After lamenting about my new pad woes, S graciously offered to let me try her Coolback pad. She has two in black (yay!) - one with foam inserts and one without. Her mare didn't like the pad much and so if things worked out for Gemmie we would just swap my new wool one for the Coolback and both be happy. I was glad to get to try it out prior to purchasing to avoid yet more wasted money.
We headed off to Sumter National Forest and had the entire park to ourselves. We both wanted to get some serious miles on the mares and after a brief discussion decided to start on the gravel roads to get some speed work in then hit the purple 16 mile loop and head back to the trail head. I booted Gemmie up knowing that we would be on gravel for quite a ways.
I grabbed the Coolback from S and immediately liked the feel of it. The synthetic fleece is a little rough to the touch, but that would solve the slipping issue with the wool pad. It was also much larger than I was used to and once on Gem it came down her sides almost to the stirrups. At first I was worried about this, but after we rode for a bit it was super nice. It not only cushioned my legs but also provided more support for me. I definitely fell in love with the feeling of the fleece under my leg! I tacked her up and I must admit she looked a bit silly with such a low profile saddle and large pad, but it fit her well and I was very optimistic.
Last time we went to Sumter my Garmin was dead and I didn't get a read on how far we went. This time after I mounted up and hit the on button I got the same message: battery low. Then the darn thing shut off completely. I mention this because a) I yet again have no real clue how far we actually went and b) it is the reason I have no pictures. I used my phone as my GPS to get to the park from the new barn and wanted to preserve some battery for the way home. I also tried to download Edomondo while riding to use that as the GPS, but couldn't get the stupid thing to work at all. Anyway...all that meant no pictures.
We rode out down the gravel road at a brisk pace. Gem seemed happy enough and moved out keeping up with S no problem. We turned down a side road and Gem started acting funny. Not lame or bad, but funny. She started to canter instead of trot. I don't mind that one bit especially on nice open trail, but I knew she didn't need to canter to keep up. It was like she was avoiding fully extending her front legs to get the speed needed out of her trot. At one point I thought maybe a fly was bothering her, but couldn't see anything. Then she started just stopping in the middle of the trail. She would hang her head down and then look back at me. This was really odd behavior for her, so I jumped off and looked her over. Maybe the boots twisted? Nope. Maybe her feet were tender even with the boots on the gravel? Nope. The saddle hadn't budged an inch and the pad was not bunched up or anything. I got back on and asked her to move out again.
As long as the trot was kept slow she was fine. If I asked her to extend it at all she would pick up a canter instead. As we moved along she started stopping and looking back at me more and more frequently and then canter to catch up. After a short time I asked S if we could just turn around. Gem was not happy. We made it to the 16 mile loop through the woods and we ducked onto the trail to see if the softer ground would make a difference. Maybe it really was just the gravel? S saw her behavior though and knew something was up too. Once we crossed over the gravel road again we called it quits and just headed back to the parking lot. I hopped off, loosened the girth and hand walked her the 2-3 miles back.
After we got back, I untacked her and she was super sore right by her shoulders on both sides. I've made it a habit to always palpate her to check fit but also to simulate a vet check. She has never even twitched a minor amount before but this time she flinched and glared at me. When I looked at the pad it had deep impressions at those spots and I knew it was the whole problem. Poor Gem! I apologized again and again and felt horrible, but I knew I had turned around once I had figured out it wasn't something simple that I could correct out on trail.
Afterward S said her mare had behaved similarly with that pad as well but has been fine in everything else. Odd. I think the fleece just compresses too much under pressure areas and provides no real support. I briefly thought about grabbing the one with foam inserts, but worry the 3/4" would make the saddle perch too much. I'm glad I tried it though and now that is off my potential list.
On the positive side of things, S and I had a great time chatting it up and the weather was perfect. Gem basically cantered for 2 straight hours and I think we probably did around 12 miles or around there and heck that's a fantastic workout for her. Other than her back issues from the pad, she dried out quickly on the walk back and looked great. I also got a good hike in as well ;)
I don't think I'm going to try the Woolback version. I worry it will be too thick for the saddle. I have a potential buyer for my wool pad and my next step is to just contact Reinsman and see if they can just make me a pad that is a little larger. I need to measure mine to see the dimension, but I really just need it about 2" longer from front to back. If they can't do it, then I am going to try to save up for a custom Skito pad.