November 30, 2021

Product Review: Stubben Equi-Soft Girth

It was abject curiosity that caused me to buy a Stubben Equi-Soft girth in September. Jan had raved about hers, and I wondered what Connor would think about elastic in his Dressage girth. From the manufacturer:

The Equi-Soft girth, when properly adjusted, effectively deals with the constriction by giving in all directions and markedly reducing the tension.  This frees the underlying musculature, allows better circulation, and decreases the restriction of motion of the gut.  As respiration is enhanced and the horse experiences less discomfort, pulse rate has been shown to be reduced during exercise.  Since the muscles are less restricted, lateral flexibility is enhanced as well as the horse’s ability to employ the external obliques, serratus and other abdominal muscles necessary to support the topline.  This is manifested in greater extension of the foreleg and more active employment of the hind quarters.

But it arrived the day I dropped him off for full training, and I wasn't going to just leave him at the trainer's with a brand new girth, so I waited until I got the chance to ride him on my own in it once in early November before feeling confident enough to ask CGP to try it.


Then I got a call from her one night, "OMG congratulations on your new saddle, Connor goes AMAZING in it, like, wow! So much lift through his shoulders!"

I was super confused. Unless Kate had dropped my new saddle off at CGP's without telling me it was finished, CGP was definitely still riding in the loaner Patrick.

"New...saddle?" I said.

"Yeah!" she said, "You know, it's got serge."

"Is it brown or black?" I asked, and she said black. "Yeah that's still the loaner, the only thing I've changed this week is that's a new girth I'm trying."

"Wow!" she said, "Well he loves it, huge change!"

(Now, if you're wondering how she could be so oblivious about tack, remember that she has 6 days a week of 10-15 lessons and training rides per day, and in order to do that much volume, she's not the one tacking the horses up. Also, on a dachshund like Connor, she'd have to be pretty motivated to get under him and look at the girth. So when he felt that different under saddle, she thought something big must have changed and just assumed it was the saddle.)

It's hard to say what he loves about this girth. It may be the enormous amount of elastic in the center.


It could be that the straps actually float above the horse's sides where there is no pad underneath them.

It's hard to see when he's so fuzzy, but I'm not lifting the girth away from his side here, there's a finger-width gap here that gradually gets smaller as you go up toward the buckle.

It could be the way it ergonomically hugs his sternum.

Real talk: using dirty girths in product review photos because it was cold and I was rushing (but I did clean it after!)

It could simply be the sizing, as I went with a 24" because it was the smallest size Smartpak had, and I wanted to be able to easily return it if he didn't like it. It gets the buckles far above his elbow.

This is on one of my longest saddle pads too, the BoT with the quarter sheet visible above it here. The buckles won't even come close to the flap on my actual Dressage saddle, whenever it arrives.


But I honestly don't care, because if he loves it that much, I'm not going to ask him why! 

So the horse loves it, what about the human? Some notes, from me:

  • It has so much elastic, you're not supposed to crank it down as tightly as a normal girth. You're supposed to tighten it just tight enough to keep the saddle stable and no further. This is a little anxiety-inducing for some people (but not me, I belong to Girth Undertighteners Anonymous)
  • It has interchangeable liners (leather, lambskin or neoprene) that Velcro onto the top part of the girth.
  • It's a pain in the freaking butt to clean, especially after the Prolite, whose care instructions are "drunk in a bucket after rides". Getting underneath all those elastic pieces...ugh.
  • A friend of mine reports that she loves the Dressage version, but the jump version caused her saddle to slide back on XC (prelim/training), which makes sense since you can't crank it down super hard.

Bottom line: It's a cleaning nightmare and I'm keeping it, and that should tell you all you need to know about how much of a difference this girth made for Connor. Connor absolutely loves it.

What: Stubben Equi-Soft Girth

Colors: Black, brown

Sizes: 18" to 56"

Options: Lambskin, leather or neoprene liners available

Price: Varies depending on options selected. I paid $297 at Smartpak, which has somewhat limited options available. Full range of options are available on Stubben's website.

November 29, 2021

Lesson Wrap-Up: Unrecognizable

At the time of my lesson on Black Friday, I hadn't had a lesson in over three weeks. Between her schedule and my slightly-less-flexible new job, it's been harder this year to get lessons in than it was last year.

But you know what? I actually think that's been a good thing. I had back-to-back lessons on Friday/Saturday last weekend, and they both left me with my jaw on the floor in the best of ways. He feels a lot more confirmed to her way of riding than he ever has before, which means it's easier for me to get on and feel the right way to do things.

Not me, but wow I've never seen this out of him before!

On Friday, she asked to get on him first and show me what she'd been working on. Even from the ground I could see that his balance was different and there was an intensity (but not tension, unless she was actively pushing his buttons to get a point across) to his work that hadn't been there before. 

You'll notice I was forced to clip him between Friday's ride (when he took two hours to cool out, yes I just clipped him five weeks ago) and Saturday's ride. I did an entire (shitty) full clip in 30 minutes before my lesson, desperately wanting to get the hair off to avoid a repeat of the day before, and then had to clean him up after!

 

I could see very clearly the building blocks of flying changes that she was laying. For example, in the upward canter transition, his default is to initiate the movement with the front legs and leave the hind legs as an afterthought for a stride or two later.

His default:

Slow off the ground and slow to the aid

What needs to become his default:

I picked this effort because he did it a little bit "extra" so you can really see the difference. Those two canter transitions above occurred just a couple of minutes apart!

Regardless of what the transition looks like, the canter quality is just incredible, especially for the horse that started his riding career as the "King of the Tranter". I overheard CGP telling a student that was watching my lessons that he continually surprises her by how well he's able to sit. She keeps asking for more sit, and he keeps delivering.

She is also working on the changes from time to time, and says "They're there, and they're easy for him," but that at this point they will come and go until the canter quality is more consistent. I expect it will be a long while before I actually ride one, and I'm totally okay with that.

 

When I got on after her, the difference I felt were enormous, the biggest ride-to-ride change I'd felt on him since that first week I dropped him off in 2020. He follows the bit with no hesitation and no blockages anywhere in his neck. The top of his neck is longer than the bottom - no more underneck leverage! And I felt him reach for my lats in a way that immediately taught me what correct contact should be like and could have just died right there. My horse knows more than me!

We had one moment when the canter got a bit splatty, and she told me just to find my lats and not give my elbows away, AND HE SAT AND COLLECTED THE CANTER RIGHT THERE. Normally once the canter gets crappy, it's just crappy until I bring him back down, so that felt like a miracle.

Balance

The other big change I noticed is that when I close my legs now, he gets quicker behind rather than just speeding up and splatting forward. There was actually a moment where I was heading into my second trot half pass (ever, I've never done it before) on Friday and I recognized I needed more impulsion but not more speed, and I closed my legs in the corner and I felt him step under and get quicker with the hind feet. IT. WAS. AMAZING.

The right amount of impulsion feels borderline too much at all times, like there's a ton of potential energy there. It doesn't feel polite and slow, it feels energetic and barely contained even when it doesn't look like he's moving fast.

It's not like he's suddenly easy to ride though. The contact thing in particular, I have a lot of work to do to internalize that solid-but-alive feeling that's there now, and that's the thing I most have to not break. 

Me: determined to pull on the inside rein 4eva

So it's interesting, because last weekend was the first time that Third Level ever felt possible at all. In the context of a First/Second Level balance and way of going, half pass and flying changes and all that sound like unattainable rocket science. But the balance I felt, the control, the reaction to my half halts, the on-demand quickness from behind, NOW Third really feels possible.


But at the same time, it feels further away than ever, because now that I've felt it, I know that all of that has to be our confirmed, default way of going before we're ready to show it. And I LOVE that. I was grinning like a little kid in my lessons, feeling things I'd never felt before. That moment when I closed my legs and got more impulsion for the first time ever meant more to me than a Bronze Medal ever could. So I'm stoked to continue this journey no matter how long it takes to actually get into the show ring again.

The actual best boy <3 So proud of you.

November 26, 2021

Product Review: Saddle Mattress

This purchase didn't feel necessary until the CWD got repaneled, and until I got called out about marks on my panels by saddle fitters - turns out stacking saddle pads and bareback pads under my saddles on the racks wasn't enough to prevent the bars of our saddle racks from leaving imprints on my panels.

It's a bigger problem for the CWD than it is will be for the wool-flocked Patrick, since foam-flocked saddles can only be repaneled a few times over their lifetimes, although both will benefit from it. And as hard as this saddle search has been, I'm going to do whatever I can to protect that investment.

Dingo photobomb

I first reached out to Saddle Mattress in June, and didn't hear back from them for months. I was about to give up on them when the owner replied and apologized for some health issues she'd been having that had prevented her from responding, and she was nothing but great to work with from that point forward. In fact, she even gave me a discount on my order in the end to apologize, which I didn't ask for.


There are two different kinds of Saddle Mattresses depending on what kind of saddle rack you have. My barn has freestanding Easy Ups from SStack, and Lisa recommended the Saddle Mattress Vertex for them. If you have any questions about what type of Saddle Mattress is right for your saddle rack, you can email Lisa with a picture of your saddle rack, and she'll help you out.

You can get anything you want on the front of it, from monograms to logos to stock options to nothing, if that's what you want. Amanda was kind enough to share the embroidery file she used to make my Welsh dragon saddle cover, and it turned out SO well! I love having a matched saddle cover/Saddle Mattress set. 

My locker at CGP's - if I was here permanently, I would have gotten the other style of SaddleMattress, but this one works - it's just not as secure on this type of rack.
 

I did briefly look into making one myself, but foam is expensive right now, y'all! Looking at materials and how long it would take my non-existent sewing skills to figure this out, it was absolutely worth it to buy the professionally made one. Before my discount, these came out to $109 each, fully customized.

So far, I've used them at the barn, on the shaped saddle rack in my locker at CGP's, and on my rolling show cart and been happy with it everywhere. Basically, wherever my saddles go, the Saddle Mattresses will go with them.


Bottom line: This is a pretty cheap insurance policy to protect my sizable investment in saddles, and it's not cheap to DIY it given the cost of foam right now. Two thumbs up for a great product and great customer service!

What: Saddle Mattress Vertex

Price: $109 as shown here

Where: www.saddlemattress.com

Disclaimer: I bought these with my own hard-earned money and am not being sponsored or compensated in any way for this review.

November 25, 2021

Thankful

Thankful for a lot - today I'm thankful for this beautiful facility and the gorgeous sunsets I've gotten to see lately. Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!


The center cupola on the indoor is lit at night.



One more month til the days start getting longer...

November 24, 2021

Product Review: Celeris Custom Winter Boots

Wow I've been sitting on this one for a while. Months, to be exact!

SO this happened. Peep pair #2 in the background - I won't be writing about them for months yet

I've spent four years riding in my brown Ariat Bromont H2Os (original review) (2 years in updated review) that are a size too big, waiting on them to drop (they didn't, at least not enough), waiting to be able to ride in them without heel lifts (still can't), waiting to be able to zip them all the way up (also never happened). I don't know what finally snapped in me this year, but I finally decided I was done with all that, despite being otherwise happy with them.

After a couple of weeks searching for off-the-rack options, I realized there aren't many good ones. Just like hunting for winter chore boots, they're either not cold enough for truly cold climates, they wouldn't fit 5'1 me, or reviews showed a troubling pattern of poor longevity.

Remember the Tuffrider Tundras I had in 2016 that looked like this after THREE WEEKS of riding one horse four days a week? Yeah, I will never forget. Longevity matters!

It was during this search when my boss gave me a bonus in the exact amount of two pairs of Celeris BOGO half off boots, so clearly, this was meant to be, right? So I messaged Stacie and asked if she would be my style consultant, lol. Celeris really ought to pay her!

About two and a half months later, I took delivery of my first-ever pair of stiff Dressage boots in a gorgeous chestnut brown, and a pair of sheepskin lined winter boots.

SO. WARM.

I'm not going to review the stiff boots yet since it's going to be months before it's warm enough for me to ride in them enough to break them in. But the winter boots are seeing a lot of action already, and I'm thrilled with them. I ended up going with the Bia boot in medium brown and opted for the full sheepskin foot and leg which adds just over $100 USD to the price of the boot. 

I took one set of measurements (or rather, my husband did - you can't measure yourself) and Celeris masterfully adjusted the boot size to account for the sheepskin on this one and the lack of sheepskin on the other. They fit perfectly - although they do very much need to break in. I almost couldn't get the popper snapped the first time I tried them on, and thought that the leather tongue was too narrow between the laces, but as the boots have relaxed, both are no longer an issue.

Fit out of the box, the day they arrived and before they dropped

In terms of style, I wish Celeris had an online configurator like Kingsley does, because I'm terrible at visualizing things, but this is where Stacie came in. She made some great suggestions based on what my new saddle looks like and my preferences, and we ended up with this top on the winter boot.

Winter sucks so much around here, I have no problem being a little "extra" with my winter boots. They ought to bring a smile to my face when nothing else does!

They asked me if I wanted these winter boots to be stiff like the other boots I bought, but I decided against it. My winter gear needs to be as comfortable and non-fussy as possible. I've worn these boots a fair bit out of the saddle as well just as a stylish and warm winter boot, and I wouldn't be doing that if they were stiff.

And look pretty freaking bomb in the saddle, if I do say so myself

As part of the BOGO promotion, you have to buy boot bags and spur straps at a minimum, so I did.

They are really quite nice, as boot bags go.

The spur straps are my only regret, and I currently have an order placed to replace the purple ones. I went with purple gloss, not caring that the purple top of the boot was matte, thinking it would be a fun look to have the straps look slightly different. But it's just too "cool" of a purple for my tastes.


The matte back of the purple gloss spur protector is the color that my new straps should be.


Bottom Line: This was a great experience (in large part because of Stacie!) and I'm so thrilled with these boots. For the first time ever, I have a pair of winter boots that I'm confident will last me a decade, and that feels good.

What: Celeris Bia Boots with the full sheepskin foot and leg add-on

Price: Ughhhhhhhhh don't make me say this out loud. On the bright side, they're so well-made, the cost-per-wear should be much lower than any of the previous winter boots I've owned, and that does matter.

Where: Celeris

Disclaimer: Uh, yeah, definitely paid my own money for these, lol.