If you live in South Texas, ride English, you need these ladies! Alene and Louise are amazing, master saddlers, and they can make improvements in your horse's mood and ride that you probably aren't expecting. They travel here twice a year from Scotland, March, and November. Google their name, check them out!
Harley and I arrived at the new farm right on schedule, a bit under 2 hours from when we left home. Low traffic, easy to find, good parking. Louise waved a hello, and we quickly got started.
I pointed out the "no sweat spots" on my dressage saddle, which she quickly planned a fix for. "Just a bit more flocking, but not too much. It's already nice & high on him, we don't need to make it higher." Good enough.
Then she set the new saddle on his back. Ideal Saddle Company's Grandee A/P saddle. Dreamy.. Just dreamy. Generous knee and thigh blocks, slick sides, and a nice soft seat. Mine came with a point-strap (extra girth strap attached from the front of the saddle tree), like the strap added to my dressage saddle. This helps keep the saddle from slipping forward.
We got right down to business. Harley was dressed, and taken to the grassy jump arena. He longed out decently. I had some trouble getting him into canter, and a bit more trouble getting him to stay in it. Didn't bring my longe whip.. My bad.. Lazy. Louise gave it an extra check, and I hopped aboard.
Things I immediately felt - wider seat, secure seat, and flat, but not as flat as the Collegiate jump saddle I just sold. It was "huggy", but still "open" feeling. The longer I sat in it, the more Harley relaxed. As we worked up to a trot, he relaxed even more. I felt a good, swinging, moving trot. I glanced at our bit contact - none. I shortened my reins at once, and actually felt him lift up his back a bit, and nearly collect under me.. OOooh... didn't get that on any jump saddles I've tried.. Nice...
I walked him over to Louise for another check before trying the canter. She immediately asked, "Feel like you're tipping forward some?" Well, yeah.. but I assumed that was normal for jump saddles. "Uh, no. Not this much. Let me take some of the flocking out of the back of it, relax it some. That should fix it. Let's go do that right now." huh.. hadn't thought of that. How spectacular.
Harley and I watched. Louise took the entire top off the bottom of the saddle, exposing the bottom/back flocking holes. She pulled some out, and it was greyish black. "That's Jacob's sheep wool. Not your standard flocking." It was incredibly soft. Later that night, I looked it up. They're fancy sheep at that. How neat! As she pulled the wool out, she explained, "the back of it may get a wrinkle in the leather, but that's completely okay." With the saddle stitched back together, it was back to the field we went.
I hopped right back on, and noticed the difference. No more tipping forward, but straight up/down. I was sitting up tall. That's a new feeling in a jump saddle for sure. I asked him to trot, all was well. I asked him to canter, and he hesitated. Hmm... Finally got some canter-right, and he was quite relaxed. MUCH improved over other saddles.
I asked for canter-left. Train wreck. Harley gave all the racing trots he could, and barely cantered at all. I turned him back right, asked for canter again. He gave a slight buck from behind, and he was back to the ground before I realized what he did. I later found out Louise muttered to R, "Oh boy. Here it comes." R told her, "Nah, that's usually all he does." Louise called out to me, "He might still be uncomfortable because his sheath is still swollen some." I agreed, and told her, "I'm going to try some more. But *I* am very comfortable up here, and he's more relaxed in this saddle than he's been in any other I've tried. He can't end here, however. He needs to learn that even in a bit of pain, he needs to continue without being a brat. We must end on a good note." Louise wandered off to go find the dressage saddle for it's extra flocking.
With R watching an ongoing lesson, and nobody actually paying attention to us (I thought), I asked him to trot a bit more. Then I asked him to canter-left. He complied. I got about 8-10 strides of canter-left. He was relaxed, but obviously not the happiest horse in the field. We eased down to trot. I said to R, "There we go. He's fine. The saddle isn't the problem. It's those d@mn fire ants still. Let me ask him right once more, and he'll be done." His canter right was good also, so we walked it out and came back to the fitter's truck.
I told Louise about his canter work. "Yeah, I saw him give you some good canter. He isn't uncomfortable from the saddle, because even with his little buck, it didn't move at all. Just the swelling underneath is making him unhappy." So, there actually was somebody paying attention.. *smirk* Of course there was..
A delightful time. I'm now the proud owner of two almost-custom saddles. They've been fitted to Harley and me. I'm a firm believer that, if the saddle doesn't fit both horse & rider, it's a recipe for disaster. Think "too tight pants" and "boots that squeeze your toes". Now, go run a marathon. Not happening, is it? If the saddle doesn't fit, how can you expect your partner on the ride to give his/her best? I've been told that many other customers yesterday got to learn a good bit about saddle fitting from the ladies, and plenty of good clients were created. Completely terrific.
Will work to get some pictures of Harley wearing his new saddle. I found his sheath even less swollen this morning, thanks to the second shot of Dex. A happy horse now that the fire ant inflammation is receding. Harley gave no spook, and minimal fuss. A brand new location, and he didn't even look or snort at the surroundings. Was it the Dex shot from Thursday? Who knows... I'd like to think some of it was my reaction - still, calm, nonchalant. I did my best to act like we'd been there before and it was "no big deal". Even after his little buck, he went back to work and behaved well. Can't say I'd be so good with my girl-parts swollen, carrying someone on my back, running... meh.. yuck.