I’ve really been struggling with the saddle fitting thing. The australian saddle does not fit Diego. I knew that from the start. It’s too wide and has to be padded to keep it off his withers. But my confidence was a bit shaky when we started out in the spring (my elbow is still only about half useful), and that saddle is very very secure for the human passenger. Diego though, is proving to be a very reliable guy. He’s never come close to lawn darting me out of my seat (as Dressy was always prone to do, bless her terrified little pea-brain…). Diego’s biggest reaction is either to slither sideways with big eyes past scary objects, or to drift to a halt and stare before tip-toeing past. Neither of which unseats me at all. So I’ve built up a lot of confidence, and feel myself riding much more tension-free as we go along.
Last weekend, I took him to Coates Creek ride. I had switched over to a therapeutic saddle pad to address the back soreness issues. It’s a Grandeur pad that I used with my Barefoot London (treeless) saddle. It is a nice pad, with a lot of support. And it really seemed to set the saddle up nicely.
We were entered in the 16 mile set speed on Saturday, and then again on Sunday. Saturday morning, I rode out with Sandy and Marion. We went out at a walk. Marion’s horse, Jet, is an off-track Arab and can get a bit competitive, so it was a big change for her to be able to go out slow and calm like that. Jet settled down nicely and eventually she was able to trot with us for a while and then go off on her own.
Sandy’s little chestnut Arab, Benson, has been a recurring character here on the blog. He’s possibly the cutest, and best-behaved little Arab I’ve ever met. But Saturday, he seemed to think there were monsters hiding behind every log and rock on the trail. On that first loop, Sandy was mostly out in front. But sometimes she was hanging off Benson’s side from one heel. She sat some tremendous spooks. I was boggled that she stayed with a couple of them. I’d have been splatted on the ground. But Sandy was determined to stick them. I think part of the problem was her saddle pad which was a very thick western pad. The saddle kept going sideways, so that couldn’t have helped.
Diego was really not at his best through that first loop. Anytime we cantered, he was dropping his head right down. Not bucking. But cantering on a horse with a head between their knees is an unsettling feeling. His trot didn’t feel quite right either. And he seemed a bit grumpy. So when we got to the mid-check I pulled the saddle with trepidation… expecting problems. Sure enough, he had a couple of bumps on his spine, right along the centerline. But he wasn’t obviously sore, and passed the vet check.
During the check, I opened up the Grandeur pad and pulled out the inserts. I put those inserts into my Christ sheepskin pad and put that on him instead. They didn’t fit the pocket exactly right, but were not too bad. And at least the Christ pad doesn’t cause those bumps. Marg suggested to me later that maybe Diego is reacting to synthetics, and it kind of makes sense, because the bumps are not from pressure. They can’t be, because they are nowhere near any spot that takes weight from the saddle. Nor have I ever seen them when I was using the aussie saddle with the Christ pad. Only with the Grandeur pad (synthetic fleece and sympanova), or with the Reactor Panel with synthetic fleece booties. I also checked with Misha, and she was using her synthetic fleece booties for the last year that she rode him in her RP (and he was getting those bumps sometimes then too).
Anyway, we went off with the hacked saddle pad for the second loop, and my good boy was back. He was perfect again. Sandy and Benson led for the first mile or so. Then Benson took a HUGE leap to the left and dropped Sandy hard. It was one of those awful Arab teleports that are pretty much against the laws of physics. Luckily, she was wearing a crash vest, and of course her helmet. So although it took her quite a while to get back up, she was okay. And she managed to hang onto Benson’s reins, so he didn’t get loose. We walked for quite a while to make sure she was okay. But it was just bruises, and we eventually carried on. But this time with Diego in front.
Diego trotted out in front for most of that loop. He was very steady and trotted along with the occasional short canter on a loose rein with his head at a normal level. No more head-down cantering. He even crossed the scary bridge first on both loops. And it really was quite a scary bridge. Solid enough, but built from a couple of logs with boards nailed across… so it bounced noticeably. I don’t think he liked it, but he only hesitated momentarily before steeling himself and marching across.
The weather was lovely, and despite Lesley’s paranoia about the mud on her trails from all the rain we’ve had, the footing was really quite good. There was only one very short section after the scary bridge that had some deep mud going up a little grade. It was only maybe 8-10 steps to get through.
Because I forgot to turn my gps watch off at the start of our hold, I lost track of my average speed. I wasn’t really thinking much about it anyway, since I’m only riding for completions this season. Diego always has good heart rates. Not super low, but he drops to baseline incredibly fast (Dressy’s baseline was much lower – usually in the 30s – but it took a dedicated team to get her cooled and pulsed down in time). His final heart rate was 43. I figured we might get a grade 3 or thereabouts, since we were not hurrying at all, and spent quite a while walking after Benson’s attempt on Sandy’s life. But at the awards, Diego and Benson both got a grade 1 (the top grade). We were moving faster than I thought and ended up with 6.1 mph. [Set speed is scored using a combination of average speed and final pulse at 30 minutes from finish.]
We vetted through at the finish with all A’s. I had the vet double check his back, and with a bit of hunting around, she found a very slight flinch on his left side in the loin area. But the next morning when I checked, he was really sore. So we went over to the vet and pulled him from Sunday’s set speed ride. I volunteered to do the set speed scoring for the day instead. Diego spent the day working his way through half of a twenty kg bag of carrots. I told him he was going to turn orange. But he just kept munching.
The weather for both days was fabulous, and all of the horses were moving fast. There were some very good times in all distances (ranging from 16 to 75 miles). Only two pulls, neither serious. And lots of happy faces on horses and riders at the end!
Yesterday, I pulled out the Barefoot London and dusted it off. I’ve really gotten to the point now that I do not need extra security to ride Diego. So we are going to try riding in that for a while and see if it works any better than the Aussie. Lynda is going to try to find me a second-hand endurance-model Reactor Panel. Diego needs a 12.75 inch, and I need a narrow twist. So that may take a while to track down. In the meantime, I hope that the Barefoot will work. I can’t use the Grandeur pad with it though, so I have to get the Christ pad working with it. It needs a good spine channel, so I may have to order in some inserts from Christ.
Yesterday’s session was good. We’ve set up some cavaletti, a little jump, and some tires in patterns in the riding ring as a play area. Diego seemed quite relaxed and cheerful in the Barefoot, and we even jumped a little bit (it’s TINY jump). He was not at all tense, and was bending nicely for me. No soreness afterwards, though it was only an hour. It’s a good first step anyway. We’ll see how that goes.