Sunday, September 18, 2011


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.)


East Bound said...

I was going to suggest you ride her bareback after you last post but didn't. I'm glad you figured it out on your own!

jenj said...

YAY for figuring out what's been going on!

RE saddles - I wouldn't pick a specific saddle just yet. Instead, find your local saddle fitter and see what she has in stock, and on consignment. Send her a few pics of Kiki and see what she has available to fit a horse like her. Some saddles are flatter than others from front to back, some are more curved, so something that fits Kiki in her wither and shoulder might not work front-to-back. You just need to try on a bunch of different saddles, see which ones fit her best, and then sit in those and see what you like. I ended up with a Reactor Panel dressage saddle for Saga. I'd never heard of them before, but damn if he doesn't move great in it and hey, I find it pretty comfortable too.

Good luck!

Heidi said...

I bought a Frank Baines Elegance dressage saddle last year and I love it! Also, another less well known brand that is fairly reasonably priced and very well made is Black Country. We have a rep up here in WA, but not sure what is available down in CA. I have one of their jump saddles but know friends with their dressage saddles who love those too. Good luck, saddle buying can be a difficult process!

PonyNut said...

Try some CWD saddles or Passier. If you do go with a Passier make sure to find an older one. The new ones are not made well at all! Just try a lot. We went through 47 saddles before we found one that worked for my Mom and her thoroughbred. You are lucky to have a lot of great tack shops close by.

Leah said...

I've been through this enough in the last couple of years - when you sit in the right saddle you will know!
I've always had good experiences with my local County rep and Custom Saddlery rep. Both companies have beautiful saddles and both are in the ~3500 price range. And both have several models (and should have variations on each to try)if there are good reps in your area. Being able to compare between models will help figure out what you like and don't like.

Erica said...

I rode in a Bates Isabel that did wonders for me lengthening my leg - I have right leg creeping up issues. It had an adjustable block which I liked a lot too, even though it was bigger than what I would ideally look for in my own saddle. After moving back to an all purpose saddle on the mare I've been taking lessons on recently, I realize how much I miss that Bates and how much it was really helping me out.

Dressager said...

I always like Stubbens, but I ended up with a Prestige (old fashioned, no knee rolls kind) and it works fabulously. Definitely mess around with different kinds.

SprinklerBandit said...

Icky saddle shopping, lol. Here's to a saddle fitter and/or decently stocked tack shop. (I have neither, so it's a crapshoot here.)

So glad you found a solution, though.

Mikaela Coston said...

Hey Kate! Chin up with Kiki. Sometimes you just have to stop and realize how blessed you are to even have a horse and remember why it is you ride! I know it was a big shock when I came to school and didn't have money, a trailer, a truck the list goes on and on and I felt lost without horse shows...but it forced me to remind myself that I rode for me- because I loved horses and riding and in particular my horse- not for the shows, or to prove to others if I was a good rider or not. Its so easy to compare yourself to others ( I know I do all the time, I still like to look at other people and go hey! they aren't as good of a rider as I am yet they are going Intermediate and I've been going training for 9327589 yrs.!)- which is essentially what a show does-comapre you- and to just take a step back and be like no one else is riding my horse today..they all have their own problems and situations.

But speaking of saddles, I have a Devacoux jumping saddle- DO NOT BUY ONE- I had so many probelms with crooked trees and nonsense that a 3500 saddle should not have- but I ride in a niedersuss dressage saddle- that i bought off E-bay for like 600. I like its- its nothing fancy or anything but works well for me and long legs. And ive had it for 8 yrs and its fit zammy- who sounds like a lot like kikki in back conformation.

Katherine Erickson said...

thank you everyone for the great advice!! As soon as I get appropriate cashmoneys the saddle fitting adventure will begin =)

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