It’s weird when you do something everyday, you don’t really notice slow changes over time. With the work I’ve been doing with Liam lately, he’s really put on some topline muscle. Today I put his saddle on as normal, with a sheepskin half pad under it as I normally do, and it just didn’t look right. As I looked at it more closely, I realized that this has been happening for at least a few days, it just doesn’t settle into place the way it should. I took it off and looked closely over Liam. He’s put on a little bit of weight and looks really healthy weight-wise. His ribs are not visible, but I can still easily feel them. But the biggest change is in his muscling over his back and back end. From the combination of work on the hills when I take him out on the trails and from the arena work I’ve done with him, muscle has filled in the sides of his withers. I put the saddle on him without the sheepskin pad and it sat much better, but the ultimate test would be the ride.
It felt weird when I first got on him. You wouldn’t think a little layer of sheepskin would make such a difference, but it was totally noticable. As I was walking around, I became most aware of how long my legs felt. I’m not entirely sure why this happened, but I decided I would not be able to post with my stirrups as long as they were, even though this is the same length they’ve been for a long time. I dropped my stirrups and let them bump against my feet, and sure enough, they were to the bottom of my feet. Could a sheepskin pad make this sort of difference? It appeared so! (As a side note, there’s a great article about stirrup length in the most recent “USDF Connection”)
So I rode with my stirrups 1 hole shorter, and I had a much closer contact feel without the sheepskin pad. It was a great ride. I worked over some trot poles set just a pinch longer than his normal, comfortable working trot stride to encourage him to reach a little with his stride. Then I worked on transitions by trotting over the poles (set up down one long side), picking up the canter in or before the corner after the poles, cantering through the short end and then transitioning to trot 1/3 of the way down the long side, then transitioning to halt 2/3 of the way down the long side, then back to trot through the short end, keeping the trot smaller first then asking him to make his strides bigger approaching the poles, where the poles made him take the bigger stride. It was a really simple lap around the arena but gave us lots to work on with all the transitions.
By the end of the ride, I decided I really liked the little adjustments I made to my saddle and stirrups.