Super Organize for Superior Tack Storage!

It started with this convenient rolling cart so I wouldn’t have to carry my heavy saddle.

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Load it up with the Saddle, brushes underneath, hang some things on it, and away you go! Everything in one trip, so efficient. All things in their places.IMG_0457.jpg

I love my personalized “Saddle Mattress” protecting the saddle flocking from nasty hard metal racks, by the way. Every saddle should have one.

So it started with the rolling cart.

But things soon got much more complicated when people at the barn said this to me recently…

“Watch out for snakes in the Spring, Summer, and Fall. They sometimes come into the barn and into the tack cubbies. They can get in through the smallest of holes or cracks.

And they climb up and hide in your brush box or hang on the hooks among your bridles and surprise you…”

I shudder even now as I write these words. I have a real and true PHOBIA of snakes. It doesn’t matter that they reassured me that no rattlesnakes had ever been seen, only the “good” kind of snake.

I knew that if I ever found a snake hanging on a hook in my tack cubby, I would never be able to return to the barn.

Seriously. Call me a wimp, but I’ve had mice run out of it and across my feet and I’ve simply yipped a bit and stomped more next time to warn them I’m coming. but snakes?

Snakes are a deal killer for me. I can’t even put a picture of one in this article to illustrate it for you. Nope. I just hate looking at pictures of them. 

Enter my savior, my husband Bill: the Engineer and brilliant Anti-Snake Designer. He prepared to do battle with the warped doors of my tack cubby to seal them against all possible incursions of snakes – and mice, too, while we’re at it.

Fear no more, he said, this would be a SNAKE FREE ZONE. Weatherstripping was applied to every door surface, and a bolt to the outside so that the doors are securely fastened shut. No more holes or cracks for things to slither or crawl (shudder) through.IMG_0464.jpg

Regard the mini tackroom: A door for hanging things (note that beautiful snake proof weather-stripping!), hooks on the wall, and plastic storage boxes keep things dust free, organized, and mouse proof just in case a mouse does chew its way in somehow. The rolling saddle cart fits in the other side, although you have to take the handle off to fit it in. Well, we had certain constraints we had to work around.IMG_0460.jpg

A place for everything, and everything in its place. As you can imagine…I have a lot of other tack that lives in the garage at home. This has room for the daily essentials.

It may be tiny, but it’s my little (tack room) kingdom.

AND NO SNAKES. Not now, not ever.

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The miraculously relaxing blanket

Back on Track products have been a favorite of mine for a couple of years, ever since a trainer recommended the back brace after I hurt my back. My husband and I both use the back brace whenever we have some back pain and it works like a champ to sooth, ease pain, and provide mild support.

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Starlight trying on her new Back on Track mesh sheet before being tacked up. “Hmm,” she says. “Seems to fit well. Nice and snuggly.”

I put the blanket on her to try it for size, and WOW, instant transformation from suspicious – “what are you dressing me in now?” to “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh, that’s kinda nice…”

Back on Track products are woven with ceramic particles which reflect the body’s own heat, providing soothing and therapeutic benefits of long wave infrared radiation. http://www.backontrackproducts.com/How-Back-on-Track-Products-Work-22.html

IMG_0403.jpgHere are the results of a study done: http://www.backontrackproducts.com//Clinical-Studies-14.html#horses

The products are machine washable (line dry) and the therapeutic properties do not wash or wear out. This product is not only relaxing, but it will actually help her back, shoulder, and hind quarter muscles have better blood flow and thus recover more quickly from exercise

But back to Starlight. Within seconds of putting on the blanket, her eyes half closed, her neck dropped, and she got a far away look…it was the same look I get as I sink into the perfect temperature bubble bath with a pile of favorite magazines at my elbow to flip through desultorily. BLISS.

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“You may leave me now, while I commune with my blanket. I think I’ll just catch 40 winks.”

 

 

 

 

Does a bit of bling make you a dressage diva?

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My mare and I are on the cusp of Third Level. Flying changes come and go – occasionally she does a few easily clean and straight, and other days, it’s, “huh? I have no idea what you’re talking about.” All other third level moves feel fairly easy; the changes will come soon enough. Probably.

So I allowed myself the indulgence of buying a new (admittedly unneeded) show shirt at the Animo Black Friday Sale. 

Admittedly, the shirt above falls in the rather blingy (but oh so fabulous!) category. Does this make me a dressage diva? It is an interesting question.

Such a (negatively) loaded term. I immediately think of a small overweight woman bouncing along on an enormous horse, weighed down with bling everywhere. “NEVER!”quoth I.

Yet one most know oneself. The truth will set you free.

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Know Thyself

Diva definition: “a usually glamorous and successful female performer or personality.”

Having attained a certain age (well over 50), perhaps I’m entitled to enjoy a little glamour here and there. Well made, glittery shirt? Sure.

As for success, well, it comes and goes. Doing what we can to be successful AND have fun.

Dressage Diva: Yes, in the true sense of the word. Bring it. I’m old enough to enjoy the glitter if I want to. That said, let’s try to stay reasonably tasteful. One can go TOO far. As in this:

 

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Coming soon: Starlight embraces her inner dressage diva with her own glittery coronet (aka browband). Just wait until you see her Christmas Present.

 

 

Take care of your equipment

Horse equipment is EXPENSIVE.

Most likely, if you own or care for a horse, I don’t need to tell YOU that. As my husband has long said, “it’s not the buying (of the horse), it’s the keeping.”

How then should we care for this expensive equipment so it lasts as long as possible and functions as it should?

First, Store it Properly.

Saddles generally run in the thousands of dollars, and while they can last for decades if properly maintained, they need to be stored carefully. Whether that saddle fits you or the horse for decades is unlikely, but hey, there’s always resale value.

Best way to store a saddle? Like this:

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This saddle is on a “Saddle Mattress” (yes, nicely personalized) so that the rack underneath will not damage the wool flocking of the saddle (http://www.saddlemattress.com). The padded saddle mattress can be made in almost any color with custom piping and name or initials, and it slips over the saddle rack to protect your saddle. You can also easily take it with you if you move to another tack room.

If I store a saddle on a tubular metal saddle rack with no padding, the metal will compress the flocking that I have paid a saddle fitter to adjust to my horse and the saddle will become lumpy and uncomfortable for my horse; the rack may also stretch the leather, compromising the saddle.

Wooden racks that are curved and shaped to fit saddles with no hard edges can be fine if you can find them. They are usually quite expensive but they are an elegant solution; however, you cannot easily take them with you so I prefer the portable saddle mattress.

Bridles should be hung on rounded bridle hooks, NEVER ON NAILS, which will weaken the leather. Here’s a lovely example:

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Note that these bridles are hung on proper hooks, but many of the saddles in this backroom are right on the metal racks. Alas. Some saddles have covers but others have the sweaty pad placed over them to dry. Even upside down, that pad will get some dampness on the saddle, not good (see below).

Second, Cover Your Saddle. If your saddle did not come with a dust cover, buy one. All tack rooms are dusty (barns are dusty!). A dust cover helps reduce the dust on your saddle. NEVER store your sweaty, damp girth directly on top of the saddle. Preferably wipe it clean after use (o.k., I admit I don’t always do this), and then place it on top of the dust cover so the dampness does not contact the seat of the saddle. A dust cover also protects your saddle from UV rays if the tack room has a window. UV (sunlight) will fade and dry out tack badly. We’ve all seen those formerly black saddles, now blotchy brown…

Damp and sweat are the enemies of leather: remember that. Metal saddle racks are bad, too.

Third, Clean and Condition Your Tack regularly. I did not grow up in Pony Club and I’m not British so I do not do this daily. God bless you if you do. But when it gets dry and crusty it is uncomfortable for the horse and bad for the tack. Don’t go there.

Find a schedule you can live with and make it work. I get it done by simplifying it this way:

  1. Don’t try to do all the tack on the same day. Too tiring. Don’t take bridles apart except maybe once or twice a year. Otherwise the task becomes overwhelming (especially when you have a double bridle!).
  2. Use warm water only to clean the tack and remove dust and sweat. Most experts believe that soap just adds gunk and is another thing to get off.
  3. Allow tack to dry slightly, then condition well with a good conditioner like Passier Lederbalsam or Effax Lederbalsam. Apply generously with a small tack sponge. Let soak in while you are finishing the rest of the tack.
  4. Take a cleanish dry towel (small one) and wipe the excess off, polishing the tack.
  5. Wash the bit off every single day. I just run it under the faucet quickly. If you don’t have running water, dunk it in the horse’s water bucket or wipe it with a cloth. Leaving it with spit or chewed carrot on it will make it crusty and uncomfortable for  20160708_Edie and Starlight__DSC7539.jpghim to put in his mouth. Keep it clean.
  6. Voila! Clean, soft, beautiful tack. Not my bridle at right, but a nice one.

Saddle fitting lessons

After many, many saddles and endless experiences over many years with countless saddle fitters, I’ve learned some lessons the hard way, through experience and often expensive mistakes.DSC03470

Lesson Number One: Your saddle is only as good as your fitter. Find a good fitter.

A beautiful saddle that doesn’t fit is like a designer shoes (bought on sale!) that just don’t fit. They stay in the closet because you’re not gonna wear them. Although in this case you might put that saddle on your poor horse, who pays the price with a sore back. Just. Don’t. Do. It.

Do everything you can do get it right. Get professional help. No, not therapy – a saddle fitter!

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Kristen of Saddle Solutions measures Starlight’s withers

But HOW do I find a good saddle fitter? Get recommendations from savvy (experienced) friends or trainers you trust. Beware that many people are very blind in this area  or have limited expertise. Ask around widely. If you keep hearing a certain name repeated as a good Fitter, then that’s probably your person. Check out their training and give them a try.

Lesson Number Two: An Independent saddle fitter is usually better for your purposes than one whose main agenda is selling a certain brand of saddles. Unless you are certain that you only ever want that one brand of saddle.

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Kristen from Saddle Solutions educates me about saddle fit.

Experience, Expertise, and Integrity are the most important qualities you want in a saddle fitter. Professionalism and reliability are nice to have, too! If the only one that fits those criteria who will come  to your area is the rep for a certain brand, you may have to use them. They will most likely be willing to work on other brands (ask); just be aware that their agenda is often to sell you one of their saddles, but it may not be the best fitting saddle for you or your horse because their product line is limited. This is why an independent fitter, whose only agenda is to fit you and your horse, is a better bet. He or she can recommend saddles/brands and/or objectively assess and fit what you already have.

Today Starlight and I enjoyed a fitting with Kristen Vliestra of Saddlery Solutions (www.saddlerysolutions.com). Kristen is an independent saddle fitter with many years in the business and her deep knowledge and expertise were very helpful in finding a good fit for me and Star.DSC03482

Below, Kristen demonstrates with chalk the proper weight bearing surface on Star’s back. She helped me to understand WHY this is all so important. If we don’t get this right, we will cause our horses pain and possible long-term damage to the musculature and spine. It also causes discomfort (back or fork pain) for the rider as the saddle is off-balance and we’re put out of position.DSC03490

In the video below, Kristen explains this clearly…

And here you see us trying a saddle that turned out to be a good fit for both of us. It has not yet been flocked to Star, so the balance is not quite right yet: It is a little low behind.  Later, Kristen took care of that. If you felt under the panels, you would feel nice smooth contact (no bridging!), no pressure points, which makes Star happy. As for me: I sat down in it and said, “ah, nice comfy saddle,” which is exactly what it ought to be.

Life is too short for your saddle to hurt you…or your horse! Invest in building a relationship with a good fitter!*

*If you’re within driving distance of San Jose, I recommend Saddlery Solutions (www.saddlerysolutions.com).

Saddle Fitting Fun and Games

Star and I are in the midst of saddle shopping. Our friend, Carolyn, has been helping us by doing wither tracings so that we can order saddles sent to us for trial and have a chance that they might actually fit.

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Starlight’s back labeled for a “wither tracing.”

What’s been amazing has been how fast Star is changing! We did a tracing on 3/20/16, and another one on 4/14/16, and she was substantially different in the withers. The first two weeks I rode her in a saddle that turned out to be a bit too narrow; when I realized it wasn’t working  I borrowed an Ansur treeless saddle while I started shopping for something that fits us both. Ah, happier horse!

I will soon transition back to a treed saddle because she’s VERY wide and I need a tree to get me up above her back a little so that my hips and back don’t get sore. The Ansur has been very useful for this interim time, but on such a wide horse it’s not great for me long term.  I’m looking at lots of options and I THINK I’ve just about got it solved. SOON, I hope!

Below we see the results of a more comfortable back and regular dressage work: muscles that are visibly and measurably changing.

Some pictures to illustrate:

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Starlight on 3/20/16 , after 3 weeks with Edie. Still has some bleached winter coat.

In the next picture, not only has Starlight’s coat changed, but look how her weight and muscles are changing! A mere four weeks more of regular dressage work, including once a week trot poles (which she loves) is making a difference. While it takes many months – years even – to build the strength for true collection,  Starlight is learning to carry herself.

The shine is from daily grooming, Platinum Performance, and Chia Seed. Yes, she is doted upon and considers it the way things ought to be.

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Starlight on 4/14/16. What a difference a month makes!

It takes a village to raise a horse. My friend Carolyn helps me with wither tracings, calls dressage tests at shows, and is a sounding board and source of ideas and insight. She loves sensitive mares like Starlight and they were immediate friends.

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Girlfriends.

 

Saddle shopping trials

Does anyone out there ENJOY saddle shopping? I’m not talking about idly clicking through the gorgeous gleaming images of new saddles, imagining yourself riding oh-so-much-better because now you have the perfect saddle. Of course if I have the saddle of XYZ Olympian I will ride like him or her! I will look like this and my horse will also be transformed:

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Or sometimes my Diva side comes out and I am attracted to the blingy fancy saddles. Oh, I’m not going to buy one, but gosh, they are pretty, aren’t they?

 

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Yeah, I kinda want one, I admit it. But I know my trainer would kill me. Not to mention my husband.

Meanwhile, what to do? Well, the only saddle I own, a wonderful and comfortable Lemke dressage saddle, does not fit my new horse, Starlight. Tragedy! That saddle is so comfortable. So I am riding in a borrowed Ansur dressage saddle, which is a flexible tree so it fits (almost) anything. It’s a  Godsend and my mare really likes it, but she’s wide, so my hips don’t like it on such a wide horse.

I need a saddle wide enough for her, but with a narrow twist for me, and that will require a tree. It’s possible, but it is not easy.

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The Wow Competitor Dressage Saddle

Enter the WOW saddle, a modular saddle which I am explorin. I have just tried their basic model (the Classique), which my horse LOVED but I wanted a different seat. Loved the narrow twist but the seat didn’t quite work for my seat bones (not soft enough). So now I will try a custom assembled WOW with different seat, flaps, knee rolls, etc. Since these are modular saddles, a custom one can be assembled in just a couple of days and shipped to me to try.

If you are interested in information about the WOW, which is really a different concept for a saddle, here is the website:  http://www.wowsaddles.com. I’ll have another review of it after I ride in it more, but my first ride did impress me and my horse and I had an initial “WOW” experience. Unfortunately, they are expensive new and though they’ve been in Britain for years, they are fairly new here so they’re difficult to find used. That’s the bad news.IMG_0124.JPG

Here is Starlight, modeling the WOW Classique. Note the lovely sock protective covers for the stirrup leathers (keeps the leathers from damaging the demo saddle). Star’s coat is improving but is still changing from sun-bleached to black/brown as she sheds her winter coat. One month into our work together, you can see the muscling in her neck and topline beginning to develop, but it takes years to build the muscle needed for dressage so this will be a slow and careful process. This is a wonderful mare and I love working with her.

Our next demo saddle will be the WOW Competitor. Let’s hope it’s “the one” and I can stop spending hours on the computer looking at saddles and researching saddles and wondering if this saddle or that saddle MIGHT work…