Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ride #7: Quite Good Fun

Today was back to basics day. No pads, no shim, just me and the saddle. I do think I am on the verge of visiting the chiropractor. I've been working harder at the gym to get my lower back strengthened up, and trim down a bit, and by the end of the week it seemed like my feet were getting further away, and gravity was getting stronger. I woke up this morning stiff as a board with a persistent ache in my left hip socket.
And I'm not the only member of this team feeling less than spry. The Grey Horse has been moving a bit short in front, particularly in the left front. I was hoping it was just general foot soreness from the dry weather, or maybe a stone bruise. I've been packing his hooves with Magic Cushion, and it's helping, but hasn't done away with the problem entirely. It's mostly noticeable longeing to the left on a hard surface, but if you let him warm up slowly it doesn't bother him much. I wouldn't doubt he pulled something in his shoulder. If you could see him play cowboys and indians (he's always the Lone Ranger) you would wonder how he has a leg left to stand on. So anyway, we've been taking it slow this week.
Determined to have a good ride, I took some Aleeve, and spent 10 minutes stretching and by the time I left the house I felt almost normal.
Now I know I will be battling the uphill battle with no cantle lift. Just out of curiosity, I pulled up the measurements of Grey that I did for a conformation study for Cornell University a couple of years ago. His withers measure a full 1.75 inches higher than his hips. This is pretty common for Saddlebreds. Our other two horses are 1.5 and 1.75 higher. So we'll work that out later. Today's goal was to sit straight.

This is me straddling my side saddle. I even chose a striped shirt to help with the visual.

I've swung my leg over, and not bad, but not perfect. I think this can be attributed to my horse not being square. His hips aren't level here either.

After walking to the end of the arena, I am more straight.

And after a bit of trotting, I have settled in a pretty good position.

And look what we have here... a HAPPY horse.
I think this expression is pretty telling. Last time he was very worried and hesitant. Today he seemed quite satisfied with the arrangement.

We even achieved what I would call a medium trot, instead of a halting jog while he worried about which side I was going to fall off on.

And a short video...

Please keep in mind this is only my 7th ride. I know there was quite the debate going on on face book about right toe up vs. right toe down position. I believe the concensus was "toe neutral". We all know the toe down position give a much cleaner line under an apron. My natural chair seat lends itself to the "toe up" position. If I try for too long to keep my foot neutral, my calf cramps. I imagine strength and practice will alleviate this.

I am also fighting with my left leg. I raised my stirrup one notch last week. I am still not confident enough in my balance to relax my left leg but I'm working on it. It feels worse than it looks in this clip, although you can see me fiddle with my stirrup once.

So there you have it. I was quite pelased with my ride and really had fun because I didn't feel like I was fighting the saddle. Of course I felt a little unfamiliar, but I no longer get butterflies in my stomach before I swing my leg over. I was worried the photos would tell a different tale, but they seem to portray what I was feeling. This really is quite good fun!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Things that keep you up at night

I awoke this morning thinking about straightness. Actually, after posting those photos, I was feeling rather glum. I'm a good rider. Really I am. I started taking dressage lessons this summer, first lessons in 25 years, from a woman who intimidates me just a little, and was prepared for the worst. After a few sessions, she said I had a nice light seat, sympathetic hands, and that I shouldn't be so hard on myself. We had great lessons. I enjoyed them immensely, and I got a lot out of them. I am looking forward to starting up in the fall when cooler weather hits. And yes, I am someday going to ask her to take a look at the side saddle, once our relationship has developed a bit.

I can sit straight on this side saddle. I have proof.

What the heck happened here? Could it be the squishyness of the Cashel pad exacerbating the problem? Let's hope so!

But I admit I don't sit straight. Heck, when I dragged out of bed into the passenger seat of the car to go to the local greasy spoon for breakfast this morning, the first thing I noticed was... I was sitting on my left hip!!!

My instructor found my weakness 5 minutes into our first lesson.

She grabbed my belt loop, hauled my butt 2 inches to the right to line up my seam, and told me to sit over there and if I felt crooked, I was probably straight because when I thought I was straight, I sure the heck wasn't. Grey found this all very interesting and studied with rapt attention.

Then one hot summer morning, I used a little too much Lady Anti Monkey Butt Powder...

And look, even astride, I sit with my right seat bone forward and to the left. Ohhh.... I'm so screwed!!!!!!! I'm going to have to find an off side saddle.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Long Process of Do It Yourself

Saturday is the only time I have to spend leisurely at the barn. But something always seems to come up to put me off from hauling my side saddle out there. Either I'm too stiff and sore, or too tired and uninspired. Last weekend company came, so it was all rush-rush-rush. But today was rainy and lazy, so it was a good time to mess with the side saddle. Kathie, who sold me the saddle, sent me a Cashel lift pad to try. So I stuck it in my side saddle duffle and headed out.

I have a lot of gear in my side saddle duffle. There are two lift pads, the shaped, quilted pad with shims that I made myself, my long reins, the loop for the girth to keep the balance strap, a girth extender just in case, and several rolls of Vetwrap .

After half an hour of layering and repositioning, I have a stack resembling a Big Mac with the corners of the rug pads sticking out at various spots like the corners of cheese slices. Today I went with the quilted pad with the near side shim (didn't help), a non slip under that, then the Cashel with a rug pad between the quilted pad and the Cashel. I really did like the Cashel pad. It gave the cantle the perfect lift, but I still have trouble tipping left. So, I think this fall the saddle will be on it's way to Lillian for some adjustment. I think if we pull some flocking out of the front, that will help level it a lot too. What a patient guy William is being. He hates the saddling up process any day, and side saddling takes a lot of fussing right now.

Is it just me, or is the highest part of the cantle not on center with the gullet?

I got settled in astride, the swung my leg over. Mom just happened to snap the photo at the point, and we both thought this was a funny picture. I must admit, side saddle (the way I do it) is not always elegant and glamorous.

William looks for help from Mom.
He has been a little off in the left front leg. I think the hard ground is starting to tell on him and I'm going to try some sole packing. When I first started off, my being aside sent him listing hard to the left. We finally got leveled out and his left shoulder raised, but once we got the kinks worked out I took him outside so we would have a straightaway to work on.

Now I'm listing hard to the left. Well most of me. The rest is listing right. I raised my stirrup a notch so I'm not always tipping my heel to leg him on. I found that pointing my right toe down caused my calf to cramp, so I had to let up on that a bit.

I didn't feel like I was slouching this badly, but the camera sure caught it!

From the off side we look much more elegant. I actually felt secure and comfortable at both the walk and the trot.

But of course, the walk always looks better.

Not from this angle!!! This is actually the sweet spot where my right seat bone feels best. And I do feel like I'm leaning, but no where near this hard.

There go the wings. It's hard to sit pretty and steer at the same time. Should my right toe be pointing more forward? I'm not sure if it will. I'll have to work on that.

Push push push and cluck. Giddy up!
OK, I've fixed my slouch... too much.

Ahhh... finally a nice angle.
My calf was cramping, and I felt like as I tired, I was tipping left more, so I decided not to try the canter. This horse's canter is very active and bounding and hard for me to ride even when I'm sitting in the middle. We'll have to get my hips fixed before we try that.
Next weekend, I'm going to try the saddle with no pads at all and see what issues we come up with. Ideally, I would like to be able to do away with all the padding nonsense,