"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Day After 15 Miles

Last Sunday we were testing out several things:

1. Lily's performance in higher heat + humidity
2. Gracie's performance over a longer distance
3. Charles's ability to ride a longer distance
4. Check where my riding is at
5. Test my Wintec Pro Contourbloc over a longer distance

1. Lily's performance in higher heat + humidity
I am beyond pleased. She never breathed hard, she was sweating well and cooling off easily every time we walked. She'd let me know when she needed a break and when she was ready for more. And she did me proud by taking care of herself like a pro: eating when we walked, drinking well whenever we came upon water. Note: I did not supplement electrolytes for this ride.

(Sorry guys, more recycled photos in this post!)

2. Gracie's performance over a longer distance
I'd been working on Gracie's conditioning a month before I ever told you guys about her, starting her with long slow distance with shorter, more intense rides spattered in between, often in the arena. She is an Energizer bunny and loves to go go go, even back when I just started working with her coming off of 8 months being a pasture puff. Really the only way you'll know Gracie is getting tired is when she'll start trying to trot more than gait. She has been built up to where she can gait for an hour straight, but beyond that she'll start trotting more and more. This is common in gaited horses that have a trot. When conditioned correctly, they have incredible stamina and can maintain their gait all day long. With time, Gracie will get there. It's just a matter of continuing to build her up slowly. On this ride she started trotting consistently the last 30 minutes or so of the ride, so we added extra walk breaks to accommodate her and let her rest. She'd let us know when she wanted to continue by taking the lead! She did a pretty good job of taking care of herself as well: she ate when we walked about 50% of the time, and drank a reasonable amount of water when we went through the streams.

 3. Charles's ability to ride over a longer distance
I'm glad he had the lesson when he did, as it made a difference in this ride! He's a good student and retained everything I told him: he sat Gracie beautifully and was successfully able to get her to gait consistently with the posture adjustments I taught him for the bulk of the ride. There was a bit of elbow flapping at the canter, but he fixed that with only one correction and maintained it. He does need to learn to post Gracie's trot though: it's so smooth that it's hard to post, but it will be better for both of them in the long run. 

His biggest fault was not drinking enough water. We had a saddle bag snafu: I'd ordered saddle bags for him but the shipping was delayed by a day, so they did not arrive on the day they were supposed to. Charles insisted that only one water bottle was enough so that is all he carried. He was trying out my Fizz electrolyte tablets: I'd added one tablet to his water bottle. However, he decided he did not like it and did not tell me. Despite having stopped at the trailer, where I could have swapped his water bottle for one with plain water! And I asked him, too...So he rode for 2 hours at w/t/c in 80-degree weather with a riding helmet and without drinking a drop. Men. That is all. Haha... End result: he could not stop drinking fluids once we were back at the barn and he was fatigued the next day.

Aaand...someone may end up crossing over to breeches/tights sooner rather than later. He's starting to see the disadvantages of jeans when combined with distance + heat...lol

4. Check where my riding is at
I started out feeling fatigued and my legs felt wobbly, but thankfully everything got better the longer we rode instead of the other way around. I did most of our canters in a half seat. However, I was doing something weird because I ended up with a huge knot in my left rhomboid muscles. I drank well and snacked appropriately, but my entire left side is STILL sore, especially those rhomboids. Back at the beginning of March when I did our 20 mile trial ride (yes, trial, not trail), I was wearing my safety vest and did end up with a minor knot in the same region on the same side, but I thought it might be from compensating weirdly for the vest. This time around it was too hot to wear the 1" black padded vest without heatstroking, so that variable was out of the equation this time around. I think this is related to #5, but I do need to re-assess my position. You're doing something weird when only one side is sore and not the other!

5. Test my Wintec Pro Contourbloc over longer distances
So, why did I try this saddle out when we love our Alta?
a) It's lighter than the Alta. The Alta is about 25 lbs or so. The Wintec is maybe 15. I don't know about you, but when it's hot and muggy out, I'd rather carry the least amount of weight/layers/stuff when out hiking if I can get away with it. :) I figured Lily would appreciate the same. 
b) The Alta fits Gracie and Charles; the Wintec does not. If Charles is riding Gracie, they get the Alta. (Yup, Karen: that second Alta is really coming up for consideration now! Haha...)
c) With Lily's change in body composition over the winter + shedding out her 1" long winter coat, I thought the Alta would be a bit too wide on her right now. I had started riding her in the Wintec right after her event because, being lighter, it is easier on her back when she is bodysore. I honestly didn't check fit; I just assumed. Both saddles were fitted to her in late fall/early winter.

The verdict: Fail.

I love the giant blocks on it for dressage. But not so much over distance. The saddle kills me when we're trotting down hill. Something about those blocks really makes it hard to post fluidly even on the gentlest downhills to the point where I started dreading them on this ride! I tried negotiating them in a half seat but that was even worse. I think it's because the blocks keep you from being able to thrust your legs forward to steady yourself on downward inclines.

Wintec Pro Contourbloc on Lily. Even with the sheepskin seat & stirrup covers it still didn't quite cut it.
Sadly, I chose the one Wintec model where you can't remove the blocks. The Alta has no thigh blocks nor rolls, and I have had absolutely no problem negotiating downhills in it at a trot whether posting or not.

Lily modeling the Alta
My left hip is my weakest link. One day I'll have it x-rayed...I either have a fracture that healed with bone spurs, or I tore my psoas muscle when that horse flipped over on me 9 years ago. I honestly think it's the second: when that hip gets tight, the pain is felt at the front of the hip bone and my lower back, both signs that are typical when this specific muscle is weak. I have a hard time strengthening it: it's easy to overdo lower body strength training in this case and when I do, I end up a painful mess for weeks at a time.

Regardless, in some saddles I'll subconsciously do weird things to guard this hip and some saddles will alter my position just enough to aggravate this hip, which turns into a vicious cycle that I honestly don't notice until the next day. I think that was part of the problem with this saddle this time around and why my whole left side is sore as a result: the knee blocks were throwing off my position just enough to make me compensate weirdly.

I checked Lily's back after untacking and she was slightly sore. On Monday, I stopped by the barn before work to see how both mares were doing. They were hanging out in the shade of the run-in, but there despite the fact that they were just standing around and it was hot out (a combo that in the past has always caused Lily to stock up, and Gracie has windpuffs that are more noticeable when she stands around), NEITHER of the two had any stocking up/swelling whatsoever. I checked their backs. Gracie was a titch sore, but I honestly think it was from Charles's seat while trotting. He wasn't bouncing around, but he needs to solidify his leg a little more for trotting. She hasn't been sore after long rides with me. Lily, however, was more sore. Again, not as bad as I've seen her in the past with other saddles/when she's been in rehab, but still more than she has been after riding over the last many months training.

I took Lily up to the barn so I could look at both saddles on her sans pad and see where we were at.

  • Tried the Wintec on her, and was surprised to discover that it is quite snug! It would probably be fine with a regular square pad, but I've been riding her in that saddle with my Matrix Woolback...no wonder she was sore. The Matrix pad adds about 1" of fluff underneath the saddle. I had thought she hadn't felt as loose through the shoulders the day prior as she had on similar rides over the winter...this would explain why! Note to self: when riding with Charles, use a square pad under the Wintec and start looking on eBay for a Thinline pad.
  • Tried the Alta on her. I was even more surprised to discover that it fit better than when it was adjusted for her at the beginning of the winter. It's still a little wide at the shoulders, but the Matrix Woolback, which I had originally purchased specifically for the Alta, makes up for this.

    Conclusion: She may have lost fat, but she has gained so much muscle. There are no indentations behind her shoulders whatsoever: her topline is solid.  We'll be going back to riding in the Alta when not riding with Charles. 


    1. I know someone that might have a used Alta Escuela she bought from Lisa for sale. It even has a cover. I have no idea how much she wants for it. I know she bought it for her Andalusian, then had to retire her horse two months after she got the saddle and it does not fit her current ride. She saw the post I did on Lisa's FB page and sent me a message about the saddle. It is in a wide. Minimal use. I thought of you immediately.

      1. Do you still have her information? I can't get it right this second but it would be good to know for the near future.

      2. I'll send you her info, via FB.

    2. I have the same experience in my dressage saddle - going downhill is always a challenge because of the thigh blocks. I'm definitely planning to upgrade to something that allows more flexibility as soon as I can.

      It's so great that Lily is doing so well! And Charles and Gracie too! How does it work out when Gracie is gaiting and Lily is trotting or cantering?

      1. Gracie can rack at the speed of a fast trot or a slow canter, but she can only hold it for a few strides at the moment: she finds it easier to break into a trot. She can rack and trot starting at 7mph. :) Lily sometimes has to break into a canter to keep up with Gracie! Gracie's regular (slower) gait is the same speed as Lily's average trot - they can be ridden comfortably side by side.

        I heard this recently about gaited horses and it seems to be true (I hadn't experienced it before now): if the gaited horse has a trot, they are more likely to break to a trot if the horse next to them is trotting. So sometimes Gracie will break to a trot if she comes up next to a trotting horse. It's not hard to get her gaiting again though. She'll get more consistent over time. :)

    3. Solid write up. I'm so thrilled yall are having so much fun.