I don’t have time to post the details at the moment (places to go, horses to ride!), but Consolation’s ride yesterday went almost perfectly. She switched her tail a few times and gave one, half-hearted head fling during our warmup, and that was it. We proceeded to have a lovely, sane ride along the irrigation canal — 8 miles at 9 mph. Consolation was all business, relaxed and happy, without the hypersensitivity and spookiness that have characterized her behavior for some time. Hooray!
Oh, and I was finally able to sit easy and enjoy her new, custom Stonewall saddle. It’s a prototype of the new mission style that Jackie is working on and wow, is it nice for both of us. I’m excited to see how Consolation does this year in more comfortable tack. This isn’t the best photo ever because I took it when the saddle first arrived in April, with a storm coming in and Consolation annoyed by her itchy back, but it gives you the idea. I’ll get better shots soon.
Today, I’ll start with a canal ride on Acey and then take Consolation to the hills for a ride with Karen Bumgarner and her boy Blue. We took Acey and Thunder up there yesterday; now it’s time for the greys. Late in the afternoon, I’ll forgo hoof trimming in favor of a Mother’s Day (and late birthday for me) barbecue at my mom’s place. Good thing, too. I trimmed so many feet yesterday that my fingers, forearms, and quads are stiff today.
Saddle fitting has to be one of the most frustrating issues for any thoughtful equestrian. From endurance riders whose horses must carry them thousands of miles in a year, to dressage riders whose mounts must be comfortable enough to round over their backs, to casual riders who simply care about the comfort and behavior of their horses, we all face the same questions:
How, and how much, is a horse’s back likely to change over time? Do different body types change in different ways? Could we learn to predict changes within types? How much do bodyweight and level of fitness change a horse’s back over the course of a competative season? Over years? When is it safe to have a saddle fitted, or even custom-built, for an individual horse?
Right now, the answer is often: Nobody knows. Nobody has collected the data in a consistant format and documented their findings over time.
Jackie Fenaroli, owner of Stonewall Saddles, and I have decided to change that. Starting right here, at In the Night Farm, we’re going to collect data. We’ll use the card-fitting system I’ve introduced here before, and we’ll follow most of my Barbs as they grow, age, and compete. I’ll collect data monthly and create a chart to document our findings, and I’ll post periodic updates here at The Barb Wire.
NORTHWESTERNERS: If you attend the same rides I do and would like to volunteer your horse in exchange for his or her measurements, let me know. We’ll put your horse on a scaled-down version of the data collection program, measuring just a couple times annually, ideally at the beginning and end of the season. Measuring only takes about 15 minutes.
CALIFORNIANS: Stonewall Saddles will be at the Horse Expo in Pomona this weekend (Feb 2-4). They’ll be offering an Engineered Saddle Fit presentation each day, and will be giving away free Boomerangle kits to anyone who fills out a quick survey regarding saddle features for trail riders. I have one of these kits and it’s really handy for making quick assessments of whether a particular saddle is likely to fit a given horse.
It’s time. My favorite saddle ever, the Stonewall I’ve been riding in since it arrived just before Christmas in 2008, is about to be replaced. You longtime readers will recall that it was custom-fitted for Aaruba, who was my primary endurance prospect at the time. We couldn’t have known that he’d retire only a year later, at the grand old age of seven, because of unspecified, severe gut health issues unrelated to endurance.
I switched my focus to Consolation, crossing my fingers that Aaruba’s saddle would fit. At first, it seemed to work all right on her young back. She wasn’t quite as wide as Aaruba, but we managed. Until this year. At nine, Consolation’s back has matured significantly from two years ago. The saddle fit — never perfect for her — became more of a problem. Nobody was ever able to identify any back pain when checking her, but it’s possible that some of her attitude issues were related to discomfort. A lovely, thick latch weave pad made a big difference, but there’s just not substitute for proper fit.
And so, just after the last ride of the season, Jackie Fenaroli asked me to mail the saddle and pad back to Stonewall. She evaluated the wear patterns, compared Consolation’s measurements to those taken several years ago, and determined that it’s time to start from scratch. She’s going to build a saddle made for my little Barb horses!
Step one in building a custom Stonewall is to get a good sense of the horse’s back. To this end, Jackie mailed me a set of the cards they use for getting accurate measurements of horses all over the country. They measure the width of the horse at three points (A – behind shoulder blade; B – lowest point of back; C – loin), as well as rock (the amount of curve from front to rear).
I measured Consolation, Acey, CJ, and Ripple:
I can’t help marveling at how well Consolation performed this season, despite wearing Aaruba’s saddle. What could she have accomplished if she were properly fitted and completely comfortable? Looks like we’ll soon find out!
Oooooh, look what just arrived in my mailbox!
Stonewall Saddles has teamed up with Snugpax to offer pommel bags designed specifically for the Stonewall. As you can see, these packs provide considerably more space than my current pommel packs (which I’ll move from my sponsorship saddle to my older Stonewall because I really like them, too) and include a new strap that attaches to the Stonewall’s rigging and should prevent the bouncing problems I had with my old Snugpax pommel bags.
Consolation is enjoying one more recovery day after a 30-mile weekend, but we’ll test drive these packs tomorrow evening.
Oh! Didn’t I mention that we did a 20-mile conditioning ride on Sunday? We averaged only 5 miles per hour, but finished in fine form. Milady Consolation is coming along, ladies and gentlemen. She’s coming along. I’m feeling good about her first LD at Old Selam come September…
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You might recall that we had a bit of trouble with our first photo shoot for this poster. The second wasn’t a whole lot better:
This shot has potential…except that my partner seems to be snoozing.
1) I’m jealous.
2) Be sure to stop by the Stonewall Saddles booth and give owner Jackie Fenaroli a hug from me.
Upward in the Night (my Stonewall story)
Here it is! The Stonewall Saddles logo…
…on my new sponsorship saddle, complete with unique water bottle holders, saddle bags, and wool pad…
…custom-built for Aaruba, with the help of the Dennis Lane equine back measuring system…
…beautiful and comfortable enough to coax me out for a ride despite the windy, 15 degree weather. The saddle fit Aaruba as though molded to his back (which is, after all, exactly what the conformal foam lining the custom tree is designed to do) and felt perfectly secure and familiar to me as we cruised across the frozen countryside.
I haven’t had a new saddle since I was fourteen years old. It was an all-purpose Wintec, the best I could afford on my stall-cleaning wages. Sixteen years later, I still have it. I can see myself riding in a Stonewall even longer.
Dear Jackie, owner of Stonewall, Aaruba says “thank you.”
Upward in the Night
It’s Here!: Dennis Lane Equine Back Profiling System
Speed and Special Delivery: Stonewall Saddle Pads are Here!
Back in the Fitting Room: Endurance Tack and Rider Gear
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Eight or ten miles, I thought after yesterday’s storm. We’ll shoot for 7.5 miles per hour. Just a nice, easy ride on a cloudy afternoon.
Aaruba, however, had other ideas. He was so fresh and frisky after 9 miles that instead of turning left toward home, we went straight across the road with the intention of adding another 3 miles.
At mile 10, I decided to turn right instead of left, adding an additional 4 miles.
At mile 16, we finished several miles of uphill trotting with energy to spare, so we blew through another intersection and hand galloped to the crest of the hill before trotting the rest of the way home. All told, our intended easy ride turned into a 19 miler at nearly 9 miles per hour, with no breaks — and not until the last 2 miles did Aaruba’s energy level decrease enough that I felt like riding one-handed.
Delighted with his Aaruba’s fitness and pleased to have our last long ride before Owyhee Canyonlands out of the way, I was even more thrilled discover a package from Stonewall Saddle Company awaiting my return. Inside were a pair of the new Stonewall saddle pads I’ve been eager to try.
You may recall that Aaruba suffered a bit of skin soreness near his loin during his first 50 mile race at Old Selam last month. This seemed to have resulted from the motion of his 5-Star wool saddle pad (the red one in the photo above), which at 1 inch is considerably thicker than Stonewall recommends.
The felted wool Stonewall pads are a mere 3/8 inch thick (they’ll also be available in 1/2 inch) and are shaped specifically for Stonewall endurance saddles, leaving most of the horse uncovered to aid in heat dissipation during distance work. The saddle’s conformal foam lining provides the microfitting that renders a pad all but unnecessary for anything beyond keeping the saddle clean. Jackie Fenaroli at Stonewall suggests that I start endurance races with two, thin pads, then remove one during a hold. This will not only put dry wool against Aaruba’s skin, but it will change the angle of the saddle very slightly, reducing fatigue during the second half of the ride.
Note: The pads in these photos are prototypes, so they’re not trimmed out like they’ll be when they’re actually on the market. I already love the unique, minimalist style!
In experimenting with the Stonewall pads on both Aaruba and Consolation, I discovered that not only did my saddle fit better with the thinner pad(s), but I was able to adjust the rigging to further reduce “saddle wagging” at the loin, even when trotting downhill. Oh, and Stonewall is working on a option for attaching a pad to the saddle. I’m all for having one fewer thing to carry!
One more thing: Be sure to check out Stonewall’s new website for photo-illustrated details of their saddles’ history and construction!
Several months and 465 miles ago, I wrote this post about endurance tack. Since then, I’ve made several additions and adjustments to Aaruba’s and my gear. Here we are, all decked out for last Sunday’s 16.5 mile conditioning ride.
As you can see, Aaruba is tricked out with more doodads than he was wearing back in April. Let’s go through the items, head to hoof.
Dr. Cook’s Bitless Bridle: Despite his obnoxiously sales-pitchy website, Dr. Cook has designed a bridle that continues to work well for Aaruba. The beta shows no sign of wear despite many hours of exposure to sweat and sun, and once you become accustomed to the bridle’s unusual configuration of straps, it’s quite easy to use. When I catch Aaruba up for a ride, I usually bridle him straight away instead of haltering him first for grooming; that way, I can simply tighten the noseband and mount up without having to change his headgear.
The Bitless Bridle seems to give Aaruba clear signals both laterally (for turning/bending) and vertically (for stopping/collecting). I particularly like how it is designed to put pressure on his poll when I tighten both reins, as he is prone to high-headed nervousness and I have trained him to lower his head in response to poll pressure. Unfortunately, the straps that cross beneath Aaruba’s jaw sometimes rub a bit when I have to hold him in for long periods, such as when he wants to rush during a race. However, this is more a training problem (we’re working on it) than a tack problem, and at its worst, it’s by no means severe; it may rub off some hair, but it’s never broken the skin.
A definite downside to the Bitless Bridle is that it relies on a very tight noseband for maximum effectiveness. Tighter than a typical, English cavesson, the noseband doesn’t interfere with Aaruba’s breathing, but it does limit his ability to chew — obviously less than ideal for an endurance situation, where a little trail side grazing is desirable. The good news is that after fifteen miles or so, Aaruba generally settles down enough that I can loosen the noseband a notch, sacrificing a bit of control in favor of his comfort and ability to eat.
Cotton Rope Rein: This is the second 8-foot, cotton rope rein I’ve purchased from my local tack shop; the first one needed replaced after a couple hundred miles, when the splice pulled out on one side and the rein came loose of the clip. I prefer a loop rein to split reins because I typically ride with very light hands and I don’t want to risk losing a rein if it slips from my grip. The soft, lightweight, round rope is comfortable most of the time, but I need to buy some summer weight riding gloves because the rope has been known to rub my knuckles raw in tight-rein situations.
Lead Rope: I like to keep a lead rope clipped to a side ring on Aaruba’s bridle so I can dismount and lead him with something other than the reins. I’ve had this 6-foot lead since I was a kid. Its snap is one you’d normally see on a dog’s leash rather than a lead rope, and the round nylon rope is only a half-inch in diameter. This makes for a lightweight combination that doesn’t tug on Aaruba’s face. While riding, I keep it looped around my saddle’s pommel in such a fashion that it won’t loosen with Aaruba’s movement, but it will pull free if he or I tangle in it.
Breastcollar: This is a standard, nylon breastcollar in the Y-style that won’t restrict Aaruba’s breathing. Though I’ve had no trouble with rubs, I’d still like to find some fleece covers for it. Where do they sell those things, anyway?
Snugpax Pommel Bags: I chose the Slimline Western Deluxe style because it offers two water bottle holders, a small pocket ideal for my rider card, and two pockets large enough for such items as a lightweight jacket or camera. The bag is of good quality, its fleece backing seems comfortable for Aaruba, and its attachment straps work well with my Stonewall saddle.
However, the lower pair of attachment straps that are made to be tied on are slippery and sometimes come untied, even when double- or triple-knotted. This leads to either wasted time during a race, or several awkward moments of attempting to guide an excitable horse while posting and leaning over to re-tie straps in the region of my knee — not my favorite activity. I’m considering tying on some kind of clip that can then be snapped to the saddle rigging in an attempt to alleviate this problem.
I’m also considering switching to cantle bags because my loop reins tend to get caught on the pommel bags, which is annoying at best and potentially dangerous at worst. This is the reason I only bring the bags along for rides of 15 miles or more; otherwise, I’ll go without water just so I don’t have to deal with snagged reins. The good news is that my sponsorship saddle from Stonewall will come with rear-mounted water bottle holders similar to those you’d use on a bicycle, so I’ll be able to carry water on every ride without any hassle.
Stonewall Lightweight Endurance Saddle: Back in April, I was concerned that Aaruba’s head-tossing behavior was related to improper saddle fit. I’m happy to report, however, that we’ve long-since resolved the behavior issue, and the saddle had nothing to do with it…thank goodness, because I love all 12 pounds of this saddle, from its centerfire rigging that reduces probability of girth rubs to its deep, comfortable seat and minimalist design.
5-Star Wool Saddle Pad: After 600 miles and many washes, this wool felt pad is just starting to show its age. That’s just as well, because although I’ve appreciated its contoured design and quality, its 1-inch thickness is less than ideal for use with my saddle. Stonewall Saddle Company recommends a 3/8 inch, wool pad and offers one designed specifically for their saddles, so I’ll be switching to Stonewall pads shortly. It’ll also be nice to reduce the surface area of Aaruba’s back that is covered by the pad, particularly during summer weather when his ability to radiate heat is critical.
Incidentally, Jackie Fenaroli at Stonewall informs me that a 1-inch change in pad thickness changes the pitch of the saddle from front to back by 1 degree. This is because a saddle pad lifts the saddle more near the horse’s shoulder than near his loin; the thicker the pad, the steeper the angle from pommel to cantle. An endurance rider might increase his horse’s comfort during a long ride by adding or removing a thin pad at the midway point, thereby slightly altering the pressure on the horse’s back.
Cool Tack Western/Endurance Seat Cover: This merino wool seat cover fits nicely on my Stonewall and has certainly contributed to my comfort over the miles. Not only is it cushy, but it adds a bit of friction between my seat and the saddle’s, which comes in handy during those dramatic Arab-style spooks. A word of caution about wool seat pads, though: I hear that they can absorb a tremendous amount of water during a rainstorm. I haven’t had opportunity to experience this issue personally, but I imagine it would render the seat cover very uncomfortable, not to mention heavy!
Neoprene cinch: If I had a better memory, I’d tell you what brand my cinch is. Instead, I’ll tell you that I appreciate its generous width (5 inches) and roller on the near-side buckle, which eliminates bunching problems while cinching up. Its also nice to simply hose the cinch off after a sweaty ride.
E-Z Ride Stirrups: I use the caged, nylon style. Padded, shock-absorbent, and 4 inches wide, these stirrups are worth every strange look I get from passing cowboys. Call me a coward, but I relish the security of the cages that allows me to rest my foot deep in the stirrup without fear of slipping through. Over many miles of posting, the bottoms of my feet sometimes grow numb, possibly because I am in denial regarding my need for bunion surgery. The easy fix is to hop off and jog a hundred yards or so, which I’m sure feels nice to Aaruba as well.
Interference boots: I introduced Aaruba’s interference boots in this post, when they were brand new. I’ve been using them ever since and sure enough, they’ve eliminated the interference injuries and seem to be holding up well. Last Sunday, though, the off front interference boot joined forces with an Easyboot gaiter to rub the inside of Aaruba’s fetlock. I think the bottom edge of the interference boot slipped under the gaiter, so a minor adjustment will likely prevent that particular rub from recurring.
Easyboot Bares: If you’ve been reading The Barb Wire blog for long, you know I’m committed to keeping Aaruba barefoot if at all possible. His feet are in very good condition and perfectly capable of going long distances without protection, as he proved on Day 2 of the Pink Flamingo Classic. However, most of our training miles are run on the gravel shoulders of paved roads, so boots are necessary to prevent over-wearing of his hoof walls.
Thus far, I’ve been happy with the Bares, particularly since they loosen up after a few rides and become much easier to put on. I do have my eye on the new Renegade Hoof Boots, which are reportedly very easy to use, but at $169 per pair, they’re more than twice the price of the Bares in EasyCare’s bargain bin (they come with the old-style gaiter but are otherwise up-to-date). I’ve lost one boot at each of our two competitions thus far in 2008, so keeping costs down is a good thing. On the other hand, I’ve not lost a single Bare during hours upon hours of conditioning, and not until last Sunday’s ride did Aaruba finally wear one through at the toe.
Gaiter rubs are an occasional problem with the Bares. I’ve had better luck fastening the gaiters more loosely than recommended by EasyCare, but rubs do sometimes occur on long rides, particularly on Aaruba’s forelegs. I suppose the Renegades would eliminate that issue…but mightn’t they cause rubs elsewhere?
That’s it for Aaruba’s tack. Most of my own gear is a bit lower-tech; for example, my riding tights are from the “activewear” section at Target, and this time of year, I’ve sacrificed fashion to the comfort of a loose-fitting, 3/4 sleeve, cotton blouse. My watch, left over from my distance running days, has a handy “chrono” feature that enables me to track both segmented and overall times during a ride. On rare occasions that I have cash leftover after purchasing tack for Aaruba, I have picked up a few goodies for myself.
Ariat Terrain Riding Boots: Quite popular among endurance riders, these are hands-down the most comfortable boots I’ve ever purchased. I wear them every evening and all day on weekends, for everything from groundwork and riding to feeding and fence repair.
Half Chaps: Aside from a semi-defective zipper on one chap, I’ve been very pleased with the fit, comfort, and quality of the Just Chaps, Ltd. half chaps available from Running Bear.
Tipperary Sportage Helmet: I’ve said it before…If I’m going to ride a 900-pound prey animal at high speeds through unfamiliar terrain, the least I can do is put an extra layer of padding between my brain and the nearest boulder.
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Whew! I spent all weekend measuring horses, examining photos, and documenting results. The Dennis Lane system proved consistent and user-friendly, so after practicing on the Barbs, I felt prepared for the real deal: Aaruba.
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Meet Ripple Effect.
This 2006 Jack Slade granddaughter by Jack’s Legacy out of Alternating Current (aka Acey) is 25 months old, so she’s a couple years away from needing her first Stonewall saddle. All the same, I wanted data on her back so I can observe how it changes over time; also, the information may be valuable to those who are compiling details about how Spanish Colonial horses’ conformation compares to that of other breeds.
Ripple stood nicely for measuring and photos. I’m new to the Dennis Lane system, so I appreciated her patience while I drew chalk lines on her back, experimented with notched cards, re-read directions, mopped my forehead, started again.
Here are the results:
B: S7 (Again, a fairly narrow measurement at the lowest point of Ripple’s back, the base of her withers. However, after talking with Fenaroli of Stonewall Saddle Company this evening about how to use the profiling cards properly, I wonder if this ought to be an even narrower S6. I’ll have to double-check.)
C: S5 (This, too, is a narrow measurement near the 13th and 14th vertebrae, where the back of the saddle would rest.)
R: Flatter than R6 (The Dennis Lane system measures “rock” with a set of cards designed to determine the shape of the sides of the horse’s back, horizontally, where the saddle’s bars will rest. As a maturing horse, Ripple’s back is flatter than the card with the least “rock.”
S: 8 inches. (This is the distance between the lowest point of Ripple’s back and the rearmost edge of her scapula.)
If the above makes no sense to you, but you’re curious, visit the Dennis Lane website and scan the instructions. Or, just stay tuned to The Barb Wire blog for more profiling photos and results.
Sculptor Lynn Fraley of Laf’n Bear Studio will return to In the Night Farm later this morning to take more photos and video of the Barbs. A dedicated student of equine anatomy, she’ll also join me in profiling at least one Barb’s back.
By the way, I’m considering making Ripple Effect available for sale to the right person. If you’re interested in this sweet filly, feel free to contact me via the email address in the sidebar at right.
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