Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Saddles and Padding and Hooves, Oh My!

I had another great weekend with Halo this week. On Saturday, I was fortunate that my previous hoof trimmer agreed to come out to my current barn to work on my horse and my friend's horse, who is suffering from contracted heels and the beginnings of navicular. I was long past due for an accountability checkup regarding Halo's feet.

The trimmer said I'd been doing a good job with Halo, and her only comments were to make sure to keep her bars shorter (cut them with the nippers instead of the hoof knife), and be slightly more aggressive with the flares on her front feet. She said her hinds look great. I'm happy to hear that I've been doing decent work on my horse's feet, and even happier to have some tips on how to continue to improve my trims.

I only rode Halo briefly (western) after her trim, but she was a very good girl. The next day, I put on the English saddle with some extra padding in front. I've come to the annoying realization that while the saddle fits her, it is not such a good fit for me. The seat tends to tip me forward and put my weight further over her shoulders than I like. Sigh. The saddle odyssey may never end. Anyway, it may be due to growth, because she is going through another lopsided phase, so for the meantime I tried padding up the front of the saddle with a foam riser pad designed to go between her shoulders and the saddle.

I had a GREAT ride that day. I can't emphasize it enough. I don't know if the padding was putting me in a better position, which helped, or if Halo was just in a good mood, but everything went well. She wasn't a dead head by any means, especially since I didn't longe her before riding, but I liked that I didn't have to fight her for forwardness. I had some trot work with which I was extremely pleased where I felt her starting to really round out and step under herself. The feeling is hard to describe, but it's like her trot goes from feeling like riding a choppy pony to riding a big 16.2h horse. Sometimes I have to remind myself to let her go when she's like that. I want her to have the biggest, stretchiest trot she is comfortable doing for now. There is plenty of time to half-halt her later. She isn't ready for any sort of collection yet.

Remembering the idea I picked up during my last blog post, I made sure to stay centered during her canter transitions. It was much, much easier for me with the saddle padded up in front. She picked up the right lead with no hesitation. The left lead was a little stickier as usual. I could feel her thinking about picking up the wrong lead when I first asked, but when I sat deeper and tipped her nose to the inside in response, she picked up the correct lead. It wasn't a pretty transition, because her trot fell apart in the few strides before canter, but I was still thrilled that she got the correct lead without any false starts. We only did about one lap around the big arena each way at the canter. Right now my main goals are to get her to pick up the correct leads, and also to work on getting a nice, low, stretchy walk and trot.

There are currently some ground poles set up out in the big arena. There are four poles, then a ground pole gymnastic (basically a ground pole set up where each jump would be with a stride in between. Halo and I trotted them a few times. I was reading on a forum I frequent that sometimes the best thing you can do for the horse is to get out of the way. That resonated with me, especially in light of our improved canter departures with me keeping off Halo's forehand. So I gave her the opportunity to figure out the poles on her own without rating her strides. She did very well, and surprised me the second time we went over by trotting the rails, and then breaking into a canter and taking little pseudo-jumps over each of the poles. I'm excited to try some more ground pole grids with her. It really seems to help her rhythm, and it is very, very good for my position. I am reminded each time I go over that I need to look up, keep my heels down, and work on my two-point. I don't have the leg strength right now to maintain it for a long time.

I know every ride is not going to be perfect, but right now I am very pleased with how she is coming along! I hope I can get someone out there to take some pictures or video soon so that you lovely readers aren't forced to endure my ramblings on their own.

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