Over the past week I have started back riding Abs. I started with the idea that I would give her a solid two weeks of lunging before riding to help get her belly and weight better before adding a rider. That plan went out the window after two days. First, I hate lunging. I understand the benefits and if I had a larger space and better ground I probably would not have quit but I just don't- I have a small space on hard packed gravel with loose pea gravel on top. It was a recipe for disaster and I knew this but thought if I took it slow enough she'd be alright. On Monday and Tuesday of last week I started with a good rub down before putting her on the lunge line where she got four minutes walk right, four minutes walk left, four minutes trot right, four minutes trot left and five minutes each way at a walk followed by a 10 minutes cold hose of her legs with a fleece cooler over her back. I found my iphone timer really handy for making sure I was keeping it even and on schedule.
On the second day she somehow caught the clip of her left hind shoe, bent it out in to a makeshift blade and then gouged her back right cornet band. *bad word* And the next days she was stiff and sore behind. So on Thursday she got a new set of shoes and I abandoned lunging (and that whole arena) for good... but... One of the reasons I wanted to lunge was also that I didn't have a saddle and needed time to look for one that fit both my squat pony and my squat budget (which I thought should I only take a year or two).
On Thursday she got a new set of shoes and on Friday, (not wanting to loose momentum) I borrowed a friends saddle and trotted some large circles in the hay field where she was still a little off behind but quickly worked out of it. When I put her away on Friday night I spent a good 15 minutes cold hosing her legs, hocks and stifle and gave her a really vigorous rub down. I used the last of my Absorbine liniment on her that night a well and started researching what product I wanted to get her on both topically and internally to help support her joints, muscles and ligaments. More on that next time.
But first I needed a saddle. I was dreading the very thought of saddle shopping so much that I thought I would try a few English saddles as they are so much more abundant in my area. Probably 1 in 20 saddles for sale is a western and of that one in twenty only 1 in about a hundred would be of the type, quality and price I'd consider. I tried a handful of dressage and all purpose with no luck before sucking it up (or rather asking my darling man to suck it up) and went looking for that elusive reiner or cow horse. A good friend of mine had a Bob's cow horse that she used on her old mare who was built very similar to Abs so I held out hope that it might work but she was gone for the weekend barrel racing so I stopped in at a local shop and low and behold a Bob's! A well used and plain Bob's at a reasonable price! Counting my lucky stars, I took out that saddle as well as a cheaper no-name brand western (wishful thinking). That night I rode around a little in the front pasture and reveled in the feeling of that big cushy seat. It looked to fit Ab's reasonably well. It fit my ass perfectly. I love love love me a Bob's saddle. You just cant beat them for comfort.
On Sunday I invited B (a boarder and new friend) to come out on a trail ride on Miss Abby as her horse is off for the foreseeable future and I knew she was feeling pretty down. B is English rider with very soft hands and seat and a kind heart so I didn't hesitate to offer her Abby while I rode Marm. We went out for a nice hour long walk on the trail where Abby was just perfect. B couldn't get over how totally chill she was especially considering her years off and lack of trail experience. That day I rode in that light oil Bob's on Marm and damn if it also didn't look like a pretty close fit.
On Monday I went over to the neighbors to ride Abs in her arena. I wanted to get a good sweat built up to check the saddle and I wanted to actually lope a couple of circles where I didn't have to watch my footing at every step. Abby didn't feel at all stiff behind but I still tried to keep my circles more like large squares and I didn't turn around or stop her (except once by accident where I nearly went ass over tea kettle). The resulting sweat pattern showed that the saddle was making little contact towards the back end of the treet (which usually means it is too low/wide in the front). I probably could have made it work with a very mild bump up front but I had yet to try my friends dark oil Bob's cow horse. At the end of that ride I made sure to spend a lot of time walking her out rubbing her down (and a 10 minute cold hose).
On Tuesday I went back to the local tack store to return the light oil Bob's and ask if they could hold it for the day while I tried the dark oil. I hauled the big saddle in and set it down and was chatting with the lady for a bit and was kind of wondering why she wasn't doing any paper work for my return and had just started to awkwardly ask if we could reverse the preauth on my credit card when it suddenly struck me that I had actually taken out two western saddles. *face palm* I assured her I would be back before end of day to return that cheap western (which didn't even come close to fitting). I then went and picked up my friends dark oil Bob's. It is also not fancy but I had ridden in it numerous times before and knew it to be uber comfortable.
That Tuesday night I rode in the long grass of the pasture. I happen to know that patch of field really well and was pretty damn confident that the ground was solid so I went ahead and pretended like I was in the arena. That was the best ride I have ever had on Abby. The saddle was so comfortable and she guided so nice. I felt like we actually started to really click. I find Abby so easy to ride because we were both trained by the same person so communicating a cue is never an issue but I think the past I rode her and that night we rode together... I couldn't feel where I ended and she began and I stopped consciously cuing her and started thinking about where I wanted to go and trusting her to guide there off of my intent. It was beautiful and reminded me just what I love about reining. After that ride I cold hosed her legs for a good 20 minutes and gave her another good rub down. At the start she had been a little short behind again but as she has every ride she really worked out of it very quickly.
I don't want lay Abs up because I really feel my best bet to getting her right is to get her fit (as slooooowly as possible) and provide her with support in reducing inflammation through cold water, good rub downs before and after riding and internal joint/muscle support as well. Brown Eyed Cowgirls did a post that reminded me just how important it is to spend as much time and conscious effort in their care before and after a ride as you do during the ride itself. Sometimes what you know and what you actually put in to practice are two different things but I know that Abby needs as much support as I can give her and I am determined to do my best. In each of our rides we have spent the majority of our time walking walking walking... Our total "work" time (almost all trotting) is less than fifteen minutes. Just enough to get her to open her lungs up, dampen her neck and wet her back. She is still pretty damn fat and sporting that big ol'broodmare belly. I plan on continuing that level of work for at least the next week and then by next weekend I might be able to ask for a real work.
Oh! And as luck would have it, that saddle really did seem to sit on her nicely and her sweat pattern was even. Finding a saddle that quickly and easily feels like winning the lotto. I know her back is going to change a lot as I get her fit but I feel like there is enough room in that saddle to be able to make it work for a good while.
Last night I didn't want to ride but did want to stretch her out so went for a 45 minute walk in hand on the trail. She happily walked out and, as I did, seemed to soak up the beauty of that sweet spring evening. I feel so blessed to have this opportunity. What a great horse. What a great life.