Sunday, February 27, 2011

Hot to Trot

The weather took enough of a break for my side saddle enthusiasm to renew. I loaded the car, did my stretches and headed out. I think I've found a new muscle. As far as I can tell, it's called the gluteus medius. It's not used to stretching, and it's not happy. It ached and cramped all night, but is limbering up pretty well now. My abductors and adductors are a little sore, but they have nothing to complain about since they have to work at the gym almost daily and should be prepared. I also have a sore rectus femoris. In other words, the back of my right thigh burns right above my knee. I'm editing to add a bit, as the day wears on... my right seat bone made a tender mooshy spot in my fat, and my right calf is tight.

The good news is, my balance, hips, and shoulders seem to be taking care of themselves fairly naturally. Apparently, I'm not at immediate risk of falling off. The bad news is, I have no more control over my lower legs than usual, and it has been decades since I worried about equitation. I think I did much better with my right leg, but it required about 80% of my concentration.

I started out with a little walking, but that is getting boring and my horse needs some exercise. The saddle still feels like it is twisting left. I kept tightening the balance strap, and it took three tries to get it back to the hole it belongs on. I put a weight tape on Grey last week, and he is up at least 50 pounds since Christmas, but he took the balance strap with no complaints. Once I felt confident that the saddle was staying put, albeit a little wonky feeling, we moved on to the trot.

I concentrated on pulling my right ankle back and pointing my toe, and it's amazing how that secures you to the saddle. I feel pretty easy as far as balance, and began asking Grey to move out more. He was a little startled to actually feel the whip for a change.

But, as you see in the above photo where I snapped him and he scooted, my left leg doesn't stay under me well. This is NOT an issue exclusive to aside riding. I also concentrated on not sitting back on my pockets, which helps with the overall saddle fit. In fact, I've been practicing that during the day at my office. The difference in square foot coverage of a fanny when you straighten your back and tip your hips is remarkable.

Kathie, who sold me the saddle, recommended before she even shipped it that I find a corset to ride in. I've been shopping the internet for them a bit (actually kind of fun) and figured I might as well get something I might use even if it doesn't help my riding. So, since I don't have a corset to ride in yet, I dug out my old lower back support and wore that. I do think it helps.

Also, I feel more secure circling right than left. I don't know if this is my balance or my horse's. I am really looking forward to spring so I can get outside and ride in a straight line.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown

If I get too discouraged with the challenges of saddle fit, and never achieve a level of proficiency aside, I suppose I could take the route of the elderly, mourning Queen Victoria, so aptly played by Dame Judy Dench in the movie Her Majesty Mrs. Brown..

... and simply be led about on a pony. In the movie, we are treated to scenes of the Queen being led out each day by her cheeky Scottish servant Mr. Brown, when she would sit aside on a horse and read her daily letters. I watched this movie when it was first released back in 1997. I thought of it again just this past weekend while creating the Critical Situations post. In light of it's side saddle references, I think it deserves some attention. And, if side saddle isn't enough, I found that it was Gerard Butler's first movie appearance. I don't remember his character at all. I think this demands rewatching!

In the movie, John Brown gets quite familiar with the Queen and quite cheekily coaxes her out of her mourning and insists she get out and ride each day. In fact, their relationship was quite well known, even scandalous as rumors abounded that they were in fact secretly married. The Queen looks rather dowdy in the photograph below...

... but leave it up to Landseer to class up the scene with this lovely painting.

Of course, the Queen did not always have to be led out on a pony. The drawing below shows her schooling a horse over jumps in a riding school at Windsor.

And below is a statue of her in front of St. George's Hall in Liverpool

Naturally, a Queen would have a well trained and prepared mount and would not likely encounter a Critical Situation. Somewhere I read that when Queen Elizabeth II was still riding aside in ceremonial functions, her horse was taken out and galloped for several miles in the morning before appearing in the parade or other ceremony.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Critical Situations

No side saddle progress this week. Despite the fact that we had 3 beautiful, warm spring days... the kind where you simply cannot fathom the thought that winter will return... winter is back. Saturday morning's weather was every bit as miserable as last Saturday's. Cold, HIGH winds, blowing snow, slippery roads, poor visibility. Completely demoralised, I dragged myself out of bed and to the barn with as little baggage as possible, leaving the armloads of side saddle and gear on the rack in the living room.

After puttering around the barn for a bit while Grey thundered around the tiny indoor, I finally mustered enough interest to get out a cold bridle, and catch the wild thing for a bareback ride. It was apparent, even before I got him to the mounting block, that this was not going to be a leisurely waddle around on the fuzzy couch. As Mom put it he had "too many bats in his belfry" and she decided to linger in the barn "just in case you fall off". Thanks for the vote of confidence.

The 50 mph winds were howling in the trees outside, creaking the walls, and banging the doors. Even though we have four and a half foot solid gates in the back, the actual sliding door is hopelessly frozen open affording a clear view of fresh-snow phantasms blowing down off the roof. After a monstrous spook which didn't unseat me, but did tweak something in my right side and lower back, I decided this was one of those moments: Give up and get down, or toughen up and ride. I wiggled out of my comfy quilted barn jacket, and traded it over the gate for the dressage whip.

Deciding to avoid going past the back door, we instead did trot figure eights in the safe 2/3rds of the 50x50. Since Grey was channeling his inner park horse and could only be trusted with about 18" of rein, it did not resemble elementary dressage work, but instead a satirical farce based on a saddle seat equitation class... bareback. I tried posting (usually easy) to save my back, but that loosened the all important connection of fanny to horse so I opted instead to concentrate on which seat bone my weight was in. After awhile I finally got him settled, ahead of my leg, and listening well enough to do an elementary leg yield, amd then cantered both ways without incident. So, as it turned out, conditions were not conducive to learning to ride aside. Which, begs the question, what does a lady do when her horse misbehaves?

To bring today’s entry back to a side saddle theme, I went flipping through some pdf copies of the old books to see how ladies were expected to handle naughty horses, and I must say, I wish I had more time to devote to sitting and reading these books cover to cover because there were some real gems.

Principles of Modern Riding for Ladies by John Allen (1825)
The author refers to these as “Critical Situations” and gives the usual advice on rearing and bucking horses but also tackles some indelicate terminology… “Accordingly, when he lifts his forelegs, your breech must be thrust out behind, by which you are prepared if he rears.”

Belle Beach must have been quite the gutsy rider, as she was a professional, and certainly was put in all sorts of hairy situations. “Many claim that the cross-saddle is safer than the side saddle in case of a rearing horse falling over backward. I do not agree with this (of course she wouldn’t)for, in the first place, many good men have suffered shocking accidents in this way and, when riding in the cross-saddle, unless the rider succeeds in throwing himself clear from the horse, he is almost sure to have one leg broken. On the other hand, with a side-saddle, if the horse comes down on his off side, there is no danger of a broken leg, and when the horse starts to rear a woman can usually make him fall on the off side by pulling his head to that side with all her strength, so that on this point the ease of clearing oneself from a cross-saddle is more that offset by the ability to throw the horse with safety and make him fall on the off side.” Now, I’ve thrown a few horses over, in my rougher youth, and you should actually pull the horse’s head left, not to the off side, but I think this method falls squarely in the “do not try this at home” category.

I didn’t take the time to relate all of William Alexander Kerr’s advice in Practical Horsemanship and Riding for Ladies (1891) but I did spot this interesting illustration. The trainer looks pretty determined doesn’t he? If I ever got my legs in that position… I don’t think I’d be getting off on my own.

Ladies on Horseback by Mrs. (Nannie) Power O’Donoghue (1881) provides not only the most exhaustive advice on bad actors, but by far the most amusing. She starts with very practical advice, then ventures off into wonderful stories of personal experiences.

"You must not lose sight of the fact that a bird flitting suddenly across, a donkey’s head laid without warning against a gate, a goat’s horns appearing over a wall, or even a piece of paper blown along the ground, may cause your horse to shy, and if you are not sitting close at the time, woe betide you! "

"Should your horse show temper and attempt to back with you, leave him rein, touch him lightly with your heel, and speak encouragingly to him; should he persist, your attendant must look into the matter; but a horse who possesses this dangerous vice should never be ridden by a lady. "

"Should your horse at anytime rear with you, throw the reins loose, sit close, and bring your whip sharply across his flank. If this is not effectual, you may give him the butt end of it between the ears, which will be pretty sure to bring him down. " Oh my. How unladylike.

She then goes on to relate a runaway situation that rather amused her, but not so much as the fact that a gentleman “actually attacked my servant in the most irate manner because he had not clattered after me during the progress of the mare’s wild career. ‘How dare you sir,’ cried this irascible old gentleman, ‘how dare you attempt to neglect your young lady in this cowardly manner?’ Nor was his anger at all appeased when informed that I, as a matron was my own caretaker, and that my attendant had strict injunctions not to follow me in the event of my horse being startled or running away.”

She then goes on to relate a story of being runaway with in a hunt and of jumping a 6’ 6” wall (which she set her horse at to stop him) and landing in the middle of a farm yard, creating a “considerable disturbance”!
“Such a commotion amongst fowl was surely never witnessed.” Finding the gate locked, she did the only thing she could… led her defeated horse out through the kitchen, startling an old woman who was knitting in the chimney corner. “And she was still shrieking long after I had mounted the big bay and ridden him back to inform his owner of how charmingly he had behaved.” Who could think a lady could have such adventures?
She must have been quite the character. I'll have to spend the time to read that book more thoroughly, as well as the Riding for Ladies published in 1887. All the above books are available in their entirety in Google Books.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ladies of Comfortable Porportions

I drifted off to sleep last night dreaming of a 24” off side saddle… and that if such a gem were to surface, I would have the cash sitting around to purchase it’s rareness. Ha! Don't be fooled! If I found it, I’d charge it! In a heartbeat.

I also drifted off with these elusive questions rattling about in my head…
Would half an inch of seat even make a difference?

When I save the thousand plus dollars difference between these scarce 23” saddles and my own 22.5” will it be worth it? Should I give up on the old masters and buy a less expensive 23" Elan to try?

Why do they use the word “generous” when describing a piddling 13” wide seat? Are they trying to be insulting?

Does the flatness of the seat make a difference?

Will I just have to sit in it to find out?

Why does it have to be my right knee that hurts all the time? Couldn’t it be the left that just hangs there? Why is it aching now just thinking about it?

What if my seat bones fit my saddle just fine, but the size of my caboose will always make me look like a saddle measuring moron?

Why does it seem like I gain 10 pounds every time I have a birthday with a zero in it? And if that is really true, why do I weigh less now than when I graduated college?

How can I gain back a whole pound by adding 3 ounces of salad dressing and a chick pea to my usual salad? OK, it was more than one. Chick pea that is.

Is it possible I am getting taller?

What if I were truly tall and fat instead of tallish and plumpish? Would I never be able to ride aside? Where are the tall side saddle riders? Are they hoarding the larger saddles?

Was it some cruel twist of fate which made the bathroom scale crack?

Yes, I broke the bathroom scale! My husband just shakes his head and says “I can’t believe you cracked it.” Yeah, neither can I. The good news is it now reads consistently 10 pounds lighter. I haven’t had the heart to throw it out yet even though I know it’s not true.

I think I may have gained some insight on the old (1890 and earlier) standards of measurement which say I should fit into a 20" seat. Of course, my upright head is a modern shape, and so is impossible to measure this way for a comparison. But it makes much more sense now.


On a positive and progressive note, I’m working on my saddle pads.

Not that the dressage pads are really lacking in anything. I just love the shape of a side saddle. Don’t you?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

I can't believe I took the trouble to haul my side saddle out today. The weather was horrible, and my first instinct, upon getting up and not being able to see as far as the garage through the snow, was to just stay in the house and make soup or bread. But horse people are crazy. So...

I made two mistakes today, but one improvement. First, I didn't bother to do any stretching before I left the house which really helped last time. And it was terribly cold, so as soon as I got aside, both my calves and both my arches cramped up. After sitting there for a few minutes and deciding they weren't going to loosen, I had Grey take me back to the mounting block where I shimmied down his left side and did heel lifts on the mounting block until they loosened up.

Secondly, because my horse was filthy today...

Nice, Huh?

Just what you want to put a fancy saddle on.

...I thought it would be a good day to see if I could get any pressure points on the white saddle pad so I left the sticky layer between the horse and the pad out, and I could really tell the difference. Of course, my unorthodox dismount and second mounting didn't help, and the saddle was shifting left.

After last week's successful ride, I trusted the saddle, my horse, and myself a bit more so I didn't immediately panic, but after a few minutes it became evident the saddle needed to be reset. I put it all straight and remounted with a tighter girth and tighter balance strap and everything immediately felt 10 times better and no more shifting. Still, at that point I was starting to wear out, so I never got around to trotting. My horse did treat me to a Bambi-Spraddle spook with a jump to the left which didn't loosen my seat any, but just made me mad and I spent a few minutes astride the saddle making him walk properly shaped circles instead of lolly-gagging, cutting corners and gazing out the back door.

The positive thing I did was leave my right half chap off which gave me a lot more flexibility to my right ankle so I could get my toe pointed down. Due to the cramping hazards, that didn't happen a lot, but I did get my foot pulled back, and my left heel down. Of course, with my right shin more perpendicular, was pulled forward further, and the leaping head didn't feel as perfect as it did last week.

I know it doesn't look like it in the photos, but last week I had two fingers of cantle left, and pulled forward with my shin straight I had almost four which actually put me at a narrower part of the seat which was less comfortable. This saddle has a pretty persistent "sweet spot" that is hard to get out of. First I dropped the stirrup one hole, but with my heel down I not only could get one hand between my thigh and the leaping head, I could get my whole wrist. So I raised it back up. I still felt like I was twisting a bit with my right hip forward, so I kept resetting from an astride position trying to reassure myself that I was square. It seems to help if I drop my right rein, and let my arm hang for a minute.

Very limited photos today because it was so *bleep*ing cold, the batteries were dying in the camera. Despite the fact that I've lost 4 pounds this week, I felt fat and clumsy and stiff, and a bit dizzy and immediately after I dismounted, my right knee started with stabbing pains.
Despite sacrificing the security of the slip pad, there was no dirt at all on the dressage pad. So that either means there are no pressure points or that the experiment was a complete and total failure. I did take the time to arrange the quilted pad, and mark the outline of my saddle in masking tape so I can make a pattern for a pad.

When I removed the saddle, both sides of his back were ruffled a little but that was from me fiddling around and having to reset the saddle, and I don't think was an indication of where most of my weight was.

I drove home through 30 mph winds, drifting snow and sloppy melting roads. Ate a banana for my leg cramps, took an Aleve for my knee and took a nap. I never got any soup or bread made, but my neighbor Trish left us some... I'm not sure what, zucchini bread maybe? which is very good, and now I've blown my diet. Sort of. There's always room in a diet for home made bread. I can't wait for February to be over!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Shim Sham Shimmy

So you live in the middle of a horse free zone, far far away from a reputable saddler or side saddle expert. Sending your saddle out for adjustments will not only cost you substantial shipping, but valuable riding time. Even then, the saddler will not have the horse handy to measure or study and will have to rely on your photos, descriptions and theories. So what do you do? You improvise!

I come from Saddle Seat Land where we do not pad saddles. The saddles are relatively flat. We like them close to the horse, with foam panels. We show without pads, but at home, to keep them clean, we generally put something glamorous and high tech like a folded bath towel under the saddle. In recent years, the invention of dressage baby pads in stable colors has classed things up in Saddle Seat Saddle Padding Land quite a bit. Finally a pad which fits the straight front edge of our saddles that doesn't come in navaho design or ugly fake fleece, and won't catch the bight of our reins with it's stiff, pointy front corner!

So you can imagine that the idea of all this padding, shimming and layering necessary to make a side saddle fit kind of freaks me out. The more layers you have, the more opportunity for something to go wrong. It's kind of like building a club sandwich. Take out the pick, and something like lettuce or a slice of bacon is likely to shoot out of the middle causing the whole stack to wobble and crash into your pickle.

Side saddle panels are wide for a reason. Not only does it accomodate the width of the rider's seat when her legs are modestly clamped together, it helps to distribute the weight over a larger square footage reducing pressure points on the horse's back. Adding shims or a pad which is smaller than the area of the actual saddle pannels will concentrate that weight over a smaller area, possibly resulting in a sore back for the horse.

Additional padding also makes my horse taller. He's 16.3 hh barefoot. Adding the saddle makes him about 17.2 hh. Any other padding or shims makes matters worse at an exponential rate. It's a long way down. When I'm ready to dismount from this contraption, I'm struck by the distance to the ground. I have to shimmy back to the left, put my hand on his rump, and jump for it. It's about as graceful as attempting to jump out of the hay mow. I may consider investing in a parachute. Or a ladies groom who will catch me and ease my delicate frame to the ground. Yeah right. Even my brave husband who is already familiar with hoisting me wouldn't risk getting between me, a 17.2 hh perch and the ground.

It also raises the center of gravity of the saddle and therefore the rider. But I must say, those side saddles are designed to stay put. The points of the tree come aways down the rib cage. Once the saddle in on, it's not going to move, even with the girth undone. That makes it rather inconvenient to adjust. The large safe on the left side is impossible to see around or under. The saddle is heavy enough and secure enough that it is hard to shift left, right or back. It's also pretty impossible to take it off, and steady it on one hip while you fiddle with pads with your free hand. You're better off putting the saddle back on it's stand and starting all over. So, shimming is a challenge.

For starters, my side saddle is a 22.5". And even though that is still a bit short for my fanny at the moment, it is at least 4 inches longer than your standard All Purpose saddle. That makes it difficult to use a manufactured pad. I've heard that some companies are helpful enough that if you contact them they will make you a special side saddle pad. Alternatively, Saddle Seat saddles come in 22" so the few pads designed for them would be more likely to fit.

Or you can get creative at home. I needed about a half inch rise to my cantle. I found a nice Wintec shim pad on sale which was far far less expensive than a fancy Mattes pad. I tried it under the saddle while at home on the rack, and in order for it line up with the cantle, I had to set it back at least an inch from the front edge. The pad is cleverly designed so that the front thickness is 1/4" and it gets thicker towards the back, with an additional layer added under the cantle. Even so I had my husband work on the pad with his die grinder, beveling the front edge to help it blend into the saddle.

I was pretty pleased with how this improved the saddle fit. I figured I had two choices to make it fit the saddle despite the fact that the spine is not long enough. #1, I could cut it into a lollypop shape and use is strictly as a riser, or #2 I could try to bevel the front edge and blend it in to the saddle. Naturally, once you've done #1, you can't go back and try #2. So we tried beveling it. It raised the saddle through the waist to the point that it also lifted the front a bit and instead of having a tight point in the front right behind his shoulder blade, I could slide my fingers smoothly along the whole front edge even while mounted.

Now, that might also have to do a little with the placement of the saddle. When I saddled him Saturday, my Mom's reaction was "it's too far back". I showed her that I had two finger's width between the front of the saddle, and the edge of his shoulder blade. I don't really think I had that much the time before. So, we'll study this further next time.

Is it the pad, or the placement? You need to be careful not to get a side saddle (any saddle really) too far back and risk sitting on the weaker loin. Somewhere I read what the furthest point back in relation tothe last rib was, but I don't recall where. I'm fortunate to be working with a longer backed breed that can handle a full length saddle, but you still have to be mindful of where you are putting all your weight. Grey isn't fully muscled up over his topline this time of year. It will be interesting to see how his fitness level affects the saddle fit. Each time I will have to palpate his back for sore spots, and watch for tell tale dirty spots on the white pad to indicate pressure points.

So, while we're on the subject of shims, there really aren't a whole lot of commercial options out there. One which looks like a really brilliant idea are these Stick On Shims. I mean why not? That would take a lot of the slip-slide out. And it's a possibility with my side saddle because I have leather covered panels, not linen panels.

The stick on shims are actually an alternative use for this brilliant take on Butt Stikum. Also an alternative to having a saddler glue doeskin onto your leather side saddle seat.

In case all that saddle shimming and butt stikum fails, you shim your butt. In the immortal words of a colorful CoTH personality: "u not need bigger saddle, u need smaller fanny". But if you are happy with the size of your butt, and you think it is a bit asymmetrical, just shim that baby out. Butt Shims

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure I will not be adding layers of fake padding to my breeches. You know someone was going to think of it though.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Take Two: Success!

Okay, I guess this IS doable! Hooray! I am NOT a side saddle failure. The past two weeks, I have been carefully scheming and preparing for my next ride. I am happy to report the fixes worked. Very well in fact. It took a lot of thinking, shopping and adjusting. My husband even got in on the act bending leaping heads, and beveling shim pads with his die grinder.

So, the list of fixes are:

Longer reins: Perfect! Gives me a lot of bight which I am used to, after decades of heavy maned Saddlebreds, keeping on the left. I caught myself several times chanting "bight on the right" over and over. That's one thing you don't want wrapped around your ankle.

Shim Pad: Gives me half an inch of rise to the cantle, and magically seems to have fixed the tight spot right behind his shoulder blade. There are a LOT of shim options, and some challenges to properly shimming a side saddle. More on that later in the week.

Mohair Girth: In a proper size 52". I was using a saddle seat "humane" girth, but it was at only 48 inches and longer ones are very rare to find and much more expensive than the string girths. I have eliminated the sketchy girth extender, and I love the mohair. It has a nice amount of give to it and is not at all slippery. Two thumbs up!

Non Slip Rug Pad (from Home Depot): I have a regular "non slip" saddle pad, but it isn't anywhere near as sticky as a cheap-o rug pad. I put one square beneath the quilted pad, and one square between the quilted pad and the shim pad.

Seat Stikum: This is a three pronged approach. Not only did I remember my full seat breeches today (20 degrees warmer incidentally) but I also put some Sadl-Tite on my seat, and wrapped the upright head with some Vet Wrap for good measure.

Time to ride. The last two times I have taken the saddle to the barn, I have been nervous and jumpy. I didn't even sleep well the nights before. This morning I woke up excited and eager, one might even say confident, with a plan of attack. Another thing Robin has said in her blog brought back old memories. When I was a kid, I used to ride "aside" in western saddles. This is pretty much impractical, even painful, likely unsafe. But almost anyone who trail rides a lot has done it at one point or another. Putting one, or both legs up on a western pommel will rest your back. Swinging one leg around the horn is a convenient way to sit and talk with your companions. It isn't very easy to do while walking or trotting, as the horse's neck rises and falls with it's stride, pinching your leg, but if I could do that without a problem, certainly I can ride in a proper side saddle.

Today I clamoured aboard astride (there are a lot of horns in the way) and went for a little stroll. Why not get used to this saddle one leg at a time? It's actually not bad this way. I was able to fiddle with my left leg, and enjoy the new fit of the leaping head. I got myself settled in, my butt in a comfy balanced place, and then I just swung my right leg up and over, and pretty much forgot about it.

Grey did not. My right leg appearing on his near side again got the equine equivalent of raised eyebrows. "Really? You're going to try this again?"

"Do you realise your legs are both over here?"

He studied the situation and thought about it. For those of you who know William Pendleton Grey Esq. from his blog, you will know that he is quick, powerful, and smart. And like most Saddlebreds, he has a very active fantasy life. If there is nothing going on, he pretends story lines about monsters and pirates. I don't make that stuff up. I just try to write down what's really going on in his head. He doesn't dump me on purpose. In the six years we've owned him, we've parted company three times. Once I fell off, once I was thrown off, and once I went down with the ship. Each time he has been very ashamed afterwards. I haven't decided yet if he's ashamed of his poor behavior, or ashamed of my lousy riding skills. He takes a lot for granted when it comes to my sticking with him. In light of that, he has been very careful and conscientious about this whole side saddle thing.

Of course, we are in the small, dusty indoor. And he finds that pretty boring. In fact, he generally turns into a western pleasure horse. You can see from all the dust in the air that showed up in the pictures, that by the time I had longed him enough to get all the pirates out of him, we had pretty well ruined the air quality. But, the mere fact that we are able to ride at all in a western NY winter is pretty amazing, so I can over look the fact that every time I ride I have to clean all my tack, and launder all my clothes.

This time I had very little trouble staying in the middle. In fact, I found the root of the sliding off the left side is actually me leaning my torso to the right. Shoulder goes right, bum goes left. Amazing and immediate cause and effect. I could feel Grey wobbling a bit under me. Remember, he's never had a side saddle on before. He's not sure how to react or if he's supposed to compensate for me when I do something awkward. This doesn't surprise me as it took us several rides to get used to the new feel of riding bareback. I think he is doing very well with side saddle.

I had Mom shoot a lot of photos. I tried to crop this one using the sliding door track on the wall as the level horizon. Not too bad for a second ride. I think I lean a smidge to the off side though.

Grey was almost impossible to get unrooted to start with. I had to send Mom for a dressage whip just to get him to step forward. There is only one near side shot that shows it, but I guarantee my left heel was up most of the time encouraging my reluctant and overly cautious horse.

I rode for almost a half hour, and only twice felt like I was going to slide myself off. As soon as I realised the correlation between that and my upper body weight, it was quite easily solved. I am having some difficulty figuring out how to increase my weight in my right seat bone. When I unsaddled, I studied Grey's back, and I did ruffle some hair under my left seat bone, so I obviously am a little off balance. I think I did better with the balance strap this time. I had it two fingers tight, then when I mounted, I took it up another notch or two to compensate for me squishing everything down.

I even worked up the nerve to trot. No good photos of that. Just funny pictures of intense concentration. It wasn't hard though, and I didn't feel insecure. My right toe did come up, and my left heel a bit. Luckily Grey has an easy trot which I have never found hard to sit. He was a bit shocked when I asked him to trot. His initial reaction was "For a minute there I thought you said 'Trot!" But after a few times he evidently decided I wasn't going to fall off, or send him careening into a wall, and he actually relaxed and started looking for boogers out the door again. In fact, I'm pretty sure I am more likely to get my self in a pickle wobbling around at a walk worrying about my saddle than I am at a brisk trot thinking about keeping my horse in front of my leg and on the bit.

A happy end to our second ride.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Vintage Side Saddle Sizing

Page from
Park Riding
with Some Comments on the Art of Horsemanship
by J. Rimmel Dunbar
circa 1859

I love the Google books function which shows complete scans of books out of Copyright. I search for "Side Saddle" or "Ladies Riding". Sometimes I only get a page or two of interest but it's well worth it. This measurement makes you wonder where he was measuring from! Or perhaps the proportions of ladies have changed over the past 150 years? According to that chart, I would need about a 20" seat. My Martin & Martin is 22.5" and it is none to big. OMG! Is my butt really that big?!?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Adjustable Leaping Heads Uncovered

The Side Saddle discipline is full of way to many "whys and hows" that a book or Internet search will have a hard time answering for you. You have to get your hands on an actual saddle, and then you will still have a hundred questions. So, in the interest of those who may come after me, I'm going to try to get some of the mysteries that elude me solved, and out on the Internet for posterity.

For instance, one of the selling points of my saddle was that I knew it had an adjustable leaping head. Just how one was to be adjusted still puzzled me even after the saddle arrived. Nothing seems obviously adjustable. I soon found out that just twisting a few things wasn't going to majikally adjust anything. Quite a bit of reading, and some emails later, and I was ready to experiment on the old gal.

See the little silver thumb screw in the middle of the leaping head? This holds the leather cover onto the frame. Remove it, and the leather slides off. Of course, the screw was in there pretty good, and at first I was hesitant to try to remove it. Finally, I covered it with a cloth and gave it a twist with a pair of pliers. After the first quarter turn, it unscrewed very willingly.

I'm sure your thumbscrew isn't something you want to go missing. My husband seems to think he can find me a back up supply of a similar creature for just in case, if he does, I'll let you know.

Removing the screw reveals the hole in the leather and frame. Having the screw in that hole simply keeps the leather head from loosening and sliding off on it's own.

The leather slides easily off the curve of the iron "tree".

This leaves you with a strap of iron, which can be unscrewed from the tree. With the leather on, the head will only swivel back and forth. The leather head interferes with unscrewing it.

Leaping head from side with leather covering removed.

You can see that there are two holes to place the head in. The one towards the back is holding a blank plug that can be removed and placed in whichever hole is unused.

Now, besides the two positions in the tree, the iron itself can be reshaped. You can see from the marks that this one has been shaped more than once in it's history.

As for fitting my thigh, the way the leaping head was, the tip was hitting me on the outer edge of my thigh. The curve itself was fine, but it was too close to the saddle. I found if I backed the head out one full turn, the extra eighth of an inch that the base moved away from the saddle allowed my thigh to fit the head perfectly. Once again, I have all the right curves, they're just a bit too far apart. It would have been great if that was all it took. But, leaving the head backed out one turn prevents it from snugging into the tree. It would just turn back until the leather heads interfered. There was no actual stability. Besides being unsafe, the wobble of the bolt in the hole would wear on the already antique threads.

The leaping head is designed on a left handed screw. What this does is when the rider raises out of the saddle (for instance in the jumping position) the screw turns left with the thigh, then hits it's snug point and provides a firm block to the thigh. My husband fantasized about finding a 5/8" left handed lock nut (not very likely) to stabilize the head when it was backed out of the tree one turn, but this would have prevented the head from turning at all, and you need some swivel in the head to move with your thigh.

So, in the end he took it out to the shop, put it in the vise (padded with cloth) and just unbent the curve a touch. I sat on the saddle in the middle of the kitchen waiting for him to get just the right bend. It only took two tries to straighten it just the eighth inch or so I needed. He didn't even need to heat it, and in fact, preferred not to because he knew it would ruin the chroming. The leather head now goes on a bit reluctantly since it has conformed to the curve it has been in for the past 85+ years. Opening the curve was pretty simple. Closing the curve in a smooth arch would be a bit trickier, and would probably best be done by a farrier who could heat the iron and who would have the tools to create a nice curve.