Second (and last?) ride on River in Rocky’s saddle

I experimented with Rocky’s saddle on River today. Again.

River in Rocky's saddle

It still felt insecure side-to-side, so I’m not going to do it in anymore. I don’t want to give us a bad experience — all it would take is one fast sideways-and-bend-in-half spook to have both me and the saddle swivel around to her side (and then me to the ground, LOL). The “no withers to hold the saddle on” does give me incentive to keep my balance! But River has barely ever worn a saddle at all, compared to how often she’s ridden in a bareback pad, so I don’t want to risk damaging our confidence. Nor am I particularly excited about taking a fall I don’t have to.

However! For today I accepted the risks and enjoyed riding my girl. She gave no indication that the saddle bothered her, even when I cinched up tighter than I meant to. (I got down and fixed it, after checking from the saddle that even with my weight aboard, it was too tight.)

I set up a weave with 2 cones, 1 pedestal, and our spool obstacle. And also 4 poles, overlapping them only half — so if you went through the center you trotted through 4 poles, but on either side you only trotted through 2.

River in Rocky's saddle

We mostly walked and just sprinkled in some trotting for interest. We’re both getting used to having a saddle between us, and today I used reins instead of carrot sticks so that also added a Change. I practiced steering with my elbows, per something I saw Linda say in a video this weekend, instead of my hands. This helped me move my shoulders, instead of just thinking that I was moving my shoulders.

I also kept my promise, per Erin: “I promise that I will keep the rein until you tilt your nose and find release.” This is part of learning the Soft Feel. Again, I worked on not pulling the rein, but rather lifting it and having some feel on it, and waiting for the nose to tilt around with a relaxed poll and no brace in the jaw or neck or attitude (or anywhere). I am feeling more competent and confident while also chuckling inside a little because this is all pretty new and who knows how incompetent it looks from the outside. But I’m getting better results than I was a month ago, which tells me that our practice is goin’ good.

After our arena time, we went outside to walk once around the ranch loop. My original plan was to go once around, but she was so resistant about going forward when we passed the barn that I had to stick with it for quite a while, and decided to do a second loop so that we could have an experience of just walking on by the barn and heading down the hill.

I don’t know if the resistance was more about the barn and the hay that’s inside — she doesn’t live in the barn, but she knows we keep a hay bag near the tack room! — or about the grass that’s coming up nearby, or about the saddle being uncomfortable going downhill, or simply a leadership challenge. Or some combination of all of that.

River in Rocky's saddle

It’s a little bit nerve-wracking to stick with asking for forward when I’m in a saddle that’s going to loop around to her side if she turns really fast, but I stuck with it anyway. I didn’t have any spike of “should I get off?” or fear, just an awareness that I was perched more precariously than I wanted to be.

Patient persistence won the day though. I never escalated my phase and I was able to match her pressure. For example, when she put her nose down toward the grass, I held the reins where I’d had them. That way she could run into the reins but easily find slack by lifting her head again. I did not reflexively grip and *pull* — I just gripped. When she lifted her head and found the slack, I loosened my grip. Yay me!

Rocky’s shoulder/neck is feeling better today but he’s not 100 percent, so he’s still on turnout until Thursday when he’ll be evaluated again. We have lessons this weekend so hopefully he will feel 100 percent by then!

Categories: Love | Leave a comment

Ah-ha saddle fit moment or just a fluke?

Today I rode River in Rocky’s saddle. Rocky is 16.1, lanky, high-withered, deep from withers to breastbone but narrow from left side to right side.


River is 14.3, stocky without being stout, and rounded at the withers.


Yet when I set Rocky’s saddle on her on a whim, it didn’t rock front to back. When I put my hands under the tree, I couldn’t feel any pinching or bridging. When I lifted her front leg to check the farthest point of the scapula, the saddle had room for her shoulder to move.

My favorite part of Rocky’s saddle is the wide channel between to bars of the tree. Rocky has plenty of room for his wiggly spine to sway without bonking into the saddle. This width appeared to work for River too.

I allowed her to eat at the hay bag for a long time just to get used to wearing to saddle. Then we played on the ground for a while to make sure she could move comfortably and accept the saddle. Eventually I took off her halter and climbed aboard to practice carrot stick riding. We had the arena to ourselves so I didn’t feel like I needed to have a rope on her “just in case.”

What I learned in our walk-trot transitions and our turns is that if I got off balance to one side, the saddle would slip that way. I see Pat adjust his saddle back to the middle all the time, so I decided to treat it as an opportunity for learning — incentive for feeling a balanced or unbalanced seat on tight turns! — and not reflexively cinch up tighter. 

River did not seem bothered by the saddle even when I slipped to the right on the first turn, so we practiced transitions and turns and halts until I felt like I’d improved, and then I got a halter and reins to ride one loop around the ranch trail. It was hard to keep it to just one but that’s good — leave the party while you’re still having fun!

In grooming her afterward, I palpated for sore spots and felt for dry or unusually sweaty spots, and found no signs of discomfort. As always we will have to try a few times and see what happens. But it would be nice to be able to have the same type of saddle for both of them and thus not always be switching between types of seats.

Categories: Freestyle | 3 Comments

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