Sunday, February 1, 2015

Old News

Forgot to post this.  This video is from my last clinic with Christian from the SRS some time ago. We long lined for the first few days but Owen kept boiling over and wouldn't track straight.

So I grabbed my Owen and hit the indoor.  Christian was happy to teach us but he did quip when I first mounted up, "This is how you make him straight? "

Video shot and edited by Claudia Weeks.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

An Inch is as Good as a Mile

I have come to the conclusion that for every hour one spends in the sidesaddle, five are spent on the ground either searching for the elusive "perfect" saddle or having a current one properly reflocked. I thought my Manorgrove and I were destined for a long and happy life together, but since my latest set of fractures it has become extremely painful to ride in; the walk and trot are fine, but just a few strides of canter sends shivers up my spine...and not the good kind, either! My Martin & Mayhew (no, that's not a typo) rides fine, but the tree has been repaired and has a welding joint, so I'm reluctant to put too much strain on it; I'm looking for something that can hold up to a day's hunting.  Both of my western saddles fit both me and Owen well and I quite enjoy riding in them, but can you just imagine me showing up to a meet in a Stetson?

So, once again I join the sidesaddle lonely hearts club, searching for Mr. (Aside) right. Or Ms.. I'm not picky.

I helped (wo)man the ISSO booth at this year's Horse World Expo, and both Jeannie and Carolyn, from the Side Saddlery brought saddles for me to try.  The first was a Bunney that's been for sale for some time, searching for its forever home. It was sitting on a saddle stand next to me for most of the weekend and I found myself lovingly caressing it as I worked the booth. It was a wide fit with a wonderful narrow offside flap and beautiful linen panels, and on the fitting horse it seemed quite promising. I enthusiastically transported it to the farm and tossed it up on to Owen's back, but even in the dark it was quickly clear that it was a no go. Oddly enough, the long left point fit fine, but the very tip of the offside point dug oh so slightly into his ribcage. In a brief and desperate moment of denial I shifted the saddle back and forth a bit, hoping to find that sweet spot where the saddle actually fit properly but after a few minutes even my strongest hopes were dashed. When I pulled the saddle off and had a closer look I could see that the tip of the offside point was slightly bent in, consistent with the saddle having been dropped at some point in its long life. If I were less caring, if I were less knowledgable, I would have ridden off in ignorant bliss, perhaps with a little extra padding. After all, a Mattes pad can cure all saddle ills, right?

So, I reluctantly returned the Bunney.

But Jeannie had brought an M&M, one of my favorite brands, and one that I've had a lot of luck with on my morgans. She handed it over to me, stating that she was doubtful about its prospects. It's an attractive saddle, with a little wear here and there but has a new suede seat, wide pommels, and the garage door offside, tho' with leather panels which I don't like.  But I slogged it out in the sleet and dark to try it on Owen, and lo!, it fit, tho' it needs some additional flocking to the cantle. And when sitting on the saddle stand it fit me, too.  I added lift pad to raise the cantle and climbed on.

On a quick aside (no pun intended), I always find riding a different sidesaddle for the first time to be somewhat like a blind date: you never know how it's going to turn out. So, I'm apprehensive climbing into a strange saddle, not knowing if it's going to toss me to the left or cause a bucking paroxysm in my horse. The M&M did neither but I must say it felt odd. I wish I could have given it a good hard ride, but unfortunately the footing is quite bad at the moment and the best I could do was trot and canter a bit on the drive. So, I'm not sure if the saddle doesn't quite fit me or if it still is unfamiliar enough for me to commit. There will have to be some additional test rides to be sure. Against its favor, it has a doubled and stitched balance strap (I HATE doubled strap work) and the billets seem to be in odd locations. The point strap on the near side is so angled backward as to make it unusable on Owen; I have to fasten the balance girth to the 1st billet. It will need a good reflocking to make it sit level, and again I don't really like leather panels.  This saddle has also been dropped in the past and the offside garage door is bent in and will need to be addressed; this won't be difficult.

I could consider ordering one of the Melody sidesaddle from a Bit on the Side Saddle. That would be custom but is a risk since I can't test ride it first, and since I'm overseas fitting and corrections to the fitting would be tricky.

What to do, what to do?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

We're Baaaack!

OK, so long time no hear from.  And you're right, it's been because of a dearth of sidesaddle activity and a lack of any equestrian pursuits, period.  My back never did heal fully from being steamrollered by BMR, and there's been some small matters including a 5 week hospitalization early this year, some legal battles, and a family member who had a stroke and is now on life support.  That brings its own set of hassles which I won't burden you with.

But as I said, I've had zero horse activity for months.  There was one long reining clinic with Christian, but other than that Owen has been standing idle and as for BMR...let's not go there.  But a couple of weeks ago I got a request for a sidesaddle demo at a local horse promotion day.  The idea had been bandied about a month prior, but since I hadn't heard anything further I just assumed it was a no go.  Not quite.  Less than a week before the event I was contacted about it.  First it was a sidesaddle ride, then a request came in for me to ride the dressage trip as well.  Unfortunately my usual partner in crimes against the sidesaddle, Barb Thelan, was unavailable but Jeannie was so we teamed up.

I hadn't ridden all winter, so I thought I had better start.  We managed to get 3 rides in, all aside, before our big day.  I could regale you with the usual tales of Owen and his antics, but you've all heard them before and he wasn't any different this time.  The buck/snorts/plunges that have come to be the standard Owen self were demonstrated.  Then there was the habit problem...there weren't any!  My stuff was still packed from last year and it took a frantic search the night before (why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?) to assemble a turnout.  Owen danced down to the ring heavily lathered and snorting fire after threading his way past a petting zoo, a moon bounce, and about 20 kids on stick horses.  You know, the normal stuff.

I won't get in to too much detail, except to mention that we had some time after our ride so I hopped off, ditched the habit skirt (in front of all those men, too!) and did a quick long lining session.  I'll let the pictures speak for themselves:

A well deserved roll at the end of the day.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

We Did It!

Today was a milestone...I finally worked up the nerve to ride BMR aside.  I'm still pretty nervous about getting on him at all and still haven't worked up the nerve to ride him outside the paddock, but today I decided it was now or never and I'm glad I did.

Mind, I had some concerns since hunting season has just begun and given BMR's reaction to the noise, he's never been around gun fire before.  There was a hunter just out of sight, about 200 yards from the barn and with every shot BMR's eyes got bigger and bigger.  But he is at heart a lazy soul and after a bit any sort of reaction just wasn't worth the calories used.

I grabbed my old "M'Owen" to use, partially because it is so light and partially since it's an old friend that I really feel secure in.  After all, I've known this sidesaddle longer than I've been with my husband and together we've jumped hundreds of fences, ridden dressage tests, and headed down parade routes all over the country.  Proper fit is, as always, the biggest obstacle in riding aside, and this saddle will need some flocking to truly fit correctly, but the pressing issue was locating an appropriate girth which was small enough.  I ended up selecting the smallest humane girth I could unearth in the tack room and adding the only separate balance girth I own. (Those of you who read my blog know I'm a fan of the short balance girth.)   I'm also a fan of rule breaking in general, especially in rigid in disciplines such as dressage and sidesaddle, so frequently I'll follow my own counsel on what works.  I prefer a humane girth to the standard three fold for multiple reasons; once I found a three fold with humane ends...oh, why did I not purchase it?!  So, I'll use a humane girth even on a sport horse, but if I were going to be riding where I might be seen I would pick a nicer looking girth with keepers.  In this case, I ended up with both girths pulled up as high as possible, and yes, I am lunging BMR in a chambon.  I know this is anathema to dressage purists, but I find it works well for saddle seat horses being transitioned to sport disciplines, plus I just don't see evil in using it versus standard side reins.

The very picture of energy
Since our accident I always lunge BMR prior to mounting up, and boy am I glad I did since this is what happened:

Well, I'd planned on bending that leaping head anyway...
BMR really has some focus problems, and I thought that living outside would accustom him to uneven footing but this has not been the case.  While cantering on the line he was paying more attention to the other horses than his own feet, which slipped out from under him and heaved him down on to his left side, right down onto the pommels...down on to where my legs would have been!  I'm so relieved at not being pinned under BMR for a second time in one year, tho' I must concede that the ground was softer so I might have escaped  with only a few bruises.  But anyway, he lay there on his side for a few seconds, looking entirely unconcerned and actually nibbling at a few shoots of grass before climbing back to his feet.  When it was clear that he hadn't injured himself I gave the old M'Owen a closer look to find lots of new scratches and bent leaping head, which oddly enough fit better than it did before!

I suppose a sensible person would have thought, "This saddle has just suffered an impact and maybe it's not safe to ride in...", but a sensible person I am not so I mounted up anyway.  I must take a moment to convey just how terrified I was; I never know how he is going to respond and I can't count on him being sensible.  Even Owen has a sense of self preservation that I can rely on.  Plus, I really wasn't sure how stable the saddle was going to be.  As it turned out, it was a bit on the wobbly side, a combination of requiring flocking and girths being too long, but with careful weight placement (sit up on that right hip!) I was able to keep the saddle centered and riding well.  When I swung my right leg over I was sooooo very careful not to startle him, and very tentatively nudged him forward.  After a few steps it was clear he could have cared less what kind of saddle I was in and I started grinning like a Cheshire cat! (Like a possum in sh*t, my father would say in one of his more redneck moments).  I hacked him quietly on both reins, and even worked up the nerve to trot a bit, tho' I did keep myself well forward over my right knee since I'm still concerned that his back needs strengthening.  After seeing him fall at the canter a few minutes before I didn't have the nerve to try it myself, but he let me use my bat in place of a leg and bent well in both directions, and after a few minutes I decided to declare victory and put him up, carefully palpating his back for any soreness (there wasn't any.).

I do hope we are witnessing the genesis of a wonderful sidesaddle mount!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

What to do about BMR?

Yes, I have been very remiss in my postings... but then, I've been very remiss in my equine activity.  In fact, parts of me wish I'd never learned to ride in the first place.  My accident with BMR damaged me seriously in many ways and it seems the most lasting one may be to my confidence. As of my last set of radiographs one of my vertebrae is very stubbornly refusing to heal, and according to my orthopedist may never do so.  "After all, " he said, "at your time of life (careful here, Doc; you're heading onto thin ice) , bones may fail to heal on their own." So what does this mean? Surgery? Apparently not worth the effort. But could I ride? I showed him a YouTube video of a dressage rider sitting an extended trot in an attempt to convey just what I planned to subject my middle aged bones to. He shrugged. "If you can stand the pain, fine..." although clearly he thought I must have taken a harder blow to the head than I let on since I wanted to return to such activity. No, he didn't approve but I wouldn't actually cause any additional damage, provided of course I didn't repeat my feat of performing as an equine airbag.

BMR has not been standing idle all this time. He spent some time with an advanced event trainer, and since his return I've been working him regularly in the long lines. I've even been lunging him over gymnastic grids with some heights up to 3' and he floats over.  So what's the problem, you may wonder.

Honesty, fear. I'm terrified of riding. My first few attempts to ride consisted literally of me willing myself into the saddle, sitting rigid with terror for a few seconds at the halt before bailing from the saddle to the ground, bringing me to a hand shaking, cold sweated, heart pounding state. This went on for several weeks, and I must add that BMR quite approved of this new easy going training regimen, and before too long he began to modify it in his favor. He quickly discovered that taking a step or two backward only hastened my departure from his back and it wasn't long until I'd trained him NOT to stand for mounting. Simply placing my foot in the stirrup cued him to shift backward and I now lacked the backbone (pun intended) to stand up to him and put him in his place. 

Therefore I returned to ground work and driving, which is odd, since in general I consider driving to be more dangerous than riding; but I had no fear concerning sitting behind him. My fear even extended to reliable Owen, who I have been regularly taking out aside. He senses my hesitation and like any wise old equine is quick to take advantage. Not that he did any thing horrid or dangerous, but he would test me. In the past he never would have hesitated to cross a bridge or hop a log, but lately he practically thinks out loud "Does she REALLY expect me to do this?"  Even in ring work he's a bit slow to respond and there's usually some commentary (snort, puff, unnmpf) to go along with the work. I don't trust him fully as I did previously, and now open fields that once I would have galloped across with reckless abandon are now traversed in a careful collected trot.

Naturally my fear has resulted in frustration and anger that I have been taking out on others (humans, not quadrupeds) and this has not gone unnoticed by those around me. I m clearly not the rider I once was and it has been suggested that I sell BMR, an act I toy with from time to time. But if I sold him, I would sell it all and hang up my aprons for good. Sometimes I find myself mentally drafting advertisements for a huge sidesaddle and accoutremont sale, including one supreme school master and a Baron horse trailer.

I have pushed myself as far as riding BMR around the paddock next to the barn, and his basic flat work is coming along well; he picked up the leg yield and shoulder fore at the trot very readily.  Two days ago I summoned the courage to hack him out in the field...we started walking away from the barn toward the gate, and BMR stopped dead, tucked his head to his chest, and started running backwards.  It's amazing how quickly a smaller horse/pony can get behind your leg, isn't it?  I pummeled him with my heels but he ignored me and started shaking his head, exactly what he did prior to going over on me this spring.  And yes, it's just a plain old pony temper tantrum but it scared me nonetheless.  I immediately turned him sharply to the left, kicked him up to the trot on a 10 meter circle, and before he knew what was what, we'd passed through the gate to the field.  Once out there I actually had the guts to pop him over a small line of bounces.  After the first trip through he put his head down and bucked a bit (you know, kept bouncing even tho' the bounces were no longer there!), but I kicked him forward and by our second line he had settled down went through quietly.  Bruce had been watching us, and he thought BMR was going quite well.

Is this back crying out for a sidesaddle or what?

I know the answer to BMR is to tire him out. I get feedback from others stating that on days he is worked his ground manners are much improved, but pushing him harder is also pushing me harder. Still, something in me just can't give up and walk away.  My paltry goal with him is to show him at USET in the walk/trot division next year...walk/trot? Me, an FEI level rider aspiring to Walk/Trot? 

Pretty pathetic.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Well, It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

So what else dayss someone like me, who is recovering from 4 spinal fractures and more or less learning to walk again, do but register for a 4 day dressage clinic? In long reins.  In 100 degree weather. While bundled up in several inches of foam and neoprene back brace.

No one ever said I look for the easy way out.
Christian & Owen 

During a walk break

Collected trot

Shoulder in right

Shoulder in left

Half pass right, lovely experssion

piaffe, a little tense

Canter pirouette, left

Half pass, left

A more expressive piaffe

Fine tuning the passage

Well...a few days later and I can still walk. Sorta. With a cane. On flat surfaces. With lots of percoset.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


You never know how riding aside and the internet will alter your life.  It enables you to make connections that never would have surfaced before.

In my case, it was a farm invasion by federal cavalry on their way to Gettysburg!  Cindy Westbrook of Wildhorse Fashion contacted me a few weeks ago, looking for a place they could overnight on their trek to the 150th anniversary reenactment of the battle of Gettysburg.  I assured her she was more than welcome here, and since we are only about 20 something miles south of the site our farm was a perfect stop over.  Last week three very large and loaded horse trailers came down our drive, laden with reenactors and cavalry horses.  We were able to clear out some fields and places for them to camp, so their horses had a chance to roll, stretch their legs, and just be horses after their three day trek from Utah. Cindy's group mostly does Manifest Destiny reenactment (Cavalry vs. Indians) but they were falling in with the 3rd platoon of the Federal Ohio Cavalry unit, and Cindy had made several new period habits for herself.  Her own personal mount was a PMU foal that they adopted several years ago; he's a quarter horse/percheron cross and has turned into a wonderful reenactment mount. He's big, black, and impressive but has that calm almost dopey personality of the draft. The rest of the horses were a mix of quarter horses and some Missouri Foxtrotters, and they were really nice horses.  This invasion definitely sparked up our horses...and Owen had a thing or two to say about other horses occupying HIS field without his say so.

Cindy and her unit stayed with us several days prior to moving on to Gettysburg, so we had a chance to do some activities.  The first morning we garbed up and I took them on a mounted tour of Cold Saturday.  Most of my riding habits are still packed up, but I managed to unearth my light blue ACW habit and by some miracle the appropriate hat to go with it.  I also found two corsets, but had to skimp on the other appropriate foundations garments. 

My back is still killing me, and the lumbar fractures have not yet healed, so I gave plenty of thought to the saddle I would use.  I ended up choosing the Manorgrove, a decision that was to haunt me for several days.

Here we are riding down the lane in front of the main house.  That's Cindy in the foreground in a mulberry colored linen habit.  Her husband Scott is riding the little palomino, and you can see me on Owen in the background:

Here's the cavalry in formation in front of the main house: Alan, Scott, Tyrell, Daniel.  Funny thing...we trooped over through Cold Saturday, and there was Garnett (the current owner) in front of the house, taking it all in as if a mounted cavalry unit hacking through the property is something that happens all the time.  He called out, "Hey, aren't you guys 150 years too late?"

It was a really appropriate remark, since exactly 150 years prior to the day we were riding out there was a cavalry battle between JEB Stuart and Corbit not far from us in Westminster.  In fact, the cavalry passed right through Cold Saturday, and while not many people know about this skirmish, it is significant in that it delayed Stuart from reaching Gettysburg on time, leaving Bobby Lee without support.  There is much conjecture on how the battle would have turned out had Stuart been there on time.

Here we are passing in front of our former residence, the little stone house:

I had decided on taking the long loop around the property, rather than retracing our steps to return to the farm, and this meant crossing a creek named Beaver Run.  Normally this is a lazy creek about 30 feet across, but we've had such a wet year that it was running fairly deep and while Owen has crossed it before, this time he wasn't so keen.  Having all those sabers rattling behind him didn't exact relax him either, so after much encouragement he leaped into the stream, crossing it in a few bounds.  The bank on the far side was about 2 1/2 feet high and he proinged right up it without hesitation.  I should mention that Sis has been taking jumping lessons on him from an event trainer during my lay up, and Owen has become rather fixated on showing off his new skill.  I hadn't expected him to treat this creek like an obstacle on a cross country course...and so got totally left behind when he made his great lurch upward.  Jumping up banks aside is always harder than when astride anyway, and I took the force in my right knee and back although I let the reins slip and didn't catch Owen in the mouth.  Owen took advantage of this and once safely on terra firma gave me a series of bucks before I could gather him back.  Here is where my saddle selection caused problems, since that Manorgrove has a flat firm seat, not a nice sweepy one, plus is has a flat safe which torques the right knee a bit.  Usually this is not of concern, but I was riding with a torn ligament in that knee plus all those fractures; I felt  something give.  We rode out a few more miles on the trail, which included some logs which I jumped over plus some really steep hills that required my using that right knee and thigh heavily; I was in so much pain I could barely stand it and cut our ride short.  When going up the last hill I actually had to hold onto the saddle with one hand to keep my position.

Once dismounted I knew I was in real trouble.  I did get Owen put away, and limped to the truck to go home.  Mom had a nice dinner planned for all of us so I had to somehow pull myself together, which included taking some oxycodone and hooking myself up to my electrical simulation unit.  I did manage to get through dinner and the next day the cavalry unit headed off to Gettysburg.  We had planned on going up to see them (and Bruce, who was also in the reenactment) but I ended up stuck in bed for the next three days in serious pain. 

But I did get to see them all again, since after the battle was over they came back down to our place for a few days to let their horses unwind and take in some local sight seeing.  You should have seen those horses drop down and roll, followed by burying their heads down in the grass...they had been picketed out for the previous three days and they were thrilled to be turned out.

I really wish I could have been more active while they were here...indeed, I wish I could be more active period.  I had planned on taking both of my boys to Camp Leaping Horn this year, but it's doubtful that I could even manage the drive up.