Saturday, May 1, 2010

In which Fiddle's tack is examined, and I take another lesson

Although endurance riders are probably the most diverse, eclectic and maddeningly disparate group of equestrians on the planet, there are a few statements that apply to almost every experienced endurance riders.

One of those statements is: Everything for a reason.

Endurance riders, individually and as a group, are reknowned for questioning absolutely everything, from tack to training, from feed to clothing fiber. Endurance riders are always on the lookout for something that will keep themselves or their horses better fed, better hydrated, better conditioned, or just plain more comfortable.

Sometimes this leads to fashion catastrophes. I try not to take photos of those, but if you've been to an endurance ride, you've seen them. If you query the rider, however, you will find that s/he has a perfectly good reason for wearing those tights with that shirt and that jacket.

We aren't blind, and we aren't stupid. We have, however, been accused by other equestrians (and even more so by non horsaii) of having priorities in "unusual locations".

In the matter of tack, I am happiest with the simplest combination of gear possible, without over-simplifying anything. My tack has to be sturdy, safe, and it must withstand the rigors of Swampish weather.

It doesn't have to be purple. (But it usually is purple, somehow. Coincidence? I wonder.)

Here is Fiddle's saddle:

I knew I wanted a Specialized Saddle, because I was frustrated with my old "custom-built" saddle that didn't fit the horse it had been built for whenever he gained or lost 50 pounds, or grew a hairy coat in winter. The Specialized allows me to change the fit of the under side (the horse-side) of the saddle as often as I want. I tend to tweak the fit 2-3 times in the winter, and at least once each month in warmer seasons, as my horse gains or loses weight, fitness, and fur. It's a little bit of a PITA, but it's wonderful to have a saddle that actually fits!

When I was shopping for my saddle, Jim and Maddie and I rode in several different models of Specialized saddles, and then we compared notes. We all agreed that the Euro was our favorite, and we also liked the Trailmaster.

I got the Euro, and Jim found and rebuilt an old Trailmaster.

One of the things I like about these saddles is that they ride exactly like a dressage saddle! I take all my lessons in my trail saddle, and haven't taken my old dressage saddle out of the closet in years now.

For trail riding, I keep the same pad (a faithful old Skito with the inserts removed, or a set of Specialized Booties made by Carol Brand). The Skito pad is probably 8 years old, and although the "keeper" strap is shredded, the pad itself is still perfectly functional. The booties are 3 years old, and very well-made. They fit in the washing machine better than the larger pad, too!

There are some changes when I head into the hills, though:

I add a breastcollar made by Canadian Trail House (now American Trail Gear, located locally in the southwest part of Washington State!)

I have used the padded Zilco breastcollars in the past, but this is simpler, so I prefer it. The plain betabiothane rig Fiddle is wearing in the picture (above) is 5 years old. I wash it in the dishwasher.

I also add saddlepacks:

These are the "regular" Stowaway packs, available from just about every trail supply store these days. I wish they were sturdier. This is my third set in 8 years. I find they tend to fray after 3 years. I have an older set that I use in winter, it's pretty crummy-looking. The old Snugpax were sturdier, but they were not waterproof. Water "resistant" isn't good enough if the water is coming from all directions, and spare gloves aren't much help if they're wet.

I do use the English-style Snugpax cantle bags in back of my saddle for endurance rides, but not for most conditioning rides. These packs allow me to carry an extra 2 water bottles, which is handy, but not needful if I'm just going out for 2-3 hours locally.

I'm a huge fan of biothane bridles, especially beta biothane. This one was made by Sporttack, which has apparently fallen off of the Internet--does anyone know if they're still in business? I bought my first "regular" biothane bridle from them more than 10 years ago, and it's still good as new--I replaced a buckle on it about 2 years ago, but otherwise I've done nothing to it except toss it in the dishwasher sometimes.

Looks like American TrailHouse still has a similar rig. I use a sidepull with bit hangers:

Story preferred the sidepull. I would start an endurance ride with some kind of bit in her mouth, just to get past all the hijinks around us at the start line, and then usually drop the bit at the first vetcheck.

Toad required a kimberwicke bit until at least the 60-mile point,

and Fiddle works best in a french link/Boucher:

I have tags on all my gear, so that if it (or my horse) gets separated from me, we can find each other again. And heck, if you've gotta label stuff, why not use a purple tag? In fact, why not use a purple Pirate tag?

Yes, purple reins, too.
The tag on my reins is the very first tag I ever bought for Story. She is gone now, but I haven't changed my phone number, so I kept the tag. It makes me smile when I see it.

Here's Fiddle, dressed for our dressage lesson today: no saddle packs, no breastcollar. I do actually use reins in my lessons, but I hadn't clipped them on before taking the picture!
Here was my lesson today, showing off my current bug-a-boo:
See it? I collapse my right shoulder-ribcage-hip all together. Argh. Dory had me doing all kinds of stretches today and then I worked on the seated trot to loosen my lower back and lengthen my torso.
The picture above is better, sorta. I make all kinds of weird faces when I'm trying to do hard stuff.
This is much better. My leg looks longer, but really I'm not scrunching my hip up towards my armpit. Yeah, that scrunching isn't comfortable either, it's just a really bad habit. Fiddle isn't actually mad at me, she's just trying to keep the wind out of her ears.

The wind was so gusty today that most of the students cancelled their lessons today. Horses are just likely to be too stupid when the wind is up, but Fiddle was calm. I think she's finally decided to behave like a Grown Up Horse Lady.

The wind was blowing so strongly that I had to tie the back trailer door open so I could load Fiddle safely:

Also, in the middle of my lesson, a huge tree near the barn blew down. Huge cra-a-a-ck sound, and down it went! Fortunately, Fiddle and I have trained for this!

Just as we were packing up to head home, our little friend Nikki arrived. She wasn't supposed to ride her new horse because of the wind, but she really wanted to play with him, so her mom allowed her to come over and clean him up and longe him in the arena for a while. Aren't they cute together?

Back home on the farm, things are growing! These are leetle baby pears:

And oh, hey. Look here:

Strawberries! Ohhhh, life is good.

In which we celebrate Saturday Stories...with a blogging poem

In celebration of the end of Poetry Month (April). Enjoy! --A

My Frog Does Not Waste Precious Time

My frog does not waste precious time
just sitting on a log.
He's learned to use the Internet,
and now he has a blog.

It's filled with tips on how to hop,
and how to catch a fly,
on things that frogs can do to keep
their skins from getting dry.

My frog has hints on where to find
the finest lily pads,
and writes in great detail about
the latest froggy fads.

He tells of different ways to croak,
and how to act in bogs...
it's boring for most people,
but it fascinates most frogs.

--Jack Prelutsky

Monday, April 26, 2010

In which I wander around the garden and think about last April

Lytha at the Horse-Crazy American blog has photos comparing April 2009 and April 2010. Good idea! Here are a few Haiku Farm photos for comparison.

(It started dumping rain while I was wandering around the yard, so I'll have to take more photos later.)

Here's the blueberry bushes last year, being strangled by blackberry vines:

This year, having been freed from the blackberry tyranny:
Last year's grapevines were equally overwhelmed by blackberries. April 2009:

Grapevines, April 2010:
This year, of course, we have additional staff:Look how busy they've been in the orchard!

Apple trees, April 2010:

Apple blossoms, April 2010:

Sunset, April 2009: No fences, no garden, no chickens, no goats, no horses.
Pretty, though.
Sunset, April 2010:

It's good here.