Thank you, Lisa, for the great customer service in getting me my saddle. The Alta Esquela has arrived from Ludomar in Spain via El Sueno Espanol Saddles out of Missouri. El Sueno Espanol, http://elsuenoespanol.com/store/, sells a lot of saddles, bridles and bits from Spain and Portugal. They are designed for the short-backed Spanish horses like the Lusitano and the Andalusian. I have coveted one since I read Saiph's entry on her Alta. (Her's is much fancier, since she had it customized. I wasn't ready to do that, because it would have been impossible to return if I hadn't liked it. I opted for the smooth black leather one, flex wide tree, standard seat.) The wait was just a little over 2 months (which I knew about in advance) since they had to build one for me.
My wait is finally over and it was well worth it. This saddle is luxurious. Several of my co-workers, who have been following our saga, came in to see the saddle. The first thing they commented on was the softness of the leather. It is super soft, like butter. I've always heard that comment, but this is the first time I have actually felt it. The stitching was clean and neat. The overall appearance of the saddle is of understated quality; function and form together.
It's here!!! And sitting in my office waiting for me to take it to the barn.
J, who was probably as excited as I was, came to the barn with me to test it on Ashke. Ashke was surprised to see us so late, but amiable to being fed carrots. He was nervous about the saddle. My Princess (and the Pea) got a bit testy in the crossties as I lifted the saddle onto his back. He puffed his belly out to inhibit the girth even reaching the billet straps, which when the girth was tightened was plenty long enough - it's just getting the girth to reach in the first place. The boy can expand by a good four inches.
Testing the fit along his back.
It fits nicely, leaving plenty of room for movement through his shoulder. I could slide my hand between the top of his wither and the bottom of the gullet. There was two inches of space all along his spine. The sides of the saddle fit the shape of his body very well, so that when the girth is tightened it doesn't bow out the panels along his back. It is a little looser in the left wither than the right, but that is an issue with his withers, not the saddle. If anything, I would look at a Mattes shim pad (ching, ching) so I could add just a bit of fill on the left. Or maybe I could make my own shim half-pad. I am going to give it a couple of weeks of riding before making that purchase, however. I am hoping that he will find it easier to become symmetrical now, and we will work on lateral movement and transitions to help with the development.
New wool backed saddle pad from El Sueno Espanol Saddles to go with the Alta.
You can tell from his ears that Ashke wasn't certain about the decision to try a new saddle.
The last two saddles we tried were not good on his back and he hated how they felt. The Wintec Isabelle, with the square plastic panels, elicited a massive spook and buck when I asked for any type of forward or collection. I can honestly say that was the absolute worse saddle we tried. The aussie wasn't much better. Ashke was unhappy with another saddle to try and got very tense in the crossties as I tightened the girth.
He got happier.
When we got the to indoor, I had to go to the bathroom. J took Ashke and led him around the arena to allow him time to get used to how the saddle felt on his back and how it moved with him. When I got back he had relaxed a little bit, realizing that maybe it wouldn't be so bad.
Moving quickly at the walk.
He felt very similar to how he felt when I rode him in the dressage saddle. He was really swinging at the walk. There is a marked difference in his movement when his shoulders are free. I've been feeling that hesitation or stiffness in his gait for awhile now and only felt it gone when we were riding in the Wintec (the first, not the Isabelle). Last night, he was powering forward, rather than feeling "stuck".
He was super responsive to leg pressure. Even the slightest tightening of my calf muscle was enough to move him away from my leg.
Working across the arena, with some lateral movement.
Moving in almost a sidepass at the trot.
Decent Lateral Movement
The first time I asked for a canter, Ashke was uncertain. We trotted a lot before he got launched. He was stiff and bouncy. I realized it was because I had grabbed on with my lower leg and he was unsure what the hell that meant. On our second canter, I sat back, relaxed and just moved with him instead of trying to hold on.
We are levitating. He looks happy and comfortable there.
Such a swinging walk.
Moving his hind end out.
My first impressions are:
- The seat is very deep and incredibly comfortable. I was very surprised how deep it felt when I first sat in it. Additionally, the seat is very soft and forgiving. No pain to the seat bones in this saddle. I could see how easy it would be to ride for hours without getting tired of being in the saddle.
- It took three tries before I had the stirrup leathers the right length. They may still be a hole short, but they were decent for last night. I do want to lengthen them before I ride tonight.
- Once Ashke realized it wasn't going to hurt, his movement opened up.
- For whatever reason, whether it is the fit or the construction of the saddle, Ashke was so much more responsive to my leg, to the shift of my weight, and the overall communication between us feels more connected.
- I used my hand to check the fit of the gullet after we had been riding for a while. It fits a little tighter on the right, but there was no pinch point or rub while he moved. I could still get two fingers in, even after the saddle was girthed and I was on him.
- I am riding in a much better seat and leg position than I was. The even better part of that is that my back didn't hurt. I could see myself being able to ride without the BOT back brace.
My goal going forward is two-fold: I am planning on riding in the arena tonight and Sunday in the snaffle to see how well he does when asked to use his back. This will really solidify for me how well the saddle fits. The second is that I need to get some miles on him and see what the sweat pattern across his back looks like. I may need to have the flocking adjusted, but that will be hard to tell until I have ridden him for a while.