It was a very rainy, stormy day outside, but I rode in the safety and comfort of our indoor arena. Liam was first, and he was awesome! We got all warmed up then started showing off our new more collected canter for our friend Sarah. We did some circles, then went across the diagonal and did a perfect flying lead change, then came back and did another. Liam felt really good and he was staying on my aids as he did the changes, and was landing in the same beautiful canter afterwards, so I tried something new. I came out of the corner like I was going to ride the diagonal, but instead I did a serpentine. As we first left the corner, we did a flying change, then we curved back around and as we headed back to the wall we did another change! It was the first time I’d tried anything more than one change across a diagonal, and Liam got it perfect on the first try! Just to make sure it was a fluke, I did it again. He got it!
Then I started eyeballing our arena, wondering if the diagonal was long enough to get 3 changes. Our arena is shorter and wider than a regulation arena, which works fine for most things, but does leave us with diagonals significantly shorter than a regulation arena has. I decided that I could fit three changes in as long as I got the first one *right* as we started the diagonal, and I wouldn’t have time for more than a few strides in between each one. So we got our little canter back going again, got the first change as we began the diagonal, canter a few strides and got the second change somewhere just past X, cantered another stride and Uh-oh! The corner was approaching too quickly, we wouldn’t get the last change in time! I quickly changed to plan B, and attempted to do a trot transition. Liam heard me, and obediently trotted, but he had also known my original plan, and he used the trot transition to get the final change, this time a simple change, but as smooth and balanced as the rest, and we effortlessly cantered out of the final corner, quite pleased with ourselves. Have I mentioned how much I love this horse?
We took a break and Sarah ran to get her phone so she could try to capture some video, but I think we had already worn ourselves out. By the time she came back and we tried for round two, we couldn’t quite get it together for a repeat performance. We did a little more trot work, and Liam impressed Sarah with the medium trot he has been developing (Sarah swears it’s starting to look like a real extension, and it sure feels big, so I need to have a video date with someone soon so I can see!!), and then we cooled out, worn out and yet totally refreshed and pumped up for the next ride.
Remy was next up, and my motto with him lately has been, “Another day, another saddle.” It’s hard because each time I try a saddle, if it doesn’t work I can tell because his back gets sore… but then that means I can’t try another saddle for a day or two until his back isn’t sore anymore, so it’s been a slow process. The weird part is that he has actually been working harder lately while I’ve been trying saddles than he has in the past, because instead of working one day and being sore for the rest of the week (and thus not working til the following week), I’ve been getting on him and mostly walking, then as we start to trot, as soon as he shows any sign of discomfort, I get right off of him. So his rides have been shorter and mostly walking, but I’ve been on his back 5 of the last 7 days! So as I was obsessing over his back yet again, I realized that his withers actually look different now. They don’t have as much curve as they did 2 weeks ago, and wonder of wonder, there’s a new muscle popping up on either side of his withers! I’m thrilled, because this development will help a saddle to fit him, and the new muscle makes me wonder if some of the soreness isn’t the new muscle working and growing vs. just a saddle fit thing. I’m also scratching my head, wondering if now I’m back to the drawing board as far as what fits and what doesn’t since now I am fitting a different size horse! Just to cover all my bases, I pulled out the measuring stick and he is still exactly 17 hands, so at least we aren’t also dealing with a growth spurt again.
After much contemplating, I settled on trying Liam’s saddle on him, with the new Fleeceworks pad with the memory foam wither inserts. The saddle appeared to sit well (though they all have), and although Liam’s saddle is the same Wintec Isabell that Remy has, Liam’s saddle is a 16.5 inch seat instead of the 17 inch seat on Remy’s, and Liam’s has the medium-narrow plate in it instead of the narrow plate that’s in Remy’s. Two weeks ago, Liam’s saddle looked WAY too wide on Remy, now on one side it looks fantastic, and on the other side it has a small gap by his withers (so he is developing unevenly, on top of everything else. Lovely.).
I got on him and was walking him around with Sarah and Chester (who is another darling chestnut TB that is capturing my heart, but I will have to blog about him later!). We walked and chatted, and Remy seemed relaxed and comfortable, but the true test wouldn’t be until we trotted. As we neared the far end of the arena, a HUGE clap of thunder broke our conversation, and sent both Remy and Chester galloping back toward the barn end of the arena. Sarah and I both rode the mad dash (silently thanking God that I had opted for the deep seat, big knee blocks, and suede covering of the Isabell today instead of trying the smooth leather, pancake flat seat, no knee roll saddle that also sat in the “to try” stack in the barn), covering the length of the arena in what felt like 3 giant strides (remember, these are 17 hand horses lol), and quickly dismounting as the boys came to a nervous stop against the wall by the barn. The clap of thunder was immediately followed by some serious hail, which pelted the metal barn roof and made a horrible loud clattering. Remy danced on the end of my reins, his huge body shaking with fear. To his credit, he didn’t drag me into the barn or go airborne or anything else stupid, but Sarah and Chester headed for an open stall so I followed with Remy, walking him into the safety of his stall. The hail continued to pelt the roof, and Remy stood with his nose in my hands, shaking like a leaf. I tried to comfort him, but I’m pretty sure he thought he was going to die. As the hail lightened, and then let up, I felt Remy start to breathe again. Then as he recovered his wits, he took a step towards his stall door, and peered around into the arena with big, wide eyes. There were no monsters causing the awful noise, just the big empty stillness of the arena. He sighed, and followed me back into the arena, eyes darting around, but obediently walking with me. As we neared the far end where the whole event started, he tensed up and wanted to trot. I made him circle around me and then stand as I patted his neck. He quickly relaxed, so we walked all the way around the arena again, and he seemed assured that the noise was gone.
After all that drama, I wanted to put him away and let him relax, but I still didn’t know if the current saddle and pad were going to work or not! Being the fool that I am, I took him back to the mounting block and climbed aboard, praying another clap of thunder wouldn’t destroy Remy’s new-found confidence in the arena. I had to trot just a little. I got on and made a circle in front of the mounting block and asked him to trot. He did. It wasn’t a gorgeous trot, but he did trot an entire circle and stopped when I asked him to. In other saddles, he will only trot a few lame-feeling steps before stopping on his own, so this little trot circle leaves me hopeful! Not wanting to push my luck, I got off, untacked him and felt his back. No pain. Now I’m very hopeful.
I put him back in his stall to finish his dinner, but he just wanted to stand by me and have his face rubbed. I love a horse that comes to me when he’s worried instead of leaving me to the monster and only thinking about himself! I’m so proud of him. I know any horse would have spooked at that thunder clap, but I love that he gave me such a ridable spook and took me with him back to the safety of the barn. Many horses would have gone airborne and ditched their riders, but he allowed me to “protect” him until the storm passed. He recovered his confidence quickly, but still sought my comfort. As I stood there rubbing his forehead, all I could think was that this is a great partnership in the making.