Wednesday, 31 August 2016

100 Posts!

A little late on this, this is actually my 101st post :)

This is my first blog, and when I started it in January, I wasn't sure what to expect. I have been very pleasantly surprised that people actually read and respond to my posts. It encourages me to keep writing. It also makes me feel like I can connect more with the blogs that I read when I have one of my own (I was a blog reader for a lot longer than a blog writer). Thank you all!

I'm still new at this, so if you have any feedback for me, things you want to read more or less about, etc. let me know!

Monday, 29 August 2016

Paying it Forward

When I was in my first couple years of university, I started taking lessons from an instructor named Val. She had a background in both hunters and dressage, and she was the one who got me started on the road to dressage. I owe a lot to her instruction: she was the one who taught me what collection felt like (early stages at least). She's the one who taught me what shoulder-in and haunches-in were and how to do them. The list goes on. Of course, I was paying her to teach me those things. There was one way that she went above and beyond her role though, and that was lending me her dressage saddle.

At the time, I was riding in my old, old Stubben all-purpose that I had always ridden in. It worked to a point, but then came the time where it was hard to keep progressing without the right saddle for the job. I had never sat in a dressage saddle at that point, and she allowed me to ride in her personal dressage saddle so I could feel the difference. First, I rode in it just for lessons. Then she extended the offer to allow me to borrow it any time I was out when she wasn't using it. The dressage saddle did make a positive difference.

A few months later, I moved to another city for 8 months for an intern job. There, I was able to save up some money and buy my own dressage saddle - the Jag that I have owned ever since.

The day I bought the Jag

I don't think I ever thanked Val enough for how much I appreciated the saddle loan. Being able to ride in a dressage saddle as a poor student helped me to make the commitment to dressage without having to shell out $$ before I had it.

Now, it's my turn. Since bringing home my unicorn, I now have an extra dressage saddle that I'm not using. I reached out to a young rider in my area. She is an extremely dedicated rider, and has recently found a love of dressage, but as a student she is not in a place where she can replace her jumping saddle right now. I've offered her a mid to long term loan of my Jag until she no longer needs it.

Do you have any tack lying around that you can't bring yourself to sell (might need it someday!), but that you aren't using? I challenge you to see if a loan of it would help some young rider in your community.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Moving Forward

So, surprise surprise, it turns out that when you spend a few weeks trying out new saddles on your horse and riding tentatively, trying to figure out whether the saddle is working or not, your horse may decide that they don't actually have to listen to you.

For the last few weeks, when Kachina has stopped or done pretty much anything, I've been like "What's wrong honey? Is this saddle hurting you? Don't worry, I'll listen to you!"

Kachina has now decided that she gets to call the shots and stop whenever she wants. I can't really blame her for coming to this conclusion, but I still had to put an end to it quickly.

It started at the beginning of a trail ride yesterday. We were leaving the yard, walking away from her pasture buddy and into an intense headwind, when Kachina went "nope!" and stopped dead. I gently encouraged her forward, and she did it again a few steps later, and then again. She went on to do it periodically for the next half hour. My gentle encouragements turned into firm boots as I realized what was happening and that she was just testing me. I think I finally got my point across and the second half of the ride was much better.

Turns out that just sitting in a unicorn saddle isn't enough to make magic happen, you have to actually ride! :-P  The saddle search is over, time to get back to business!

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

2 PSAs and 1 Unicorn

I have found my unicorn and his name is Stubben Aramis!

After bringing home the Stubben Aramis on trial from the Tack Collector, I brought it out to the barn to try it out on Kachina. It seemed to be a pretty good fit for Kachina so I went ahead and rode in it.

Good wither clearance

Good tree angle

The saddle seriously felt awesome. It confirmed my suspicions about what my Jaguar was doing to my position, as this saddle didn't do any of that. Sure, I could still lean forward and sabotage my position in other ways, but when I tried to fix my position I actually could. The block felt supportive but not restrictive, and the cantle wasn't pushing me forward. I wasn't fighting the saddle for every inch of sitting back or bringing my legs underneath me. It also made my hands better. I used to think I had fairly good, quiet, independent hands. However, for the last couple years I have regularly fought with myself to let go of the reins and to use my arms in a proper way without twisting them into awkward shapes. I chalked my struggles up to a lack of lessons and the challenges of getting used to a new horse. In my first ride in the Aramis, I felt that I jumped up several levels in my ability to maintain that elbow-hand-bit line and use my hands independently of my body. It makes me think that my balance has been so out of whack in my Jaguar that it was effecting my hands. I even instantly had a much more effective half halt.

So, if the saddle was that amazing to ride in, why was I still considering? A few reasons:

1. The biggest concern I had was that the saddle was too long for Kachina's back. It's a larger seat, which I need, but that generally makes for a longer saddle and I was concerned that it was going past the 18th thoracic vertebrae onto her loins. By feeling her ribs and looking at the hairline, it seemed borderline. I was seriously obsessed with this (I blame the Schleese saddle fit videos), and actually spent half of the first ride perching forward and being terrified that Kachina was going to buck me off in protest. Then I sat up and found that Kachina felt comfortable. She was stretching down and relaxed, and actually gave me a super nice stretchy trot circle. I was still concerned though and started to look into options of trying to get a similar saddle but with shorter panels (not really possible). Then, I dialed back the crazy a little and compared it to my existing saddle. Turns out that the Stubben extends only a teeny tiny bit further back on Kachina's back then the Jaguar, and is a similar length to the Stubben Maestoso that had fit Kachina so nicely. The seat of the Aramis is a totally different shape and is much flatter, so it looks longer, but the panels aren't actually longer (and they stick out less behind the cantle). I have never been so grateful for Kachina being a pinto, as her stomach markings gave an excellent way to compare where saddles sat in photos and videos from multiple saddles. I rode in it more, and even got a friend to watch to see if she saw any signs of Kachina being uncomfortable. Overall verdict is that it's good. Yay!

Pretty good saddle pad sweat marks
(ignore the seam location, it was off-center while I was riding)

2. The billets hang a little behind Kachina's girth groove when the saddle is behind the shoulder. Solution - I ordered an off-set girth, the Stretchtec Shoulder Relief Girth from Total Saddle Fit (thanks to CobJockey and DIY for the reviews!).

Saddle positioned behind shoulder - billets angled forward

3. I noticed that in the photo below, the cantle was level with the pommel so I was worried about the balance. Then I put two and two together to realize that the photo was taken at the end of a ride with my regular straight girth. My girth had pulled the saddle slightly forward which pushed the pommel up. My new offset girth should solve this issue too.

Saddle balance looks slightly off, but just because saddle pulled forward slightly

4. The saddle felt good for my position, but how did it look? I got my friend and old instructor KD to come out to watch me ride and take some media. She could immediately see that it was doing great things for my position. She commented on my steady lower leg at all gaits, and my better upper body position. It was threatening to rain so I had to ride in the indoor arena. It's the first time I had been in there for a few months, and Kachina was in a pissy mood, so it wasn't the same relaxation as my previous rides, but the issues were 100% attitude, not discomfort. Also the saddle kept me pretty centered during her shenanigans. KD took some really helpful photos and videos and also gave me some impromptu instruction - she has a great eye and I really wish she would go back to teaching!

5. The price also made me hesitate a little, but really, I was prepared to go new if used didn't work out, so this was a bargain. Also, I made an offer below asking and the consignor came back with a reasonable counter so I didn't have to pay full price.

This is my best position in years! And I'm not even trying. Properly fitting saddle FTW!

After addressing all my concerns, the above photo is what clinched it for me and made me buy the saddle. In the photo, I am sitting relaxed and how the saddle naturally puts me, and I actually have a decent shoulder-hip-heel line! Compare to the photo below in my Jag. In the Jag photo, I am not relaxed, and am actually trying to sit better for the photo, but you can see that in the Stubben I have my legs more under me, and can sit up taller without arching my lower back as much.

This is pretty much the best I could do in my Jag, and even that was a struggle

I've heard horror stories before about people having to change saddles again and again because their trainer of the day didn't like their old one. I feel like maybe the instructors and clinicians I have had didn't want to be those people, but maybe went too far to the other extreme. Now that I have seen the light, I have to wonder: Why did nobody tell me how bad my saddle was for me?!

I don't want others to suffer with a poor saddle for as long as I did, so here are my saddle Public Service Announcements:

PSA #1: A saddle that used to fit you (at least decently) may not fit after you gain a bunch of weight. Especially if a lot of said weight goes to your derriere and upper legs. There's a number of places on the internet right now talking about how seat size is all about the length of your femur, blah blah blah. There might be some truth in that, but I think it's also a bit of BS trying to reduce the stigma of needing a bigger saddle. Sometimes a person can be short, with short legs, and still need a bigger saddle. That's okay. I'd much rather be able to be a better rider in a saddle that works for me, instead of having a horrible position but being able to say that I ride in 17 or 17.5" seat.

PSA #2: You may not be as bad a rider as you think! A poor fitting saddle can cause you to tip forward, put your legs forward, have ineffective half halts, make it hard to use your hands independently, etc. I'm not saying that all issues are the saddle's fault, but do yourself a favour and make sure your saddle isn't sabotaging you!

Stubben Aramis, welcome to the family! I am keeping the Jag for the time being, just to completely make sure that the Aramis isn't going to cause any problems, but I am very optimistic!

Monday, 22 August 2016

Update on Riding

Okay, since there's been a number of posts on the saddle search (update on that tomorrow), looking back to when I got Kachina two years ago, scribing, etc., I feel like it's been a long time since I've actually written about my day to day rides.

I am working on connection and bend.

I have spent a lot of time with Kachina working on the bottom of the dressage pyramid: rhythm and relaxation. In some ways I feel like I should be further along, but I also know it can't be rushed. We've had a pretty good walk for a while now, but I've just recently gotten to a point with Kachina where we can more consistently get a relaxed trot with an even tempo. There are still moments where we start rushing or hollowing, but it's now 10-20% of the time, instead of 50%+.

This was from my ride in the Stubben Maestoso that fit me terribly,
but I still think this is a cool shot. 

Now that the relaxation and rhythm are improved, I've been starting to focus more on connection. Kachina used to frequently curl behind the bit. That was challenging as you need leg to get her to stop curling, but adding more leg when she was already running was hard. Thankfully, as she has developed better rhythm and relaxation, her tendency to curl has all but disappeared. She now sticks her nose out in front. Also not ideal, but easier to address.

I now spend a fair bit of time trying to get her to soften to the bit. This occurs in two ways. I am working on the longitudinal suppleness and getting her to soften at the poll. However, her tendency to twist her nose to the outside, combined with my tendency to ride too much off the outside rein makes us pretty crooked a lot of the time. So, I've also really been working to let go of the outside rein and get her to soften of the inside rein and inside leg and bend. Once she is on the inside bend, getting her to connect to the rein is much easier. I think we are on the right track, but if anyone has some good exercises for working on connection or bend, I would love to hear them!

We're also still working on canter transitions. But I've learned that those don't work too well unless we are soft and bent correctly, so if we don't get to them in a ride that's not the end of the world. In the canter, we are still working on relaxation, though the rhythm has improved.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Saddle Trial #3 - Stubben Aramis

This past weekend I was in Calgary for the dragonboat festival (my other sport), and made a trip back to The Tack Collector. I returned the Stubben Maestoso and the Schleese Link that didn't work out, and I sat in a few more saddles.

Armed with the knowledge that I really do need an 18"+ seat, and Kachina needs a medium or medium-wide curvy tree, there were only three options left (three is really good actually, just seems like a small number when you stare at their ginormous wall of saddles!). Also, I had already trialed the two cheap options so everything left was considerably more expensive. The three options were a Childeric DSG Monoflap, an Amerigo Pinerolo Classic, and a Stubben Aramis.

Amerigo

Childeric

Stubben Aramis

I had sat in all three of these on my first visit to the Tack Collector, but I had to sit in them again on the block to refresh my memory. I had learned an important lesson with the Stubben Maestoso about stirrup position, so I tried them all with stirrups this time. As I had kind of been expecting, the Stubben Aramis was the clear winner. Sitting in it just felt like home. The staff also commented that it seemed to put me in a good position. So, I tortured my poor credit card a little more and took the Stubben Aramis on trial.

I was cautiously reserved on the drive home. This saddle did seem like a good possibility, but I liked the Maestoso in the store too and it was totally wrong when I actually rode in it. Also, the Stubben Aramis comes with a hefty price tag. It is a newer model, with the fancy biomex seat, and it is in excellent condition (apparently the owners ordered it custom, but it didn't end up working, so it's had less than 20 rides on it), so considering that, the price is reasonable. However, I can't help think that for just a bit more I could get something new (though to get this particular saddle new would be about double the price).

First try

I've had a couple rides in the saddle at this point. Let me just say this for now, the other saddles I tried were clear "no"s pretty much right away, while this one requires consideration. I will give a full recap once the final determination has been made, one way or another. (Trial ends Sunday so you won't be in suspense for too long). In the mean-time, if you have any comments about how it looks from the photos, or your own experiences with the Stubben Aramis model, please share!

After ride #1 - is this saddle my unicorn? Either way, my horse looks damn good!

Thursday, 18 August 2016

What Sold You?

Continuing on with the theme of looking back on horse shopping, what was it about your current horse's ad that made you go look at them? Was it a picture or a certain phrase? Was it knowing the horse through some mutual connections?

For Kachina, it was mostly this photo:


I looked at that photo, and I thought "I can make a dressage horse out of that trot". Possibly not the smartest thought I've had, as I know that the walk and canter are more important and harder to fix, but I really like when a horse knows how to track up and use their hind end. Luckily, she ended up having three pretty nice gaits.

She was also labelled as an "Amazing trail horse - go out alone or with a group!" and I really liked that prospect, as I do enjoy trail riding but don't have the confidence to train a horse to be good at that myself.

On the other hand, was there something in their ad that made you almost discount them?

Kachina's ad had her listed as 16.1hh. I am short, and while I use mounting blocks when available, I wanted to be able to get on from the ground in a pinch and anything over 16hh was going to be an issue. I'm glad I didn't let that put me off as Kachina ended up being only 15.2hh (though I still have trouble getting on her without something to stand on - I'm pretty vertically challenged).

I'd love to hear your stories!

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The Broken Road

With it being two years since I got Kachina, I've been thinking back on the horse shopping experience and how I ended up with Kachina...

I've always thought that the song Bless the Broken Road has an interesting premise. Without getting into the whole thing about whether it is part of "a greater plan" or just the way life happens, it is true that sometimes we wouldn't be where we are today if other things didn't fall through before. This applies to relationships, jobs, and of course horses.

So, is there a time when you wanted one horse, and it fell through and eventually led you to end up with a different horse instead? Tell me about it!

I have two such stories:

Max -> Ellie


When my second leased horse got sold out from under me, my parents agreed we could shop for a horse of my very own. We looked at quite a few different horses. The one that stood out was Max, a 15 year old black arabian mare. She seemed perfect. She had lots of training and life experience, but still had a ton of get up and go. I was in love. Unfortunately, she didn't pass her vet check. She was lame on the flexions and on a small canter circle to the left. Being new to horse ownership, we didn't want to risk getting a horse that wasn't sound and so we continued on with the search. That's when we found Ellie, the 6 year old bay anglo-arab mare that I owned for 14 years.

Things might have turned out a lot differently if Max had passed her vet check. In hindsight, Max was probably the better fit for me as a young green rider, but Ellie became my heart horse and we taught each other so much.

Ellie - love and miss my girl <3
(I don't have any photos of Max)

Wilson -> Kachina


On my second horse hunt after losing Ellie, I was horse shopping completely on my own. I traveled thousands of km and rode over a dozen horses of wildly different ages, training levels and prices. Wilson was a horse I almost bought. He was a 8 year old quarter horse paint who used to be a pack horse in the mountains and had just been under saddle for a year. He was a stocky guy, but I could see from one of the photos of him chasing the fake heeling cow that he could really open up his stride when asked. He was also a good age, a really good price, and was a medicine hat paint which I thought was cool (i.e. San Domingo: The Medicine Hat Stallion by Marguerite Henry).

Photo from Wilson's ad (not mine)

I had my test drive on Wilson scheduled for the end of a long Sunday of looking at horses. He was the last stop after more than 1400km and by the time I got there, it was getting dark, fast. Unfortunately, he was being kept at a small acreage with no barn, no arena, and no lights. I did tack him up and hop on him for a quick ride and was really impressed by his walk and trot and responsiveness. The limited light and lack of space meant I didn't feel safe cantering him though. I told the owner that I was very interested and I would get back to him. I was told someone else had looked at him earlier the same day and was also very interested. I ended up scheduling a second ride and a vet check for him the following Friday, with the idea that I would make sure he could canter decently, and if he could and passed the vet check, I would buy him and bring him home that day. Unfortunately, the other person who had looked at him, decided to buy him on Tuesday with no second ride or pre-vet, so I got beat to the punch.

Photo from Wilson's ad (not mine)

I was sad on missing out on Wilson, but I knew it was the responsible thing to do to want to get a vet check and see all 3 gaits. I found Kachina the following week and I'm really glad I have her. Also, I have a hard enough time keeping Kachina clean, I can't imagine how tough Wilson would have been with all that white!

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Saddle Trial #2 - Schleese Link

Note: previously I referred to this saddle as a Schleese Wave, turns out that the label was incorrect and it's actually a Schleese Link, it's still the same saddle I'm talking about though.

When we last left off on this saddle search adventure, I had tried a Stubben Maestoso that fit Kachina but not me, so then I got a trial of a larger Schleese saddle...

Stubben Maestoso in background, Schleese Link in foreground
as you can see, they are very differently shaped saddles

First off, can I say how ridiculously exciting it is to get a parcel containing a saddle sent to you?! Even if it was just a trial :-)

My next order of business was to try and find my spare set of stirrups so I could do a back to back comparison of two saddles without having to take the time to switch stirrups. That ended up being a lot longer job than expected. I opened up my spare bin of tack and horse stuff in the garage to find that a bottle of show sheen had exploded over everything. Not only were all my shipping boots etc. in need of a good washing, but the moisture trapped in a closed container had caused my spare bridles to go super moldy! I've heard of mold and mildew on tack before, but I live in such a dry area that it's never ever been an issue for me. I was shocked and disgusted by the fuzzy grey sight I was faced with. So anyways, a quick look ended up being a couple hours of sorting, cleaning and disposing of horse stuff. After all of that, my spare stirrups weren't even in that bin! I still have no idea where they got to.

It's been ridiculously rainy here, so before I took it out to the barn, I tried it out at my house by putting it onto an overturned rain barrel (every rider needs one!). The first thing I noticed was how high the pommel sat above the barrel. I had been told by the salespeople that this saddle was currently adjusted to be quite narrow, but this really showed how narrow it really was.

Super narrow

The fact that the pommel was sitting so high off the barrel meant that the saddle balance was off and the pommel was actually higher than the cantle. I experimented with putting various "riser pads" (patio cushions) under the back of the saddle to even it up. By sitting in the saddle in different arrangements on the barrel, I could see how much a small change in saddle position could effect how it felt to sit in it. This is part of what makes saddle shopping so difficult. The way a saddle feels on a block or on one horse might feel totally different from how it feels on a differently shaped back. Also, it's really hard to know if a not quite right for the rider saddle fit can be fixed with some minor shimming or re-flocking or not.

Before shimming, pommel too high

Anyways, general verdict from playing around at home was that I was decently happy with how the saddle fit me (though it wasn't the angels singing kind of magic that Schleese seems to want you to believe), but I was less confident about how it would work on Kachina.

You can feel the displeasure oozing out of Kachina that she has to stand
while I take pictures and mess around with different saddles

Sure enough, when I did get out to the barn to try it on Kachina, it was a horrible fit. The saddle was too narrow, but I knew that could be adjusted if needed. The bigger issue was the back of the saddle. It was like the saddle just rested on top of her back instead of going around it. There was one point where I had the saddle girthed up and Kachina started pawing; each time she pawed, the whole back half of the saddle would wag back and forth over her spine. Another problem was how the panels got thicker near the shoulder. I'm sure it's a purposeful design, but it didn't look like they would sit well on Kachina even if the tree was widened. I had hoped that the saddle would fit well enough where I could at least put on a half pad and do a short ride to see if I liked the feel and whether it was worth looking into other Schleese saddles. However, the fit was so bad that I didn't feel comfortable mounting up at all.



I think these photos pretty much speak for themselves

With that, the Schleese went back and the search continued. I was about to say I was back at square one for the saddle search, but that's not really true. Every saddle I look at gives me more information about what does and doesn't work for me and Kachina. It's a pain doing multiple saddle trials, especially from a different city, but eventually I'll narrow down what we need *here's hoping the answer isn't something new, custom, and $$$$!*

Monday, 15 August 2016

Happy Gotcha Day Kachina!

Kachina came home with me on August 15th, 2014 so today marks our second anniversary together!

Our first ever ride together

Officially mine! Loaded up after the vet check
(horrible pink halter was the one on her from previous owners)

It's been an interesting two years. In some ways, progression has been slow, but we've both been learning about each other, and Kachina has been learning a completely different discipline and life, so it's been a time of change and building a sound foundation. We've had a lot of fun together along the way and I'm really glad this special girl is in my life.

Happy Gotcha Day Kachina!

Friday, 12 August 2016

Brooks Medieval Faire

I'm sure many of you are familiar with JenJ and her jousting hubby and horses over at Wyvern Oaks. There's also Shimmer-E and her trick pony who apparently joins Mongolian hordes from time to time (though unfortunately I missed their performance). These ladies definitely get props for participating in such cool events. I can't compete with that, but I can be a spectator!

This past weekend, the SO and I took a road trip on Sunday afternoon to the Brooks Medieval Faire. We had never been before and so weren't sure what to expect. It was pretty cool. There was some pretty intense fighting between armed and armoured knights on the ground, and I loved people watching and checking out some of the fantastic costumes. 

More to the horsey point of this blog, there was also a jousting tournament. There were jousters from all around the world, Alberta, Quebec, USA, England, France, and even Australia. We were there for the fourth and final round of jousting for the weekend. Enjoy some photos and videos:

This is a turkey vulture - he is a movie star and was in Shanghai Noon!

The arena/list

MC and main ref (guy with awesome coat) explaining something


Such pretty armour and trappings


This guy was the ultimate winner - I met him at a clinic once

This Clyde/Shire(?) was my favorite! I want one :)

Lining up in front of the "king" and "queen" for award ceremony
video

video


Huzzah!

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

The Elephant in the Room

I post pictures of myself, so it'll be no surprise to anyone that I am an overweight rider. It's not exactly my favorite subject. But it does make a difference to my riding, and currently it's a factor for my saddle search, so I feel the need to talk about it a little.

2007 - just after paragliding down from a mountain in the Austrian Alps!

Background


I was always a fairly skinny, small kid. I was a picky eater when I was young, but in high school and university, I ate more than anyone else I knew and was still pretty skinny. I was a healthy BMI for my height and weight, but I had a decent amount of muscle so I was slim for my weight. As well as riding horses I played rugby and did a number of other sports and activities.

2009 - getting more serious about dressage

After university, I got a job as an oilfield inspector. I worked a lot of overtime and travelled extensively. I wasn't able to ride much and I couldn't commit to being a part of any other sports teams any more. Fast food and gas station meals became a necessary part of life. I did that for over two years. Unsurprisingly, I gained weight during that time, but not much more than 10 pounds. I still wasn't fat by any means.

2011 - after finishing university, partway into inspection life

Then, in August 2013, I had a positive blood test for celiac disease. I changed jobs and moved around the same time and with switching doctors etc, it took me 6 months to get my final diagnosis (a blood test isn't definitive so you have to get an endoscopy and biopsy of your small intestine to confirm - you have to keep eating gluten until the endoscopy so that it gives accurate results). For those 6 months I gave myself free rein to eat whatever I wanted. It was the last time in my life that I was going to be able to eat pasta, pizza, cake, etc. etc. so I indulged. In hindsight, this was supremely stupid, but c'est la vie.

Then, I got the final diagnosis of celiac disease and went on a strict gluten-free diet. My intestines that had been so damaged for so long, started healing and started absorbing (though it certainly wasn't as instant as some people will have you believe). The massive quantities of food I had eaten for most of my life hadn't been necessary due to a high metabolism, they had been because my intestines were only absorbing a small amount of it. Now, I didn't need to eat so much, but try telling that to my mouth, stomach and brain who have been chowing down large meals and snacks for years.

The combination of these things meant that I gained a huge amount of weight very quickly (I'm sure there were also some other factors at play, but those are the big ones).

2014 - right after getting Kachina

Now


With difficulty, I have mostly managed to stop the weight increase, but I haven't been able to lose it.

I do at least 5 hours of moderate exercise a week. I barely ever eat out, and I cook balanced meals. I have good strength and muscles. My organs are now functioning better and I have better energy levels, and healthier iron stores etc. However, all of that is covered by a layer of fat that I cannot easily get rid of.

I won't say I am a saint of healthy living. I work at a sedentary desk job. I maintain my love of candy. I still default back to large portion sizes. Also, I need to always use my self-control to not eat gluten, so when I come across junk food that I can safely eat, it's hard to say no.

I'm not perfect, but I'm trying.

2016


How it effects my riding


As far as riding horses goes, I'm lucky that I'm short. The pounds I gained would look a lot more flattering spread around a taller frame, but at least even at my high BMI, my actual weight is not that high. I don't weigh more than an average sized man and I can ride most horses without getting close to that 20% guideline.

My size does however effect me in the saddle. For one, mounting and dismounting is more difficult. Second, my fat a$$ needs a bigger saddle to fit in. Even judging my shoulder-hip-heel line is tougher when there's extra flesh sticking out in either direction. However, the biggest thing is that my balance and proportions are just different which messes me up. I learned to ride as a smaller person, and I am still adapting to my current reality. Having the shape of my seat and my thighs change, and my center of gravity change, changes my natural position in the saddle, and so every thing I used to know about making my position more effective needs to adapt accordingly.

It's tough, because one hand, I want to lose the extra weight, so I don't want to adapt to having it. But on the other hand, I need to realize that it's not going to happen overnight and I may never be quite as small as I was before. I am trying to find some middle ground. This goes for both how I ride and what I ride in. For example, I bought a cheap used show coat in my current size, but I am going to try and lose at least a couple sizes before I upgrade to a nicer coat.


Anyone else have struggles with weight or re-learning to ride after a change to your body (weight, injury, pregnancy, growth spurt etc.)?

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Sun Shirt Review - Horze Blaire

There are many cool things about the horse blogging community, one of which is learning about trends in attire for both the horse and rider. I know I am super slow to the sunshirt party, having read several helpful reviews of EIS and Kastel shirts, but in my defense, sunshirts are still only starting to gain traction here in the great white north.

Despite it being Canada, we do get hot summers (you wouldn't believe how many people think it's a frozen wasteland year-round - my co-worker's cousins from India packed the heaviest parkas they could find for a trip to Alberta in July). Also, our higher latitude means the days are longer so even an evening ride doesn't prevent the risk of sunburn.

I wanted to buy a sunshirt, but they are expensive enough whereby I wanted to be able to try one on to evaluate the fit before buying, so ordering from the interwebs was out. My first opportunity to look at sunshirts in person came when I visited the Equestrian Factory Outlet trailer at one of the Gold shows I scribed at.

I first saw a rack of EIS shirts and tried on a couple sizes. I really wanted to like them, but I didn't. The fabric was stretchy, but it was not what I would call flattering. Also, the arms were too snug for my liking, and too long. The salesperson could see I was waffling, and showed me the Horze Blair shirts that they also had.

Technically, the name of the shirt is "Horze Blair Women's Long-Sleeved Technical Show Shirt". However, it's basically a sunshirt. It has UV protection, moisture wicking, and mesh panels on the bottom of the arms.

White Horze Blair shirt

It's a sunshirt, but it's also more than a sunshirt. It has a stiffer buttoned collar and cuffs, which is white with blue stripes. You can button it to the top and use it as a show shirt, or turn the collar down and have an appropriate work shirt. The mesh is the exact same colour as the rest of the shirt so it doesn't look too "sporty".

The second I put one on, I loved it. The fit was perfect. I loved how the arms were a little looser, it made it much more comfortable.

White one from the back
note: I chose a looser size for comfort, you could get rid of the creases if you sized down

The only colour they had in the trailer was white. I don't generally like to wear white, and especially not for grooming and schooling horses, but I did need a new show shirt so I bought one. Then I found out that they also had them in navy at their other location so I ordered one of those too. I've since discovered that they can be bought in baby blue as well.

Navy Horze Blair shirt

I've had the shirts for close to two months now. I've worn them numerous times, for riding, for showing, for camping, and also to work. I still love them.

Fit well under my show coat

They wash well, and have held up excellently. They do keep the sun off, and stay reasonably cool even in temperatures in the mid 30s (C).

If I had to give a complaint, I'd say that I wish the cuffs were made of technical fabric instead of cotton. The cuffs take substantially longer to dry than the rest of the shirt if you are out in the rain, or bathe your horse, or are shoulder deep in a river looking for your cell phone (what, you don't do that regularly?). The white cuffs also can start to look dirty pretty fast, but that's more when you use them for every-day use like me, the cuffs are good as a show shirt. I have gotten out all the stains in the wash though. My only other complaint is that they don't come in many fun colours.

I had my arms in this shirt submerged in this muddy river,
after washing the cuffs are still nice and white

Overall, if you are looking for a new sun shirt or show shirt, I highly recommend the Horze Blairs. The price point is also cheaper than Kastel or EIS at $80 cad which is another bonus.

Note: These views are entirely my own, nobody asked me to review this shirt and I got no financial benefit from doing so. 

Monday, 8 August 2016

Olympics

Short post today, just want to say a couple things:

One, yay for there being much better options for watching Olympic equestrian events this year! I spent the weekend with Rugby 7s on the television (I used to play rugby for years and know a couple of the players on Team Canada) and Eventing Dressage on my tablet. For those in Canada, CBC's Rio 2016 app is actually pretty impressive. Can choose from over 20 sports to stream live and it has shown all the equestrian stuff so far. Can also pause and rewind which is awesome.

Two, eventers are a bit crazy. I mean they are seriously impressive, but also a bit crazy. Watched the early part of cross country this morning and holy crap. The gallops look fun, but I will stick with my dressage and stay far away from jumping giant solid things! Saw a couple terrifying falls of horse and rider, but really glad to see everyone get up and walk away so far. Hoping everyone else today makes it through that tough course unscathed.

Friday, 5 August 2016

10 Questions for August Blog-Hop

Unofficial blog-hop courtesy of Viva Carlos:

1. What is your biggest source of caffeine that gets you through the day? (drink, not just brand) 

I don't regularly consume caffeine, but for long drives I use energy drinks for an extra boost (energy drinks may be bad for you, but crashing because you are tired is definitely bad for you). 

2. Do you honestly think your trainer is the best trainer for you? 

N/A, sadly don't have a regular trainer.

3. One token of advice a fellow rider/trainer/horse person told you that you still remember to this day.  

I remember so many things I have been told throughout the years, but one of the most important was simply "There! That's it!" During my longest stretch of regular lessons, I finally got to a point where my horse had all the elements of the dressage training scale: rhythm, relaxation, connection, impulsion, straightness, and the beginning of collection (second level ish, though I didn't know all the right terminology at the time). We couldn't hold onto it consistently, but by feeling what it was that I was aiming for, it was a game changer. That's when I truly fell in love with dressage and I am so excited to get that feeling again someday with Kachina.
  
4. If riding meant costing your family so much money that they’d be basically on poverty line, or making your family terribly unhappy (if they were not supportive or understanding, etc.) would you still do it? 

I have worked hard to be employable and have a steady, decent-paying job, as well as an emergency fund so that I hopefully won't have to face this decision. If I have kids one day, I feel that responsibility to kids comes first, but things would have to get pretty bad before I gave up riding. 

5. (Girls) would you ride while pregnant? 

I haven't been pregnant yet so I can't say for sure. I find it hard to imagine 9 months without riding, but I would talk to my doctor and objectively examine the steadiness of my horse at the time, the risks, and my body's feelings before deciding. 

6. How do you tell when a horse likes someone/has bonded with you or someone else? 

Different horses show affection in different ways. 

7. Are horses capable of loving, in your opinion? 

I don't think so, at least not in an unconditional sense. Self preservation and instincts are always going to come out ahead. I do feel a horse can have strong feelings of trust, fondness, and partnership though.

8. If you could have one horse from your past come back for 5 minutes, who would it be, why, and what would you do with them in those 5 minutes? 

I would love to see my old mare Ellie again. She was in so much pain and discomfort when I lost her (colic), so I would just like a quiet moment to spend time with her, give her treats, and say a better goodbye

9. Should a trainer also be a friend, or should it be a student/teacher relationship?

I tend more towards professional relationships, but I feel you can absolutely be friends too if it's right. 

10. One piece of advice/training you were given by a trainer or mentor that you look back on now and view it as incorrect? 

Immediately turn the horse on a small circle when they spook. 

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Saddle Trial #1 - Stubben Maestoso

So, back to the saddle search saga. Spoiler alert - the search is not over.

To review, I took a used Stubben Maestoso on trial from The Tack Collector.

She was not impressed with me going so slow in the tacking up process,
but look at how shiny she is!

The Good

- more open seat, felt like I could sit back more when I tried the saddle out on the block and barrel
- great condition
- I have an ~30 year old Stubben all-purpose saddle so I like the brand and trust the quality and longevity
- saddle is super lightweight compared to my Jag
- perfect tree width for Kachina
- good clearance above the withers
- good saddle curve for Kachina - no bridging, rocking or pressure points
- Kachina seemed to be good with the saddle - she rode well in it and was stretching down and relaxed
- saddle stayed in place well during ride
- saddle has minimal profile so I felt a closer connection to Kachina's back

Good fit, close contact

The Bad

- clearance at the sides of her withers a little tight (gullet issue, not tree angle)
- billets didn't have enough holes for me to use my regular girth (of course I could punch more or get a new girth if I bought the saddle, just a little annoying for the trial)
- where the saddle naturally sat, the billets seemed to hang a little far back
- when I actually sat in the saddle on Kachina's back with my feet in the stirrups, it didn't fit me any better than my Jag, actually a bit worse. My knees were going slightly over the front of the flap and I felt like my seat was being pushed back into the cantle. The 17.5" seat felt okay on the block, but in reality I think it is too small for me. I also found it was hard to bring my legs under me. It basically forced me into a chair seat, and that is not what I need.

Major chair seat, I could have fought to sit in a better position,
but I wanted a picture to show where the saddle naturally put me

Bottom Line

Kudos to the ladies at the Tack Collector because they nailed what would work for Kachina. However, this saddle isn't really any better than my current one for me (and my current Jag also fits Kachina), so it's not a net improvement and it's going back.


What's Next?

I talked to The Tack Collector and they are mailing me the 18.5" Schleese Wave that I tried in the store (#3 in this post). It might not fit Kachina, but it's at least worth a try. I of course won't buy a saddle that isn't a good fit for Kachina, but the whole point of this search is to find something that also works for me so I have to consider that too. Also, if the only issue is the tree angle, that can be adjusted. At the very least I hope it fits well enough that I can ride in it once to see if that's the type of seat I need. Fingers crossed it works for both of us!

The next contender!
While you are anxiously awaiting my next saddle trial adventure, you should go to EventingSaddlebred's blog and enter her Olympic Winners Competition! Deadline is tomorrow at midnight. I am so excited to watch the opening ceremonies and as much equestrian coverage as I can get my hands on!