After my disappointing Friday with Kiki, I felt so emotionally and physically drained that it was pretty hard to get really excited for my rides on Ringo on Saturday and Sunday. Ringo was a total star, but I felt very flat as a rider. We had a very disrupted warmup on Saturday thanks to some water-truck/drag shenanigans halfway through which meant that I didn't get to work the canter nearly as much as I want to so that when we got into the ring the canter was pretty wild.
On Sunday I fulfilled a big goal of having a mistake-free test (no broken gaits, missed transitions, etc, which I usually manage to have at least one of each time) and was rewarded with my best score at 2nd Level yet, a 66.7%. The canter work was still pretty far from where it has been in the past and I didn't feel like I rode particularly brilliantly, so it's exciting to think about how much better even we can score when we get everything popping at once. Mostly it just felt good to have this show behind me; for whatever reason I didn't enjoy myself this weekend, and I'm looking forward to getting some good training in before I regroup and head out into the dangerous waters of DQ land again.
I left Kiki completely alone on Saturday because I was still very disappointed from Friday and didn't want to give her a bad ride just because I was feeling frustrated. I was somewhat dreading getting on and fighting with her today, so I decided to take a chance and ride her bareback just for a spin around the property. I've actually never ridden her bareback before because she's been so, umm, "enthusiastic" that I've feared for my life. But, by 5 pm today and after 12 straight hours of nonstop horse show and equestrian team preseason action, I obviously wasn't thinking straight and decided to go for it.
And it was awesome.
As in, it was one of the best rides I've had on Kiki ever. I picked up the trot and she was steady in the bridle, not racing, and as relaxed in her back as I've ever felt her. When I asked her to rock back and lift her poll while still coming forward, she did it without throwing a fit. We ran through the entire same test from Friday, in the dressage court, and it was far and away the best attempt we'd ever done together. Her canter felt bigger and more rideable. Her trot felt bouncy and powerful without being out of control. I could sit. I could turn. I could put my hands forward without feeling like she was falling apart. It was an epiphany.
So what does it mean?
I think the saddle is bothering her. This claim is further supported by the fact that I've always felt that she goes better in the jump saddle than the dressage saddle. I always thought it had something to do with how the jump saddle encourages me to be lighter on her back, but perhaps it's more that the jump saddle just fits her better than the dressage saddle does.
I don't know what this was such a cosmic revelation to me, as it really should be obvious that the dressage saddle wouldn't fit, but it totally was. I only own one dressage saddle for both horses: a Devoucoux that came with Ringo and was custom fit for him and his old owner who was at significantly shorter than I am, meaning that the saddle has never really fit me superbly. I've always just ridden in it because it was a step up from my previous saddle (a Roosli that I'd gotten as a christmas present when I was 12 years old, 5'6", 170 pounds, and riding my 15hh quarter horse Boris) and because it fit Ringo.
Ringo and Kiki could not have more different body types (Ringo: narrow and bony with a huge wither; Kiki: absolutely barrel-bodied with almost no withers at all), but necessity has dictated up until now for Kiki to take one for the team and wear Ringo's stuff. The saddle never made her sore, so I had no reason to believe that, despite its obviously wonky fit, it was holding us back in any way. I feel stupid now because it seems like such an obvious place to look when dealing with the sorts of problems Kiki was facing, which all center around her back and her center of balance in some way. I've always been lucky and had strong-backed horses and good fitting saddles, so I've thought about saddle fit very little. After having such a huge turn around in the space of one ride, it seems pretty clear that the time has come to invest more time and thought into the saddle than I have been.
Fortunately talks of a new saddle (perhaps actually with flaps long enough for my legs?? What a shocking concept) have been on the table since the end of the summer when Kim pointed out how few favors my current saddle is actually doing for my position. It's still a big investment to bust out, but if it improves Kiki's way of going as drastically as our bareback ride was tonight, then it will be well worth it in the long run.
Any suggestions? I am sort of tempted to return to my Stubben roots, as I would trust their indestructibility and fitability with my life, but I'm really not sure. I've always dreamed of having a Stackhouse close-contact dressage saddle, because I despise giant overblocked monstrosities and always want something that's essentially as close to a jump saddle with straight flaps as I can get, but that's wayyy out of my price range at the moment. But, a girl can dream...
(Cute Kiki. Problem saddle.)