Monday, May 30, 2016


Saturday we decided to do Chatfield, since Ashke wasn't bleeding from having to have proud flesh cut off of his leg. We got K and Eddy and headed south. It kind of sucks that all of our favorite riding places are at least an hour away now.

When we reached Chatfield, the sun was shining brightly. By the time we were ready to ride, it was sprinkling. We headed south along the east side of the South Platte, a trail we haven't ridden in almost a year.

It was so very green.

Eddy channeling his happy place.

J in her subtle, quiet colors.

The front range in spring colors.

A new to us trail. J and I had ridden this way one of our very first rides with N.

The creek two years ago was much narrower. This pond had grown behind a beaver dam.
Deep enough it touched the bellies of the horses. 

J crossed the creek by balancing on the beaver dam. I helped with a couple of the trees we had to work past.

Pretty cool barn or old shack that looked like it was caught in a fire at some point.

From the front. I think it may have been a cabin at some point.

We found a meadow we didn't know existed.

Much giggling

So much giggling

K and Eds

Ashke just went faster and faster.

 The footing was great.

Riding up the incline from the meadow to the Highline Canal

From Ashke's viewpoint.

Lunch break.


Mugging for the camera

 Heading from the canal to the trailer.
Cut the ride a bit short to ease the strain on Ashke.

Sandy trails make for tough biking.

A final walk in the sun.

Friday Expanded

Friday was a crazy day. After the vet and saddle fitting, J and I headed south to IKEA. I promised J if she would go with me to IKEA, I would take her to REI (anniversary sale) on our way home. The IKEA trip involved exchanging picture frames, buying hangers (wood), plates (so we have a complete matching set of white tempered glass dishware), placemats (in cork, squeeee!) and some serving utensils. Less than $50 and all very needed items. On our way back, we stopped at REI and J had fun finding some things for her. One of the big ones was a mount for her phone for the front of her bike. The only drawback to using the mount is that it is more difficult for her to remove one handed in order to video or take pics. She will practice. A pile of stuff, a gift card and $6 and we were on our way north to help K look at an Aussie saddle for her and Eddy.

Like me, K thinks the Aussie saddle is cool and has always wanted one. I saw a listing for an Aussie on FB, contacted the woman and got K in touch with her. The saddle was two tone and a size that I thought would fit K, which it did. We got there a bit late, but they were still trying to find a girth that would work with the saddle and Eddy, so I got to do a bit of saddle fitting. Using the knowledge I had gained from Megan, the first thing I did was flip the saddle over and evaluate the panels.

Aussie saddles are strange creatures: their panels are made from felt or wool, but still flocked with either wool or foam. This one had wool flocking and actually felt pretty smooth and even on both sides. There did not seem to be any lumps or dips of note and I could feel the slit under the panel that would allow access to manipulate the flocking (although I do remember from my bout with trying to fit an Aussie saddle that they use a large knitting needle to penetrate through the weave on the panel to manipulate the material.) We lifted it onto Eddy's back without a pad to assess the fit.

First I tested the balance front to back, as I had seen Megan do. This was the part I was most worried about with the saddle, since the amount of rock in the saddle was the biggest issue in trying to fit Ashke. There was no rock. So I checked the shoulder fit and slid my hand under the saddle looking for bridging or uneven pressure. It felt pretty good, although I wasn't real sure about the shoulder fit. I was worried it might be a touch too tight, but we wouldn't know until the saddle was cinched on. The woman selling it brought back a girth that we got to work and with the saddle in place, we walked over to the indoor arena.

I asked Eddy to move around me without K in the saddle to see how he would do. He looked a touch off to me - either the right hind or the left front. It was faint, but there. I wasn't sure if the faint hesitation was the saddle or the fact that it is wall to wall mud in his stall. K mounted and tried the saddle.

It's funny how things change. Four years ago I knew nothing about saddle fit, rider position or movement of the horse under saddle. Now, I was immensely unpleased with the position K was in. Her feet were out in front of her, and although the saddle fit her very well, she just didn't look right. And Eddy didn't move correctly. He looked stiff and uncomfortable. When K asked for a canter, Eddy complied but then threw in a couple of bucks crossing the arena on the diagonal. He definitely looked stiff at both the trot and canter.

After a couple of times around the arena, I called K over, trying to figure out what I was seeing in the horse's movement. I was methodically moving around him checking girth, the balance of the saddle and then I went to check his shoulder and discovered that the saddle had tightened across his shoulders with K's weight in the saddle and the rolled edge of the saddle was digging into the muscle that comes across the top of his shoulder blade. It was a very sharp, digging type of pinch and explained what I had been seeing in his movement.

I told K I didn't think the saddle was going to work. Even if she wanted to spend the money to have a real saddle fitter come out I didn't think adding flocking to the front of the saddle would help, since it would narrow the space in front, lift the saddle up and create new issues with bridging. It just wasn't going to fit and Eddy had let us know he didn't like the way it fit.

They pulled out the second Aussie saddle they had for sale, which I knew was out of K's price range, but I figured it never hurt to try saddles. I flipped it over to evaluate the panels and was horrified. The panels were felt and poorly created. I could see without even touching the panels, that they were totally uneven, lumpy and strangely shaped. The panel started out from the back like a normal English dressage panel, but then narrowed severely right over the loins, then widened again (think hour-glass shaped) and they did not look even. Sure enough, the left side panel had two huge lumps, with valleys on either side. The lumps were right where the rider's weight would be. Additionally, there was no padding on the front of the panel, over the withers, and it felt like my palms were sliding into big black holes. I checked for flocking slots, afraid from the feel that the saddle was flocked with foam pieces, and couldn't find any. The underside of the panel was canvas. I asked where they had gotten it and how old it was.

The story she was given was that a police department order 1600 of these saddles, and then sold the ones they didn't need. It was brand new and had only been ridden in six or so times. I showed the owner what I was seeing and had them feel for themselves. The guy asked me why I thought someone would make a saddle this way and I had no answer. There is something to be said for spending money for quality when it comes to saddles. I told them I wouldn't even put it on Eddy's back and wished them good luck in selling it.

Afterwards, K and I talked. I don't think she enjoyed the fit of the saddle as much as she thought. She didn't like the balance in the thing, which makes sense because you can't use your legs at all for balance. She did say that she really liked how much closer contact she felt the saddle gave her and I made a snarky comment about western fenders. I told her that she should look for saddles that have english saddle leathers and irons, since they will give the best contact and better leg aids to the horse.

I don't know which direction she will go from here. I guess we wait and see.

Sunday, May 29, 2016


Friday was a great day!!

First, I had an appointment with a new saddle fitter, Megan Shroyer Pifer (using her name to help drive her business), who is a friend of AM, the woman I am taking dressage lessons from. Anyway, I saw Megan's post on FB talking about saddle fitting and responded, wanting to know if she could fit an Alta Escuela. Unlike pretty much everyone, not only did she know what an Alta was, but she knew Ludomar of Spain (where I got the saddle from) and said yes, she could definitely work on the saddle. We made an appointment for Friday at 9 am.

Okay, I was skeptical about paying to have another saddle fitter come out. My last two experiences have not been great and I paid out a lot of money for nothing. I was hoping this wasn't going to be the same situation all over again. I was a bit defensive, because while I might not know everything about fitting a saddle, I have read a lot, mapped my horse's back, and educated myself as well as I could. I had also talked to Saiph about her Alta and the reflocking she had done, so I knew how to proceed.

As a reminder, the last woman who came out wanted to remove padding from the bars and the front of the saddle and raise the back of the saddle, which would have created more pressure on his shoulder and could have increased the bridging in his back. When Megan got there I was very upfront about the saddle and what I was seeing. I figured I might as well be completely honest about where I was coming from: I told her that the saddle fit him very well, that I had very even sweat patterns on both sides, that Dr Wagner had evaluated it and thought there was some slight bridging on the left pattern where the pressure wasn't even, and that I had no intention of getting a new saddle.

Megan laughed and said that was good since she didn't have any saddles to show me. She said she was familiar with both Alta's and Ludomar and it sounded like the saddle just needed some adjustments. So relieved. I told her that I have done a lot of reading and that I really want to learn about saddle fitting/adjusting the flocking and to please show me everything, which she did.

Megan started by placing the saddle on Ashke's back and evaluating the fit. She noted that there was some slight bridging on both sides (damn stall rest) but that the extreme asymmetrical nature of his withers was resolving (yeah for long rides on trail and dressage!!) She said she wanted to bevel the flocking back at the wither to allow a little more room for his scapula, without effecting the fit, and would adjust the flocking to fix the bridging.

I asked her if we would be doing the flocking there and she laughed and said yes, since she needed to check the fit as she went (I was very happy since the idea of the saddle fitter taking the saddle home to take apart and possibly not put it back together was enough to give me nightmares). She pulled a table out of her car, covered it with a blanket and we set the saddle on it.

The first thing Megan showed me was how to evaluate the panels. By running your hand from the back to the front, using the palm only, you can feel the areas where the panel is not even, either from the flocking knotting up and creating a mat, or from the dips where the flocking has moved away from other areas. There were definite knots toward the back of the panel and dips in the bar area. Megan pulled out her tools and began to work on the issue.

First she used the blocking mallet thingy to break up the wool in the panel, to loosen it and move it around a bit.

The mallet was pretty cool and within a few minutes a lot of the lumps and bumps in the panels were gone.

Then we removed the screws from the front of the saddle, where it held the panels to the tree. Left first and then the right. There was a small access area at the very front for flocking purposes, although Megan did say that if the back of the panel ever needed serious adjustments, she might have to cut another access slit further back. Luckily, the work she needed to do was in the bar area and the front of the saddle.

 Megan using the flocking tool to insert long wool fibers into the saddle.

When I asked about the wool, since I have a bale of saddle fitting wool still sitting in my office for the day when I start fixing my own saddles, and Megan told me that she prefers wool with long fibers. The long fibers seem to work better with saddle panels and tend to hold up/not mat as bad in the long run. 

 Working the wool in from the small slot at the front of the saddle.

 The flocking tool has a niche in it that grabs hold of the wool, allowing Megan to move it into the panel where she wants it.

 She worked in several long strands of wool on each side of the saddle until it was smooth and even.

Working on the other side of the saddle. Lots of yummy woolness going in.
I covet my own set of saddle flocking irons, although maybe I'll just hang out with Megan and watch her work.

 Fitting the saddle to Ashke's back. Megan checking the front of the saddle where she moved the flocking back away from the shoulder.

Happy with how it is fitting.

Megan had me ride to see how it felt. Ashke seemed happy and willing to lift his back and move with some contact even if we weren't warmed up. It would take a real ride and some sweat to see if the issues I had seen were resolved (hair ruffed up across the bars).

Sweat pattern after a 7 mile ride.
The hair rub that I was seeing despite the even sweat pattern has been completely resolved.

The darker pattern at the back is due to the immense amount of dirt on my horses rear end, thanks to the Colorado unsettled weather pattern. This boy is very dirty.

A huge thank you to Megan for such a great job. I'm so happy I found you!!! Even more happy you are moving to my barn in the near future.

During that same time, Dr Long showed up to check out the wound. 

The first words out of Doc's mouth was "that looks wonderful".
Minimal proud flesh and no need to excise anything!!!
He gave me some steriod ointment and told me to do 48 hours with it on, 24 hours unbandaged.
Ashke of course, itched it immediately with the other hoof and caused it to bleed.

I was so happy I was skipping around the barn!!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Rebecca Algar

This past weekend, High Country Working Equitation hosted our first show and clinic. We invited Rebecca Algar from Gainesville, TX to come judge our spring show and then offer a clinic to our riders the following day. She came in on Friday (supposed to be early on Friday but airplanes) and gave four of us a mini clinic that evening. That made for a very long day on Friday for me, but Ashke got to spend it outside in a pen between Cody and CO at Circle Star Arena. He was happy and bouncing between standing quietly with Cody or face fighting with CO.

Rebecca is an accomplished equestrian, who has trained with top trainers all over the world. She has competed in just about every equestrian event there is, including steeple chase, eventing, dressage, reining, western pleasure, cutting and working equitation, just to name a few. And won a ton of Championships. She is a certified International judge for WE and has classical dressage training. She is also a real down to earth person with no pretension - she has opinions, especially about my riding - but is really easy to talk with.

 Northern most part of the arena with the gate, figure 8, three barrels, jump, garrocha, bull, sidepass and jug.

 Center of the arena with the single slalom, part of the double slalom and the bridge.

 The southern end of the arena with the livestock pen, the bridge, the corridor with bell and the beginning of the double slalom.

It was a fairly simple layout, with some technical questions but nothing as difficult as we had seen at Expo. We started by walking the course with her, in part to talk about course walking and in part for her to check distances and lines between obstacles (we set up the course from a diagram she provided) to make sure that it offered a fair test. It was a very straight forward course with a few complications, but not any significant added difficulty (such as carrying the garrocha to work other obstacles). Rebecca suggested that riders needed to walk the course in the same manner they were planning on riding it, to see if the lines would work. Like jumpers do.

The most interesting part was when we came to the double slalom and she walked the pattern. Rebecca walked the pattern in semi circles, crossing between the poles at a diagonal (ice cream cones not hot dogs). This method of doing the double slalom makes a very difficult obstacle easier to visual in that the rider crosses half way between every set of poles. It makes it so much visually easier to get the circles the same size and shape when you use the poles as your guidelines. Rebecca also said that when riding this pattern it allows for three straight strides for the flying change and three is all you need.

From the Lusitano Portal website

This is different from the way Tarrin Warren had us working on the pattern, which was a hot dog shape:

When riding the double slalom, Tarrin wanted the rider to make their circle so that the inside edge was as close to the pole as possible, then ride the straight away to the next half circle. It is very difficult when riding the pattern this way to be able to form your similarly sized circles. And the poles are no help in keeping things symmetrical.

The thing that is most interesting to me is that I was taught to ride the double slalom in the first pattern by Amy Star, a judge for USFWE. I figure I am going to go back to riding it that way (it makes the most sense to me) until there is further clarification. International judge trumps everyone else. I also think that Ashke and I will produce a better and more consistent ride with that pattern.

Working Ashke in circles trying to get used to riding with more contact.

After walking the course and making the course adjustments that Rebecca wanted, we got saddled up. We started warming up our horses in the big arena and Rebecca took turns with each of us, working on flat work. She told me to raise my hands, shorten my reins and move Ashke forward off my leg. I was to keep my legs on all of the time (no bumping like I was shown by Cassandra) so that Ashke didn't startle when I applied a bit more pressure with a leg (he was jumpy). She said it would also provide reassurance to him since he is very sensitive.

We look pretty good here.

When she worked with me there was a lot of "get your hands up", "put your leg on", "lift your head, there is nothing of interest in his right ear", "stop looking down", "stop flapping like a chicken", "leg on at the girth", "do you know where the girth is?". I know that kind of thing can upset other people but all it did was make me laugh and try harder. OMG!! It was hard. I do not normally ride with my leg on, wrapped around him. I do that at the canter out on trail to keep him from going sideways, but typically in the arena I only use my leg to apply an aid. With Rebecca, she wanted my reins short, hands up, hands together (how else am I going to ride with one hand), leg on, head up, body still, and move nothing but the little muscles in my calves to get him to go where and how I wanted. We did the double slalom toward the end with me not moving much and him doing exactly what I wanted from those miniscule calf muscles. I kept him balance and rode a very nice slalom that way.

Working on the double slalom

And then he lost his shit.

In his defense he is not used to the amount of contact she wanted me to maintain with him. It was way more than I am used to and he had an opinion about that. She yelled at me to keep him going forward and finally told me to loose the reins and hand gallop him around the arena to get him unwound. That helped. I think we had just done too much collected work for my out of shape boy. Rebecca said to do it in five minute increments with lots of non-collected work inbetween, until he gets the muscle built up to ride that way. I may have to go back to using the dressage whip and tapping my boot until we get this worked out. I can also do a lot of verbal reinforcement to get him to understand what we need to do to do this correctly.

And the vids:

This was at the end of the ride, when he was really struggling to maintain the amount of collection I was looking for. This was about the time Rebecca told me to gallop him out.

Single slalom, which when rode correctly at a canter is a four tempi stride between poles. Rebecca said it should be ridden in as straight a line as possible with a leg yield between poles rather than half circle around them. I can't even.

That was my last ride for the weekend. I spent Saturday helping with the HCWE Spring Show at Circle Star, taking photos and wrangling the boys who helped. Then Sunday I spent most of my day at the clinic, taking some photos and just listening to Rebecca coach the riders.

Last night I went out and rode for about 30 minutes. Ashke seemed to have taken what we worked on to heart and made a real effort to maintain a steady contact without flailing for the extent of our ride.

I felt him really trying to maintain the contact. He got a little antsy a couple of times during the ride, but I just calmed him and asked again, giving lots of walk breaks in between. He seemed to want to be a grown up WE horse. Rebecca thought that one of the reasons I was having issues with maintaining contact is that the biothane reins are too light. There is no even weight on the end of the shanks of the bit, so the contact is bouncing a little on his mouth anyway. I have already ordered a Spanish bridle and my friend, LM, has a Spanish bit I can try. I plan on setting that up as my dressage bridle and riding in it only when we are working on WE. I am going to put the grazing bit back on the biothane bridle for trail riding, since he can eat in it comfortably. I will either ride him in that or the black bridle with the S-hackamore when we are on trail. 

When I finished my ride and went to unsaddle him, I realized I had not hooked up my breast collar. Nor was it flapping. It was wadded up under the saddle. Talk about rider fail. That could not have been comfortable, but even with that digging into his back he tried for me.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

WW: A Day Late

Overall, it looks really great. Swelling is down and Ashke no longer lifts his leg out and shakes it in response to me treating it. He is also weight bearing back to normal for that leg (he rests the left more than the right - long time habit, I believe). I treated it with Betadine and wrapped it. We will see what we have on Friday, when I bathe him before our clinic ride. We will keep it wrapped for a while longer and put the leg protectors on when we ride. It is definitely getting smaller and I can see the regrowth on all edges.

Sunday, May 15, 2016


Ashke has been really unhappy the past two weeks. I think as his leg is feeling better, he is getting scared that his job is gone. Seriously. I think he misses our rides, our training, our time with me in the saddle. I've been out more frequently than I had been since he moved to Morelli, so it's not that he feels abandoned. I think he misses our adventures.

Today, we loaded him on the trailer and headed for Barr Lake. The footing there is great, the trail is very flat, and I knew in advance that if it was too much, we could just walk the entire ride. It would get Ashke out with Eddy, and give me a chance to evaluate his overall condition, and the leg. If the leg was really bothering him, we could just turn around and go back to the trailer. I rewrapped his leg, which looked better than yesterday, and then wrapped his hind legs with the BOT tendon boots to give him a bit more support.

Ashke jumped on the trailer after seriously regarding the two horses grazing in the pasture next to the trailer. We traveled to where Eddy is boarded, loaded all of the things, grinned in pleasure as Eddy loaded himself, then headed to Barr Lake.  Saddling went smoothly, although it was a tiny bit of a struggle to get the girth hooked up. The boy has gained a touch of weight.

He was on fire. I didn't push him at all. I was riding him in the hackamore so that if he wanted or needed a break we could stop and he could graze. I let him choose the pace, just slowing him if he felt a bit ragged. He was ready to go and intermixed walk sets with long trotting sets. He even offered a canter when the footing was excellent. He was magnificent.

For the most part, he felt completely sound. We started out at the trot (his choice) and he felt just a touch off, but he got stronger and more solid as we went along and he tested the limits of his pain.

It really is a beautiful lake.

Complete with Pelicans.
We also saw a bunch of grebs (long narrow neck, diving birds), Great Blue Herons

This was a great gravel path that led from the main trail, through a prairie dog farm past a bunch of hunting blinds. We cantered a bunch of this.

While we were cantering, Eddy pulled a stunt that he's added to his bag of tricks in the past two months and bolted. Or tried to. K fought with him and he veered into the prairie dog town at a gallop, tripping and stumbling through the holes. K finally got him stopped and she was pissed (for which I can't blame her). I meandered around with Ashke, distracting him with trees and tall stands of grass, while K ran Eddy into submission. They did long canters, extended trots, sudden halts, circles, etc. He worked. Hard.

 We adventured.

 The amount of moisture we've had has not been good for the ancient cottonwoods.

And a lot of knee high grass.

 So very green right now.

Ashke had died and gone to grass heaven.

 K still schooling the Eds.

 Can't really tell from this picture, but he was a sweaty mess.
Listening though.

 There are two bridges that cross the canal that circles Barr Lake. On the way back we crossed over the one we'd never been across before. That allowed us to ride through new to us territory on the way back to the trailer.

Ashke was striding out.

Coming back into the trailer area, we were herding a bunch of geese, that didn't want to fly. 

Ashke's leg looked really good, or at least the wrap looked good, with no additional swelling (the wound site is still slightly swollen) and Ashke seemed pretty happy to have finished another ride. We did just about 7 miles in an hour and 45 minutes (4.12 mph ave) which used to feel difficult, but just felt kind of ordinary today. Ashke was slightly sweating under his saddle but otherwise looked and felt great. We let them cool out at the trailer while we ate lunch, then loaded up and headed home.

Overall, Ashke did awesome. Neither K or J could see any hesitation in his stride. I am planning on rewrapping the leg again tomorrow and will evaluate the wound then. The wrapping only lasts about a day or two at the most. I couldn't figure out what was going on until I saw Ashke itching the back of his leg with the hoof of his other back foot.