December 31, 2013

2013: A Look Back

It is New Year's Eve and I hope everyone out there had a great Christmas and that your goals for 2013 have been met.

I didn't have many goals in 2013 for Gem and what little I had kinda went to the crapper pretty quickly, but in the spirit of the last day of 2013 lets have a little recap.

January: Little Mr. W was in our life and it was bitterly cold up north in the near arctic land they call Wisconsin (speaking of which it is supposed to be -43F there tomorrow morning at 8 am for our friends running races to kick off 2014, so glad we moved). Gem had the month basically off and used it to get plump.

February: More of the same as Jan, but I was also out of town on job interviews a lot of this month. Landed a job down here in the land of the sun and warmth and then sent the hubs to find one of his own. Rode Gemmie about once every other week.

March: Cold and wet continued, but I managed to ride Gemmie more often = once a week. At least it was staying light a little longer.

April: Turned 31 (where does the time go??) and continued as in March. Gem continued to get plumper and the weather stayed cold.

May: Finally found a house to rent and a barn for the horses (Crabby Acres) and life settled back down a bit. Was getting out to ride at least weekly but some weeks I even sneaked in a second day. She began to get grumpy with the Ovation fleece girth and I began to search around for others to try.

June:  Passed the oral board exam for my license down here in the South. Preparations to move 3 cats, 2 dogs, 2 horses, 2 adults, 1 baby and 3 cars were in full swing. Wanted to get out to our favorite trails one last time, but that never happened. Instead tried a solo trip to the experimental forest which was a disaster and then got out once with the hubs for a short time. Ordered the delfina anatomic girth which arrived right before we moved. Moved down south and got settled in before the month ended. Never reached above 60F the entire time we were up north.

July: Decided I wanted to start hitting the hunter paces down here and try endurance once more. The people down here are so ridiculously friendly it makes me want to join again. Thought through things and decided to ride Gemmie 1 hour 3 times a week. It was hot. And humid. And she was sweaty before we even began. Decided to do 2 30 minute rides and 1 60 minute ride a week. Succeeded mostly with this.

August: Continued trying to ride Gemmie in the evenings as much as I could and got some decent rides in. Rode around the property with Gem building confidence and working on some hills. Had fun but kept getting talked to at the barn for things I was doing wrong that I didn't know was wrong. Planned to hit the first pace of the season in September.

September: First hunter pace was cancelled due to wet conditions which was fine because I wasn't able to go anyway. Missed the second one as well. Things at Crabby Acres kept getting worse. The hubs and I hit Butch Kennedy and Isaqueena trail systems for the first time and had fun. Its great that they are within a half hour. By the end of the month we had the new farrier out who was ok and we reached our limits with Crabby Acres. We moved to FS Farms at the end of the month.

October: Got settled in at FS Farms and have loved it ever since. Went to our first hunter pace in Landrum and fell in love both with Landrum and with the hunter pace series. We came in 4th although my ribbon has yet to materialize. Gem and Pete ere fire breathing monsters and so we cut their grain back significantly. Finally decided that this saddle just isn't going to work and tried the RP which went really poorly. Also tried a new girth - the County Logic girth which was also disappointing. Went back to the drawing board again. At the end of the month I began riding Gemmie up at Butch Kennedy solo.

November: Our second pace which was great fun and we came in 4th again. This time my ribbon came in the mail :) Gem ended up with incredible raw spots even with a fleece girth cover and I called it quits with this set up. Continued with solo trips to Butch Kennedy to try to get some conditioning in, but she continued to have saddle issues and was slow, slow, slow. Tried a mohair girth which was too small and couldn't be returned. More wasted money.

December: Hunter paces got cancelled due to wet conditions which was fine because I called a hiatus until tack could be figured out. Researched saddle options that I hadn't tried before and found the Advantage saddle. Got it on demo and fell in love with the fit. Weather has been very wet and the trails sloppy, but riding as much as possible to try out the saddle.

Well, that takes us to the present. Tomorrow is 2014 and I have some hopes and dreams to put on paper and only time will tell what I will be writing this time next year!!! See you all in 2014 :)

December 28, 2013

Demo Saddle Trial #2

My favorite saddle pad and no fenders, just the leathers. EZ Ride stirrups

Tuesday I was off all day and the hubs got home around 12 so we headed to the trails to test this saddle out on the hills.

Gem was a stinker about getting on the trailer, but eventually she was loaded and off we went to Butch Kennedy. I knew it was going to be wet out since it rained the previous two days without a lot of sun in the meantime to help dry, but I didn't care if we walked the whole thing. I wanted an hour on the hills in the saddle.

I decided to give my old favorite trail pad a try and it was a little short, but not too bad. This pad is thinner than the one K sent me with the saddle. I kept the fenders off and lengthened my stirrups one more hole. Mohair cinch was used.

We headed down the hill to the trail head and I noticed the saddle was very loose, so I got off and tightened it. We continued down the hill and I noticed that I forgot to trade my warm winter beanie hat for my helmet. Turned around, went up the hill again, got off, put on helmet and started back down. By this time the hubs, W and the dogs were out of sight down their own trail enjoying the hike.

Back down we went, over the bridge of doom and into the woods. The ground was very slick. This clay soil doesn't absorb water very well and there was about an inch of standing water randomly on the trail. We picked our way carefully down the trail.

The first big down hill Gem started to slowly pick her way down. I kept my eyes glued to the front on the saddle watching for signs of it moving forward. About half way down Gem stopped in her tracks and turned around to look at me. I swear she was looking a little confusing wondering why the saddle wasn't hurting her. She then continued down.

The second hill was a similar situation, but the third hill she moved down straight without zigzagging and with her ears forward :) I was thrilled. The saddle stayed put exactly where I had placed it too. Not even a tiny shift forward!!

We went on down the trail and trotted a little where we could which wasn't much. The clay is sooo slick when it is saturated. I didn't want to risk her slipping and getting hurt. About 40 minutes later we turned around and headed back to the trailer. She hates turning around and I promised her that someday we will come out alone in the morning and ride the entire loop even if it takes us 6 hours to do it.

I stared at the front edge of that saddle expecting it to slide forward on every hill and it just stayed put. Actually, when we went up a steep hill it slid back a bit. I was shocked. No saddle has ever slid back before. I don't ride with a breast collar because all my saddle have ridden forward and the breast collar would end up loose, but I think I may add it to this rig.

We trotted more on the way back since I knew where the dry spots were and how long they would last. I dislike asking her to trot just to pull her back up a second later due to the trail. We made it back and I snapped some after shots which the above picture is. It didn't move forward at all.

She sure looks sharp in it, doesn't she?

Left sholder

Right shoulder
I paid attention to my comfort as well. No sense getting a saddle I can't ride in because I am in pain after 15 minutes. The saddle is much too large for me and that places my legs too far forward and into a chair seat which I fought the entire ride. After an hour in the saddle my thighs were a bit sore - partly because I've taken so much time off hard rides lately and partly because the saddle is wider than my English one. I was more comfortable with the longer stirrup length and my knee didn't rub on the cinch ring. I think the smaller seat size will help avoid it as well. I'm still up in the air on if I want to go with a bronze lower profile cinch ring or a buckle.

In the past, an hour of walking would make my left knee ache something fierce. I was surprised to find that this wasn't the case. I think the longer leg and the nice wide stirrups played a part in that. I want to get out in the arena again with a lot more trotting and cantering to see if it bothers me then.

I've been spoiled with my current English saddle. The seat is the most comfortable seat I've ever sat on and this one is not so cushioned. I can order one with more foam in the seat, but I think I will just get a full sheepskin cover instead. that way my butt will be very happy.

After an hour in my current saddle, she would have had raw spot by the girth. Nothing here. This is in part the beautiful mohair cinch, but I think more to do with the western rigging. The buckle is so high up that it is nowhere near her elbows which was my problem with the English rigging.

I sent off these new pictures and my trail ride report to K and got another quick response. She truly is amazing.

I have 1 week left on the trail period. She said as long as nobody else wants to demo saddle I can keep it longer. That's another first for me. Most people are screaming for the saddle back before the trial has even ended. Have I mentioned that she is amazing??

So....I'm very, very happy with everything with this saddle. From the customer service to the fit on Gem to the fit on me. Everything. There are some minor changes from the demo that will be made: a steeper shoulder angle, smaller seat size, something with the cinch ring and the full sheepskin cover. I am now trying to figure out the logistics of placing an order.

She required $600 up front to start making the saddle. I can come up with that, but the problem is obviously the remainder is due upon receipt of the saddle. I don't have the remainder and won't until mine is sold. takes 6-8 weeks for it to be made. I don't want to wait until my saddle is sold to place the order because that's 6-8 weeks out of the saddle and Gem will lose any of the conditioning I have put on her and my hope for a 50 in the fall will be smashed. If I order it now and put mine up for sale and it sells before than everything is hunky dory, but things never go that smooth. Hmmmm.....well I know for sure I need to clean it one last time, get some nice pictures and figure out how I am going to sell it.

December 24, 2013

Advantage Response

Man, I am really liking K over at Advantage. She is amazing. Very quick to reply with an answer that shows that she not only read my entire, lengthy email but has put some thought into what I said.

I emailed her Saturday night with my overall impression, some concerns and about 15 pictures. She responded that same night with her first impressions.

She agrees that the saddle overall fits well, but the shoulder angle should be a little steeper to decrease the pinching in the d-ring area. Since Gem moved out great without complaints, the pinching isn't too big of a problem, but if we can resolve it easily, why not?

The ruffled hair was apparently expected from her due to the loin lift that is present in the demo and that Gem doesn't need. When Gem moves her back becomes flat like a table and the rock in the saddle will cause it to move. This is why every other saddle I've tried on her always causes this same ruffled fur in the same spot. Thank you K for finally explaining the cause to me!! The saddle I will order will be flat through the seat to prevent this.

We discussed potentially switching to a narrow tree instead of the medium. It tilts down in the front slightly when I cinch it up. But it overall fits so well the concern is that we would cause more of a problem. The little tilt can be fixed with a proper pad and adding a shim to the smaller left shoulder. When I originally emailed her to begin this process I mentioned my concern over spending a lot of money on a saddle to fit Gem who is now 17 and then having to sell it once Gem is officially happily retired. She remembered this and said that to keep a medium and add a pad is better in the long run since the medium fits 80% of horses out there. This way I have the best chance of keeping the saddle for a new horse once I come to that point in my riding life. I like the fact that she remembered that.

So it seems like the problems on Gem's end are easily resolved with a few minor changes which is what I was thinking the case would be. Yay!

My problems are more difficult. I will definitely be ordering a 15" saddle and I wanted a full sheepskin cover anyway which will make it fit more snugly as well. She was not surprised that it was too big and apologized but the only demo she had was a 16". That will help my leg position since my whole body will be in better position overall. In addition a pad that lifts the front slightly will prevent the feeling like I am tipping forward. Good.

The cinch ring is a whole other ball of wax. She mentioned the possibility of using bronze because it is thinner without any edges, but I don't think that will make much of a difference. She also mentioned a buckle instead of a ring which sounds like a better option. She is a little concerned that with my short stature I may not find any combination in the western style all that comfortable. She has an English style as well and has had to use that for shorter people in the past. In fact she said she can really do almost anything that I need and all at no extra charge! We can play around with the seat and the flaps as mush as we need which is just plain awesome.

So.....trial so far has been a wonderful success. I am so very happy. I need to clean my WISE saddle and get some good pictures to put that sucker up for sale so I can get ordering my new one!!!!!! :)

December 23, 2013

Advantage Saddle Trial Day 1

First let me say that I think....think....I may have finally found something that works. I am so thrilled I can hardly contain myself!!! Poor K over at Advantage saddles keeps having to deal with my massively long emails, poor descriptions of what I am thinking, and multiple exclamation marks and smiley faces. I sure hope she has a wonderful Christmas, she deserves it after dealing with me.

I came home Friday to a nice large box on my porch. I was excited to tear into it. I opened it up and my first impression were:

1.) The saddle was much lighter than I expected
2.) The leather was of nice quality and was smooth and soft
3.) Even with all the wear and tear a well used demo saddle gets, this one was still in very nice condition

With the saddle was a nice pad with a non slip underside, a mohair cinch, western fenders, EZ ride stirrups (which was great because they are on my "want list" and I have never had a chance to try them out before), and shocking of all a return shipping label. I have never, through all my demos in which I said I would be returning them , ever received a return shipping label with the saddle. I was impressed.

It being dark out I wanted to wait until the next day to try it out. The hubs worked in the morning and we headed over to the barn after W got up from his nap. I knew there wouldn't be time to hit the trails in it, but it was smarter anyway to try it out in the arena just in case she started a bucking fit like in the RP saddle I tried last.

Gem ran like a mad woman all over the pasture when I showed up. To the point she was heaving and lathered in sweat. Silly mare. I think she has been looking for an excuse to move those legs while on her mini vacation the last 2 weeks. She eventually calmed down and came trotting over to me.

I tried the saddle on her without the pad first to see the fit. It actually fit pretty darn well. The loin area has lift built into it for a more swayed horse and K warned me that it would lift off her back a bit. She said it wouldn't mess up the overall fit or ride though so when I put it on her and cinched it up and the back raised up about 2 fingers width I wasn't overly concerned. I tucked the leading edge of the saddle right behind her shoulders and hoped with everything in me that when I cinched it up it would stay. I snapped a ton of pictures, but most are blurry. I am not very good with my cell phone.

Isn't it pretty? Fits her pretty well.

Left shoulder (her smaller one)

Back pre cinched up
Right (larger) shoulder
 I ran my hand between the saddle and her body and it was pretty smooth. There was one area on either side of her wither pretty much right at the d-ring you can see in the upper right picture that was a little tight. Not super, pinching, painful tight, but tight enough that I made a note of it.

Next came the pad and then I cinched it up. I was really nervous as I tightened the cinch. First, I had to remember how to tie a western cinch knot, but that came back to me like riding a bike. I watched closely to see fi the saddle would pull forward, but it stayed put. Test #1: passed.

With pad and cinched up tight. Still in a good spot

Look how far forward the girth can be!! Any farther and it would
be in front of the entire saddle!

When I cinched it up the back tilted up.

All cinched up. Look how her girth is in her armpit, but the saddle
stayed behind her shoulder :)

I led her out to the arena and watched carefully to see if she would react at all. Nothing. I called the hubs over to watch so he could see if she was moving weird in it.

I got on up and we went off at a walk. She hates the arena. Have I mentioned that? There are pigs out by the entrance and she has seen them before but for some reason she decided she hadn't ever seen them and that they were very scary. So were the barrels in the corner that have been there since we moved in. And the hubby in the center of the arena. And the gate on the opposite side leading out. Sigh. Anyway. It was a good test to see how secure I was in the saddle. While the fit for Gem is of utmost importance, if I am going to fall off at the slightest movement or am really uncomfortable it still would be a no so I paid attention to me as well.

First thing I noticed was that the saddle was ginormously too big for me. If I sat back in the leather padded seat, my legs were way out in front and I was shoved into a chair seat which was neither comfortable nor secure. If I slid up so that my legs hung below my hips, I was sitting on the hard middle leather and was not comfortable. I made a note of that. We walked a lot and she settled in and I got more comfortable with everything. The fenders were on the shortest hole and were still too long, so before I trotted I got off and switched them out for my English leathers.

I immediately realized that my stirrups were set to jockey riding length in this saddle and so after much fussing about I finally got a decent length although they were still a bit short. We trotted some and she went along with ears pricked forward and never a care.

I looked down and noticed that the saddle had not moved at all. It was still nicely tucked behind her shoulders. I then asked her for a canter which is the gait that always made every saddle in the past shoot forward over her shoulders. We cantered right, we cantered left, we spooked, we made tight turns. I looked down. The saddle was still firmly behind her shoulders where I had put it!!!!! This is the first saddle to EVER stay put. Test # 2: passed.

I then noticed that my tiny regular English stirrups were cutting into my foot pretty badly. I had not noticed this ever before since it was all I knew, but I had spent the first half of the ride in the EZ stirrups that have a huge wide foot bed. Once out of them I noticed the difference, big time. So I got back off, lengthened the stirrups one more hole and changed out for the EZs. I got back on and we rode for another 30 minutes or so, mostly cantering.

Once I was satisfied that I had been on her long enough to break a sweat (it was 65 and humid out) I got off and we went back to the barn to untack and see the damage. I had been on her for an hour. This was long enough in the past to cause bloody, raw girth rubs so I was anxious to see how she fared.

I lifted the saddle straight off her back and saw this:

Supper roughed up hair by the withers, left shoulder

Left shoulder

Hmmmm....I made a note of that. The interesting part was no sweat. At all. Her chest was white with lather. He butt was lathered. But not a single drop under the saddle. I was not too happy with the roughed up hair though. I pushed everywhere on her back and she was not sore at all. She had moved out nicely without any complaint whatsoever and the saddle stayed behind her shoulders. Yay!
So....overall impressions from my first ride:
1.) Saddle is way too big for me. It is a 16" and I am hoping a 15" would be small enough. I also would like to add a full seat sheepskin cover which ends up taking up more space as well.
2.) I didn't like the fenders at all. Once reason I had switched from western to English in the first place. I like my leg on my horse, not on leather. With the fenders off and just using leathers it was great. Super close contact feel.
3.) I need to relearn how to ride with a longer leg. I ride with such short stirrups in my english saddle and I never realize it. It was always comfortable. A lot of endurance riders ride with a longer leg position and I think I need to spend time getting used to that.
4.) The girth rigging is amazing. It was so far forward and allowed the girth to sit where it wanted to without moving the saddle. I am so pleased with it. the downside is that the ring on the rigging that slides to let the girth sit where it wants to is now put directly under my knee. It rubbed after only 20 minutes and became sore after an hour. No way it would work for endurance.
5.) Gem moved great in it. No complaints. No fits. Nothing. She wasn't sore anywhere. Oh, and no girth marks at all. The rigging allowed the buckles of the girth to be up higher and away from her elbows. It was great!
6.) I don't like the messed up hair at the front.
I shot off an email to K Saturday night and received a quick reply. Quick as in timely, not as in short and useless. The woman is amazing.
I will fill you in on her ideas tomorrow. I plan to try to hit the trails in it on Tuesday afternoon after the hubs gets off work and see how it fairs on the hills. 

December 17, 2013

The Rider You Deserve

If it is true that I now have the horse I deserve (see yesterday's post) I think it is also true in a way that Gem has the rider she deserves. I know, I know...I should ride every horse perfectly no matter what is going on, but I am not a professional rider or even a nearly professional amateur rider or even a well trained rider. So I do what I can.

When I first got my Gemmiecakes I was still pretty much a solid passenger. Oh I could steer and what not, but in general my alpha pushy mare figured she could call the shots and get away with it. And in the beginning she could. And did so very often. But as time passed and I grew a set I started to toy with the idea that maybe, just maybe, she could go where, when and how I wanted. Along the way I have learned a ton from her.

What type of rider has she made?

Well, for starters a very attentive one. She pays attention to me. If she feels even for the slightest moment that I am not paying 100% attention to her, she makes sure I begin to. Usually by ducking down and over and depositing me on my feet next to where she had been. The smug look on her face lets me know it was 100% pre-conceived and thought out to prove a point: pay attention or I don't deserve to be on her. So, I do. During the entire ride I am checking and rechecking my status, her status, our trail etc... My legs are solidly on her sides letting her know I am there and ready for anything she sends my way. It does get a little tiring to be so on guard all the time. I can't imagine doing it for an entire 50 miles/10+ hours. I hope my brain doesn't burn out!

Along that same line she has made me a very defensive one. When I first began to jump her (over little 1-2 ft cross rails and verticles) she was a runner. She would get very close to the base of the jump, decide she had no interest in going over it, and run out the side. When I was just learning my own seat and technique, this usually resulted in amusing gymnastics on my part as I tried to stay on her on not go flying over her side. When that failed to work she would try the dirty stop: get as close as possible to the jump, act like she was going to go over and then slam on the brakes. Again, this resulted in either me making it to the other side of the jump sans horse or clinging to her neck. Over time, I have learned how to get her over jumps without these antics and now we can do a small course just fine. has taught me to be very defensive. I tend to stay behind her motion a bit anticipating her not going over the jump. I am also very defensive on the trail. Her past spooky behavior (oh look! a shadow! lets turn around and run away!) has made me very aware of everything on the trail and when we get to something new or that caused a bad reaction in the recent past I get tense and prepare for a spook. If I rode a horse that actually did jump anything put in front of him (like Pete) I would probably annoy the crap out of him with my defensive attitude.

But she has also made me a have a much, much more solid base of support. My legs now wrap around her sides instead of dropping off my waist uselessley as this did before. I can jump without seeing my life flash before me. If she runs out, dirty stops, turns 180 degrees and runs on trail, I am ready and able (for the most part :) to stay with her annd move with her. We are much more a team now instead of two individuals.

She has made me become a braver rider. I do not claim to be brave in general, but through everything I've been through on her my confidence has soared. I am now riding solo without pictures of being flung, trampled and left alone running through my head. I can work her int he arena without just running amok, but in a more orderly way.

I am also more thoughtful when I ride which is the biggest difference she has shown me of all. Instead of just going with the flow, I now plan well ahead of time. "We are going to go to the first fence, turn right, stop, walk a little, then trot again" Or on trail "We will trot to the top of the next hill, then I will get off and run down the other side and get back on to trot the flat section". I plan because if I don't she will take advantage of it. I can't just go around the arena willy nilly or we will end up in the center doing nothing much at all. If I have a definitive plan I will make her do it and not get away with her little tricks. And believe me, she can tell the difference when I'm just hanging out on her versus having a plan.

And last, but not least, she has taught me patience. With Gem, no amount of yelling, getting angry or being forceful will work. She justs gets more tense and then holds a grudge for a long time about it. I can't honestly remember the last time I raised my voice at all with her. If she does something bad, I ignore it and continue on doing what I had wanted to do. If she spooks, I ignore it like it didn't happen or I laugh and pat her and we move on. You can't tell Gem to do anything. You have to ask. And when she answers with a "no" you have to go about it in a different way.

So thank Gem for training me as much as I have trained you. We are in this together and after 4 years we deserve each other. I hope for many, many, many more adventures with her in the future. :)

December 16, 2013

The Horse You Deserve

First to clean up some loose ends:
  1. Hubby did great on his race. 54 grueling, icy, cold and rainy hilly miles in 12 1/2 hours! Way to go!
  2. My demo saddle ships today!!!! Can't wait to get it and try it out :)
  3. The hunter pace was post poned on Sunday, so I didn't miss it. I doubt I will have things sorted out for the 2 in Jan, but you never know. We may make them yet.

I read somewhere recently that after two years of owning a horse you have the horse you deserve.

This is a very interesting thought. I will have had Gemmie for 4 years as of Jan 1st (I bought her right before Christmas, but she came to me on News Years) so if this is true then everything she does now has long since been on my head. I understand where the saying is coming from. For example: Gem does not stand still when I get on her. She immediately starts walking away. Why? Because I have never asked her to stand still. I don't mind it enough to put forth the effort to teach her that she needs to stand still. So, yes that ones on me. Or on the good side: Gem loves her ears being scratched (the inside of her ears to be specific). She wouldn't let me get near her ears when I first got her, but now she lowers her head, tilts it to the side and makes the cutest face and grunts while I give her ear a rub. I taught her that. Go me.

But is everything that she does my doing? I'm not a trainer (as if you didn't surmise that for yourself over the last 100 posts) and everything we have been through has been learning on the fly. She is a smart cookie, if a bit opinionated. If I was a trainer or had been working with one, I am sure she could do all sorts of things she can't do right now. If I had the know how and the gumption, I'm sure she could be doing flying lead changes, allowing me to open a gate from on her, jumping 3ft, doing dressage etc... So, from that point of view yes I do have the horse I deserve. Having not spent any time teaching her any of those things, she doesn't do them.

But...Gem has her own brain. Her own opinions and her own baggage. Am I responsible for that too? She is a slow poke solo on trails. Is that my doing? I keep pushing her to trot and maybe if I was more forceful she would be crusing at a gallop by now. But I have learned one thing form her (well, many things, but this one applies here)...Gem requires patience. If she doesn't want to do something because she is unsure of it (not because she is being lazy or stubborn, thats different and I have learned to tell the difference) and I push her and get after her, she will shut down and its game off. If I tell her she is doing really well and allow her to take a few moments to figure it out, she will do it of her own accord, be proud of herself and the next time we come across the situation it will be easier. So I ask for the trot and tell her she is good when she responds and we trot along. I've been working really hard with her solo on trails lately and it is paying off big time. Maybe I should have done this 4 years ago, but I seriously doubt I could have with the horse she was 4 years ago. She is a totally different animal today.

I think in the end I do agree that some things are my doing. Like the fact that she doesn't lunge in correct form, but instead runs around with her back hollow and looking toward the outside of the circle instead of being bent toward the center like she is supposed to. I don't have the foggiest how to make her do it, so when we do lunge (which is a rare event) she continues to do it the wrong way. Or how she has started to really enjoy exploring the woods with me solo. Those are my doing, for good or for bad.

But there are things inherent to Gem that make her Gem and those are all on her. She has a brain and she uses it, for good or bad. Maybe it is my fault for allowing her to do so, but even at her worst I would never wish for her to be a perfect "robot" horse that does everything I say without a thought. She has taught me probably a lot more than I have taught her. In fact, the saying should be "After 2 years you have the rider you deserve" for Gem.

December 14, 2013

Good Luck Hubbybear!!!

First, good luck to my hubby. He is off today to run 54 miles up a mountain (well, half of it is up a mountain the other is back down) in a chilly 40 degrees and rain. Ick. But he has been training and looking forward to this race, so no weather is likely to keep him from making it. I think maybe a tornado or hurricaine would, but only maybe.

Second, I am waiting for a demo saddle to arrive. The fit won't be perfect. She has sold most of her demos or maybe she just never really has many, but she is sending me the one that is closest to what Gem would need. Thats one big con to this operation. Since there are so many choices and the saddles are built to order she doesn't have a great selection for demo purposes. I'm not sure but I think this is a one woman company fo the most part and keeping a bunch of demos around isn't possible. She wants Gem to try her medium tree and only has 1 medium demo to try. I'm more than  alittle nervous about that. She did say that this saddle has more lift to the loin and it may cause it to sit up off her back in the back. I've had that issue before with western saddles. But she insists it won't be because the width is too wide in front (if it is too wide in front it will tilt down up front thus lifint the back) but because this saddle was made with lift in the back. She has assured me that it won't mess up the overall fit to her shoulder, back and girth resting place. We will see.

I was amazed that she said Medium. Gem has always been a wide. Her Wintec was a medium wide and became too narrow. But...again she assured me not to be concerned. She has completely made up her own tree sizes. Meaning her narrow, medium and wide have no correlation what so ever to any other saddle. Why? Because she started out just doing custom saddles for each horse. You bought custom or you didn't buy. Over time she started to look at the molds and the trees she was making and was able to group them into 3 distinct piles. These she named narrow, medium and wide based on what she saw, but you can't compare them to any other saddle. This medium may end up wider or narrow or the same as my current wide.

So, we will see. In the meantime I am sitting on the sidelines for a bit. There is another pace this Sunday, but we won't be going. She has a big old spot on her right armpit from the girth rubbing and it has healed since I stopped riding a week ago. I want to keep it that way. Lets hope this saddle arrives in a hurry or I just might go insane without riding!

December 13, 2013

Dare I Hope? Part 3

Why am I so excited? You would think that after so many trials that have gone bad that I wouldn't get so excited to try something new. But when the something new is very different than the something old, it gets me excited. Have I said the word "excited" enough in this paragraph?

So, other than great customer service (which goes a super long way with me), what are the reasons? So very many. My thoughts are quite jumbled, so bare with me if this gets a little sloppy.

1.) Not only is the saddle made in America, but the entire company was founded by Katee who couldn't find a single saddle to fit her Arabian and was frustrated. So she started researching and made her own saddle. That got adjusted and tweaked over time and now we have the Advantage saddle line. How great is that? I love the initiative and the passion she shows.

2.) I've worked with literally dozens of trainers, saddle fitters and companies. I have taken pictures and tracings of Gem numerous times. Each person/company wants something just a titch different. But in the end it is the same prinicple: have your horse stand "square" (all 4 feet straight and even forming a square) with the back straight and the head looking forward and relaxed. Ok. Makes sense since everyone does it. end up with a saddle that fits your horse in this position. Now I don't know about you, but Gem very rarely ever stands in this position which is why it takes 2 people to do the pictures and tracings: 1 to hold her and make sure she does not move and the other to take the picture/tracing. So what happens when I get on her and actually want to ride??? Well, Katee asked this exact same question. SHE IS THE FIRST FITTER TO EVER ASK ME FOR MOVING PICTURES OF GEM.  I not only sent her the typical "square" pictures, but also pictures of her walking and trotting around. This really impressed me.

3.) The panels are wide and set like English panels, but the basic tree and seat is western. The spine clearance is even and wide down the entire chanel. No sitting on her spine causing pain. The panels also come in either foam or sheep skin. I haven't gotten into the nitty gritty on the pros and cons of each of these yet.

4.) The girth. The bane of my existenct. I fully and in probably way too much detail explained my saddle moving forward woes to her. She replied that she used to have the same problem which began her whole adventure. The rigging (or way the girth attaches to the saddle) is western based (although I am sure I could make it english if I asked nicely) and is on a system that allows it to move and sit where it needs to. Imagine a webbing and a ring. The ring can slide forward or back to allow the girth to sit where it needs to while keeping the saddle stationary. Once the girth is tightened, it does not move. Or isn't supposed to anyway. I'm a little skeptical since this has been my biggest enemy to date. On the blog where I found a review of the saddle, the lady spent some time talking about this. She said that once the girth was tightened she tried to move it to another place and it wouldn't budge. Looking at many saddle pictures online the girth can be very forward and so I am hopeful. The rigging being western will also allow me to ditch the buckles that come with english rigging and this may also help with the galls.

5.) I like that it is not fully custom, but can be easily customized. I can choose between many differnt leather colors for the main body and the seat. I can get a picture or design tooled into the leather. I can have western fenders or english leathers. It also comes with a lot of d-rings to attach equipment. Lots of options.

6.) Endless options for fit. Well, not endless, per se. Actually if I could remember high school math I could tell you exactly how many options for fit existed. But I'm 31 now and that was waaaay back when and I can't remember how to even begin to figure it out. Most other saddles on the market have sizes available for the width of the gullet. Some are not very forgiving and have average, narrow, wide. Or some variety of that. Others have exchangeable gullets (like mine) where you can slip one plate out and place a different size in to increase or decrease the width. These generally have more options: narrow, medium narrow, medium, medium wide, wide, extra wide. The newest have a turn dial where you place an allen wrench and can get infinite choices between a set narrowest and widest. But they only change the gullet width. Thats it. Her saddles come in narrow, medium, and wide (more on those in a bit). But in addition to those basic gullet sizes she has added three more components: shoulder, back, loin. You can get a steep, average or flat shoulder angle and loin angle and you cna get less, average or more rock to the saddle from front to back. Example:

Medium gullet with a steep shoulder, flat rock and average loin
Narrow gullet with a flat shoulder, lots of rock and steep loin
Wide gullet with an average shoulder, minimal rock and flat loin

See? Lots of possibilites so that the ENTIRE saddle fits and not just the gullet.

December 12, 2013

Dare I Hope? Part 2

Scrolling through the classifieds came up with a lot of saddles I had already once looked at. I was starting to think maybe I had looked under every stone possible. But then I came across a brand I didn't recognize: Advantage Saddles. looked like a typical endurance saddle, but the ad said to contact the maker with any questions and that she was amazing to work with, so I took a few minutes to google it.

If you have a spare minute I would encourage you to look them up: Advantage Saddles.

Well, it looks like a saddle...whats the big deal? A lot really.

Where do I begin??? I read through the entire website, clicking on every link and expanding every picture to read the captions. After I did that and was satisfied that I wanted to go a step farther with it, I googled looking for reviews. Unfortunately, I really didn't find much. Most of what I found was positive though. I read a blog entry from some lady who had a hard to fit horse where no other saddle would fit and she had great success with the Advantage she tried and eventually bought. I don't know if she is still using it or not, but that was promising.

Next step was looking for used ones. This is a catch 22 with me. I like the idea of finding a used one in good shape and at a good price and using that. I don't need a brand spanking new saddle. But I also get a little nervous when I see a ton of cheap used saddles from one company. It makes me think the saddles really don't work for horses or riders. I found 3 - all of which were on the Advantage website plus the original one on the classifieds. Not wanting to get fooled I filed this information under "neutral" - either nobody uses them in the first place or once they do they never give them up.

Next step was to email the maker and ask her some questions. This occured Friday night at 9 pm (she is in CA so it was 6 pm her time) and boy was it lengthy! As youc na tell, I can be somewhat wordy in the first place, but when it comes to talking fit I tend to go on and on and on. Why? Because I don't want any surprises. I want the person to know exactly where I've come from, where I am an dwhere I want to be. I want them to know my fitting issues, what has worked and what hasn't. I'm also upfront about price. These saddles are not cheap. I would need to sell mine before I coudl purchase a new one and I wanted her to know that up front so she wasn't upset if I tried the demo and didn't purchase for a month or so.

My email was very long and I went back to my weekend thinking I wouldn't hear back from her until Monday. I checked my email before bed and she responded at 10 pm (7 pm her time) on a Friday night with an equally lengthy email that not only told me she had read mine in its entirety but that she was passionate about her sadddles. I was in love.

We have been emailing through the weekend with additional information and questions and I have made the leap to get a demo. I am not sure when it will arrive as I just sen ther my money information to pay for it, so hopefully she gets back to me soon and I can get my hands on this thing.

Tomorrow I will explain why I am excited that this just may work and what makes this saddle so different from all the others.

December 11, 2013

Dare I Hope? Part 1

Ok, I have now written this post about 4 times and each time it is different and each time I am unhappy with it. Here goes attempt #5.

I ride because it is my stress relief. When I am on my Gemmiecakes I forget the world, I forget work drama and stress, I forget everything (except for my W who is always on my mind and in my heart) except the sounds of the woods, the view between her forward pricked ears and the feel of the wind in my hair (well, if it is a windy day since we all know how slow she is). I love it and I love being on her.

Lately each ride has become more and more stressful for me. Instead of relaxing and enjoying my time on her I spend it worrying about how far forward the saddle is, is the girth rubbing, is the girth too tight, too loose, is she in pain...etc.

It has to stop. I need to go back to enjoying my time on her. Part of the problem is that my focus has changed. Instead of being happy to just plug along in the arena, I want to get back into endurance. I want a goal that goes beyond getting through an hour in a fenced in arena. I want to point her down the trail and 50 miles later arrive at the finish line. I want more. In order to get there I need to worry more about things that you can't get away with on short, arena rides. Saddles need to fit. Pads need to be correct. Are her feet ok. Do I need boots or shoes or can she stay barefoot. What about her nutrition. I am fine with spending more brain cells on this, but what I am not fine with is turning my wheels and getting nowhere.

I bought my saddle back in the spring of 2011 when I had given up on endurance. I was planning to just do fun trail rides occaisonally, flat work in the arena and some small jumps. The saddle fit was ok for that and was (and still is) the best that I have found to date. If I continued with that plan I wouldn't have any concerns. But I'm not because I know we can do a 50.

So, it is with this in mind that I am looking for a new saddle. Again.

I started to look around online again on Thursday and Friday of last week. I've already tried so many darn models, makes and brands, but this is 2013 and there just has to be at least one stone I've left unturned. I began with the treeless forum on yahoo. I had tried a treeless saddle once before and did not like it, but that was a few years ago so maybe something has changed.

I found that something had changed. I was guided to the  Flexee saddle.  This saddle is neither truely treeless nor treed. It has a formed leather "tree" in it to provide more lateral stabilty. My main problem with the treeless was that when Gem decided to make a sharp 180 degree turn, the saddle slid off her side depositing me on the ground abruptly. This saddle claims to avoid just that.

Unfortunately, I have ruled it out without even trialing it. My main concern was if the leather would withhold many miles of riding or if it would eventually start to lose its shape. And this appears to be the case. After reading many reviews and discussing it on the endurance forum, my concerns were validated. It looks great in the beginning but in short order will start to spread open and then you have a saddle without a tree but without the structure and padding of a true treeless saddle as well. Bummer.

Not to be deterred, I next checked out the endurance classifieds to see if there was a make or model of saddle I hadn't previously come across.

December 10, 2013

Its Not You...Its Me

Dear Wise Cross Country Saddle,

You are wonderful. Your leather is buttery soft and has formed to my butt like it was custom made for it. You are very secure even through epic spooks, jump run outs, sudden dirty stops and 180 degree spins. Your knee roll fits just right under my knee allowing for security while still allowing it to slide under and into proper jumping position. You also have provided me with a calf block for going down hill and into sticky situations. I don't know how you've done it, but the placement of your stirrup leathers allows my leg to drape down in exactly the right position placing my foot in line with my hip without any effort on my part.

I love how light weight you are at only 9 pounds. 9 pounds! Every time I tack up I thank you for this as I can easily swing you over my mare. The special air flow holes keeps my horse's back so much cooler than other saddles which is a big deal on the trails in the summer. Her spine has plenty of clearance between your panels which have the nicest foam padding I have ever come across. You have saved me during many times when I otherwise would have kissed the dirt and looked up into my mare's smug face. Since you only have one flap on each side (monoflap saddle) I can feel at one with my mare with so little leather between my leg and my mare's side. It has led to a better communication between the two of us which has led to a better partnership.

In return I have kept you well conditioned and oiled. I have kept you in climate controlled rooms and under a soft, fleece lined cover. I have avoided riding in the rain or swimming with you on. In addition, I have purchased a nice custom made saddle pad to aid you in your job. I have nice, plush  stirrup leathers to avoid leaving marks on your flaps.

But, 2 years later I don't think this is going to work out. Trust isn't your fault. You have done your job well and should be proud to know you are loved and spoken highly of. It's my fault. I can't keep you on my mare's back in the correct spot. I have failed though I do feel that I have given it my best shot. I have tried numerous girths of different construction, size and material all to no avail. I keep finding sweat patterns over my mare's shoulders causing impingement. While I would love to cross the 50 mile finish line proudly perched atop you, I feel as though this can not be. Maybe if things were different. If my mare's girth groove was farther back. If her back wasn't so broad and her ribs so well sprung. Maybe if your panels had a little more or less rock to them. Maybe a crupper would help. I don't know.

I just know that I can't keep trying anymore. All my spare money has gone into failed attempts to make this relationship work. Each time I tack up in my heart I know things are just not right and no gadget is going to fix it. I am slow to part with you. I feel as though a goodbye now would mean a goodbye forever. If I could I would keep you for another day on another horse. Or allow you to go on my husband's horse for a time. But I can't afford to keep you and have another. It would feel awkward and I would be embarrassed every time I passed you in the tack room begging me to feel the heat of my horse beneath you and the wind caressing your sides. No. I think it is better if you found another yourself. Someone you can make happy without needing to change. Without needing a point billet sewn on or D rings added to your back. Someone who will allow you to be what you were meant to be: a cross country saddle soaring over difficult jumps and turns safely cradling your rider and helping them to cross the finish line in style. Our dreams are much too different.

You will have a home with me until another home can be found who will treat you right. I will need you to stay strong and keep being you until I find another to take your spot.

Thank you for the last two years spent together and know that it wasn't was me.

December 9, 2013

A Slow Walk in the Woods

It has rained almost every day this week. Like down pour making everything soupy rain. The good news is that it has been in the 70s (in December...I love the South :) I'd bet the Dynamic Duo was happy for the rain. It probably kept them cool.

This Saturday I was determined to get out on the trails again. Sunday was supposed to be a hunter pace, but it was on private trails and they postponed it a week to hopefully have things dry up. I am not too optimistic though because this week is supposed to be equally as rainy, but colder so things probably won't dry up all that much. We will see. The other problem with next weekend is that the hubs has signed himself up for a 54 mile race up a mountain on Saturday. I'm not so sure he will be up for a pace on Sunday. We will see what happens.

Anyway....the hubs worked in the morning and W's nap schedule worked out that he woke up as the hubs was getting home so we made it to the trail head about 3 pm again. Not enough time to do the entire loop. Some day we will do that darn loop!

I used the old fleece Ovation girth on her that's 22". I have no clue how, but it fits on the same hole as the 18". It has a ton of elastic in it - runs the entire length instead of just the ends - so I would have thought it would be way too big. I kept it a little looser and it sat pretty nicely on her. I decided to give it a go.

I have a tiny worry in the back of my head that I'm asking her to do something she hates - riding in general. She is such a tough cookie to figure out. She is very aloof but if I miss seeing her for a while I can definitely tell she is unhappy about it. Well, once I started to tack her up her ears pricked forward and she started to paw which is her way of saying "lets get going here!!" Its a good signs that she is enjoying herself. She remembered to pee before I got on. She hates going with me on her and I think she may have only done so a handful of times in 4 years. If she forgets she ends up holding it the entire ride and as soon as I get off she goes for a very long time.

We headed down the hill to the trail head and entered the woods over the same wooden bridge of doom as before. She hesitated but got over it much easier than the last time.

Last week the hubs had turned left almost immediately into the woods and said the trails were very nice. Knowing my time was too limited to make the entire green loop, I decided to head left and check it out. We stayed a little ways in front of the hubs, W, and the two dogs and wandered through and over a road crossing.

The trails after the road were really nice. Double wide and open. The only issue was the footing was rocky. It was an access road and while it wasn't gravel it had quite a few rocks. Normally Gem doesn't mind that type of footing, but it has been very wet out and her feet looked a bit soft when I cleaned them out pre ride. I think she got a little foot sore for the first time.
Sorry, all my pics today are blurry. She didn't want to stop for picture taking

There was a big, long hill that had me thinking about hill repetitions once things dry back out. We wandered up it with the rest of the crew not too far behind us. She wasn't really wanting to stretch out much and the trails were wet in enough spots that I didn't mind taking it easy. There were sections that had no rocks and were fairly dry and we trotted those.

There was a lovely looking side trail at one point and I headed down it. No rocks. The footing was mostly pine needles and the trail was single track and winding just like Gem like. But it was very, very soupy and this Carolina red clay gets slick, so I quickly turned her around before we got hurt and went back to the double wide trail. The boys caught up to us at this point, but the trail got less rocky, so I let her trot again until the top.

Once at the top of the hill we came across the greenest patch of vegetation I have seen in a very long time. As I got closer to it I found out it was a patch of clover. Gemmie had her eyes on it so I let her wander in and have a quick bite and waited for the rest of the crew. It was very hard to get her to leave her buffet.

We travelled down the trail some more, but it started to go sharply down hill and got rocky again. My saddle slid all the way over her shoulders and she got cranky. I slid off and jogged her down and then we waited for the crew again. Once they caught up to us I noticed we had been out for about 45 minutes so we decided to turn back around and go home. I adjusted her saddle back to the right spot and got back on.

My boys

Hero - the best dog ever. 14 years old now.
Well, I don't know if it was the footing, her soft feet (made me really, really, really wish for that money tree so I could get a pair of boots for her to ride in) or the saddle sliding forward and pinching her shoulders, but she was done. She slid in behind the hubs and just wanted to follow him the rest of the way back..

At one point the hubs started to jog (W loves it when he runs in the backpack) and I just stayed quiet on Gem with a loose rein to see what she would do. She picked up a nice little trot and kept up with him until he walked again and then she did too. I bet it was a little unnerving having her breathe down his neck!

I tried to get her around him, but then she spotted Hero and tucked in behind him. Literally. She walked right behind him, lowered her head to hide her nose behind his butt almost dragging it one the ground, and happily walked along. It is a very sad day when your "endurance" Arabian mare walks slower than your 14 year old 1 foot tall corgi. But there it is. My Gemmiecakes.

We wandered along chatting with the hubs. Well, I chatted. He basically spent the rest of the hike laughing at my pokey slow horse going 1 mph and taking a video to post online. I got off again down the large hill we came up because the saddle slid way too much down hill for me to be happy. I got back on and we crossed the road and made it back to the trailer on our own.

The only bad spot of the entire ride was at the very end. I untacked her and she rested a foot as is her norm. But then she absolutely, positively refused to get into the trailer. She has never, ever, ever done that in 4 years. When I bought her I was told she did not trailer well and give her an hour to get on, but we never once had a problem. The last 2 solo rides she did fine. But not this time. She reared, she backed, she stopped. We tried a butt rope to push her in. No go. The hubs literally lifted up her hind legs and butt and pushed. No go. Although her incredibly shocked expression was well worth it. Finally I opened up the divider all the way to make it a huge space and she got on into Pete's spot. I don't know what was with that, but hopefully that doesn't become a new issue to deal with. Of note, she did end up actually peeing with me on her on the trail and then again back at the barn. Maybe she is in heat. I don't know if that would make a difference or not. are some thoughts on this:

1. I think in the end Gem does enjoy these rides. She is eager to go down the trail and only acts up once I make her turn around and head back home. But not in a trying to run off back to the trailer way. More in a "but I don't want to go back yet" way. Yay!

2. She knows those trails. When we made the left instead of going straight at the very beginning she kept trying to tell me we were going wrong. Once we were headed back and we got back to the original trail and she tried turning left to go longer instead of right to go back to the trailer.

3. She is pokey. I don't know why or how to help this other than keep riding her and trying to get her butt moving. I know she can go faster for longer. With 62 completion miles as well as the two hunter paces under our belt I know she can. I just don't know how to pull that out of her solo.

4. I think she needs a break from the solo rides and ride with a buddy. I really hope the pace goes next week and that the hubs can ride after his race. She enjoys going out with Pete so much and then he could also be in the trailer with her so it would be a nice mental holiday for her.

5. I have a tough decision to make. Well, the obvious decision is probably to stop riding her until I get things sorted out, but I am not ready to do that yet. So....I have 1 girth that allows the saddle to sit farther back (not ideal spot but best I can some up with right now) to the point where she isn't sore, but causes rubs. I have another girth that does not cause any rubs at all but allows the saddle to pull very far forward and I think is why she hates the girth so much. It seemed to bother her on this ride. Which do I use if I do go on the hunter pace?? I think I will do the anatomic one and try to slather a butt load of Vaseline on her armpits to see if it will prevent some of the rubbing. I don't like how she was reluctant to move out with me on this ride and either it was her feet or her girth. Since she has hated this girth in the past I am going with that being the culprit.

6. I need new tack. Period. I absolutely adore this saddle, but it just isn't working out. It isn't made for Gemmie's body structure and I keep fighting it. I wish it wasn't so incredibly comfortable for me or it would be easy to get rid of. But here is the kicker: I have yet to find anything better. I have tried literally dozens of saddles of all makes, models and brands from cheap to $$$ and not a single one has fit as good as or better than this one. I refuse to sell this until I find one that is better, so on the hunt I go again. What I would really like to do is pick up a used saddle that works and then give mine to the hubs and Pete who has more of the body type for the saddle. That way we can keep it and if by chance my next horse 10 years from now fits it, I still have it to use.

December 7, 2013

Mohair Girth For Sale

Anyone need a small mohair endurance girth? Size 18". Here is a pic. I used my saddle pad as a back drop.

Only ridden in for 4 miles/1 hr 15 minutes total and is nice and clean. Very well made with neoprene padding for the roller buckles and leather aganist the horse. Has D-rings for breast plate attachment. Was custom made for the size and color, so I can't return it. Purchased for $105. Asking $90 plus shipping. Let me know if interested!!

I'm a very confusing/annoyed/exasperated person right now. I need to take some time and think things over to try to sort the facts out in my mind. Here is what I have:

1. ) Her current girth is a leather anatomic shaped 20" with elastic on both sides. It fits snugly at the 2nd from top billet hole and I could get it all the way if I pulled harder. It causes pretty nasty rubs at her elbows even with a fleece cover.

2.) The County girth was also anatomic shaped and leather but had no elastic. The 20" was entirely too big and even on the top most hole it was loose. The 18" was likewise too big. The 16" fit ok on the top most billet hole but was still looser than I was comfortable with (allowed the saddle to slip too much) and the buckles were placed so that they were in her elbow.

3.) The 18" mohair without elastic is entirely too small. I can get it to 3 holes from the top if I pull with all my might and it cuts off her breathing. It also rubbed her raw in a very short time.

4.) The Ovation fleece girth I used prior to the current anatomic one is  22" with elastic at both ends and fit her well. She hated this girth with a passion for no reason I could figure out and would kick out at it during a ride which is why I retired it for the anatomic leather one.

Now, I know I am no saddle expert or anything, but shouldn't the size of the girth be the same regardless of brand? I mean it isn't like I'm shopping for jeans where one brand's size 4 is anothers 8 and anothers 0. 18" should be 18" regardless of the material, brand or color, right?

I understand elastic versus no elastic. Elastic would allow a smaller girth to stretch and fit better (although I was told that elastic makes the saddle slip easier and to try to avoid it in a girth for Gem) so one without, such as the mohair, would have little give in it. But then why did the County fit so oddly???  And why did the 22" Ovation fit her nicely??


Deep breath. Deeeeeeeeppppppp breath.

 My new plan isn't a very good one, but it is all I have to offer right now. I am going to retry the Ovation and see how it goes. It is a nice fleece girth. It seemed to fit her well and never caused any rubs. When I tried it on her she started kicking out. At first I thought it was due to burrs getting trapped in the fleece on the trail, but then she started doing it even in the arena. It got to the point where she would kick out at it with her rear leg even walking her on foot to the arena which is when I gave up on it and ordered my current one. Right before we moved to the South so I didn't ride in it until we got here and immediately noticed it rubbing her on any ride longer than 30 minutes. Why try it again? Because I know more now about girth fit and want to see if I can figure out why she hated it so much. If I was pulling it too tight with the elastic and could loosen it some maybe it will be better. Or maybe she will still hate it, but her shape has changed some and it is worth a shot. I won't take it out for a long ride. Just in the arena to see how it goes. If it goes well then all my problems may be solved.

My other thought right now is to try her old Wintec saddle on her again. She never had any problems with it although looking back I basically saddled it up on her neck. No trainer (I had 3 working with me through using it) ever said anything about moving it back and she completed 62 competition miles in it without complaint. Why did I get a new saddle? Because at about 10 miles my left knee started screaming at me everytime to point of almost not wanting to ride anymore. My current saddle doesn't cause any pain at all. She also started to out grow her Wintec. It became too narrow for her at the end with all the muscling up she did through riding the trails. I am interested to see if it fits at all. I still have it and the girth I used with it (42" Wintec girth) and think I will dig them out and try it this week if the weather dries up.

December 3, 2013

Directionally Challenged

Saturday was another gorgeous fall day in the South and since it was a 4 day weekend with the holiday I figured a 2 hour trail ride to do the entire 6.5 mile loop would be okay. I wanted to do a full loop and not go out and turn around so Gem didn't think thats all we ever did. Endurance rides are mostly loop based and not out and back, so she needs to get into the mindset that we would eventually hit the trailer again by moving forward and not by turning around. If I made it to the trail head by 2,  I would have enough daylight left to do it.

W went down for his nap at 12 and I planned to head to the barn to get things around at 1230. He woke up early at 1230 and so I stuck around to help get him and the dogs around with the hubs. That put me off schedule and we never made it to the barn until 1. When I got there this is what I saw:

Gemmie and Pete snoozing in the afternoon
I snuck between the fence to avoid the noisy gate and made it almost to her before she saw me. She was not amused. I caught her easily (she was still half asleep) and we mosied oh-so-slowly to the trailer so I could groom her. She fell asleep again at the trailer.  I knew this was not going to be the best ride I have ever had.

We made it to the parking lot and I started off at 3. That would be pushing it to get back by 5 and the woods would start getting dark before then, so my idea to finish an entire loop was shot. I switched gears and decided to go for more speed. I would go out 40 minutes or so and then turn around but by gosh we would trot the entire thing. I wanted more than a 3 mph average for this ride.

Gem had other plans which always seem to clash with mine. She was slow and spooky. She refused to go over the bridge at the trail head which she has gone over plenty of times. A lot of coaxing later and we made it over and into the woods. The hubs made an immediate left and we continued on the main green trail.

Things were going slow but well until we reached the first road crossing. I made a right hand turn and we headed into the pine tree grove as usual. But then my brain misfunctioned and for some reason I began to second guess the trail. Gem kept wanting to turn around and it had me wondering if somehow I went wrong. There was a small trail parallel to the one we were on and when we came to a small connector I turned down it. Well, it turned out I was right the first time as this new trail dead ended into the woods. Fortunately, we only went mybe 100 yards and so I just turned her around and we headed back to the original trail.

Things went well again except she decided to spook at every single puddle we came across. And there were a lot of puddles since it had rained all last week. It got really annoying. But we kept up a trot (all be it a slow one) and continued on to the second road crossing. I was sure I made a right here and so we did, but when I failed to see any green tree markings and saw yellow ones instead I began to wonder. Oh well. It was a nice open trail and we were trotting. I looked at my watch and we had been out for about 25 minutes, so only 10 more to go. I figured we could continue down this trail and then turn back around. One epic spook over a water crossing later and we ended up in a parking lot. Hmmm.. I thought about going forward since it looked like the trail continued on the other side, but then a car pulled in with a yapping little dog that jumped out and I thought it better to turn around. So we did. Again.

I'm sure all this didn't add to Gem's already sour mood. She was not enjoying herself at all.

When we got back to the road I looked at my watch and wanted to be out for a bit longer, so I made the left away from the road and onto the original green trail. Away we went again. Thats when things got fuzzy. We were doing ok. There were a lot of hills and with my saddle + girth being annoying I didn't want to trot down the hills, so we did a lot of walking. As we approached a stream I noticed a side trail to the left. We were past the time I wanted to turn around, but we had done some walking and a few stops to readjust tack (I used the new girth which is too small and kept fiddling with it which made for 3 or 4 stops along the way) and we were a quarter mile away from a new mile. I thought we would go down this side trail for 0.25 miles and once it rolled over we would turn around and trot the entire way back. So we headed down the trail and it became a very nice, steep uphill climb. Poor Gemmie was huffing and puffing by the time we reached the top.

We continued on a ways and then noticed a grassy open lane to the right parallel to the trail I was on. There was a small connector trail and I took this and we turned left down the grassy lane. I wanted to get some cantering in, but the lane ended fairly quickly onto a road. I decided it was a good time to get off and do some jogging on foot and so I hopped down and we turned back around down the lane. And went right past the small connector trail. We ended in a big field which I knew wasn't right, so I turned around again and headed back. But I couldn't find the connector trail at all. We paced back and forth a few times and I am sure Gem thought I had lost my mind. The hubs texted me a pic of him and W enjoying their hike and I responded that I was lost but ok.

Eventually I gave up on the connector trail and we just bush whacked to the main trail. I could have sworn I made a right onto the lane and so to go back we went left. And kept going. About 10 minutes later I wasn't recognizing anything and I began to become worried. Just then a huge group of 6 riders on sweaty and wild looking Arabs came behind us. I pulled over and let them pass. This is when I became aware of the fact that I am way too easy on Gem. She wasn't sweating at all. Granted we had been out for only about an hour at this point, but still she should have worked up something. These horses were drenched and while I wouldn't want to be that hard on her, she really isn't being asked enough. Thats my fault. I worry about over doing it to the point of under doing it. I need to be more aggressive with her training. She needs to sweat!

It was getting dark at this point and we had been out for an hour. I was growing increasingly alarmed at the fact that I didn't know where I was or where the trailer was and it was getting dark. I decided that this group must be heading back to the trailer since it was getting dark and that I would follow them. Wrong decision.

As I headed out in their direction, keeping a ways back so as not to annoy but close enough to see if they turned down a side trail, I kept wondering where we were going to end up. A little ways down I saw the lake. Not good. I wasn't supposed to be near the lake. The good news was that I now knew which trail I was on and how to get back. If I kept the gray trail markers to my left I would eventually make it back to the trailer.

I turned my confused horse around once more and we headed back. I then understood my mistake. Apparently I needed to turn left off the grassy lane and I would have been ok. Well, it being later than I wanted and getting dark I forced Gemmie into a quicker pace and made her keep it. We actually hit a 9.1 mph trot and sustained it until the next big downhill which I let her walk. Any flat section we picked it back up because I was getting nervous with the dark hitting.

We made it back to the trailer without any other incidents and with a total ride time of 1 hr 15 min. Longer than anticipated and we still landed at a 3.2 mph average pace :( But on the bright side that included many stops as I tried to figure out where on earth we were and to adjust tack.

November 27, 2013

A Lot To Be Thankful For

Well, this has nothing to do with Gem. Or riding. Nothing is going on on that front right now. It is dark, coldish (depending on your perspective) and raining. I am also waiting on the new girth to arrive this week to avoid continued harm.

Thanksgiving is tomorrow. A time to be thankful. As most people who are on facebook know, it it so easy to complain. I'd bet that at least 50% of all status updates are negative in some way. I try to scroll on past those chronic complainers and look at pictures and plans of those few who share smiles and happiness. So this post is about that. Thankfulness. What am I thankful for in life?

  • W. He is so amazing and we are so very lucky to have him in our lives. He turns 1 the day after so this week is going to be full of love and celebration :)

  • Hubbybear. Always ready for my next adventure he shows up with a smile and tries his best. He has been enjoying the paces with me this fall. When I get down about my ability to condition for a 50, he is there to encourage me and show me that it is possible after all. He even mentioned the other night that he wishes we had our own place so I could get another horse more sutiable for the sport.

  • Gemmie. No matter how much we butt heads I have to be honest - I adore her. I think she is just drop dead gorgeous and I love her attitude. I wish at times she was easier but then I know I wouldn't be the rider I am today if it wasn't for her. She has taught me a lot about being a "rider" and not just a "passenger". I love exploring the trails on her and we both hate the arena. We are about to embark on a new phase of our lives together as we tackle a 50 and I am so excited to do it.

  • South Carolina weather :) I am sooooo happy to be down south. The arctic north ruined winter for me. We are very hapyp down here and I can't wait to watch W grow up someday on our own farm.

  • The health of my loved ones and myself. We are a generally healthy group to date. Little things here and there pop up (like my bout with Lymes disease) but I don't wake up every morning in pain. I love life and plan to keep enjoying it for many more decades to come. I have wonderful cats and dogs that have been around for a long time and have continued to do well.

  • My profession. I like my career choice. It may not be snazzy or make me rich, but I enjoy talking to people and helping ease some discomfort or concern. I won't ever make the front page of a paper or the headline news, but I don't care to. I have a job that I enjoy and pays the bills so we can live and enjoy ourselves.
What are you thankful for this holiday season?

November 25, 2013


Gem had all of last week as a nice vacation. I haven't been feeling very well (just a lot of congestion and very tired) and the thought of saddling up in the dark wasn't very appealing. With Thanksgiving this week and W's 1st birthday (yay!!!) the day after I didn't want to push things. Also, I am waiting for her new girth to arrive. We did manage to get out to the barn yesterday afternoon to pick some fresh spinach, curly mustard greens, turnip greens and broccoli (as well as scoring a jar of home made pickles, yum) and as we drove past we saw the gang all asleep in the field in the sun. Such a hard life! Pete and the two mares were curled up looking super cute. Gem figured if you are going to do it you may as well go all the way and she was flat out on her side snoring. Poor thing is so over worked!! It was 1:30 in the afternoon. I do love seeing that though as it shows that they are comfortable and happy where they are.

I was sad to miss the hunter pace yesterday and had even debated actually going. It is only 20 minutes away from us, so it was a shame to miss it. But it was a chilly morning and I wasn't feeling all that well. It was better to skip it then put in a bad showing and have a bad experience for Gem. The society posted the dates through May which is super exciting. Mostly they are in the same places as the fall, but I am hoping on different trails or at least a different route. Since we have missed some, I am hoping to go the those ones in the spring. Of course the one venue I have been really wanting to hit (Biltmore) is on my b-day in April and we will be in PA visiting family that weekend. Sigh. Such is life. Maybe next fall.

But....again that has nothing to do with the title of this post. This is about leasing.

While I was off riding last weekend on the trails the thought hit me that I may need some help in conditioning Gemmie. In an ideal situation I would do all her conditioning and we would become super well bonded and rainbows would appear as we head off to our first 50 miler together. But... I'm not in the ideal situation for this to occur. I work full time and have an almost 1 year old son. I ride in the evenings and one weekend day. I'm not complaining. I know I am blessed to even have the opportunity to ride that much. I love having Gem and am lucky to do so.

With it getting dark so early I can't get to any trails even if I had easy access to them except on the weekends. Its just not safe to be off riding in the pitch black all alone. During an endurance ride you have others on the trail, people waiting for you back in camp and glow sticks marking your way. Not so much when you are on your own trails in the dark on a random weeknight. I just can't wrap my head around the thought of getting her 50 mile fit by riding in an arena 2 nights and then on the trails 1 day a week. If she could get out on the trails at least 1 other day it would be much better.

And that is when the thought of finding someone to lease her hit me. If I could find an experienced rider who is in need of a horse to ride, then that person could ride 2-3 days a week (hopefully during day light hours) and get more miles on my Gemmie. Especially on the trails. Seems perfect!

But....its not so easy. My mind then went into overdrive thinking of all the possibilities. Should I ask for money? Most people pay to ride a horse. It makes it more official. Plus it accounts for wear and tear. Ok. How much? I have no clue. I only pay $200 a month to board her. Would half board be reasonable? $100 a month lease? Sounds doable for most people. But then what? How would they get to the trails since I don't have access from the barn property? Does it only work if I find someone who already has a truck and trailer? is that even a possibility? So then I need to allow them to use my truck and trailer, but that's a whole other bag of worms. They would be responsible for paying for gas, but what if they get a flat? Or worse, wreck my truck and/or trailer? No, that's way too much stress.

On that note, what happens if Gem gets hurt on their watch? Would they own up to it? Or would I just wander over to the barn one day to find a lame horse? And if they did own up to it, would they pay the vet costs? Or would we split them? And if my tack gets ruined some how? Would they pay to fix or replace it? See...lots and lots of questions just kept popping into my mind.

I don't know. A part of me wants to try to find someone through the endurance forums who is in need of a ride, but then again who wants to put all that time into conditioning a horse and never get to ride in a ride? There are so many liability questions out there. I would probably need a contract of some sort, but this all seems like a lot of hassle. If I had a close friend who wanted to ride then that would work out great, but I don't.

After thinking through everything, I think I am just going to let the thought pass. If the opportunity comes up in the future where someone is looking for a horse to ride and they have good references and such I may think it over a little more. Gemmie isn't the easiest horse to ride and I have put a LOT of effort into gaining her trust and confidence. I don't want anything to hurt that. So for now it will continue to be just Gemmie and me wandering down the trails when we get the chance to.

The hunter paces are great for conditioning and this spring will bring the chance to do a 25 mile ride and so I will see how that all goes.

November 20, 2013


Well, this Sunday may be a no show for me. Which is a shame because we are only 1 point from being in 3rd place in the overall standings. You get 1 point for just completing so if the 3rd place person no shows and I do we will be tied. Also, it is at the trails I ride solo, so I know them well and it is only 20 minutes away. Plus, it is a fundraiser for the trail system. But....I'm sick. W is sick. And I am sure the hubs won't be far behind.  Such is life.

I ordered a new girth Monday. Yet another new girth. I don't like the rubs I'm getting and need to do something. Its a beautiful Mohair girth and since I needed to custom order the size 18" I went ahead and had them make it black and tan. It is going to look sharp. The mohair is soft, flexible and low profile so hopefully it helps eliminate the issue. I got it from Moss Rock Endurance and the lady there has been very helpful.  It should be here by the end of next week.

But... that has nothing to do with the title, now does it? Nope. But I thought I would add that in anyway. Topic for the day is speed. More specifically why Gem lacks it. She is putting out 18 minute miles. I  run faster than that. In fact, when I got off her to run some on the way back Saturday we put in the fastest time of the entire ride. Ridiculous!!

I know she can do better. She doesn't have a 10 mph trot, but we did complete our 25 mile rides in just shy of 4.5 total hours with a 50 minute hold which puts us at 3 hrs 40 minutes-ish moving time. If I was good at math I could figure out the pace, but I know it is better than 18 minute miles! That's what? around 8 mph? Maybe a little less? Way better than the 3 mph I've been getting out of her.

I need to figure out why. Part of the issue is that I let her walk a lot. If I trotted the entire thing it would be better, but she moves soooo slowly. Even at a trot she is going slow. Well, maybe it is because we are going solo? But we aren't averaging much better on our hunter paces with Pete along. We are still around 3-4 mph. So what gives?

I don't know. If I hadn't had that LD miles to look back on I'd think she wasn't able to do it and I picked the wrong sport for us. But I know she can do it. Next time I go out I am going to make her trot for an entire mile without stopping. I will then be able to see our pace for that mile and get a better idea of what we can do if we don't walk at all. We need to average 6 mph to finish a 50 in the allotted 12 hours, but I would hope to finish closer to 10 hours. I like having a cushion. Also, you need to take walk breaks and time to graze the trot has to be higher so you can account for this.

Anyway...I can't wait until I can get to a 25 mile ride and see how things go so I have a good idea of what to expect from her. I just need a little more oompf out of her!