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



Monday, September 22, 2014

Experiment

On Saturday I tacked up Lily with a different setup: I threw the cover for Gracie's saddle on the Wintec Dressage Contourbloc and saddled her up with this and one of my regular all purpose cotton pads. I added my regular pommel pack and my cantle pack with 2 spare Gloves, one for each front hoof: a size 0 for Lily's smaller LF and a 0.5 for her RF.  (Gracie's saddle is a Len Brown Ortho Flex Patriot I found used on eBay in Charles's side for my birthday. Yup: I got a saddle on my birthday for Charles. The gift for myself was that I'd be able to use MY Alta when we rode together again! The saddle cover is this one. I really love it because it fits two very different saddles quite well. And no we didn't suddenly win the lottery. ;) We saved up for each of these things.) I swapped out my dressage stirrups for my EZ-Ride stirrups but left the sheepskin covers on the stirrup leathers. Lily wore her Vipers on her front hooves and Gloves on her hinds.

Lily after the ride. But this is what we rode in, sans the hind boots, which I will tell about later in this post.
Why did I do this?
1. The Wintec is lighter. Lily can move out more and recover faster with less weight on her back. That's a no-brainer. You too would move faster hiking with a 15 lb backpack than with a 50 lb backpack.
2. The Wintec fits perfectly with a thin pad, not so much with the Woolback I use with the Alta.
3. I wanted to see how Lily's performance with Wintec + all the saddle bags would compare to her performance with the Alta + all the saddle bags.
4. I'm kind of an anomaly I guess in that I like a wide twist on a saddle. The Alta has a wide twist and so does the Wintec. Now, the panels and flaps are slim, so the saddle feels so much more narrow when I'm riding in it and the giant knee blocks will sometimes give me bruises on my knees. I figured adding the full saddle cover over it would help with both of these things. I wanted to test this out over a longer distance.
5. The footing was extra-dry (no boot-sucking mud) so I wanted to test, yet again, Vipers vs Gloves. (I've been alternating bare and booted for training rides in the park and booting only fronts or hinds when booting at all. Less boots to worry about falling off!)

We set off towards the park across the street. As we made it onto the pea gravel path, I could feel the pull in my inner thighs from the bulk of the sheepskin + knee blocks. More than I had expected. Figuring this would not get better after 10+ miles, I dismounted and removed the sheepskin stirrup leather covers. I re-mounted and felt much better. The saddle still felt wider than the Alta because of the knee blocks + sheepskin, but not too horrible. We continued on down the driveway.

I had dropped my stirrups two holes to compensate for the sheepskin cover and the EZ-Ride stirrups (they have a thick footbed), but when we picked up a trot on the driveway, I realized they were way too long. So again I dismounted and adjusted the stirrups, shortening them a hole.

Onwards!

Lily was a little looky once we were in the park, which was to be expected given that it had been 2 weeks since we went out there. And she may have been in heat, based on behavior observed later that same day around geldings. But lately these days I can't tell when she is or isn't. SmartMare Harmony and 24/7 turnout have been da bomb for this horse.

We picked up a very energetic trot and I was surprised when MapMyRun started calling out the miles. Lily's average pace in the park, despite our faster training rides in the fields, had been consistently about 6.6 mph (9 minute miles) and today she was going at 7.5 mph (8 minute miles) without any effort. I felt that this proved my point re: saddle weight. She stayed at that speed of a trot without any extra urging from me, and excitedly attacked all of the park hills I pointed her at at a bounding gallop.

We'd consistently been having days in the 70's for the last 2 weeks but on Saturday we were having a short heat wave: temps were soaring into the mid-80's, and about half way into our ride, Lily was dripping sweat but it did not seem to affect her enthusiasm whatsoever. Another point for the Wintec.

However, the stirrup leathers were driving me batty. For dressage rides I have offset-eye stirrups that don't bother me, but the EZ-Ride stirrups are normal so the leathers twist when your feet are in the stirrups. I have Wintec Webbers on this saddle because I hate the bulk of buckles under my leg and I had set the stirrups so the leathers wouldn't twist all the way around when my feet were in the stirrups. The problem is that the prong for adjusting the length was lying right against my shins and I knew if I didn't do something about this, I was going to end up with matching giant raw spots on my shins despite my half chaps.

We had just finished a canter set when I realized that Lily was trotting funny. I looked down at her boots: the Vipers were fine, but the Glove on her RH had spun off and was hanging by the gaiter. Grumbling, I dismounted...to realize that the boot had come off because the gaiter had torn. WTF?!!

I'm really happy with these particular boots when they work out. Like at the Old Dominon 50. But the truth of the matter is that, while the shells are great, the gaiters are crap. C.R.A.P. I tell you. The Velcro is flimsy, the gaiter neoprene-ish material frays, and the stitches used to attach the gaiter to the rubber part that screws on to the shells are poorly done. They need to use stronger thread.

The torn gaiter. The white stuff is epoxy-type glue that I used to try to reinforce the stitching on the boots. As you can see, it made no difference. :( It was a good try, but seriously: EasyCare, if you really want to market these for distance riding, you need to use better materials!
Behold the flimsiness of the Velcro.
Older Gloves had a wider, sturdier Velcro which has changed in newer models.
This shit is supposed to stand up to miles and miles of use? I don't think so.
And I want to tag the shit out of this post so that THE EASYCARE PEOPLE SEE WHAT I'M SAYING! (Not that they give a crap, apparently, based on what much more experienced endurance riders have said about these boots and the company's customer service.) I recently reinforced all of the stitches and edges on the STOOPID gaiters with an epoxy-type craft glue (see photo above), hoping that this would help extend their life. Verdict? It made absolutely no difference. I was ready to chuck the damn boot in the bushes rather than buy A THIRD GAITER IN THE LAST 2 MONTHS (!!!) but I refrained. I took out my 0.5 spare. OF COURSE I chose to stick in my saddle bag the one other 0.5 that has a gaiter that needs to be replaced, so I couldn't use it. Fuming, I pulled out my size 0 meant for Lily's smaller LF hoof and a half size smaller than what Lily's RH usually takes. I hammered it on with the broken boot, figuring the thing would never come off this way. There was something very satisfying about slamming on one boot with the other.


While I was at it, I also adjusted the stirrups so that the prong ends were lying on the outside of my shins (flat part of the strap directly against my leg). Sweating and blowing smoke out of my ears, I mounted back up. And Lily is a saint: she tells me when a boot is malfunctioning, stands patiently with her reins hanging while I figure out what to do, holds her hoof up so I can remove and replace the boot, knows by this point that my crankiness in these situations has nothing to do with her, and then stands stock still so I can swing back up into the saddle. I may be mad at the boots but I give her tons and tons of praise while all of this is going on. I love her love her love her.

We walked back to the main trail and then I asked Lily to pick up a trot again. She trotted on happily and very forward-ly, until we were almost back at the first creek crossing. Lily's gait suddenly felt off so I stopped and looked back at her hind boots.

GODDAMN @##$$%%^^&*(()*&&^^@@##!!!!!!

The RH Glove, the smaller one I had just hammered on, had popped off and was hanging by the gaiter. GRRRRRRR! At least the gaiter was still fully attached to the boot... I dismounted and simply removed both hind Gloves, grumbling about what a POS these boots are. I don't get it: every other ride, they are terrific. I've had them stay on through fetlock-deep mud and despite trotting up hills coming out of water, two of the hazards most likely to make you lose boots. But on this day with perfect footing? Nope. I will stop hating them again next time they perform fantastically, but I get SO FRUSTRATED with them when they don't work on training rides! Next time I'll just Viper all the way around. More points for Lander Industries and their awesome products!

Adjusting the stirrups allowed me to figure out where I had to be in the saddle + cover to be comfortable, and once I was where I needed to be, everything just flowed so much easier for us together. I'd been fighting the saddle somewhat up until that moment. I noted that with the cover I didn't get the knot behind my left shoulder blade nor the twinge in my left sciatic nerve like I have in that saddle in the past on long rides sans cover. I felt solid in the saddle and Lily felt forward and nicely in front of my leg with no effort from me.

We did part of our usual loop in reverse, in a way that allowed us to string together the different equestrian trails without having to ride any of them twice. We were coming back out onto the meadow trail when MapMyRun called out 9 miles. At this point Lily's gait changed again. I brought her to a stop and she immediately started frantically stomping her RF: the Viper had spun around and was hanging by the captivator. I managed to swing off while she continued stomping. "Get it off get it off get it off!" she said. "Hold on Lily" I said, as I reached for the boot. She was holding her foot up in the air and when I reached for it, she started stomping again. I had to reprimand her when she almost kneed me in the cheekbone. "You need to hold still if you want me to help you," I told her. As if she understood, she simply lifted her foot and held it in the air while I removed the boot and replaced it correctly. She was fine after that.

I decided we'd add 3 more miles in to complete 12 miles. Lily loves cantering on the meadow trail, so I let her go. She picked up her all-day canter, easily putting in 2 loops around the meadow trail without stopping (one turn around this trail is a mile), and then I had her veer off down the Hidden Pond Trail. She trotted down the slope back into the woods, then picked up a canter all on her own. She didn't ask to come back down to a trot, so I simply let her canter this loop until we were almost back at the meadow trail. I brought her back down to a walk when the app called out 12 miles. We had completed them in 1 hour and 37 minutes. I was thrilled with our pace.

I dismounted and, since we were facing home, decided to practice tailing with Lily. She is always confused when I stand behind her holding her tail. I clipped one end of the reins to the halter on her halter-bridle and held the opposite end. Lily stood and looked back at me as I took my position behind her. "Go on." I said, and clucked. Lily started walking slowly forward, but she kept turning her head slightly to check on me. "Are you sure this is what you want me to do?" she asked. "Yes. Good girl! That's exactly it." So she straightened out and walked on more confidently, still keeping an ear on me.

You can see her ear pointed back at me.
I somehow managed to drop the rein and Lily immediately came to a halt with no request from me. I praised her and picked up the rein again. She walked on at my bidding. I don't know what I was doing, but I did manage to drop the rein one more time and again she stopped immediately of her own accord.

Have I mentioned how much I love this horse?

In this manner we walked over to a friend's new barn whom I was helping to get set up, where I untacked Lily and turned her out in the empty fields. She flirted with the neighbor's geldings over the fence, then had a ball walking around, exploring and grazing by herself for 2 hours. A situation where a long time ago she would have turned into a nervous wreck at finding herself all alone. When it was time for us to go, I found her in cannon-bone high grass in the front pasture. She didn't come when I called but she stood and waited for me to go to her, giving me happy ears. I tacked her back up and walked her on a loose rein back to our barn.

I write about these events and feel like I can't put into words what each of these little things means to me. The fact that she trusts me so much now, that she is so happy being my horse now, that I can ride her for 12 miles, take her over to another barn and have her stay completely chill, then get back on and have her be fine with carrying me a little while longer. All the little things that I never thought I'd be able to do with her, and that now I can without thinking about it.

I love her.



19 comments:

  1. I am still laughing at that AWESOME graphic "Have you ever been so mad." That so perfectly captures the moment of boot frustration. I am annoyed at your boots for you, that amount of hassle in unacceptable.

    And I am totally envious of trails that you can get keep up that kind of speed. Sounds like a lovely ride...except for all the boot frustration. Do you think you'll continue in the wintec?

    And for the tailing, that's exactly how I approached it too, as they're heading home. Now I often tail (not really, more just following behind), on our handwalks. Major thinks it's awesome when he's "in charge." So nice to read about such a great partnership you have with Lily, when I've read so much of the work that has gone into it.

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    1. I found that graphic completely by accident while looking for angry memes. It really is absolutely perfect! I kept bursting out laughing every time I opened the post to continue writing!

      The reason why Lily can pick up that type of speed on these trails is simply because we are very familiar with them. :) They are a nice combination of rocky and smooth footing, with several short but steep hills, and plenty of water access in the form of a river that flows through the park. It's a great place for training and we are lucky to have it so close!

      I think I'll continue doing long rides in the Wintec with shorter and/or speed rides in the Alta. The Alta is so much more comfortable to ride in. It really is like riding around on a couch, and it just places you in this naturally balanced seat. I love that saddle.

      I'm glad this approach has worked for someone else when training a horse to tail! This was the first time that she really understood what I wanted. I remember reading one of your posts where Major was particularly excited about tailing!

      And thank you! :D

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  2. This makes me smile for you and Lily and gives me hope! It really is the little things that the horses do that make us so happy, usually only the little things we know about, as the horses owner, to tell us just how far we have come.
    Your trails sounds so spectacular!

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    1. I'm glad this gives you hope! I have no doubt that you and Shy can get this far too, especially seeing how absolutely wonderful she is with kids!

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  3. I think your joy is dripping in your text, because I definitely smiled while reading this. And don't worry I don't think you won the lottery :) You are a saver like me, save for the things you really want and then enjoy them.

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    1. Thanks L! :D I got self-conscious there for a minute after Lauren's "What Would You Say On Your Blog" post, since money was one of the big themes.

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  4. I think that I may never do more than a 25, just because between my weight and the weight of the saddle, it wouldn't be fair to expect Ashke to carry that much weight over the longer distance. I'm glad you figured out a way to lower the weight Lily will carry for your 50 mile rides. The Wintec doesn't bother Lily's back? Even after the fast 12 miles you rode? That's awesome! (I've kind of come to believe that Ashke will only be happy in the Alta.)

    I'm so happy that you and Lily have that level of trust and love. That Centaur feeling is better than anything in the world, in my opinion. Well, that and Pistachio Almond Ice Cream by Blue Bell.

    BTW, your mare is BEAST!!!

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    1. This Wintec doesn't bother her. It's a really nice Wintec: it is wool-flocked and has wide panels, almost as wide as the Alta's, for greater weight distribution. I had it adjusted to fit her and the adjustments ended up being very minimal: we basically just swapped out the gullet plate I had at the time and my saddle fitter adjusted some of the flocking a tiny bit. The catch is that it fits her so well, it has to be used with a thin pad. The Woolback works perfectly for the Alta because that saddle is a titch too wide and it fills in the gaps. But it is too thick for the Wintec, making the saddle pinch. It was the only reason why she was coming up somewhat sore after riding in this saddle: because of the Woolback. No soreness at all when I use a regular thin pad. :) I still love the Alta Escuela best though. It's the only saddle I've ever ridden in where I don't have to fight the saddle to find my seat. I'm so happy that your experience with the Alta has been pretty much the same as mine!

      The centaur feeling really is the best thing in the world. But regarding pistachio ice cream, my absolute favorite is Talenti's Sicilian Pistachio gelato. OMG it is amazing. Have you tried it? Can't keep it in the house...I'll eat the entire pint in one sitting!

      Thank you! :D

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    2. And I wanted to mention this: there's a study somewhere about endurance horses with heavier riders doing better in some distances simply because they ride more carefully. I think it may be in one of my Endurance News...I'll try to find it for you!

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  5. Boot drama. GAH. My stomach was roiling just reading this. I think that's why I never freaking ride with boots if I can help it. Were it not for having to drive further and do fewer rides, I'd probably pull a Jenn the last two years and refuse to compete except at rides we could do bare. BOOTS. grumblegrumblegrumble

    Pretty sweet on the saddle though. If you're in that at FV I think you'll be riding faster than Q and I! I finally backlogged from my journal to my calendar all of the riding I've done with Q since I quit cross-posting it on my calendar...um yeah, we haven't done a trail ride since August 20. 5 weeks Friday. Whoops. Lily's definitely going to stomp us into the ground at FV lol

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    1. Hahaha I WISH we had rides in this area where bare was an option! Every time I have this many issues, the thought of shoes for competition will inevitably cross my mind. Though after reading one of Mel's old posts on the PITA that was shoeing Minx and Farley before competitions, it sounds like an even worse hassle...

      Your girl is pretty amazing at holding her fitness, so we'll see. ;) lol

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  6. What type of Wintec are you using? I had a wool flocked AP and it caused crushing knee pain at around 10 miles or so. Gem is a pain to saddle fit though, so that probably played a big role in it.

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    1. Mine is a Wintec Pro Dressage Contourbloc. I love the saddle and the fact that the stirrup bars are set further back than on your average English Wintec. The Wintecs I've ridden in in the past have put me in more of a chair seat. This one places you in a nice centered position but the problem is that the bars are set further back to accommodate huge knee blocks that aren't removable. It's great for dressage and I've toyed with the idea of riding in it in competition, but last time I trialed it on a long ride (15 miles) over the summer, my sciatic nerve and shoulder were both really sore about halfway through. I still don't have an explanation for that. The saddle would actually be perfect if I could remove the giant blocks, though I think I may have figured out how I need to ride in it. The Alta has a pommel that becomes painful after negotiating miles of downhill; the blocks on the Wintec give me something to brace against. So I guess we'll see what happens with more rides.

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    2. I compete in a wool-flocked Wintec AP. I used to get knee pain, but I found dropping my stirrups two holes alleviated it entirely. These days, I feel nothing, despite the pins in my right leg, and the fact that I ride longer distances over harder terrain.

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  7. I'm so glad I never had to deal with booting Ozzy. I did it once with Rayzer and wanted to kill everyone. AND boots were the worst part of riding Poe in the 80 (and that includes the bees). I'm not sure what I'll do for my barefoot performance horses in the future, but I may have to suck it up and get the $200 Sigafoos glue-one shoes for every ride. (Ha. Hahaha. Look at me talk like I have any money. Ha.)

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    1. I've seriously considered the Eponas and just learning to glue them on myself, but after seeing a horse with 3 missing glue-on Easyshoes at the OD, I think it may not be much better than using boots. :( Did you shoe Ozzy when you competed with him?

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  8. Ugh, boot issues are the worst! I'll never forget my first few rides where it seemed like one was always unbuckling or twisting or falling off. And of course, as soon as I got it figured out, my horse needed different sizes, so now I'm messing with it again. Still I'm so thankful to have to option. I'm glad the lighter saddle is working for you. One thing you might be able to do is use the Wintec for the first part of the ride to save weight and then swap to the Alta for your comfort near the end. I've been toying with the idea of having different pads/firths at vet checks to swap out and if I had a saddle to swap, I might do that too:)

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    1. You are a mind reader! Lol I was thinking of doing exactly that: starting in one saddle and swapping to the other halfway through at the latest.

      Which boots are you trying at the moment?

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  9. That last paragraph makes me so happy I could cry! She is such a special horse and I'm so happy you guys are having so much fun together. I can't wait until I can feel so confident and at ease taking Chrome out and about to new places. You've done such a great job with her!

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