I didn't get any pony time then either. I did manage to get Kwik's teeth done last Wednesday. I called Dr. P on my drive home on Thursday to see how everything went, and he had some pretty crazy hooks on his 2nd premolars (apparently as long as a thumbnail-eeek!) and a small ulcer on his left side. She said it looked like he hadn't been done in about two years. Poor Kwik- what a stoic boy!

Happy Graduation Em!
Celebratory dinner!

Emily is in town for her week of interviews, and the Tuesday event went so well she got called back for another interview next week! More fun sister time! I love entertaining, but I was DYING to see my pony so we headed out for a visit on Tuesday. It was a beautiful evening, and the horses were happily munching grass in the pastures since the farm switched to night turnout. Kwik genuinely looked happy to see me, and to my surprise, was CLEAN and shiny! Maybe he knew I was coming? I'm definitely starting to trust him more because I tacked up and hopped on without longeing first- I was just too eager to go for a spin. Kwik was super attentive and game for whatever I asked. We trotted around some and then cantered- both directions, getting the correct lead each time! I wasn't too concerned about where his head was since this ride was more about just getting moving again after a week off, and he did a wonderful job maintaining a steady, relaxed rhythm. I guess we did learn something in April! Em even took some video which, although slightly embarrassing to share, was extremely helpful.

I really need to focus on keeping my leg at the girth and not allowing it to creep back and my ARMS. Goodness, my arms. Maybe I should super glue them to my sides. I'll work on it, and it will get better, but I love how Kwik just lets me flop around up there and continues on like the gentleman he is. Best green bean OTTB a girl could ever ask for!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Success Lives Here

Not too too much to report on around here. It's been raining cats and dogs day in and day out, so I've been squeezing in rides when I can. J and I went out on the trails yesterday during a brief moment of sunshine, and once again Kwik was great. We are both more relaxed each time we go out, and a mutual trust is forming. Plus, I'm starting to learn my way around the trails. We also got an offer from LV to tag along as a non-competing horse and rider on a trip up to a small dressage schooling show in June. I think this will be a great opportunity to introduce Kwik to the horse show environment, and I'm looking forward to cheering on the other gals and helping in any way I can!

Harpo the dog's bloodwork came back, and he does indeed have some form of immune-induced polyarthritis. Our wonderful new vet immediately put him on Prednisone and Doxycycline, and the improvement we've seen is truly miraculous! Harp is getting up and down with ease, walking all over the place, bright-eyed, and pain-free! What a relief!

My two little dudes- Harpo and Yoshi

I won't be riding much this week either because I'm headed up to Knoxville to watch my lil sis graduate from nursing school. She has worked so hard, and I'm very excited to share in her special day! Also exciting- she has an interview next week at Peidmont. It will be so much fun having her around for a few days, and if she gets the job, around all the time!!!! Cross your fingers for her (and me!) !

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Life After Rolex

It was so much fun following Rolex this past weekend! There were some great rides and some disappointments, but I guess that's why this sport is so exciting. It was back to the grind in the office yesterday, and I tried to be especially productive. My boss definitely caught me streaming some dressage rides at my desk on Friday- whoopsie!

Kwik had his first training ride with A on Friday, and she said he was really good! They did some flat work in the arena, focusing on a spiral in and out exercise. She also took him on a little trail ride and did some work with him in the field- mostly walking and a little trotting. She said he was very nervous, but he went wherever she asked. Not too shabby for his first time working in the field alone! 

Saturday threatened to pour rain all day long, and it rained all day on Sunday so I didn't make it out to see Kwikster until this afternoon. My plan was to longe, do a little bit of work in the arena, and go on a short trail ride. P was headed out on Annie and asked if I wanted to come along. Sure, what the heck! I warmed Kwik up in the arena while P tacked up, and he was great! We're still having some problems picking up the correct leads, but I think this will improve with more fitness, balance, and rhythm. I'm also riding much better now, and I can set him up for a better depart which will help too. I'm guessing we were out on the trails for about an hour, and Kwik was great! He was relaxed and attentive, and I'm doing a much better job of sitting deep in my seat and relaxing as well. It's amazing how good conversation calms my nerves! We're scheduled to go out again with J and Sierra on Sunday.  We'll just keep at it- hopefully we'll be trail rockstars by the end of the summer!

Last but certainly not least, don't forget to enter Hillary's awesome Rolex contest! I've been on a roll with these contests lately so watch out ;)

More from our Riding Ninja Photo Shoot

Skye and Kwik- happy horsey butts