Yesterday, mid-way up the mountain, I looked down and realized that not only was my saddlepad disappearing, but that the saddle had slid back on Ashke's back and down. There was no longer any real clearance between the gullet of the saddle and the top of his withers. We stopped part way up to let the horses blow (1000 feet in under a half mile is a stiff uphill) and I slid off to reset the saddle. I already had the girth as tight as it would go, so I regirthed it using the forward billet and the back billet (Saiph will understand since she has an Alta), which allowed me to get the saddle a little tighter. I still was not happy with the fit. When we got back to the barn, I evaluated.
I feel awful that I was not paying close enough attention. It took Michelle telling me he was getting too skinny for me to realize we had passed our optimal weight and hit the slide toward emaciation. For a person who is a feeder by nature, I don't think there is anything that I could have done to make myself feel worse.
I think we have gone from 5.5, which I was pretty happy with, to a 4 or 4.25. His shoulder is beginning to show bone, you can see the edges of his ribs, there is no fat deposit over his tail, his spine is sticking up and his hips look boney. I'm so unhappy. I don't know if it's the quality of the hay or the extra amount of work we have added, but he has lost too much weight. Beet pulp isn't an option, since he can't stand the stuff, so I switched two of his flakes of grass to alfalfa. I may add another flake of grass to his first feeding and switch his lunch meal to alfalfa. That would make three grass and three alfalfa flakes a day. Currently, he is on five flakes of grass hay. He is being worked more consistently and for longer periods of time than he was last year and it may be he will be more of a hard keeper than an easy. Either way, I would rather he be closer to a six than a four. Also, I would rather add forage than to add grain.
So, I know that part of the saddle fit issue I currently face is due to the loss of weight on his part. It didn't fit like this when I first got it. That was enough of a reason to talk J into going to Dover with me. Once there I found a foam lift for the front of the saddle. I figure he has lost about half an inch on either side, so picked up a lifter that will be just enough to keep the saddle from dropping down on top of his withers. While we were there I tried on some Irideon full seat breeches, which I loved and will get as soon as I can afford them. I want them in graphite and black. Two pair because I am greedy that way. I picked up a tube of Leder Basalm for my saddle, a new bright blue with silver ear bonnet for my boy, and a container of leather conditioner wipes for quick and easy cleaning of saddle, reins, etc. Loaded up, but not having gone overboard, at least by my standards, if not J's, we headed home.
The original plan this weekend was to fore go the horse and do camping instead. But, T had an xbox thing he wanted to do between 3 and 7 today, and neither J or I had managed to wrangle up a part to fix the sink in the pop-up. On top of that, we had some issues going on at the house that we needed to tend to (like three hours of ironing that I had put off for several weeks) and it just felt like too much to try and go. Instead, we talked about going for a trail ride. However, that didn't happen either. N and I were both feeling really low energy. Instead, we took the dogs to the dog park, then went to REI for a bladder for N's hydration pack we gave her (we will try it tomorrow on trail), and then headed for the barn.
The lift worked very nicely, although how lifting the saddle about half an inch makes me feel like I am perched on a platform above Ashke's back for the first three steps is a strange phenomena. He was a little unsure for those three steps and then he walked out, his back swinging and ready for work.
We started at a walk, asking for some bend and then adding a four step leg yield with slight leg pressure to the rail and then back out at the walk. Ashke did that very well.
At one point, J, N and I had a conversation about aids and what works and what doesn't. N has to use a lot of leg to get Cali to move forward. She is not as sluggish at the trot and canter on trail, but in the arena she needs a lot of encouragement. I have to be careful with Ashke, because he can be so sensitive that my shifting weight can throw him off. Sometimes he gets confused by what the question is, and he is so determined to give me the right answer, that if my aid is too strong he will start throwing answers in an attempt to get it right. J is asking questions so that she understands what is expected or what makes sense when she is riding. (Pretty cool, eh? Here is a woman who was terrified of horses and had no desire to ride, taking lessons because she loves me.)
Ashke working very hard to find the right answer. Tracking up very nicely.
I really need to smile more. I look strange in this photo.
(And I should never wear that shirt again. I may move to flannel in the fall.)
I was very happy with where the lift in the saddle moved my position to, including where my leg was. I think the saddle was tipping me forward, because the front had sank so low. I felt very comfortable and Ashke gave me a great ride.
Our canter to the right was the best he has ever managed to do. It was smooth and rhythmic and felt so easy. I don't know if it's just the amount of cantering we are doing on trail or the mountain work we have added, but either way, his canter to the right has really improved.
Sporting the new bonnet. Very sweet right lead canter.
Looking at this photo finally made me understand why he switches his back lead or uses both legs together when we are riding a small circle to the left. There is a point in the canter where the weight of horse and rider is balanced and moved forward on one hind leg. When we move to the right, it is the left leg that is doing all of the work. When we move on the left lead, the right hind leg has to do all of that. He switches the back lead to protect that hip when it is sore or tired, or if the circle is too tight to ride it the correct way. This is good to know, so I can monitor his physical ability to maintain the left lead in a small circle. I may employ the use of a spiral as a training and conditioning tool as it tightens the circle gradually. That and mountain sprints.
Tracking up on the right.
Tracking up on the left.
After our warm up in the big arena, we moved over to the dressage arena and I approximated my L2 Working equitation test. Unfortunately, I have not measured the arena and made my own markers for a 40 X 20 dressage arena, complete with our numbers (which are different from regular dressage numbers). I plan on printing out the letters on sheets of copy paper, taping them onto my cones, then measuring the arena and marking where my cones go. I will use poles to mark the end of the arena and the opening at A. That way, I can set it up to ride my tests, then move the cones and pole and no one would be the wiser.
So, here is the first test I rode, and my evaluation of what we need to work on:
1. Obviously, we need to work on being straight down the centerline. Ashke has the expectation that we are going to ride on the rail and kept trying to make his way there. We look like a drunken sailor. Unfortunately, I'm not good at straight.
2. Circles. I'm not good at circles either. Never took geometry. I may have to mark out a 20m and a 10m just so I know which is which.
3. Impulsion without rushing at the trot. He can do it, he just needs to know that's what I want. He stalled out on the 10m circle on our second ride, I stopped to get the dressage whip and we started over. I don't need to do much more than flick the end and he moves forward better.
Then a few minutes later we rode the test again:
Trot-Canter and Canter-Trot transitions still need attention. Although he is much better than he was a month ago.
In this ride, I completely spaced out that I was practicing a test as we crossed the diagonal. That left me way behind the eight ball trying to change the diagonal, pick up a trot and then a canter in what felt like four inches. I swear, dressage ADHD.
He came down the centerline much straighter the final time.
Overall, I am pretty happy with how well he is doing. I am going to go through my dressage book and see if there are any circle exercises that would help us. I also know that having the length of the arena marked and the letters in their correct position will help with the structure and feel of it in my head.
We have a fun day with the obstacles, a schooling show (all three phases) and a Mark Rashid clinic between now and the show on the 5th of September. Hopefully, I will gain skill and grace and maybe a couple more abdominal muscles between now and then.
On the way back to the barn we did this:
Tomorrow, N braves the Fairmont trail for the first time since her confrontation with the biatch from hell. I believe we will be carrying dressage whips. :) and T will be riding his new and wonderful bike with us.