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.


  1. Siskel and Ebert we ain't, but two thumbs up from Melissa and I in Tennessee !

  2. Congrats! I'm a new follower and also new to riding aside. Looks like a lovely horse :)

  3. Yay!! Glad to hear it went so well!!

    Full seat breeches, vet wrap & some "stick-um" works wonders.
    Some exercises that might help you get a good feel for where you should be. Walk with your left leg out of the stirrup and stretch that leg waaaay down and even back a little (at the walk to begin). Work on that feeling. I had a coach make me do that w-t-c because she wanted to see if I was "cheating" by keeping my left leg against the leaping head the whole time. (which I sure was a bit! lol). Another one is to put your reins in your left hand and put your right hand straight out to your side (arm up) and swivel to the back, point your hand towards his tail, swivel to the front etc. You should feel that extra weight on your right seat bone.
    Most of it will come with more riding. It's all about figuring out what works, what doesn't and what feels comfortable.

  4. Your saddle doesn't fit you. You are hanging over the end of the cantle.

  5. Yeah, I need to lose 20 pounds. If I find a saddle longer than 22.5 I'll be very excited!

  6. Glad to see you're finding some success.
    I hope you don't mind a critique: (since you don't have an instructor near you)...bring your right leg back toward your left so that your right shin is perpendicular to the ground. At the same time, push your right foot against his shoulder rather than up along it for purchase. Your current position is causing you to rock your pelvis back, which will push you off the back of the saddle as well as put too much weight on the cantle. Your pelvis should be upright as it is cross saddle. I know how much you love Belle Beech, but the position she advocates is a bit out of date and may work in old victorian saddles but is incompatible with more modern ones. I think your saddle fit issues may have more to do with your long legs rather than weight...30 lbs would take you down to a skeletal frame!
    From behind I think your position is quite good! You and Grey are going to be lovely at this.

  7. Woohoo! You are on your way, lovely to share in your excitement :)

  8. Trust me 30 pounds would do nothing of the sort. My sister weighs 40 less than I and while she is thin, she's no skeleton. She's also an inch taller. I need to take off 10 just to get back in my summer clothes, and 20 might get me into a size 10. Might. It would at least get me back to where I was pre-holidays 2008.

    When I first began saddle saving, I measured for a 22.5" But that was 2 years ago, and I should have accounted for my butt expansion and remeasured. I know I haven't gotten any taller. Sidesaddle Heaven has a couple of larger sized saddles listed, but the least expensive starts at twice what I paid for this one just because they're harder to find. It will take me awhile to save the difference and then this one shouldn't be hard to trade up or resell for what I have invested.

    In the meantime. Thanks for the suggestions for the exercises and position adjustments. I hear what you are saying about my lower right leg. Like I said, I swung it over and forgot about it. I pulled it back a couple of times, but it was muddying up the safe pretty badly. I wasn't consciously patterning my position after Belle Beach, but it's nice to know how it is ultimately affecting my seat.

    My right knee is pretty stiff, and winter layers don't help. I did do some simple stretching in the morning just to get that leg over, and I have some exercises in mind to limber up the parts that need it.

    I'm looking forward to spring when I can ride in the outdoor arena and not have to spend so much effort nudging my horse around in little circles. I'll bet riding a straight line helps make adjustments to your position. I planned on spending winter just getting a feel for all this and then have a local riding instructor help with eyes on the ground. If it turns out I need a completely different saddle, at least I will have collected all the other equipment, some useful knowledge and determined whether or not this idea is something I really want to pursue.