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We were on the best hunter pace of my Dutch Warmblood’s career to date. You know, the first time your horse really carries you to every fence, nails every distance, and flies over all of the solid stone walls and obstacles in the hunt field with ease. He was only three years under saddle despite his age (10) as his breeder had passed away from cancer and he had a bit of a rough go of it for a while so that made this ride all the sweeter. Everything just came together — even when my teammate opted for the go-rounds through the biggest set of livestock fields where once you jump in, the only way out is through a series of stone walls and obstacles until you jumped your way back out several fields over. Our hunt’s terrain is notoriously challenging but the footing was good and Cole took every jump like a seasoned eventer rather than a semi-green hunt horse. It was incredible!
And then we fell. Hard.
Nope, not over a jump. Not even near a jump for that matter. Coming back to the walk following tractor tracks in the short grass of a hay field where the grass was just a touch slick and the ground was a hair hard, and Cole was flat shod in front only. We had spent the summer trail riding and camping and conditioning between work travel and other obligations and the farrier was naturally scheduled for the next day to put back on drilled / tapped shoes all around as hunt season started to get into full swing. Turned out that was a day too late.
Cole lost his footing in front just barely, but it was enough to send him scrambling to his knees and side, landing clear on me. My air vest deployed a tiny bit late, since I was still on him and we fell together, but it prevented my bruised ribs from being much much worse. The pop of the cartridge startled my horse back to his feet in a flash where he scurried off to hide behind my teammate’s horse – mom blew UP! OMG! We all laughed.
Then I realized my ankle was pretty sore. Fortunately, my Free Jump stirrups released so that when Cole jumped up, my ankle came free but the twisting motion of us both falling together combined with the impact of his body and the hard ground made for a less than pleasant landing. Just a few jumps from the finish, I got a leg up, and on we rode. I tried to pick up the pace, but decided better of it, and hacked the last mile or so back at a reasonable speed.We took second and would have won had it not been for the delay in the field. My friend’s father helped with some Advil (and bourbon of course!), my teammate drove the rig home for me, and hey, I was weight bearing – how bad could it be?
Two days later when the color and size of my ankle and prompting from a few friends made me reconsider the initial decision to forego a trip to urgent care, I finally got an x-ray and got an answer to that question. The answer was pretty bad. Spiral comminuted fracture of the distal right fibula. Whoops. I opted without surgery (I already have more than enough hardware thanks to four knee surgeries among other things and am well aware of the long term implications) and promised (sort of) to be careful and take time off to heal (mostly). And since I could lightly weight bear, it was totally tolerable. Right?
The first few nights as the swelling went down and things became more unstable were quite painful, and rather than just lie there and wait to heal I decided to take matters into my own hands. After all, when my horses are injured, they always get the best of care. What better way to see how all of these products really helped my horses than trying them all on myself?
I promptly ordered a hand held laser to help with bone healing, accompanied by a hand held massager to keep the calf muscle relaxed and from cramping (because charlie horse on a broken ankle — OUCH!) from Brandenburg Equine Therapy. I knew Troy from his work on friends’ competition horses and we had met at then-Rolex / now Land Rover several years back and I had been meaning to order for my horses anyway! SCORE!
I dug out the Ice Vibe boots by Horseware Ireland that had made the trek to Kentucky with me annually and had been passed around the barns both there and at Jersey Fresh on more than one occasion. Pro tip: their hock boots are the perfect shape for human ankles, complete with pockets for the ice packs on either sides. Pro tip #2: using the vibration setting on a broken bone isn’t recommended (don’t ask me how I figured that out…).
I also used my Draper Therapies pillow wraps that also doubled as extra padding when icing and elevating when out of the dreaded walking boot, and my sport socks when I was in the boot and they helped with both pain and swelling thanks to the increased circulatory benefits (they are actually FDA approved too!).
As the weeks passed, I definitely noticed a difference on the days I used the laser and Draper vs. days I did not. The massager was a no-brainer, of course that helped. I’ve since ordered Free Jump stirrups for every saddle I own because had it not been for those stirrups, my tibia would have also been broken and surgery would have been a requirement with no weight bearing for some time and even more time out of the saddle. I ordered replacement cartridges for my Helite air vest from Soteria so that I could get back in the saddle and still be protected. And fortunately, my uvex helmet never hit the ground, so I knew I was still covered.
Seven months later, and while my right ankle is slightly larger and boasts a little extra bone than its left counterpart, I’m back to jumping and riding without issue. I still use all of my #eventersolutions products on myself — as well as my horses — after every ride, and yes, Cole is in drilled / tapped shoes or boriums for every ride on any natural footing. Here’s to jumping a whole lot more big stuff in the hunt field and maybe even at a few actual events this year! I hope these tips help
you I mean your horses with any of your healing woes. Go eventing!
These days, safety is always a topic of conversation, especially when it comes to eventing. We talk about everything from jump safety, safety for our equine partners, rules that help ensure we’re as safe as possible when competing in our inherently dangerous sport, and so much more. So let’s take a minute and talk about our brains and head safety.
Wearing a riding helmet is a no-brainer (pun intended) for most of us these days, and of course it’s required at any show and almost every riding facility. But many people don’t wear a helmet all the time, and even those of us that do (yes, I’m a more recent convert to the helmet-every-ride believers) aren’t all aware of the ins and outs of helmet ownership that include how to wear, store, when to replace and more so here goes.
Quick riding helmet tips!
- Make sure your helmet fits properly. An improperly fitting helmet won’t protect you correctly in the event of a fall or impact. How to know if your helmet fits? It should be snug with the chin strap securely under your chin but not so tight it is uncomfortable. It should be snug around your skull and sit just above the eyebrows, which should wiggle if you move your head. If you turn your head upside down without the chin strap buckled, the helmet should stay on snugly, and it should fit evenly around your entire head.
- For best protection, your hair should be worn down and not tucked in or folded under your helmet – this is especially important with longer haired riders because having your hair inside your helmet not only affects fit, but adds another layer between your skull and your helmet that can move and shift when you ride! I know, I know…my former hunter eq trainers would be rolling their eyes at this one, but in the words of one of those very trainers, “form follows function not fashion” and in this case, those words are ever so true!
- Always replace your helmet after a fall or impact – this includes if the impact is you dropping your helmet, tripping over it, and then accidentally running it over with your tack cart while unloading your trailer after an event (this may or may not be based on a true story…). Helmets are designed to take one impact, and when it comes to your brain, it’s not worth the risk of assuming “it was just minor.” With your brain, nothing is minor!
- When not riding, store your helmet out of direct sunlight or extreme heat or cold, preferably at room temperature. That means don’t leave it in your trailer all year, and especially try to avoid extreme humidity. I once had a helmet shell separate entirely from the protective layer due to being exposed to heat and humidity. My answer back then was to buy some heavy duty double-sided tape and stick it back together because I couldn’t afford to replace it then. Years later, with ongoing neck and head issues that have lead to a slew of problems (migraines are just the tip of the iceberg), I look back on that and cringe!
- Keep your helmet clean. Just like anything else, dust and dirt can build up and make it grimy – but also can impact your willingness to wear it (who wants a stinky head?) and lead to the protective materials breaking down sooner than the standard timeframe.
- Speaking of, what IS the standard timeframe for which a helmet is expected to last? Most brands say between 3-5 years from point of purchase without being involved in a fall. For people who ride regularly including myself, I recommend the 3 year rule. Yes, helmets are expensive. But your brain is priceless!
So there’s 6 quick tips on riding helmets. Just realized that your helmet is more than 3 years old and suddenly panicking that you need to replace it? Uvex equestrian USA is doing a special promotion through 2/15 where you can get $50 off when you trade in your old helmet (any brand) for a new uvex helmet. Talk to a uvex equestrian USA retailer for details, but most importantly ride in a helmet – ANY ASTM/SEI equestrian approved helmet – that fits YOUR head and is comfortable to you. The best helmet in the world is no good if it doesn’t fit you properly or you don’t wear it, so I like to say the best helmet really is the one you’ll actually wear.
I’ll be honest, this is a review I kept forgetting to write. Not because I don’t love the product — actually, quite the contrary. These belts have traveled with me from New York to Kentucky to Virginia to Tennessee to Pennsylvania to the Adirondacks and more. They’re so good at what they do — being an “un”belt if you will — that I kept forgetting I had it on and to take a picture so I could write this review!
What makes it an UN belt?
Well, for starters, it’s not like any other belt. I love my other fun, chunky belts and even my leather belts with the bigger buckles, and my interchangeable ones, so it could be said that I have a bit of a belt obsession. But what I didn’t love was how all my other belts with their larger buckles and more rigid materials fit underneath dress pants, hunt clothes, or quite how they packed. They were large, bulky and not always the best in situations when a slimmer waistline and less obvious belt would be better.
Enter the Unbelt.
It’s all machine washable, thin, elastic and adjustable to fit almost anyone, with a sleek smooth buckle that looks great with your shirt tucked in or is almost completely invisible if you want it covered. No belt-buckle-bulge under the shirt for that awkward lump. Nope, it’s totally flat.
Where did I wear my Unbelts?
Everywhere! I had three variations that went with me to the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event this past April where I tried them for the first time. I brought a brown with gold, and black with silver and grey with silver, but somehow I only ended up coming home with two … I believe the brown one wandered off with a four-star rider friend (you know who you are, haha!). In Kentucky, I mostly wore jeans with a nice shirt, sometimes tucked in, sometimes not. One of my friends borrowed the belt and commented that she kept forgetting she even had it on!
Next, the belt went with me to corporate business meetings in Tennessee. Here I often go from business suits / pants + nice blouse in the office to jeans and a nice top for dinners and networking events. Because we fly to Tennessee, packing was also an issue compared to Kentucky where we drove so there wasn’t as much concern (if it fit in the car, it came with me). Packing for Tennessee meant fitting everything into one carry-on bag as I hate checking luggage and having slim belts to pack certainly helped. I wore one and packed the other, and it took up almost no room in the suitcase at all. Score! The belts were excellent with suit pants, and easily transferred over to more casual wear with ease and were comfortable to wear all day whether I was sitting in a conference room or at a fancy dinner.
After Tennessee, the belts then headed out on another road trip, this time to Great Meadow International where I had multiple other stops scheduled as well. I went from New York to pick up a colleague in New Jersey, then on to a friend’s farm in Virginia. From there we headed up daily to Great Meadow to attend the show where I did double time between representing Petrossian Caviar in the VIP tent to hoofing it across the arena to the vendor area to support several friends and vendors there. This was a bit of a challenge as it meant business clothes / more formal wear at a summer outdoor horse show in heat and humidity while still needing to be able to get around from the various tents and locations and of course look good and, um, hold my pants up (apparently I lost weight and my pants were suddenly loose — eeeps!). Belts adjusted, and away we went!
While down there, we stopped in Maryland on the way home to test out the new BUA Saddle (they’re coming out with a new all-leather more traditional looking saddle soon! Read my BUA review for info) and the belts then went from business clothes to summer riding attire with ease and comfort. Excellent!
And then for one final test, I headed out to the Adirondacks for a week of camping and trail riding with horses and friends, and a day at Saratoga Race Course thrown in for good measure — yay Travers Day! The belts came there too and went everywhere from riding horses in the Hudson River to Travers Day at Saratoga and again remained soft and comfortable and nearly invisible. How invisible? Um, well I am not kidding in that I kept forgetting to take pictures, so here’s one I finally remembered!
After all that traveling, the belts were in need of a good bath, so into the washer they went. Yup, they’re machine washable too. They say the best way to do that is leave it in your jeans’ belt loops and wash — which is good since I am often too lazy to pull my belt out of my jeans anyway — and then hang to dry. Another easy thing to do since I tend to air-dry all my jeans so they last longer. Really, this belt can do just about anything and go anywhere!
So while I absolutely love this belt, don’t get me wrong, I love all my other fun belts too — I do need to order more Unbelts since now it seems I am down to just one. Be careful if you order — they tend to go home with friends and never return, causing you to become addicted to belts like I am!
Unbelts retail for $35 and are available in a huge variety of colors. Shop Unbelts at the website here!
Tale of a Sensitive OTTB
Anyone that knows me knows that #saddlefit is kinda my thing. Not in a traditional saddle fitter kinda way (though I do believe in that completely), but more in a let’s-try-everything-out-there-and-see-what-works-why kinda way. With 10 horses in my care in various stages of work vs. retirement along with all sorts of breeds and body shapes and styles, coupled with my best friend — a veterinarian with a herd of her own — and you could say we’ve got a pretty good scenario for trying just about everything under the sun to see what works.
Two summers ago started my Saddle Fit Saga journey in comparing wool vs. foam in which I found out I was #teamwool all the way, and most of my horses agreed. But, I had a few that didn’t *quite* fit in a traditional saddle, as well as a few that had specific issues ranging from chronic Lyme disease to old back injuries. Jenn (the vet) was bringing along a few Standardbreds to hunter pace with and they also didn’t move well in a traditional saddle. We tried pads with shims, and found some that worked for some of our horses, but still had a few hard to fit / back issue creatures that needed something different.
We shifted to #saddletech and took a look at high tech saddle pads and even non-traditional high tech saddles. Each test was one step closer to finding the winning combination for each horse. The hardest to fit was my former hunt horse Sky — the one with my favorite video of us galloping alone through the hunt field over massive stone walls (well not Leslie Wylie with Ledbury Hunt massive, but Hudson Valley, NY, massive nonetheless haha!).
Due to former blown hind suspensories, chronic Lyme disease, an over-sensitive nature, and a very cold back, everything we tried made some improvements but nothing entirely clicked until recently. After the test of high tech saddles, my friend loved the BUA so much, she purchased one. But then winter set in and winter in the Catskills this year was no joke. Riding was put on hold until spring (which really just skipped right to summer) and I finally got to try a BUA on Sky.
WOW! What a difference! While it’s definitely non-traditional, he came back to work off of a two-year layup from intermittent issues + semi-retirement (he’s 20 now) without a single buck. Not one. Not even a little one! Anyone that knows this horse knows just how huge this is. And even more, of all of my horses after a long winter off, he was the easiest to bring back into work. It seemed my hot headed OTTB was finally maturing — and perhaps his back felt better in this saddle too.
I ordered my own BUA in royal and black and away we went. We’ve spent the past two months now riding in the BUA exclusively and while it was great, I still felt like he needed a little something more to protect his über sensitive back. Referring to my high tech saddle pad cheat sheet, I pulled out the Kingsland Relief Pad. While Sky had liked it well enough in the past, due to his unique back and health issues, without being able to shim, it wasn’t exactly the right fit under the wool flocked traditional saddle. However, with the BUA Saddle and its cantilevered tree coupled with its thicker non-traditional panels, the Kingsland Relief Pad was a perfect fit. SCORE!
Finally, something that worked for Sky 100%. The cantilevered tree protected his back and gave him the freedom to move without worrying about pain or soreness. It got the stamp of approval from two vets, a saddle fitting friend, and anyone that was out riding with me that saw Sky firsthand as a calmer, happier animal. Most noticeably, the horse with the world’s worst walk (part of why we ditched eventing for fox hunting) actually had a lovely free swinging walk. What?! Wow. Color me convinced. I paired it with the Total Saddle Fit StretchTec girth because Sky is also Mr. Sensitive about what goes around his belly, and added the TSF slim leathers and we had the winning combination. The saddle fit well, he moved better, and he was relaxed.
Two words that have not appeared in a sentence together in the 16 years I’ve owned this
So while the BUA Saddle with its cantilevered tree and thicker foam pads is far from traditional, it worked for precisely that reason. It’s also helped bring my retired former international show jumper back into work comfortably as well as my off track Arabian with spine issues — both of whom are 23 years old and have been retired for the past 2+ years but bored without having any job at all.
Rumor has it that there should be a few demos out on the East Coast soon and I hear that BUA (based in Ireland) is working on more traditional saddle leather. Their current leather is actually the same leather used in high end European sports cars — super smooth and comfy and easy to maintain but not as grippy as many equestrians are used to. They are also testing different panel options for even more customizability — interesting to say the least. Something I appreciate about this saddle is that the current panels are more similar to a western saddle. They are focused on weight distribution — something I am familiar with from my trail and western days working cows and chasing cans — than an English custom contoured fit.
I’m planning to again hit the road with a car full of saddles as I head down to Great Meadow International, and of course I’ll try the BUA on even more horses along the way. Since I haven’t yet had the chance to jump in it, I’ll let you know how that goes. Based on how the cantilever works, I would think that it protects the horse’s back from the rider’s weight on landing and lets them really use their backs more — especially sensitive horses — something I’d love to also try out over some cross country jumps. I know it helped Jenn’s Standardbred jump on hunter paces with a lot more ease than he has ever before so I am excited to try it myself. I’ll let you know what we find, and how it works, and what’s next.
In the meantime, if you’re interested in trying a BUA, until there are some demos out on the East Coast, touch base with Marlene Moss of Badlands Equine that can help. And check back for more updates from the road at #GMI as the #saddlefitsaga rolls on!
Happy riding and of course, go eventing!
Leah Lang-Gluscic and her OTTB AP Prime are no strangers when it comes to the epic Kentucky Three-Day Event at the Kentucky Horse Park. Leah purchased AP Prime as a $750 OTTB through CANTER Illinois in 2010. They made their debut at the CCI4* level in 2015, withdrawing before cross country, and then returned the following year to complete the event with no cross country jumping penalties, finishing in 33rd place.
A collateral ligament injury in the summer of 2016 sidelined AP through the 2017 season, and he finally returned to competition this spring at Rocking Horse. Now Leah and AP are gearing up for the 2018 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event this coming week. So just what does it take to return to the CCI4* level and compete at the biggest event this side of the pond? We caught up with Leah to find out what she’s been doing to prepare.
EN: What is AP’s daily routine like? What do you do to get him fit and keep him feeling his best?
Leah: “The big thing is to never neglect all the boring stuff. Before and after every ride he hacks for 20 minutes to warm up and cool down his legs and body. He never goes without Incrediwear wraps, and they are always wetted after his ride and left on for an hour. If he jumps or gallops, he also gets put in a bucket of ice that goes over his knees for 20 minutes and gets his Incrediwear standing bandages overnight. When I jump or gallop he’s always off the farm, so I’ll wet his bandages and put him on the trailer with them still on. He gets the extra ice after gallops, too.”
EN: How important is walking as well as galloping in developing his conditioning, as well as his fitness and keeping him sound?
Leah: “All the walking is important for his fitness. He also gallops every seven days, utilizing the hill at Mardanza Farm generously made available by Brian and Sara Murphy.
EN: What kind of maintenance does he need?
Leah: “AP can be very finicky about anything being off. Billy Bishop, his farrier, is brilliant. His vets, Dr. Caitlin Manring and Dr. Jill Copenhagen down in Florida and Dr. Dana Marsh in Illinois, are integral as well. They all helped manage his recovery and return to the top of the sport. His bodywork team of Dougie Hannum, who I don’t entirely understand what he does but it’s magic; Kathryn Schiess, who does his myofascial work; and Jonathan Howlette, who does his PEMF (pulsed electromagnetic field therapy), are all important.
EN: Which trainer do you work with and how has it helped you and AP prepare for your return to Kentucky?
Leah: “My coach is Jon Holling, whose guidance in just how much to ask of my horse and getting the most out of every single ride and event has been invaluable. He’s been incredible at helping us prepare and improve not just since the injury, but even over our past experience at the level. I feel like we’re in a better place than ever before.”
EN: What about you? What kind of fitness and safety measures do you take into consideration for yourself?
Leah: “I also started taking a harder look at my own fitness and safety. I’ve started working out more outside of riding, and integrating LandSafe clinics into my own work and for my students. I also recently partnered with uvex and 2nd Skull, both of which I’ll be wearing in Kentucky.”
EN: What do you like about uvex helmets?
Leah: “I felt like with all of the safety concerns around our sport, it was a no-brainer (no pun intended) to ride in some of the safest helmets on the market. Their helmets are also really beautiful, so I’m looking forward to showing off their style as well.”
EN: What do you like about 2nd Skull?
Leah: “2nd Skull is a flexible, super thin material that fits under your helmet but can become temporarily rigid in the event of impact. Many NFL players are already using them under their helmets, and with all of the focus on safety in our sport, it definitely makes sense to me. Because the uvex helmets are so adjustable, I can easily adjust the fit with and without the 2nd Skull.”
You can meet Leah Lang-Gluscic at the Big Red Mare (booth #238) in the Trade Fair and check out the new uvex perfexxion II line of helmets after the conclusion of dressage on Friday. She’ll be there signing autographs, so come say hi and wish her luck at her return to the Kentucky Three-Day Event with AP Prime.
Having a Madison Avenue fashion industry background coupled with a lifelong love of horses, one very big item that’s always been on my bucket list is to join the hunt. More than wanting to check off any box for successfully competing at some specific level at any number of the disciplines I’ve dabbled in, something about riding with the hunt was both exhilarating and terrifying to daredevil me, and I swore that one day I’d experience it myself.
It all started years ago when my high stress performance anxiety OTTB Sky crashed and burned in just about every discipline we tried. Show jumpers at home was a huge success! At shows? We couldn’t get around more than a 3’ course and even that was a challenge that took years to accomplish. Hunters? Our attempts were laughable. Eventing? That was my first love originally, and so we eventually — against all odds — tried that.
Schooling was masterful. Starter was so easy he barely tried, Beginner Novice was a marginal effort at best, and we ended our day schooling over Novice with ease that made riding fun and my horse seem (finally) like an easy ride. But the show a week later, over the lower levels (not Novice!), was a disaster. I had even brought my tried-and-true eventer Clydesdale cross to compete first so that I went into the ride calm and with confidence.
Coming off the schooling prep, I was looking forward to our first truly fun show. What I got was, well, not so fun. Sky was tense and upside down in dressage, shying from every spectator, decoration, and the judge herself. We crashed a crossrail in warm up, and spooked on cross country so hard we were off course by the first jump. *Sigh*
So when someone invited me to ride a hunter pace hosted by Windy Hollow Hunt, I thought heck, what do I have to lose? He’s safe over fences without an audience, and wonderful in open fields as long as no one is around to watch — what could be better? From then on we were hooked. But joining the hunt was not for us as it was too much of a crowd. Finally, years later, as Sky was heading into semi-retirement, I obtained an incredible Dutch Warmblood that had the brain and skills for hunting, and I promptly joined Windy Hollow Hunt in our first season together. Bucket list: check!
Sky and I were great in the hunt field by ourselves. Can you believe we jumped that all alone, while our teammates did the go-rounds outside of the fields (different route — we met up at the end of a series of five massive jumps) all with NO safety vest of any sort? At least I had a helmet on …
Video by CJ Millar.
While I knew hunting was all about tradition, what surprised me most was that so many people in the hunt rode forward, jumping very large solid obstacles, with their horses in road studs or borium as we often hack along roads and hard ground, all with no real protection. I did notice a few people in air vests, but they were the older, bulky kind, so I set out to find out more. Could it be that tradition really trumped safety in the hunt field?
As a graduate of Centenary College’s Equestrian Studies program with a long background in eventing (among other things), the use of proper safety gear has been drilled into me for as long as I could remember. Even so, I still rode in whatever I had on hand until I witnessed a good friend have a terrifying fall that could have claimed her life — but did not thanks to the safety gear she was wearing at the time: a Helite air vest, a Racesafe body protector, and a Uvex helmet that together protected her. While she still ended up in the hospital, she’s back riding again. Without that protection, the results of that fall would have been far more tragic (her horse was OK).
Coupled with today’s technology, and the use of more and more safety gear that was also stylish, from that point on I took it upon myself to learn more about what was acceptable for safety gear when hunting — and what I could do to incorporate it into my fashionable hunting attire.
Here’s what I learned:
- Headgear: While not traditional, Windy Hollow Hunt and most hunts these days encourage the use of approved headgear with safety harness. In the case of Windy Hollow Hunt, it’s required for juniors, encouraged for all, and even mentioned in our sourcebook. Score! Of course, making sure you have not only an approved helmet, but one that is of the highest of safety standards is important. It should fit snugly, and comfortably — for me, that’s either a Samshield or a Uvex but as far as brands go, go with what works for you –as long as it’s safe! As for bling — ask your huntmaster. Ours prefers helmets are plain. Matte or velvet (or the new suede look) is acceptable as well. Crystals and other bling are frowned upon unless it’s very subtle. Sorry, no big flashy designs allowed!
- Gloves: These are up to rider preference for most hunts, so ride in what you like. I prefer gloves and rubber reins (also OK), but I learned the hard way on approach to a rather large coop between fields in the rain that all weather grip is also important. I traded out my leather show gloves for Uvex eventing / all weather gloves for the next outing, and didn’t lose my reins thank goodness! Again, bling-free please, and basic colors (brown or tan is preferred) but know that some hunts have a preference and you can always ask your hunt to be sure.
- Attire: Riding wear … ugh where do I start? I have a short (read: almost no) torso with boobs and curves (standard equipment for most women) that makes breeches gape at the waist, show coats bunch, any safety vest fit bulkily under a show coat and ride up under my chin. Four hours in a hunt field with a rubbing hunt vest riding up my chest was NOT fun. And let’s not talk about a four-hour wedgie please. Recently someone tipped me off to Cheata Sport and I do have to admit that when I first put on their full undergarment set of leggings + bra, I felt a bit like Jack trying to look younger and slimmer in this season’s Will & Grace. But it was surprisingly comfortable to do my morning chores around the barn in before heading out to ride, this case a hunter pace. Better was the fact that my boobs stayed put, I rode wedgie-free, and there was no chafing despite chilly yet damp weather. Score! Added bonus: my old school safety vest fit more loosely than before. I was able to snug it up, ride more comfortably, AND it didn’t ride up at all! YAY!
- Safety vests: These are a whole ‘nother matter, as mine was, well, old and therefore likely not safe anymore (compared to current standards). In looking at options, I was surprised to learn there are new body protectors with ventilation so that I don’t turn into a sweating puddle of goo under my attire when hunting in warmer weather. Even cooler was the fact that they now made air vests that just zip into a soft shell vest or jacket, or even a show or hunt coat! *Drool.* Sandy Ferrell, the woman that won the 3’9” green hunter championship at Devon this year, had worn her body protector over her show coat and recently switched to the Racesafe Provent from Soteria USA. After doing some research I saw in our Hunt sourcebook that vests are also allowed. Since I ride in so many disciplines, I decided on a Helite soft shell air vest that would fit underneath my hunt coat (which is a stretchy show coat version) but the hunt also allows us to wear it over our coats — especially recommended if you are in a traditional wool coat (it’s recommended to wear over if you’re not sure). Even better, this air vest can be paired with a body protector when eventing or out on hunter paces if I wanted. Thanks to the Cheata bra, I was a size smaller than usual, and actually riding safely and comfortably and even more exciting was that I was stylish, too! All within hunt guidelines. Wooohoo!
- Gear: And for your mount, horse protection is usually allowed, but the key message here is to use colors that match what the horse’s natural coat colors are so that it doesn’t stand out. If you are using road studs (or any kind of studs for that matter), be sure to use leg protection suitable for the conditions. Majyk Equipe’s eventing boots are what I’ve found to be best as they don’t hold water or muck and won’t pick up burrs when crossing uncharted or uncleared terrain. They also offer superior strike protection — I once had a neoprene boot cut clean through when an unshod horse accidentally clipped my horse from behind! That was something I’d rather not repeat as I was lucky my horse only had a small scrape from that incident. Had the other horse been shod, the outcome would have been far worse. I was able to get approval to ride in black boots (for my black horse) and my friend could ride her grey horse in white boots and I do have to admit they look dashing! As a bonus, I was able to get the approval to ride in black and royal boots which just happen to be my cross country colors since royal is also our hunt color. They also match my stirrups which are by FreeJump not only for safety reasons (no one wants to get dragged by their stirrup through the field in the event they part ways with their mount!), but also due to the fact that I’ve had four knee surgeries and they are the ones that I am able to ride in without issues for the longest amount of time. I already had my stirrups in blue, so I requested approval, which I received, but for future reference having a pair in a more traditional color may be preferred. Lucky for me, royal is our hunt color.
I’m sure there’s even more to the list that I’m forgetting, and as this is my first season as a member of the hunt, I’m still learning and would love to hear from other hunt members about what you do to stay safe in the field. Prior to this summer, I always rode in what I had on hand, but learned from watching my friend’s experience that safety is even more important than tradition and I am glad to have found a way to ride safely in style. I’m also grateful to have such a wonderful hunt to ride with that is so accepting of new technology and how it can fit into modern day hunting while still following age old tradition and good ol’ English style.
Remember, it’s never good to be fashionably late to a hunt, but it is always good to be fashionably safe. Tally ho!
Many of you may know that it’s a personal passion of mine to find the best fitting saddle for each of my horses — and to figure out what saddles work for what types of horses to help out my friends and fellow equestrians, too. In case you missed it, you can go back to the beginning of the Saddle Fit Saga series, starting with #TeamWool vs. #TeamFoam. Since then, I’ve found a saddle that fits my main horse well, but I had some challenges when it came to helping out my hunter pace teammate so we turned to look at some newer things on the market when it came to saddles.
Does technology have a place in saddle fitting?
My hunter pace teammate also happens to be a veterinarian, as well as a Standardbred trainer, and in recent years started hunter pacing with one of her retired Standardbreds rather than her sport horses. It was OK, except he struggled to fully use his hind end, especially when jumping. He was athletic enough, and a trotter, and readily able to canter, so we started looking at technology in saddles.
Being a vet, Jenn already had a few in mind to try out and to test the theory about the use of technology in saddle fitting. After all, we use advanced technology in veterinary diagnostics, supplement creation and development, and even through the use of apps to track our rides, our horse’s conditioning and progress, and so much more. Why not use some of that technology not just in understanding saddle fit, but also in developing a better / different saddle all together.
So we took a closer look at two brands that utilize technology in new ways when it comes to saddles. The Irish company, BUA, and the sister company to endurance-focused ReactorPanel Saddle Company that launches this week at the USDF convention with a new brand, focused on sport horses and flapless saddles (yes, really!) called EQ Saddle Science. They’re both totally different and use different technology and work in completely different ways from each other and from any other saddles out there. Pretty cool!
The EQ Saddle Science Flapless with the EQ Flex Panel System
I got to try and ride in the EQ Saddle Science flapless saddle and test it out on a few horses, as well as see it on horses that it had been previously fit to. I’m not going to lie, the way it’s fit is pretty complicated and I was intimidated at first. I’d never seen the flex panel system – the EQ Flex Panel System is the same that was used from the sister company, the ReactorPanel System. Rather than try to explain it, you can read the full details on how it works here.
Between the shock absorbing discs and non traditional panels, it offers more freedom of movement for the shoulder as well as spine. Their jumping saddle is in limited production so while we weren’t able to quite get it to fit my horse in that model (and you don’t want to see me in a dressage saddle right now — I’d have no idea how to test one out!), I can say that it allowed much bigger shoulder movement in my horse as well as the other horses I saw go (they were in the dressage version). The biggest bonus was also the ability to feel my horse without a flap under my leg. It was the ultimate in close contact!
We found that this saddle tends to fit broad backed horses very well (and easily) with tremendous results. Even cooler were the biomechanics of saddle fit that founder Carmi Weininger put into development of the saddle. The way they tested the fit of this saddle was just incredible! While at first the idea of how to fit such a customizable, adjustable saddle may feel overwhelming, their fitters are experts in the biomechanics of equine movement as well as the specific flex system that makes it easier to fit than you may think.
Right now the big focus is on dressage saddles for this brand, but I expect to see growth in the jumper market in the future as well. If you want to test one out, they do an exceptional trial program as well as will be there in person at the USDF Convention Nov. 29 – Dec. 2. Definitely something to watch, especially if you have a horse with back issues and need a close contact feel.
The BUA Cantilevered Saddle
Next, we tried the BUA which is a really unique cantilever tree. While I tried it on a few of my horses, sadly it didn’t fit me or them quite right and they are used to riding off seatbone aids rather than seat weight aids. Not something I’d thought of before but it was pretty interesting to see how this performed. Because the cantilever isolates the rider from the horse and vice versa, it has a very different feel than a traditional saddle. We found that any horse that moves off seat weight — think gaited, western, even jumpers and hunters — all can benefit from the BUA but that if they were looking specifically for seatbone aids, it takes a little for the horse to learn the feel of the new saddle.
This saddle worked exceptionally well for all of Jenn’s horses — not just the Standardbreds. Her Paso stallion moved better and finally stopped bucking or rearing in the BUA, and was happy to canter all over the property, ears up and ready for more! Her Standardbreds preferred it, as it allowed them to move through their backs, and it also isolated Jenn’s back from her one Standardbred that can have a bit jarring movement. She hunter paced in the saddle and her horse jumped beautifully and she finished a 10 mile ride without back pain. Huge win!
Even better was that the more she rode in the saddle, the fitter her Standardbred riding horse got, and the better he jumped — to the point that by the end of the season he was dragging her around the hunt fields as my Dutch Warmblood scrambled to keep up! That was a new and unexpected development. Considering that not only is Jenn a vet, she’s extremely picky about what equipment she uses on her horses and how and when, the fact that the demo I got to test out made it to her horse and I never sat in it again says something! (Note: Her own saddle is on the way … finally haha!)
As an added bonus, we found that through a Hunter/Jumper trainer friend that shows and trains the A-circuit, her adult ammy rider who had issues with seat and balance was able to successfully navigate her horse over a course of jumps and poles without issue. That was a first for her, despite the fact that the trainer didn’t have issues jumping the horse. We were able to deduce that the difference was the cantilever tree for horse and rider — it benefitted both of them — wow!
Video by CJ Millar.
You can see in the video above that the saddle really moves with the horse! It was cool to watch Frosty start to really figure out jumping as the season went on. Despite this being his 2nd season pacing, it was his first one in the BUA and the first season he really started to enjoy the jumps.
The cons of this saddle are that right now it only comes in one seat and flap size (though there are different styles of flaps for dressage, jumping with and without blocks, and trail). Because I have an extremely awkward leg, I just couldn’t get the saddle to fit me, but it fit Jenn nicely. In addition, you can adjust the springiness of the cantilever seat based on the kind of riding you are doing which was nice for riding different horses. And if you’re not sure if it will work for you, Marlene at Badlands Equine has a great demo program and tons more information on her site in addition to what you will find at BUASaddles.com. She was well versed in the BUA, how to fit it, change out the flaps, and so much more.
Technology for the win!
While it may not be for everyone, when you have a hard to fit horse or a specific need when it comes to saddles, checking out brands that embrace technology can be a huge win! In some cases, you may find that a traditional saddle flocked with wool or foam is the right choice for you, but it’s always worth looking at other options and thinking outside the box. Happy riding!
You may know me as the insane eventer always searching for the ideal saddle fit, as over the years I’ve test ridden in more saddles, and combination of saddles, half pads and girths than I can even remember (or than my butt — or my horses — want to remember!) So when the opportunity arose to head up to Saugerties for the New England Dressage Association Fall Festival and Championships last month, coupled with the chance to see an all-new saddle, I was ecstatic!
It had been several years since I had last been to NEDA; last time I got to help Olympic Eventer Darren Chiacchia by being his eyes on the ground as he prepped his (then new) stallion for the championships. Not a bad gig, so I figured this would be a blast — plus I could always use more learning about life in the sandbox. So I hit the road for a day trip up to the HITS Saugerties show grounds.
After the initial “oohs” and “aahs” of watching all the fancy horses in warmup and the various show rings, I was able to find Grand Prix rider and trainer, Jennifer Marchand. Based just under two hours from me in New York, I was especially excited to meet her as I’ll be able to haul in for some lessons with her in the future as well. In the barns, she and her team, including her students, were incredibly welcoming. Also there was Carmi Weininger, the owner of the ReactorPanel™ saddle company which makes the well-known endurance saddles. Little did I know they also made dressage saddles with their revolutionary panel system and even better, they were working on something new: flapless saddles.
Yup. You read that right. Flap-less saddles. As in without the flap. Whaaaaaaat????? Ok, I was intrigued.
If you haven’t heard of the ReactorPanel saddle or how it works, start by reading this. There is far more information there on how the panels work than I could ever do justice here, but I’ll at least try. In short, the panels are larger for better weight distribution and attach to the tree via four special disks that help distribute weight and absorb shock. Fitting is done first based on the saddle tree, and then the panels are added to make sure the fit is exact for you and your horse. Cool stuff, right?
But here’s where it gets interesting. As Jen was tacking up to school a few of her mounts, Carmi showed me the newest model that Jen and Irene (one of her riders/owners), and many others in her barn had already seen — the flapless saddle. It looks similar to the ReactorPanel dressage saddle, but with removable flaps. The idea is that since the FEI and USDF requires that saddles have flaps, they are able to be velcroed on and off as needed. This allows you to get that ultra close contact feel for schooling and then be show-legal with super thin easy-to-add flaps without having to change anything else on your saddle. Voilá! Ready to show!
I’ll admit, I was skeptical. I mean, what about the billet straps and your stirrup leathers — don’t they get in the way or rub your leg? Is it like riding bareback but with a seat? How does it work? Who even thought of this?
Apparently, those crazy loveable endurance people did. Well them, plus RP owner Carmi. In figuring out ways to make their tack lighter for endurance races, Carmi came up with the idea of removing the flaps. Heck, tons of cultures rode bareback for years (and some still do), and our own insane Leslie Wylie rode a large portion of the Mongolian Derby without stirrups so what if you took the good of bareback, but left the stuff that Leslie lost out on the steppe actually — uh — on the saddle, and kept a super swanky supple leather seat complete with the ability to customize piping and other details to fit the DQ in you? Then you have this saddle!
Rumor has it that they’re launching an all-new brand specific to dressage, and that every little detail is being reviewed to make sure that the saddle and the new brand are flawless. I can’t wait to learn more, and stay tuned, because I even got to ride in one. That’s up next in the always evolving saddle series as I check out some seriously scientifically based saddles.
We are crushed to report that Jonathon Sonkin, a much-loved member of our eventing community, died early this morning at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C., surrounded by his loved ones.
Affectionately known as the “belt guy” through his work with C4 Belts, Jon always had a smile for everyone and was a bright spot in any day at every event he ever attended. Tributes to Jon have been pouring in on social media, and his family would like to thank the eventing community for their support in this difficult time.
“We are overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and prayers you have all sent from near and far. It is a true testament to the kind of person he was. Jonathon loved all of you very much.”
Funeral arrangements have not yet been made, but we will post them here on EN when they have been finalized. Messages of support for his family can be left on CaringBridge. A memorial fund has also been set up on GoFundMe.
We will never forget you, Jon.
You work your tail off, and all the pieces are in place. You have sponsors, brands, friends and family all supporting you. You have a team of equestrians and loved ones around you. You have equine professionals such as farriers, veterinarians, and more all helping to give your horse the best in world class care.
But sometimes, things just don’t go as planned. If you’ve been following our story on Jordán and her horse Revitavet Capato on the #RoadtoRolex, we have some updates to share.
Sitting in 18th place after dressage at Rolex, with their best phase of cross country coming up, Capato seemed ever so slightly “off.” Not lame, not sore, not ouchy. Just not 100%. Maybe 98%. But not quite 100%.
The vets couldn’t find anything on repeated jogs and exams and cleared them to compete, but Jordán being the class act she is and always has been, had nothing but the best interest of her horse in mind. Rolex, as anyone who knows anything about eventing knows, is not a course you take on when your horse is anything but 100%. So they voluntarily withdrew.
The rest of the weekend was spent doing further diagnostics, and the results came back thankfully minor. Nothing more than some slight arthritic changes on par for a horse of Capato’s age and show record; he’s 14 and has done two four-star events and multiple three-star events in his career.
But enough that it was best to not have taken a crack at the Rolex cross country course. So they did some joint maintenance, and instead of heading back home to Washington state they rerouted to the Jersey Fresh CIC3*.
I’ll get to follow Jordán and Capato as their adventure continues, heading to the one major international event in my home state of New Jersey, that oddly, I’ve never been to before (yes, I know, I’ve been to Rolex four times now but never to Jersey Fresh).
The course has been expanded and redesigned by Capt. Mark Phillips, the show grounds updated, and it’s set to be a spectacular weekend. While we’re saddened that Jordán and Capato didn’t get their third completion at Rolex, we’re so happy to be able to follow along in their travels and learn from a rider who always has her horse’s best interests at heart.
Thanks for letting us follow your story, Jordán, best of luck, and see you at Jersey Fresh! Stay tuned for more updates ahead! Go Eventing.
There’s a lot to love about Rolex, and shopping is definitely near the top of the list. Now that I’m home and have had a chance to unpack, I’ve been able to go through all the cool stuff I found — and bought — at Rolex, and wanted to share my sweet finds with all of you.
Looking for some great deals? Almost all of the products you can get online, so there’s no need to worry that you missed out on something if you weren’t there. Ready? Here we go!
When it comes to Dubarry, they’re pretty much required Rolex wear and this year was no different. Whether it’s wet, dry, sunny, rainy, Dubarry of Ireland has you covered. And of course their styles are always classic and look great on just about anyone.
After a rough start to the week with some challenges at home, nothing says “retail therapy” like springing for a new pair of Dubarrys, especially since my old ones have seen better days. Top if off with a steal of a jacket from County Saddlery at just $25 for this awesome soft shell, and we have a classic combination (saddle not included LOL).
In my opinion, these are hands down the best boots on the market, no questions asked. They have more riders in their boots (and not because they’re all sponsored — the riders agree they’re great boots!) and I use them personally on my horses and have never been disappointed. Until now, and that was only because the awesome backpacks they were giving away with any purchase of their boots to celebrate the launch of their new royal purple cross country boots were all gone before I could snag one. But even without the backpack, these are a great buy and a must-have in any eventers barn.
Total Saddle Fit
You may have recently caught my blog about girths and how they affect saddle fit and position, but at the show I found an even cooler option by my personal faves, Total Saddle Fit.
A WESTERN girth! Whaaaat?!?! Yes! My one trail horse that comes camping and trekking with me all over New York and Pennsylvania all summer long prefers western (to be honest, he despises English tack), and he has next to no withers to speak of. The only way the saddle stays in place is either with a neoprene girth, which in humid summer weather and 6 hours of trails = girth sores OR a mohair girth that keeps the saddle on, but not exactly in place. Enter the Total Saddle Fit Western Cinch and all I need to tell you is that I am already planning a weekend trail excursion to try this out because I can’t wait to see how awesome it is!
TaggCode + Nightwatch
OK, so I’ve been meaning to get an ID medical bracelet for a long time now but just haven’t gotten around to it. I do occasionally ride on my own, and I know it’s important for so many reasons, but I just have been putting it off. That was, until I learned about TaggCode at Rolex this year.
Holy awesome, Batman! Not only is it an ID bracelet, it’s a scannable code that can be picked up by any smartphone OR hospital scanner that can hold any and all of your medical history. You can even scan in x-rays or MRIs, prior concussion and head trauma records, and so much more. Ultra cool, and good for safety too! You can even have them made with paracord in your favorite eventing colors.
To top it off, they also make bridle/halter tags, so you can do the same for your horse. Everything from supplements, medical history, surgeries and injuries, vet records, and so much more, can be accessible at the scan of a code. So this made me think of a brand I met at Rolex last year — Nightwatch — which makes a smart halter that learns your horse’s behavior and alerts you if anything is out of sorts. I
pre-ordered my Nightwatch halter, and am now anxiously awaiting it to ship, so that I can combine these two products. Imagine, you’re at an away show, your finicky horse colics, and you get an alert from your Nightwatch halter. You have to call the show vet, who isn’t your regular vet, and it’s 3 a.m. and they want your horse’s medical history.
In a state of panic, your mind goes blank and your regular vet isn’t answering the phone because it’s 3 a.m. and you’re not even in the state .. BAM! Scan the TaggCode bridle tag and everything the show vet needs to know is right there. #Amazing. I see both of these products as staples in my barn and on the road from now on. Stay tuned for photos of both of these products together in the near future!
And the sleeper hits for the show go to products that weren’t even available to buy at Rolex, but still got lots of compliments and were high on the “cool factor.” First was the biggest fan tees by Swanky Saddle that both Jordán Linstedt’s and Bunnie Sexton’s friends and family were wearing.
I snapped this great candid of daughter Maddie, sporting her mom’s horse’s name in style as she shot photos of Bunnie and Ecko warming up for dressage. And even cooler, you can get it with your own horse’s name (I have one for my horse and love it!).
Next is the Monkey Mat that I bought prior to Rolex, thanks to my obsession with Shark Tank. For just $9.99 plus free shipping, this won out over the $40 lightweight foldable chair as the most useful product on cross country day — and throughout the show.
The Monkey Mat Mini is a water resistant mat that is super lightweight, folds up in seconds, has weighted corners so it doesn’t blow away and a clip to attach to your belt. It went everywhere with me, in the barns, in the grass, ringside, anywhere I wanted to sit down between the craziness that is Rolex.
I had a ton of friends ask me about it, and even had a mom let me use her adorable baby for this great photo as Boyd galloped by (don’t worry, mom was just out of range but at 90 degrees and humid, no adults wanted to be in the photos that day!). Hopefully we’ll see them at horse shows in the future so that everyone can snag one!
Coupled with the amazing smoked Bloody Mary’s I was able to make thanks to my local deli, the Clove Brook Market’s mix, and Milk Street Distillery’s Black Vulture Vodka, and a handheld smoker (yes that’s a thing). I dare say I was among the cool kids when it came to drink mixers at the Eventing Nation tailgate that morning (though Leslie’s mimosas were also amazing and of course we all know Chinch is the ULTIMATE in cool kids). Yup, cross country day was a success!
Have any great Rolex stories or shopping finds to share? We’d love to hear from you! #GoShopping … erm, uh … #GoEventing!
After a lot of hard work and time on the road, Jordan Linstedt and RevitaVet Capato made it to the Kentucky Horse Park and passed the initial inspection. But it wasn’t all butterflies and roses getting here.
Since last checking in with Jordan, she had a few more stops en route to Rolex, and of course once she arrived, there was more to do. I got to take a look behind the scenes with Jordan and Capato today, and learn a little bit more about what it takes to become a seasoned Rolex competitor.
First, there’s packing for the horse. From Draper Therapies leg wraps and sheets, to Equi Cool Down cooling products, grooming equipment, braiding yarn and tools, coat conditioner and shampoo, four-star horses don’t travel light. Once they arrived at the Horse Park, Jordan and team had the task of unloading Capato (as well as the other horses traveling with them that are not competing here, but competed at some of the other events leading up to Rolex) and getting him settled in the stall.
Once the horses were all tucked in, it was a matter of unloading everything they needed into the tack room so that everything was neat, organized and easily accessible. And then Jordan and team needed to get themselves situated. It’s quite a lot of work!
Today was jog day — the first horse inspection — and like any day at Rolex it started early. The horses all needed to be tended to, and of course Capato is competing, so he needed additional time. Aside from the usual barn work such as feeding, haying, watering and cleaning stalls, Jordan rides Capato to keep him sharp and ready for the competition. They don’t perform their dressage test until Friday, so today after schooling it was all about getting groomed and prepped for the jog.
Jordan looked stunning as always in a beautiful blue and white dress with her hair done up, and Capato shined thanks to the help of boyfriend Aaron and groom Ava.
There’s never a dull moment at Rolex, and today was no different. The weather was sunny with a breeze, and things seemed perfect for the jog. Capato and Jordan looked beautiful, and then … they were sent to the hold in the jog. I held my breath — as did many other people I am sure! — but on representation: ACCEPTED!
That’s it folks, Jordan and Capato are in, and now we get to take a (short) breather until their test on Friday. Follow us for all the news and updates, and I’ll check back in after the event with a recap on how Jordan and Capato did this weekend. If you want to meet Jordan, stop by at lunch break tomorrow to the Fabbri booth 130 in the Trade Fair where she’ll be signing autographs!
Finally after receiving my Total Saddle Fit girth last fall, along with a collection of several other brands, I am back in the saddle and got to test this out while riding for the first time last week. We had taken some pictures from last fall of the Total Saddle Fit girth on several of my horses, and compared to a few other brands, including the County Logic girth, my old Professional Choice SMX VenTech girth, my SmartPak breathable girth with fleece, and my SmartPak Air+ Neoprene girth.
Like many of my tests, I found that having so many horses is a benefit in that they are all different shapes and sizes, and I can get a good gauge on what products fit what horses, and why.
For example, the County Logic girth fit my narrower chested Oldenburg gelding that has somewhat higher withers. While the saddle still slipped some on longer rides, we found that overall the girth laid flat against his side, with fewer pressure points than the Total Saddle Fit girth. While for my broad barreled Dutch Warmblood gelding, the Total Saddle Fit girth was the clear winner, keeping the saddle more securely in place, while the County Logic was tight in the front and looser in the back.
And for my most sensitive, strange OTTB Sky, of course my well overused-barely-in-tact Le Tixerant girth was the only thing he was comfortable in aside from the VenTech (go figure). To be fair, the big advantage that the Le Tixerant girth had for this horse was the middle elastic panels, but rumor has it Total Saddle Fit will be coming out with a long girth with similar technology to their short girth soon. Fingers crossed!
Sky aside (we don’t call him Mr. Sensitive for nothing), specifically when comparing these other two horses as well as the width and contour of the girth — they are not nearly the same in shape, width, or contour, which I never realized until I held them side-by-side — it made sense. Max, the Oldenburg, is more wedge shaped and narrower towards the chest, but widening along his sides and ribs so the narrower and less dramatic contour under the belly to armpit area worked well for him on the County. Cole, the Dutch, is very broad and boxier all around, with very little narrowing in the chest and armpit area, which made the wider Total Saddle Fit girth the better option for him because it kept the saddle in place, removed pressure from under his ribs, and had a smooth even fit.
I also tested out my tried and true favorites of the VenTech and the SmarkPak alternative and found they worked for nearly every horse in the barn because of their material. The pros of the SmartPak option are contour and price which I preferred slightly over the VenTech, as there was a minimal difference otherwise. (The VenTech is a hair more giving in the neoprene, the SmartPak a hair firmer, so really it’s personal preference).
For a go-to all around girth, these both worked for me and my entire crew, so something I made a mental note of to always have on hand, and on the trailer. And in the cases of horses with higher withers or odder shaped sides/barrels, it was easy enough to adjust saddle fit and placement through breastplates as needed. Though for a saddle fit purist, definitely not ideal … hence the rest of this article! For longer trail rides, the SmartPak breathable girth with fleece won out overall, as it didn’t cause any chafing or rubs like the neoprene can do (especially on more sensitive skinned horses) and was still breathable so as to not cause discomfort from excessive heat. Three solid options for various scenarios.
But now, on to the good stuff! Based on the fact that Max wasn’t ready to hunter pace, but Cole was, I opted for the Total Saddle Fit, which in addition I found did a better job of holding the saddle in place than the alternatives.
Starting out, Cole was a little um … hefty, shall we say …. from a winter off due to weather and my back injury, so we could interestingly only buckle the back billet one hole and the front one two. This was thankfully short lived, though nice that I was able to adjust how to girth him up to keep the girth flat against his side as he got back into shape and the girth broke in some.
I LOVED all of the rings on the girth, which made it great to attach the 5-point for a hunter pace, and I also loved that Cole seemed really comfortable and the saddle stayed wonderfully in place throughout the entire 7+ mile pace. Even though we had a breastplate on, the saddle never moved and the breastplate became just an accessory, there for emergency purposes only which was nice. And most interesting was that when we got back and I untacked Cole, the saddle had stayed SO still that even when I dropped the girth, the saddle was still in place and the sweat marks showed that as well. Pretty cool if you ask me.
Noteworthy: The saddle I am presently using needs to be reflocked, so thanks to the Six Point Saddle Pad I was able to adjust with necessary padding until we can get a reflocking done. As you may already know, more padding makes the saddle more likely to slip, so the fact that the saddle stayed in place so well I feel really is a testament to the girth, and of course I am grateful for the adjustability of the saddle pad otherwise we’d have had to miss the pace until we can make a saddle fitting appointment for reflocking. (Note to self: Don’t take winter off from riding due to injury or otherwise and then wait until the last minute to check your saddle flocking … whoops!)
Overall, I think this is an excellent girth for the price, that made my horse happy, my saddle stay put over various Hudson Valley terrain, and kept me happy as well. I know that I’ll be adding more into my tack collection so that I have one for all of my horses that pace! Have a girth you love? We’d love to hear more, share it in the comments below!
Jordan Linstedt is no rookie when it comes to the Kentucky Rolex Three-Day Event. She’s successfully competed there multiple times with different horses.
Her current mount, RevitaVet Capato, the 14-year-old Hanoverian owned by Jordan and her mom, Barbara Linstedt, is heading there with her for their third Rolex together. They were even featured on last year’s Rolex tickets! But that doesn’t mean getting there is easy.
It Takes a Village
From #RolexRookie to seasoned competitor, getting to Rolex really does take a village, and a whole lot of support. Jordan is based in Redmond, Wash., which means traveling from coast to coast to get from where she’s based to Kentucky, and a lot of prep work to make it all happen. Recently I had a chance to catch up with Jordan on what it takes to get to Rolex, from the prep to the travel and of course actually competing there, and will be following her up through the event at the end of April.
First, she credits Neelie and Simon Floyd, who co-own Hawkwind Farm (Jordan’s home base), for being the foundation of her support. They helped host the fundraiser event to kick things off, and of course, help keep everything at the farm running. Jordan tells us that without them, she really couldn’t do any of this and is eternally grateful!
Starting back in early March, they held a fundraising event that included a live band, a huge silent auction and JLE Team gear as well as #CapatosGotHops shirts. The entire community–about 200 people in all–came out to support Jordan and Capato.
Jordan tells us, “I couldn’t do what I do without all the support. It’s very special to have so many incredible people that support my goals and dreams!” Brands and companies such as Olson’s Tack Shop, Voltaire Saddles, Kerrits, Samshield, Purina, Grand Meadows and so many other brands came together to help Jordan in her journey.
Packing for the #RoadtoRolex
The hardest part about heading to Kentucky for Jordan was leaving her team of riders at home. With a new assistant to hold down the fort at home, she was able to travel a little easier and is grateful to have Meg Finn running things at the farm.
Getting ready to leave also meant having Jordan’s boyfriend Aaron Nilsen help get the new-to-them trailer updated and repaired to be ready for the approximately 3,000 mile journey (each way!), and pack for the three horses going.
Packing also meant being prepared with some sheets and leg wraps for the horses (and even a blanket for Jordan) from Draper Therapies to keep them comfortable and keep their circulation going for better and faster recovery after workouts, along with of course a basic med kit. Kerrits provided all new riding gear with royal blue accents–Jordan’s color–from its spring line.
Feed and hay for the road were packed, and everything from show clothes to travel gear had to fit in the rig. If you think packing for a one-day or even a weekend-long event is tough, try packing for a two-plus month trip. It’s quite a lot to remember, and to make sure everyone is safe, sound and prepared to compete at the highest levels this sport has to offer.
This year, in addition to Capato, two other horses in training with Jordan came along for the experience. Staccato and Destiny ISF along with her dogs Bourbon and Brandy packed up to hit the road on March 16th with Jordan and Aaron.
Following behind them in a second rig was student and groom Ava Cox with her Training level horse, Amigo, co-piloted by her father. Their first stop was 20 hours later in South Dakota where they had to do a little trailer work. Note to fellow travelers: Never leave home without a tool set, air compressor and power tools!
The next few days were 15 hours each, with a final arrival at Carolina International Horse Trials.
All Systems Go
Carolina International was the first stop for Jordan and her team as her and Capato prepped for Rolex. He was very electric in the ring for dressage, and while it wasn’t their best performance, after a long haul out there it was expected that Capato would have the dressage arena jitters.
Moving on to cross country, they had a great bold run and took their time with a goal of a solid completion, which they did indeed earn. Jordan tells us Capato felt bold and eager to find the jumps, and she was excited to move into show jump.
Unfortunately they had a few rails down in the final phase, but it was all in all a good solid first outing for the season. With some time between then and the next show, Jordan has a packed schedule with some of the top trainers to help finesse their show jumping and leave more of those rails in the cups.
In addition, the two training horses performed beautifully, with Destiny finishing her first Training course and Staccato preparing for his move up to Prelim in the very near future.
Stay tuned to see where Jordan is headed next and follow her and Capato on their #RoadToRolex. Have photos of them to share? Tag her and Capato on social with hashtag #CapatosGotHops! And check back soon as we follow Jordán and Capato all the way to #RK3DE2017!
As eventers, we’re known to be among the toughest of equestrians. We get knocked down, and get back up and back on. We fall off, and climb back up and keep going. We frequently ignore doctor’s orders and are back in the saddle far sooner than any “normal” person would consider reasonable. It’s no joke that we’re a tough breed, but it’s also no joke when you push yourself too far.
If you’re anything like me, chances are your horse or horses have a regular chiropractor, get new shoes on schedule without fail that likely cost more than most of the shoes you own (except for maybe your tall boots you show in), and you pay close and careful attention to how they move, how they feel, if they are off their feed at all, if their saddle fits, if they are experiencing back pain or any lameness, and more. We pay such close attention to our horses, that sometimes it’s a wonder we don’t do the same for ourselves.
Pshhhh … me? I’m fine. I’ll be back in the saddle in no time.
Who hasn’t said those words to a family member or friend after a particularly nasty fall or barn accident or injury? I know more than once, I’ve been back in the saddle far sooner than recommended, or just avoided the doctor’s office all together so that I didn’t get news that I didn’t want to hear, and likely wouldn’t listen to. Until recently that is.
After years of issues and injuries (I’ve been riding since I was 3 years old) and chronically ignoring doctors for far too long, as this fall season came to a close, I suffered a somewhat minor injury that has me laid up now for the past three months, and maybe another one to two more.
What happened, you ask? Well, we were camping for Halloween at Gettysburg with the horses to ride the battlefield, and my dogs were tied to the horse trailer on tie outs, and managed to wrap around my legs without my noticing until I stood up — and promptly fell down, HARD. So hard, that I managed to bruise a rib and knock the wind out of myself so badly that I couldn’t breathe for what felt like minutes, and was short of breath for the rest of the day.
My friend asked if I needed to go to the ER. I couldn’t answer because I couldn’t breathe, but eventually I sat up and told her no. So what did I do next? Naturally, I tacked up my horse and rode. All day. Of course I took the Robaxin I had on hand (for my horses, of course, in case anyone was sore) and some Aleve, but considering how much pain I was in, this was probably not the right course of action.
Well, you see, years ago in a truly freak accident, while walking to the ring to teach a lesson, a horse a student was warming up on was stung by a bee and bolted. The horse had seen the gate open (I was walking up to it to enter the ring) and charged it. When she got closer, she realized I was there, and was closing the gate. She tried to stop, and when she realized she couldn’t, she tried to jump the 14′ long metal tube gate.
She didn’t clear it. Or me. The impact knocked me (literally) out of my shoes and twisted me in half. I went to the ER, but never followed up with the orthopedist like I was told to. Instead, I was riding — while still on crutches — in a week, just without stirrups to avoid pressure on my twisted achilles tendon and sore back.
Years prior, I used to do my own hoof trimmings, and trim some clients’ horses for extra cash. When I had a tumble from a horse that landed me at the doctors, an x-ray of my back showed situational scoliosis. I didn’t even know you could GIVE yourself scoliosis, but apparently you could, and I had. I was told to not trim feet, and take three months off from riding. I stopped trimming feet, and rode the next day.
And a few years ago, when riding a new horse I acquired with a habit of dumping people, he slid out from under me and I landing sitting, jarring my spine so badly that I knocked the wind out of myself and couldn’t move. The horse ran triumphant around the arena, and it took two friends 15 minutes to catch him, and one friend another 10 to help me get to my feet. And get back on.
I rode for another week before the pain was so bad — I couldn’t sit or sleep comfortably — that I finally went to the doctor where he informed me I likely had a transverse process fracture in my spine and needed an MRI and to not ride for three months to let it fully heal. I never got the MRI. I never stopped riding, either.
And these are just three of the standout incidents, although there were many others, such as a fall in my 20s that jarred my spine and head (without hitting my head) that I wound up on anti-seizure medication because a CT scan showed a slight tear in the membrane of my brain. I rode anyway. See a trend?
All these incidents added up to this past Halloween at Gettysburg. I thought that I could, once again, just keep riding. But, after seeing a good friend 10 years my senior go through major back surgery that is keeping her out of the saddle for almost a year — and had her barely walking for several months — I finally sat down and thought, oh no. This could be me.
So, after Halloween, I pulled everyone’s shoes, and did what many eventers do, and give their horses some time off in the off season. Only this time I didn’t just pull the next horse in the rotation in to be worked. I took time off myself.
The good news is that between seeing a chiropractor and acupuncturist regularly (for myself, not my horses!), I am starting to wake up in the morning with feeling in my arms rather than numbness and tingling. I am starting to realize what it’s like to feel good, and not in some sort of pain that I mostly ignore.
And I realized that the first few weeks of not riding were harder than I ever imagined. Not only did I miss it, but as my nerves repaired themselves and the muscles started to regain circulation, it HURT. It hurt more than it ever had before because I had so badly damaged my nerves, that they were no longer sending pain signals to my brain. So as they healed, they told me just how messed up my back was all this time, and it was bad. But, it’s getting better, and I am getting better.
My resolutions this year include starting my horses back in work slowly, from the ground up, and following my own advice. I’ve been going to the gym the past two months, and already started working on cardio and lower body, until my upper body heals and can tolerate strength training.
I resolve to take as good of care of myself as I do of my horses, because it’s only fair to them (and me). And I resolve to keep riding — when me and my horses are sound — and let myself heal when we are not. Because, let’s face it, I want to be riding for many, many years yet to come and it’s not worth sidelining yourself to get in one more ride, just like it’s not worth injuring your horse for that one more cross country run if his soundness is questionable.
So here’s to hoping I’ll be back in the saddle (and back blogging about saddle and girth fit) very soon, for a very long time to come!
Looking forward to getting back in the saddle for more of this, come spring. Cheers to 2017! Have any resolutions of your own to share? I’d love to hear them in the comments below. Go Eventing!
A while back after writing the Saddle Fitting Saga series, I promised a follow up on how girths affect saddle fit and how different girths may work for different shaped horses and why. And of course, since then, I promptly hurt my back and finally was forced to take the time off from riding that my doctors told me to take three years ago, and six years ago, and … oh, several times wherein I of course, like a true eventer, completely ignored them.
So here we are, heading into winter and I have a stack of girths to try and a field of horses getting fat. In the meantime, however, my good friend Lauren Schwartzenberger had ordered one of the girths I was hoping to test, but in the dressage version. She purchased the Total Saddle Fit Stretch Tech girth and shared a review on Facebook with her friends, which I asked if I could share on here (since no riding makes it harder for me to blog about … um … riding) and she kindly agreed!
She owns three chestnut mares (I know, she’s crazy, right?) that are warmbloods — one is retired and the other two she tested the girth on. Compliments of Lauren, here’s her review.
The Total Saddle Fit StretchTec girth can be purchased with neoprene or leather backing. Both can be removed and swapped but only the leather backing allows the full stretch of the center elastic at the sternum. I opted for the leather backing as it was more cost effective to purchase it first and later purchase the neoprene separately if the elastic proves to have too much give.
The girth came with a ballcap! I’m a hat person so will probably wind up wearing it around the farm doing chores in the summer. The quality of the girth itself was impressive right out of the box. Nice quality leather, strong stitching, attention to detail and craftsmanship are clearly present in this product.
I purchased this girth because Ella’s conformation encourages her saddle to slide forward and onto her shoulder. This is very upsetting to her, understandably.
I rode both Ella and Gratulantin with this girth yesterday and apart from my Thinline pad I haven’t been so impressed with an “innovative product” before!
Ella went first and the saddle stayed in the same spot with substantial elbow clearance and the shoulder was completely free. At all walk and trot work the saddle stayed in its place. When we work on canter lately we use a small cross rail for departures and she jumped it as though it was four feet tall and landed with a buck before continuing on. While the saddle did come a bit forward at her exuberance, it was nothing like before this girth!
Ultimately I need to either shim my Thinline or put a narrower gullet in my saddle, and I think our issue won’t be fully addressed until her shape changes again and she grows (she is 7). Long term she will need a custom saddle — I am starting to compare makes and am leaning towards N2 or Custom for my own preference based on their seats’ balance. Apart from the saddle fit, and because of it, she felt much more comfortable and relaxed.
Gratulantin was next and has no saddle fit issues (yay!). Because of this I didn’t expect to notice much of a difference in her way of going — boy was I wrong! She noticed the difference before I walked her down to ride her, looked back breathed in and out and nudged me. She’s definitely one that lets you know what she thinks and really leaves no room for confusion!
Immediately she was forward but relaxed — no tension, just forward. She also had a new bit on so the rest is slightly speculative but I’d say the combination of the Myler 33 Level 3 bit with the nice generous port with independent movement maintained on either side and the Total Saddle Fit StretchTec girth are a win for her! She has a fat tongue and narrow palate and I’ve spent a few hundred on bits this year trying to figure out something to give her tongue a bit of room, this was clearly the right track. I am excited to see what the next few weeks bring with her.
Overall, I’d definitely recommend this girth to anyone who rides dressage or has a monoflap with long billets. I will be purchasing a long girth from them when they offer it with the StretchTec option. With the research out there supporting the need for a piece of equipment like this to accommodate the expansion of the horse’s rib cage while breathing I see no reason to pass it up!
Bottom line: this product lives up to its claims. Gratulantin, Emperatriz, and I give it two thumbs up!
Thanks so much Lauren, for sharing your excellent review, and for buying me some time until I am back in the saddle. I am curious to see for myself how the different sized/shaped/contoured girths work for me and my crew, as I am guessing it won’t be a winner-take-all situation.
I have three different horses I will be testing girths on, including a high withered, short backed OTTB with a relatively broad/round rib cage; an Oldenburg that is a bit wedge shaped both front to back and top to bottom with some rather large withers for his breed; and a Dutch Warmblood that’s a lot boxier typical of the heavier warmblood breeds.
It will be interesting to see how my experiences compare, and how the hunter/jumper girths work in comparison to the dressage style girths so that we can be covered in all phases of competition. Go Eventing!
With the recent announcement of the new Apple Watch, AirPods, and iPhone 7, it’s no secret that we live in a world ruled by technology. So how does that translate to our horses? Sure, there are health monitors for horses, trail tracking and workout apps to monitor progress, and a slew of new technologically advanced things hitting the market every day. But what about saddle fit and half pads? Seeing as how saddle fit and half pads are a passion of mine, you know I had to ask.
Ask, and you shall get answers!
While doing research for my recent articles about half pads (To Shim or Not To Shim and Winning Combinations #betterforbacks), I came across two saddle pads that stood out from the rest due to their outstanding technology, benefit for horses with back issues (both half pads mentioned benefits for horses with chronic back issues such as kissing spine during my research), and reasonable price points (between $200 – $300 which I’d consider standard for a quality half pad these days). While I did mention both saddle pads in the Winning Combinations article, I felt these two pads needed a little more focus to really do them justice.
Let’s start with the Kingsland Relief Pad. I was fortunate enough to meet the Kingsland Equestrian team at the AETA trade show this past August, and they were nice enough to spend quite a bit of time explaining to me the saddle pad and how it worked.
First, the most unique thing about this saddle pad in my opinion, is that it comes in various densities for different shock absorption properties, without changing the thickness of the pad. Yeah, guys! That means that if you need one density for dressage, and a different density for jumping (any eventers out there?), the thickness of the pad won’t change so you don’t have to worry about bulk and your horse’s ability to feel your aids through the saddle. Pretty cool stuff!
The saddle pad comes in a lovely box with a chart on the back that helps you determine which saddle pad is right for you based on your weight plus the discipline you ride. This allows you to select the right density saddle pad based on what you need — more for jumping, less for flatwork.
The other nice thing is that you don’t necessarily need to always go up in density — they explained to me that “more is not more” as the half pad is made to work with the type of shock absorption you need, specific to the task at hand. So you’d need less shock absorption for dressage than for jumping cross country and the saddle pad is made accordingly so that you always have the right amount of cushion + feel for your hose to understand your aids.
Next, this saddle pad is made of an antimicrobial material that can come out of the cover and simply be hosed off and air-dried to keep it clean. It’s woven for breathability, and the cover is easily washable. Even cooler, the cover has a breathable mesh channel so as to give your horse plenty of room in the gullet over the spine, and the pad has some great non-slip grippy lines on top so that your pad stays in place, whatever the terrain.
I tested this pad out in the ring on my OTTB Sky, who is high withered with lower shoulder blades that leaves some space between the top of his shoulders and the gullet. He loved this pad as he is very lower back sensitive, with lots of old chiropractic issues, and also heat sensitive so the breathability was a big plus! When he needed, I was even able to stick a shim between the saddle and the half pad and it stayed put due to the non-slip grip lines.
I also took the pad out on the trails in the Adirondacks, and on our first hunter pace of the season, where I used it on Cole my 8 year old Dutch Warmblood. He’s got some growing and filling out still to do as he is only recently started under saddle, and with the trails of up to nearly 20 miles over steep, rocky terrain in hot humid weather, protecting his back while offering a stay-put breathable solution was a must.
The Kingsland Relief Pad stood up to the test, and was a winner for both horses! Highly recommended for any horse that needs the cushion and conformationally has withers with some room between the top of the shoulder and saddle gullet or for a horse where the saddle is just a hair wide.
The full video on YouTube discusses all of the benefits of the Kingsland Relief Pad and I can personally attest that all of its claims held true out in the ring, the hunt field, and on the trails!
On to the next pad…
The S-Curve Half Pad by SedeLogic was one of the most unique saddle pads I’ve ever tried. It does take a little longer to get set up due to the thermoplastic in the rear of the pad, and while I was skeptical, by the time I was done with my ride, I was a believer!
The S-Curve Half Pad uses a 2-ply cushioning throughout, coupled with a thermoplastic rear panel (one on each side) that allows for custom fitting. It’s washable up to 80ºF, breathable and pressure relieving as well. The most technologically advanced part about this saddle pad is that you take a hair dryer to heat up the thermoplast rear panels and once they are soft and pliable, put the pad on the horse and tack up.
You then sit in the saddle for a few minutes, and then walk off for another few minutes, allowing the plastic to cool and conform to the horse’s back. We went through this process with Max, my 7 year old Oldenburg gelding, as he has very wide shoulders and is sensitive to shoulder pressure but also learning to jump more consistently which can at times, result in the rider getting jostled around or catching him in the back when he jumps awkwardly. So while he doesn’t have back issues, this was a good pad to test on him because I’d sure like to keep it that way.
Once the plastic cools, you’re ready to ride! The first thing I noticed about this pad was that I actually didn’t really feel any different in the saddle, despite the thermoplastic in there. I expected it to feel rigid, but it still had flexibility while protecting my horse’s back and I was still able to feel his movement and he was able to feel my aids just fine. It offered protection and shock absorption without changing the feel of my ride at all.
Next, I also noticed that the unique s-curved shape contour of the front of the pad fit nicely around his shoulders, and the pressure relieving circle also helped free up his front end tremendously, as he is in a snug, properly fitting saddle and his wider shoulders don’t really leave any room for additional padding. I happened to have on my helmet cam, and tried to capture some shots of his shoulder movement while hacking (my apologies for the un-dragged overgrown ring, it’s been a crazy summer!) which shows just how that contour of the pad really fit him perfectly!
Finally, for the SedeLogic S-Curve Half Pad, the thermoplastic can be reheated and adjusted for use on different horses. This way if your horse changes shape, or you get a new saddle or have a new horse to use the half pad on, all you need to do is heat up the back of the pad again and then mold it to the new horse / situation and the fit will be totally changed. Really neat technology, and definitely something that I can see benefitting horses with back issues.
Overall, the S-curve fit him like a glove, but when I tried to swap pads and put this pad on Sky, and the Kingsland on Max, it was no bueno. Both horses wanted their own saddle pads back … For Sky it was easy to see that because of his higher withers, the contour of the S-Curve didn’t hit the right spot on his shoulder, and the Kingsland was just a shade too restrictive on Max’s shoulders.
Our Equine Chiropractor, Dr. Leah agreed saying, “I like how the S-Curve gives Max the freedom under the saddle to really reach with his shoulder. For Sky, I really am impressed with how the Kingsland offers the shock absorption he needs for his lower back which has been an ongoing problem area for him.”
The moral of the story? Every
dog horse has his day half pad. In all seriousness though, every horse is different, and sometimes it is a matter of trial and error to determine what works best for each individual horse and saddle combination. Hopefully this series of articles has helped guide people to find the types of pads that may work best for their horses based on the various testing I’ve done and all of the scenarios I’ve put these half pads, horses, and even my friends through!
Next up — how girths affect saddle fit. (Really? Is that a thing? Apparently that’s a thing.) Ah, there’s always more to learn!
After testing shimmed saddle pads (To Shim or Not To Shim blog), I moved on to half pads focused on shock absorption and back issues. I have so many horses that finding a saddle pad that works for all their different needs really was more of a challenge than I origianlly thought. So for this round we pulled out another set of saddle pads and another bunch of horses along with my trusty equine chiropractor Dr. Leah for even more feedback!
Here were the saddle pads tested this go round:
- EquineLux BufferLux half pad with pockets saddle pad, provided by ISellTack.com
- Air Ride by ECP half pad from Equine Comfort Products that I got at the summer AETA trade show
- Three saddle pads by SedeLogic which included
- 2 Ply Half Pad
- Orthopad Half Pad which is a 1-2-3 ply from front to back for horses that need less in front and more in back
- The all new S-Curve Half Pad that has a special thermoplastic plate and shoulder relieve cutout and pressure relieving circle for freedom of movement with added back protection
- An all new half pad by Kingsland Equestrian, the Kingsland Relief Pad that comes in various densities without changing the thickness of the saddle pad
I’ll admit that while the shimmable pads were a must for me to adjust saddle fit, I had several horses that I was really excited to try out these half pads on that the saddle already fit really well. You could say that finding the right fit + comfort + cushion for my horses has become a bit of a passion of mine.
We started with the ECP pad on my high withered OTTB Sky, because I have a friend that uses one and swears by it, and Sky sweats a ton, so I am always looking for a way to keep him comfortable without causing excessive heat under the saddle. Underneath all the half pads, I’ve been using my Draper saddle pads for the most part, due to their wicking properties and circulatory benefits, but even so, my one horse overheats very easily. He is also sensitive backed, so a great candidate for this test.
The ECP pad did pretty well for him; however, he tends to need a shimmed pad, so I could either use both together or a thicker under pad until his official saddle comes in (right now he’s in a medium tree County Solution but should be in a medium narrow). He did stay noticeably cooler in this pad, but he was still pretty sensitive to the touch in his lower back when we were done.
To get a better feel for the pad, I also used it under the lunging surcingle as he’s very sensitive skinned as well. In this case, I noticed that he didn’t get rubs from the surcingle, and he wasn’t nearly as sweaty as he would be with a normal half pad. Excellent! So while this wouldn’t work for him on its own right now, it definitely did what it promised — has shock absorption properties with great cooling benefits so I would absolutely recommend this for a horse whose saddle fits well but tends to get hot and needs a little more cushioning underneath.
Next I tried the other pads on array of horses and found that each horse had different preferences. Max, a 7 year old Oldenburg, was a great sport in the ring as we tested all three SedeLogic saddle pads, the EquineLux, and the Kingsland on him.
The 1-3 Ply SedeLogic fit him well, as he really doesn’t need saddle adjustment, and the added padding under the back will be very useful as he learns to fox hunt this fall and spring when we are out for several hours and I want to be sure he doesn’t get sore. The 2 Ply SedeLogic wasn’t a great fit because his saddle already fits well and it was just a hair too thick for his somewhat broad shoulders. The EquineLux offered great non-slip qualities but with the foam inserts, was too thick, and without, it was just a plain non-slip pad which he doesn’t really need. The Kingsland I had high hopes for, but alas, it was not to be. It was just a little too thick for him and he was uncomfortable in the shoulders.
We eventually settled on the SedeLogic S-Curve, which we saved for last due to the added 10 min or so to heat it up and get it set. And the result was totally worth it!
Interestingly enough, while the saddle pad takes a few minutes to heat up the thermoplastic and then a few more minutes of just sitting on the horse and then walking to let it conform, the process wasn’t nearly as cumbersome as I expected, and you only need to do this before your first ride with the pad.
And the results were amazing! The cutout in the shoulder gave him a lot more room to move and his stride was noticeably longer. His back was protected and while he doesn’t traditionally have back issues, I could feel that even if I shifted around up there, the shock was nicely distributed to minimally impact his ability to move forward with a large, flowing gait. Even more amazing was that they use a special thermoplastic in the pad that is breathable so it didn’t cause Max to increase in his sweating at all — which was a concern since some thermoplastics are not breathable and can retain heat.
I almost wished I had a horse with back issues that I could test this on (almost…). It was such an impressive saddle pad that I feel I can’t really do it justice here with so much to cover, so stay tuned for a feature on High Tech Half Pads where I can explain more about what makes this saddle pad so great!
After figuring out what was best for Max, I pulled out Cole, my 8 year old Dutch Warmblood gelding. He’s green, unbalanced, learning how to really move with a rider, and was also being dragged out on my upcoming camping trips. We found that the SedeLogic 2 Ply did best in the ring as he still has some growing and filling out to do, had the room under the saddle for this to fit comfortably, and it provided such great shock absorption that it allowed him to figure out his balance without being hypersensitive to every single little movement I made on his back. It definitely went in the trailer to come camping!
Out camping, Cole used a combination of the 2 Ply SedeLogic on shorter rides, and the Kingsland half pad on longer rides. Between the two, we found that in extreme conditions (90+ degrees and 80% humidity over 10 – 18 miles of trails in the mountains per day!) the Kingsland offered better breathability and non-slip features on top of the shock absorption. Thickness of the 2 Ply was a hair less than the Kingsland, so the 2 Ply would be my choice in the ring or at home while the Kingsland would be my choice out on trails as well as jumping larger fences where the saddle may move more.
While camping, my friend had an issue with her horse’s saddle fit, and the EquineLux pad came to the rescue! It took up the space she needed to give her mare a better fit, and stayed put on the extreme up-and-down mountainous terrain we covered and they both finished the day happy and sound. Our other friend took the opportunity to snatch up the SedeLogic 2 Ply for her horse, a high withered TB with very wide shoulders and good topline, and it also provided some great benefits. Because it was slightly thinner than the Kingsland, her horse had more shoulder room than with a thicker half pad, and again still offered amazing shock absorption on the hills, so in her case the 2 Ply SedeLogic was the winner.
Back home after a week on the trails, I pulled out all of these saddle pads for one more go-round on back-sensitive Sky. Unfortunately, Sky didn’t fit with the medium tree saddle and any of the special pads that focus on backs by SedeLogic or EquineLux, so we passed on riding in those. However, we got lucky with the Kingsland Relief Pad and this came out our big winner. Because of the slightly thicker components, coupled with the amazing breathability (a must with his heat and sweating issues), we were able to actually ride without a shimmed saddle pad in the medium tree! In Sky’s case, he tends to have higher withers and a narrower space on either side, widening into his shoulders so even when he does have a saddle that fits better, the Kingsland will be his big winner. And like the SedeLogic S-Curve pad, it is way too technologically advanced to do justice here, so I’ll include both pads in the upcoming High Tech Half Pads feature.
To make it easy, I’ve summarized my top picks for saddle pads between here and the original To Shim or Not To Shim blog along with the types and conformation of horses they seem to work best on. Enjoy!
Quick Half Pad Guide:
- Total Saddle Fit Six Point Half Pad — great for horses that are changing shape, need adjustability and customization underneath their saddle, or are between tree sizes, recovering from injury or rehab, and basically any situation where you need a customized saddle pad to adjust how your saddle fits. Amazing pad with everything you need to assure your saddle fits every time. Retail price $179.95.
- EquineLux BufferLux half pad with pockets saddle pad was great for horses that are a little higher in the spine without having any one sensitivity issue or back pain problem, but still need added cushion. The non slip grip was superior for going up and down steep hills, and would also be great in a hunt field. Great all around pad at an affordable price point ($120 retail price).
- Air Ride by ECP half pad — great for under lunging tack, or for a horse where the saddle fits, but they are heat sensitive and just need a little more shock absorption. Great for in and out of the ring, and a super price point at just $55 that makes it a must-have in the barn.
- The SedeLogic half pads which included:
- 2 Ply Half Pad — excellent for a horse with a little room under the saddle but not so much as to need shims, that is also sensitive throughout the back. Great for long/hard riding, jumping, and also flat work where you want to make sure that the horse can still feel your seat but not cause any back pain. Ideal for everyday use. Also comes in a 1 Ply option for horses that have less space under the saddle but still want that great shock absorption. (Retail price $185 – $240 depending on saddle size.)
- Orthopad Half Pad which is the 1-2-3 ply from front to back for horses that need less in front and more in back is wonderful for horses that need added cushioning or lift in the cantle, or if your girth causes your saddle to pop up in the back over fences (check your girth style and fit — that will be another blog still to come!).
- S-Curve Half Pad with customizable thermoplastic is excellent for horses with a well fitting saddle but back issues, lower back pain, old injuries, chiropractic issues, and more. Great freedom of shoulder movement with amazing back support. Retails at $265 – $279. Worth the added time to set up, and you can reheat it and reset the plastic for different horses or if your horse changes shape again. Best fit available for broad shouldered Warmbloods that have chronic back issues such as kissing spine.
- Kingsland Relief Pad was the winner for my OTTB with high withers that usually needs a shimmed pad and is as back-sensitive as they come, while also being heat sensitive. This pad comes in one thickness with different densities based on your weight and riding discipline so that you always get what you need (and more is not always needed). Also worked great on my developing Dutch Warmblood out on trails and offered solid non-slip grip in an easy to wash cover. Retails at $249.
Happy riding! Have a saddle pad you love? We’d love to hear your story about what half pads you find are #betterforbacks for your horses in the comments below.
I’ve been following all of the equestrian sports in Rio and paying close attention to saddles and pads as, of course for me, the saga continues. Just when I think I’ve found saddles and trees that fit my horses, I realize that I own too many horses to fit in just a few saddles. But, like most equestrians, we can’t realistically afford a custom saddle for every single horse we ride (even if we do aspire to the Olympics someday). So what to do?
Of my current competition and riding horses, I have two that needed a medium narrow County Solution and two that needed a medium County Solution, with another one not yet in work (that starts in fall) and a growing Dutch Warmblood that will both be somewhere in between as they re-muscle and develop. Great. Just as soon as you think you’ve found something that works, you find that you still need to make adjustment.
Now of course if I was “normal” and “just owned one horse” (wait, what?), then I could have my saddle fitter come out and adjust the wool flocking to fit that one horse and re-flock whenever needed for less than a few hundred dollars. Not bad, right? Oh wait, except I own more than one horse. A lot more than just one horse …
So back to the drawing board we go. At least I knew a saddle that worked, and while waiting to finalize my order, I have a demo to ride in that is a medium tree. With shims, I had a Mattes pad and custom County foam shims that made it work for nearly all of my horses for the time being.
While not ideal, and shims can, over time, create issues, when you have horses that are changing or in between tree sizes, or you simply need to ride various horses and have a freakish leg that only fits your saddle, shims can be a blessing. I set out to do some research to learn about the different types of shims and corrective pad options and how they all work. Then I asked (bribed with dinner) my fabulous chiropractor to come back out and evaluate the saddle fit from the ground both with and without a rider.
The saddle pads that stepped up to the challenge were:
- Mattes Correction Half Pad with standard wool shims, as well as special foam shims designed by County Saddlery
- Cavallo English Raised Wither Saddle Pad provided by ISellTack.com
- ProLite Gel Shimmable Half Pad provided by Dutchess Bridle & Saddle LLC
- Total Saddle Fit Six Point Half Pad provided by Total Saddle Fit
I had a few other saddle pads to try as well such as the all new super high tech SedeLogic, which provided three very unique pads, and a few other fan favorites, but I set those aside to test in a second group focused on shock absorption rather than saddle fit and correction and shimmable pads. I also had an EquineLux pad to test that had pockets for shims, but since it was just one big pocket and the shims didn’t really stay put as well, it got bumped into this group as well.
First, we started out by taking off our shoes, and standing in the concrete aisle on all the pads to see how they felt to us. The Mattes was firm with wool, but softer with foam shims in place. The Cavallo pad was stiffer, and the Total Saddle Fit pad was soft and fuzzy but not as cushiony as some of the others. Our favorite was the ProLite with the gel shims because we could bounce on it and still not feel the hard concrete underneath.
Next, we dragged good ol’ Tyler, who we never quite did figure out in the original saddle fit series, and he got an adjustment and then we went out to the ring, saddle pads in tow. Since his first adjustment with Dr. Leah (read more in Fitting Follow Up and then how we finally found our gallop) he was starting to move forward under saddle. The Mattes with foam shims seemed to do the trick so we started there and got more of what we did our last ride: nice, easy-going, free-flowing shoulder movement.
We then looked at the Cavallo pad, and even though the foam compresses, there was no way we could make that work, unfortunately. It was just too thick and bulky, and Tyler gave me a very clear “no way” when I tried to girth him up. On to the next pad…
The Mattes with traditional felt shims was up next. It was the same pad, we just swapped out the shims, but man did they make a difference! The felt was harder and offered less give than the foam, and Tyler was more reluctant to move forward. Even more interesting was that it made the seat of my saddle, which was a soft seat model, feel hard. To make sure I wasn’t losing my mind, I made my friend get on and both she and Dr. Leah agreed. The felt shims weren’t as comfortable for the rider or the horse as the foam ones. Interesting!
We then tried the Total Saddle Fit pad. This one needed two sets of shims, and while it was a little confusing at first to figure out which shims went where (there are six pockets!) we figured it out. The wool was super soft and I loved it, but the test was to see how Tyler reacted. It was a tie with the Mattes with the foam shims. He moved equally as well and willingly as in the first pad. Hmm, very nice, and the bonus was if he — or any horse — changed size or shape, the Total Saddle Fit pad had more pockets so you could more easily customize the shims. Definitely a plus!
Finally we tried the ProLite. This was our hands down favorite for us, but the big question was how did the horse feel. Under the saddle, it was the opposite of the Total Saddle Fit pad. Where the TSF pad was slim, the ProLite was bulky and extended out of the underside of the saddle panels. We removed the thicker of the gel shim sets — it comes with a thick and a thinner set — and tried again. But, alas it was still too bulky.
While it felt weird to me and there was definitely a bit of a disconnect between me and my horse, I wanted to see how he felt so I urged him forward. He went, and while he was willing, he was not nearly as free in the shoulder as he was in the Total Saddle Fit pad. And even more interesting, he was having as much a hard time feeling my seat aids as I was in feeling his movement in his back. So the great cushion that we loved to stand on, on the ground, translated to too much cushion on the horse — who would have thought?
Then just to make sure I wasn’t crazy or biased, I went back to the Total Saddle Fit and the Mattes and swapped them out a few times with the same results. Tyler loved both, and I love the added adjustability of the Total Saddle Fit’s multiple pockets. I did end up using two sets of shims for the Total Saddle Fit, compared to just one set of the foam County Mattes shims, but I liked that again it offered even more adjustability than the other pads had.
At the end of the day, the Total Saddle Fit half pad won. Keep in mind, if you need larger shims, their full A/P Jump pad has larger shims and pockets, and the detailing on that pad is just beautiful! The reinforcements where the girth goes, the stitching, everything really is top-notch, and I was reluctant to send it back, but I use primarily Draper saddle pads for my horses because of their beneficial properties for circulation, and the half pad made more sense. I am such a creature of habit! I did, however, finally give up my 14-year-old Mattes original half pad that had seen better days and retire it to be replaced with the Total Saddle Fit Six Point Half Pad which I now love.
It’s also good to remember that every horse is different, so what works for my horses may not work for yours. Testing out all of these pads gave me a great idea of what my horses prefer that works with their saddle. I could see how some of the other brands would also work depending on a horse’s needs, and if a horse was incredible back sensitive, for example, the ProLite may help keep the horse from feeling the rider’s seat, which in that case could be a good thing, especially if they were recovering from an injury or back issues. But when it came to adjustable shimmable saddle pads, Total Saddle Fit was the winner!
Next up: A test of saddle pads for shock absorption on my horses that are not between saddles sizes. I’m excited to learn more as we event and fox hunt and go to hunter paces, as well as take super long trail rides and camping vacations with my horses. We did over 40 miles the other weekend on vacation up and down the Adirondacks and into the Hudson River and are heading back next week. Check back to soon to find out which saddle pad won out in those conditions and more!
#TeamWool, hands down.
In case you’re new to the series, this all started when my retired FEI horse refused to move forward under saddle and I decided to research saddle fit options, which kicked off my #TeamWool vs. #TeamFoam series. County Saddlery was nice enough to help out and provide approximately a million (OK, maybe something like 20 but it sure felt like a million) saddles for me to sit in and try on my various horses. With the help of fitter Allison Meyer, we spent a full day testing saddles on five horses as the saddle fit saga continued.
Once we narrowed it down to what would work, we had a chiropractor out, took a demo out on a hunter pace, and had a fitting follow up. Then I hit the road with three saddles: an air paneled saddle, a foam paneled saddle, and a wool paneled saddle, all in comparable tree sizes, to see what other horses liked best. And here’s what I’ve experienced throughout the #sisterhoodofthetravelingsaddles!
As I packed up and headed south to Virginia for the Land Rover Great Meadow International, I contacted my friends that own Artemis Equestrian Center, about an hour south of the show grounds, and got their buy-in to let me host a saddle fit clinic and test out my theory on saddles on some of their horses. Master saddle fitter Ann Mary Bettenson was able to join us, and share her knowledge on proper saddle fitting, and we invited some friends and decided to make an afternoon of it.
With three saddles in tow, we were all set for the clinic Thursday afternoon. We started out in the barn where Ann Mary let us compare saddle panels and construction, and the lovely Breezy, a western Quarter Horse that was new to the farm (she just arrived a few days before I did!) stood politely on the cross ties as we looked at different saddle fits and formations.
Next, it was time to ride. Fortunately, despite the heat, Artemis has a huge covered arena so we were able to test ride in some saddles and put the theory to practice. Air panels are supposed to never conform to any one horse, and be resilient to conform to all horses but are known to create bounce (and some horse just don’t like them). Foam panels are known as being good for people who ride multiple horses — like me, which is how I ended up with a foam saddle in the first place — because they never fully conform to just one horse and can mold to each horse for every ride. And wool panels offer the most custom fit, but may need some adjustments in flocking from time to time.
Breezy got to be my test subject, since we didn’t know each other, and she didn’t even really know English let alone have a saddle preference. We started with the air paneled saddle, and she was quite content to be-bop along. She didn’t understand my cue for canter, and we got the wrong lead, but I switched to what I remembered from some reining lessons years ago and she immediately responded, cantering on happily.
Then we put on the foam saddle. She was a little irritated while tacking up but I brushed it off due to the heat (it was in the 90s, even in the shade!) and the fact that she had patiently stood on cross ties while we tried different saddles and now was in the ring repeating the exercise, this time with a rider. Until I got on. Her walk was shorter, and her facial expressions were slightly tense. The trot was choppy and needed more encouragement than the first ride. Then when I asked for the canter, I got pinned ears, a tail swish, two to three strides of awful canter, and a stop. I asked again and she flat out said no. Not wanting to be bucked off the very nice, patient horse, I patted her and returned to the mounting block for saddle #3.
The wool saddle (the same County I’ve been dragging around for the past two weeks to hunter paces and so on) was the last to try. She was quiet to tack up, and under saddle her walk was similar to the first saddle. Her trot was forward and easy. And then her canter.
I asked for the canter and she elevated into the transition, moving forward with ears up. As we went around the ring, she actually started to reach for the bit, round her back some, and soften her jaw. For an untrained English horse (she was well-trained western), it was a huge acknowledgement to me that she was most comfortable in this saddle. Wow!
After the clinic, the rest of the weekend was spent at Great Meadow International enjoying the competition, mistaking Jessica Phoenix for Elisa Wallace — whoops, go me … hi, Jess! — laughing at Boyd zipping by on a scooter that was too small for him, and chatting with Clark Montgomery’s parents about summer camp in Texas. And then I headed home.
The only missing piece was Tyler, the horse that started it all, who I still hadn’t had that a-ha moment with due to ribs being out and him being sore after the chiropractic visit. So I hauled the County Solution out of the car and tacked him up on Tuesday to see what we’d get. The medium tree was still a hair too wide, so I opted for the Mattes pad with shims, and he didn’t try to kill me on the cross ties — that was an improvement!
Out in the ring he started sluggish as usual, but without spurs and just a strong leg, he started to relax at the walk. The trot was more forward than I’d gotten from him before and then we
cantered hand galloped. Guys, we hand galloped! Willingly, with ears up, and no threat to buck me off! We even did a few small jumps that included lead changes (that he offered) and ended with another hand gallop around the ring. This was the most forward this horse has ever been in all the times I’ve ridden him. Yay!
So here’s what I’ve learned about saddle fit:
- High quality wool is resilient and can be reflocked as needed (usually 1-2x a year) to accommodate multiple horses.
- Reflocking is more affordable than I thought — just $50 — $150 on average (can be $200-$300 for an entire wool change) and it’s done on site, so you’re never without your saddle!
- Air panels are OK for some horses on the flat, and while not ideal, not necessarily detrimental either.
- Foam can harden over time and cause back pain and saddle fit issues even when the saddle appears to fit properly from on the ground, without a rider.
- EVERY County rep is either fully trained or also certified by Master Saddlers Association to ensure that they’re not just about selling a saddle, but about the actual fit to you and your horse. That was super impressive to me.
- I actually need two different saddles to work for my horses. Thank goodness they finance!
And that’s how I changed from #teamfoam to #teamwool. Many thanks to Ann Mary for confirming that yes, I do indeed have a freakish leg and need that high forward flap, and to everyone that helped with my research along the way.
So what’s next, you ask? Time to test half pads, and see how they can help — or hinder — saddle fit for those times when your horse is between sizes, or you ride multiple horses and need a quick minor adjustment. Stay tuned as I’ll kick that off in the weeks ahead!
In case you’re new to the story, I’m dealing with a multitude of #saddefitissues and working to find a solution for myself and my horses. You can read the first two installments in the saddle fitting series here: Part 1 and Part 2.
After the saddle fitting, I realized a few very important things.
1. My horses all went somewhat to a lot better in the wool saddles than in my other saddles (air and foam).
2. Sky and Tyler both definitely need a chiropractic adjustment because Sky was willing to move forward finally, but still stiff. And Tyler still never had that a-ha moment with saddle fit, so we were back to the drawing board.
3. Even Duke was more responsive in the wool saddle, so I wanted to see how it would actually feel to ride in it for a hunter pace, galloping through fields and over varying terrain and jumps.
Thanks to Allison and the entire County Saddlery team, I had two saddles to use for the time being, and a third on the way. A narrow tree County Solution to use on Sky (and perhaps Tyler), and a medium tree County Solution for use on Duke and Max, and then my favorite, the medium tree County Solution in the H/J flatter seat. All were forward flaps that hopefully would fit my leg, even in the hunt field. But before I did any more riding, a chiropractic visit was in order.
Based on the recommendations of quite a few friends, I called Dr. Lean Van Blarcom, a certified equine, canine and even human chiropractor that would do a full analysis on my horses. We scheduled an appointment for the following day and focused on Sky and Tyler, my two biggest issues.
She started by looking at saddle fit on Sky on the cross ties, and felt the narrow was likely a better fit than the medium, which was in line with what Allison had said. So we tacked up with the narrow County Solution and we headed out to the ring. We did a little bit of walk, trot, canter, but she immediately pointed out that Sky was weaker in his right hind leg, stiff in left hip, and that basically his entire pelvis and lower back was locked up.
I hopped off, and we headed back to the barn to untack and work on the adjustment. She started with his poll and worked her way along his body down to the tip of his tail. The entire process with Sky took about an hour, as she was incredibly thorough. By the time she was done, she had us walk on the lead, and the difference was tremendous!
Next, we moved on to Tyler. Dr. Leah immediately felt that the narrow saddle was a big no and too tight on his shoulders, and suggested we try the medium. In putting that saddle on, he nearly bit me and was quite agitated, so we went back to the narrow. That also got the same results as soon as I tried to cinch up the girth, which was frustrating because I had just ridden him the other day for Allison.
Off with the saddle, and Dr. Leah started to work on him to see if there was something else going on. Sure enough, he had ribs out towards the top/front that explained why it didn’t matter what was on his back — he was flat out in pain. She went on to adjust him and instead of watching him move under saddle, we just did a few walks on the lead to check in on the changes. After she was done, he was better, but still sore and she cautioned me that ribs can be sore for several days after so he may just need some time.
We agreed that riding right now probably wasn’t the best idea, and Tyler was relieved to go back out with his friends. Still no answer on what saddle works best for him, but Dr. Leah was leaning towards the medium tree or perhaps a medium-narrow (the one size we didn’t try with Allison) and suggested I revisit in several days to a week once he was less sore.
So that was all interesting — a week of rest of Tyler and still no clear answers on saddle fit, and a major adjustment for Sky and back to work in a few days. Now, on to the hunter pace!
It was the last hunter pace of the season, and Duke was a rock star. The day was clear and sunny, and we met up with our friends to ride out together. We covered just under nine miles in northern New Jersey/Orange County, New York that day in the open hunt division with quite a few jumps, and Duke felt better than ever.
Interestingly, about two miles in as we started to really get into our groove and gallop some fences and fields, I realized my usual stirrup length was far too long. The trial saddle fit my horse so much better that I felt even more wrapped around him than in the past, which also meant my “regular” stirrup length felt too long. Cool!
I checked and he still had plenty of wither clearance, so I upped my stirrups by two holes, and I had better saddle clearance than ever before. YAY! Only now my leg was off the front of the saddle … not so yay. Well, we went for it anyway and finished out the pace, expecting to be fully sore from the stirrup length change. The results were that not only were my legs not sore because the stirrup length was where it should have been all along, but that it confirmed I really did need a high forward flap. Thank you, awkward leg.
So still no answer on Tyler, and now to search for options that would work for me. On to the next phase … the #sisterhoodofthetravelingsaddles as the #saddlefitsaga continues! Next I’m heading down to visit friends in Virginia on my way to the Great Meadow International and Nations Cup with all three saddles in tow: the French foam saddle, the air panel saddle and one of the County Solutions — a medium tree forward flap H/J model.
I’ll be riding several friends’ horses that I’ve never ridden before to see how they all react and will follow up with you guys soon. And then hopefully when I am back, I can get in one final fitting with Allison to see what saddle really works best for Tyler after his short R&R break. Stay tuned for more!
After a mountain of research, and a lot of issues with my horses (you can read the backstory here), saddle fitting day was upon us. My local County Saddlery representative, Allison Meyer, made the trek out over 2 hours north from where she lives to the far boondocks in the northern tip of New Jersey where my farm is located. My friend Kristen, an amateur Novice rider, was nice enough to ride with me to act as a second opinion to see if there was really a difference in the saddle, regardless of rider.
The challenge that had always been presented to me in the past was that wool would conform to ONE horse and therefore if you wanted to use one saddle on multiple horses, you needed to get a tree to fit the widest horse on a foam panel saddle that wouldn’t conform the way wool would, while still offering shock absorption to protect their backs.
However, the issues I were having is that my very lovely French saddle with foam panels wasn’t working for any of my horses, and I was really at a loss for what to do. Sure, it fit me well, but at best, my horses moved okay in it. At worst, my harder to fit and more sensitive horses were resistant to working at all.
Tyler, my former FEI international show jumper/eventer was a prime example. He moved beautifully on the lunge, but even with spurs and a crop, would barely be willing to trot under saddle. Having a saddle that worked for no one wasn’t any good, so I decided to revisit wool flocked saddles, and here we were.
And what a challenge it was!
Starting right at 9:30 a.m., we started in the barn with back tracings and then tacked up two at a time and headed up to the ring. First up were Tyler and Duke. Tyler is the Selle Francais who had started this challenge, and Duke is my Clydesdale/Thoroughbred cross who frequently hunter paces, sometimes fox hunts, events and even dabbles in hunters as time permits.
Tyler was hard to pin down. We started in the foam-panel saddle and he was reluctant to move forward, despite a brief lunge session before getting on where he demonstrated his lovely gaits with lots of enthusiasm We then went to wool saddles. A narrow tree was too narrow. A medium tree was too wide. We didn’t have a medium-narrow that fit right.
He preferred the Solution tree for his wider shoulders while still allowing wither clearance to the Innovation tree, which is a little more flared at the ends, and he found that one uncomfortable. He went better than the French saddle which we started in, and each time we got a little closer, but nothing was a real a-ha! moment. The closest we got was the medium tree Solution that he kept offering to canter rather than trot in, but something still seemed a bit off. Better, but not amazed. Made a note of it and moved on.
Duke felt different immediately to both me and Kristen (she’s ridden him before as well), and he was more sensitive and willing to move forward in the Solution tree than the Innovation. He never really cared for the air panels as he’s a big mover, so we skipped that on him and just looked at the other options. That made sense as he’s somewhat high withered, but being part draft, also wide shouldered.
We swapped a few saddles and both Kristen and I took turns and agreed he went best in the Solution 17.5” H/J Soft Seat — not only was he even more responsive than ever through the back to my queues than in my foam saddle, he was less stuck to my leg over fences like he can usually get. I didn’t expect much of a change here, as he’s not that sensitive and of all my horses, I thought my old saddle fit him best, but it was a noticeable difference! Score 1 for #teamwool.
Max and Sky were next up. Max is my 7-yer-old Oldenburg gelding who’s a bit wiggly and lazy, and Sky is my uber sensitive OTTB who aspires to rival Laura Grave’s horse, Verdades, in extreme sensitivity to anything and everything possible. (Sky’s been on Prozac. He’s that neurotic. Really.)
Max started in the foam saddle, like normal. Pokey but happy to work. Needing a little crop, but he walked, trotted and cantered easily. We then went to Kristen’s favorite County Innovation, and he immediately moved off her leg into the canter — much to her surprise! No crop necessary. She then tried him in the County Solution and got even more forward (prepared with a proper half halt this time). I hopped on in the Solution, and not only was he more forward than usual, he was also less wiggly. Interesting. Score 2 for #teamwool.
And then there was Sky … because of his sensitive nature, I was the only one to ride him. Two and a half years prior, he damaged both hind suspensories in a pasture accident, and he’s since returned to hunter pacing sound and strong but I’ve been unsuccessful in getting him sound in the ring. Multiple veterinarian opinions, ultrasounds, and all sorts of tests, and nothing showed other than it was all in his head (as far as we could tell).
I got on, and got our usual, choppy trot, as expected. I warned Allison that this may be an exercise in futility as he’s just special. Tried the County Solution since we knew he was high withered, but very broad shouldered and we knew that tree would likely be better than the Innovation since he’d be sensitive to the flared ends and tree shape of the latter. First tried a medium tree with a Mattes pad and we went forward! However, we also bucked every single stride in a circle twice around the ring … still, progress in that he hasn’t bucked in the ring in two years so this was more “enthusiasm” than I’d see in a long time.
Switched to a County Solution narrow tree and DING DING DING! We have a winner! I was speechless (and that’s rare!). Kristen was floored and said he looked like “the old Sky, the way he used to move before he was injured.” Allison smiled.
Sky dropped his head and stretched, we trotted and cantered in our long-forgotten soft stretchy stride that had recently only been reserved for forward gallops in the hunt field. Gone was the short, choppy, uncomfortable mover.
Well I’ll be … turns out it wasn’t his suspensories (or anticipation of re-injuring them) that caused the choppy gait in the ring after all. It was my saddle. Apparently the adrenaline out in the hunt field was enough to have him focus on the jumps at hand and ignore the back pain and just keep going, jumping beautifully and always just needing a chiropractor after every hunter pace. I now definitely had a much happier horse, and a much better fitting saddle — and all this without the flocking adjusted to him.
And the final kicker was after all of this, we trekked to Kristen’s barn and repeated the exercise on her young Oldenburg. Check out the videos below of her and her horse, first in her French foam panel saddle, then in a wool flocked saddle (he did best in the County Innovation narrow tree), and we even had her trainer Brian hop on (sorry Brian was too tall and we didn’t have a saddle that fit him correctly, but it fit the horse) with even better results. Just WOW!
A huge thanks to Kristen and her trainer, Brian, in being our video subjects so that we could get multiple views with a novice amateur rider as well as her trainer on a green developing horse.
We didn’t finish until 7:30 p.m., it was a really long day, but we learned a ton. It turned out that one saddle wouldn’t work for my crew. But two saddles likely would, in the two different tree sizes my guys needed. With twice yearly flocking adjustments, which were far less than I thought ($100 to $200 on average), I could have horses that moved better and were happier, and not need a custom saddle for every single horse.
Allison and the County Saddlery team were nice enough to leave me with 2 saddles to continue to ride in and even test out on a hunter pace, and we focused next on figuring out what would fit my leg — I may need a high forward flap because I am just *that* awkward in the femur — and what Tyler really needed. But more updates on that coming soon, including what the chiropractor had to say about the saddle fit and my boys …