Two steps forward… one step back. Why does that always seem to be the way progress goes? Lately, this seems to especially apply to Remy. On the one hand, he has proven to be the sweetest, sanest young ottb I could have hoped for. He just turned 5 the end of February, he’s a full 17 hands now, and, thankfully, looks to me like he is starting to fill out. He still has that gangly teenager look though.
He finished his month of stall rest for a minor bowed tendon, and was cleared to go back to turnout and work on Valentine’s day. I wanted to work him lightly before turning him out, hoping he would be a little quieter when he got his freedom back, so I took a deep breath and tacked him up. I didn’t even want to lunge him first because I really wanted him to work just lightly his first day back from all that time standing in a stall. It took a huge leap of faith, but I remembered how much I trusted this horse, and with a small whispered, “Take care of me, Remy,” I climbed aboard.
He couldn’t have been more perfect. I kept waiting for him to do something stupid, but I finally relaxed as I realized he really must be among the sanest horses known to man. He remembered all his previous lessons, and as we walked around I made circles and figure 8’s and did some walk-halt-walk transitions. He moved off my leg to give me a few little leg-yield steps. He easily softened into my reins in both directions. He felt alert yet relaxed under me, the ultimate balance of focused and looking only to please, without trying too hard. With another deep breath, I asked him to trot. The trot felt weird. He wasn’t lame, for which I was greatly relieved (I know, the vet said his little bow was not a big deal, but I’m paranoid about my horses!), but he felt stiff and off-balance. I guess that is to be expected after standing in a stall for a month. We only trotted short stretches and then I gave him a walk break, and after just a few little trots each day, I got off him, convinced the brains were still working.
Well, he did fine turned out, and future rides required less breath-holding on my part, but progress has been slow due to that gangly teenage body I mentioned earlier. I can’t get my saddle to fit him!! I have a Wintec Isabell (which I think is super comfortable and puts me in a great position on any horse but Remy) and I have the narrow gullet installed. He still had gaps beside his withers, so I tried a sheepskin half pad, a riser pad, a memory foam pad, and doubling up the riser and sheepskin pad. Still, he ends up back-sore the day after a ride, and I know the saddle isn’t balanced because the whole time I’m riding him, I feel like I’m falling on his neck, I just can’t find my balance in the saddle!
I have talked to two saddle fitters, and one told me that what I am experiencing is normal. The saddle appears to sit balanced when he is standing still, but those hollows beside his withers allow the saddle to rock forwards and back once we are in motion. When the saddle rocks forward, it dumps me forward, and also causes the saddle to pinch the sides of his withers, creating painful pressure points.
Unfortunately, there are minimal options for tb’s in dressage, as most dressage saddles do not come in a narrow tree size. Going through racks of consignment saddles also confirmed that there are not very many people fitting narrow horses. My options were limited to padding up the saddle (which I had unsuccessfully tried), trying another type of adjustable saddle (the one that was suggested was the Toulouse Aachen, which is lovely but $1500 and felt pretty comfortable to me, but not amazing comfortable), or, of course, having a saddle custom made. Ug.
Well, there’s no way I am having a custom saddle done for an unfit horse that just turned 5. I also am not quite sold on the Aachen. So I tried yet again with the pads. This time I went all out and got the Fleeceworks correction pad. It’s a half pad that has pockets in the front and back that memory foam inserts fit into. I fit the thick foam inserts into the front pockets, and took Remy for yet another easy ride, hoping this would finally work.
Saturday, we had an awesome ride! He moved out more comfortably than he has recently, and seemed to want to trot, which I took as a good sign he was comfortable. The saddle was still tipping me forward, but he didn’t seem to care, so I tried to ignore it too.
Sunday, his back seemed ok so I got on him again, thrilled that maybe I had finally figured out what he needed. We mostly walked, while he stared wide-eyed at another horse jumping, something I think he’d never seen before. We trotted a lap or so each time they stopped to make changes to the jump. Then at the end of the ride, I couldn’t help myself… I got into a little bit of a two point and asked him to canter, which he did and he again reminded me yet another reason I like him so much. He has the most wonderful canter, even though he is still green and unfit, he just floats over the ground and rolls along in such a rhythmic, balanced way. I can’t even imagine how heavenly it will feel when we’ve done a little more work with it! The canter was very short, just a little taste for me, and I got off of him, satisfied and proud. He’s such a good boy!
Well, today his back is sore again. I’m so frustrated!! I know the saddle was still tipping me forward, so I guess it’s still not balanced right on him, even though the pad made him feel ok at the time. So tomorrow I’m back to the tack shops, searching desperately for the narrowest saddle I can find, at this point beyond even caring if it’s a dressage saddle or not. I just want to ride my horse, and I want him to be comfortable working!! I figure whatever fits him now won’t fit him in another couple of months if I can get him working regularly, so I’m going with an open mind and hoping I can find something that will work at least short term.
So it continues… two steps forward, one (giant) step back. Somehow I still feel like we are making progress, but at a snail’s pace…