Austen plans to continue to move up the levels of dressage, with an end goal of getting her Gold Medal and trying to be competitive. She hopes to stick with thoroughbred types, showing off their athleticism and love of working in the dressage ring.
Eyes off the mud, friends. We're focused on the bridle here. The bridle, and the cuteness. Always the cuteness.
This summer I purchased the Kavalkade Isabella Bridle. I had been searching high and low for a vendor of monocrown drop nosebands, to no avail. Giving up, I decided this monocrown drop noseband bridle was a similar cost to a custom noseband and pulled the trigger. What follows is a history of the ways I've used this bridle and a scattered review of its qualities.
To start, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the bridle out of the box.
New tack is always so exciting!
The leather wasn't as plastic-y as I had assumed it would be. In fact, Kavalkade impressed me with how nice this bridle really is for the money. It has a lot of features found in far more expensive models these days, including padding on the crown and noseband and a slight anatomical cutout around the ears. It also comes with reins, which I did not actually plan to use.
Like a kid playing with the box instead of the toy, I found the velcro keepers wrapped around the bridle the best part of the whole thing. I've actually used them a ton to keep my double bridle from tangling with the other strap goods on my bridle rack. Maybe don't buy this bridle for them, but they are really handy, so don't throw them away either!
Padded cutout monocrown and uber fancy browband.
Many of Kavalkade's bridles seem to come with some kind of over-the-top bling browband, and this was no exception. I did like how narrow the browband was, as well as the deep curve to it. Honestly I figured it would look good on both my horses and didn't mind it. (#bringonthebling) I do find I don't like the stainless steel keepers on the bridle, however. They make the whole thing feel much too busy in my mind.
My initial plan was to pull the drop noseband off this bridle and put it on Bast's Eponia bridle. I would then put the plain caveson on the Kavalkade and it would become Pig's new snaffle bridle. Until this point I'd been riding him in the double or his old Frankenbridle. I figured he'd appreciate having something new to himself.
It fits the orange boy!
I was pleased with how well the Kavalkade fit Pig from the start. The leather seemed to break in well, and didn't rub his ears. Plus the browband made him look very classy.
The buckles on the drop were a bit too narrow for the Eponia straps, but I made them work without damaging anything. Evaluating the fit of the drop on Bast was initially quite difficult because of how stiff the noseband was right out of the box.
I think it's maybe too wide over his nose? Or something. Basically it sits weird.
After adjusting it somewhat to my liking I took Bast for a spin in it. As he was just coming back to work, I had no comparison between the Eponia flash and the drop. He seemed to accept it better than the Micklem I had tried last fall, however. I left it on the bridle in hopes it would help him figure out how to better accept the hand.
Then we went to a show and I put the nicer looking Eponia flash noseband on the bridle again. No one needs that many clashing metals and styles in their photos, after all. I noticed no real difference in Bast with the flash vs the drop, so I left the flash on the bridle and continued his schooling as normal.
Bast accidentally tangled his reins around his leg while walking out of the ring one night, and both cheek pieces on my Eponia snapped right at the buckle. I was really devastated by the loss, as all the buckles on the Eponia are rose gold and therefore impossible to match. (Eponia is looking for a set for me as we speak, and hopefully can ship them to me soon!)
Down a bridle, I thanked myself for hoarding them. Quickly I reassembled the Kavalkade with its original setup and fit it for Bast.
Not a bad fit here, either!
Somewhere in the last year, Bast's face has lengthened. This isn't surprising as his teeth had yet to all come in when I bought him. Thankfully, now he and Pig use just about the same holes on their bridles. This means very minimal adjustments are required to have them swap bridles! The bridle fit quickly and nicely.
Drop noseband doing its job, and not looking too ugly.
After riding in the whole setup for just over a month, I'm pretty happy. I see some minor fit issues that could be addressed. The noseband could use less width over the actual nose. I plan to bring it up a hole, which may address this or may interfere too much with my snaffle. The keepers on the noseband like to slip off, which drives me nuts as the ends flap in the wind. Also the noseband strap comes perilously close to Bast's eye.
Note: Raised the noseband up since writing this and am much happier with the fit. However, straps are still super close to his eyes.
This is common with most drops, but can be mitigated with the fit over the nose. I'm not really sure yet how to fix this issue, but Bast doesn't seem too concerned by it for now.
Ugh. Strap so close to his eye, and keeper undone AGAIN.
For close to $130, this bridle was overall a win. It doesn't look cheap. The leather is stiffer than some, but feels like it should hold up to quite a bit of abuse. While busy, it's not an ugly bridle. I do enjoy the lack of bulk behind the ears and the ease of cleaning, though.
If you're in the market for a less expensive monocrown drop option (and there are not many!), I can recommend this bridle. I may continue to school in the drop even if I get the Eponia cheek pieces. I feel like it's such a helpful tool with a young horse learning about contact. I can feel how much he's improved and begun responding to my hand over the last month. Once he's educated we can go back to the plain or flash noseband instead.
The unicorn approves of this bridle. And Liz, I suppose. ;)
Have you ever used a drop on your horse before? I put one on Pig for many years before he was ready to go into the plain caveson and the double bridle. It proved very useful when it came to steadying the bit in his sensitive mouth. As I said, I think they're more useful and educational for a young horse than a flimsy flash. So let me know of your experiences with a drop below!
Trainer: "Why don't you think about trying a little shoulder in with him?"
Me: "Hold my beer..."
I love lateral work!
If there's one thing I've realized I'm pretty good at in the dressage training world, it's lateral work. It helps that both my horses are short coupled and ride like little sports cars. Still, something about lateral work just clicks in my head.
Pig and I spent a lot of time hashing out the shoulder-in. Neither he nor I took to the work all that naturally and spent hours and hours figuring it out. That stubborn old red horse built up my toolbox to an incredible degree, making training Bast that much easier.
Thanks best friend, for making me love shoulder in and half pass so damn much.
Since day one, Bast's training has been focused on moving parts of his body individually. Plus my own strengths are in moving the shoulders. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that when I asked Bast for shoulder in during a recent lesson he easily figured out what I was asking and made several solid attempts.
Going to the right things were relatively easy to start. However, in the way of green horses, going to the left was a total different experience.
Can you see how shoulder in helps build strength for collection in the hind end?
To the right, I simply sat up, put my outside hip towards the inside shoulder, turned my upper body very slightly to the inside, and put my inside leg on to hold the bend and straightness. We wobbled for a few steps before Bast dropped in his hind end and really figured out where all his parts should go. I tested him several times by giving the inside rein, and he stayed within the box my body defined for him and on my outside rein. Magic!
To the left I repeated the aids. Only instead of shifting his shoulder over and sitting behind, Bast responded by stiffening to the outside rein and blasting forward into canter off my inside leg. Uh. Whoops.
The look on my face says it all. "Hey man. This is not remotely the shoulder in I asked for. Wtf are you thinking?"
I've finally realized the issue stems from Bast not knowing how to bend and sit on his right hind when it's on the outside. Honestly the issue has shown up in all our work, but the shoulder in question makes it much more apparent.
Slowing down the movement makes it much easier for his brain to handle, so I brought him back to a walk and worked there for awhile. Once he had the idea I asked again with good results.
"Oh! Like this?" -- Bast, probably
He's still not even on both sides, but he's coming along. We worked on some turns on the forehand off the left leg recently that required him to slow down and think about placement and weigh bearing on that right hind. I think those exercises will prove very helpful moving forward with the little guy.
I've found this horse to be such a trier. My goal in training him to keep from overwhelming him, and instead do my best to equip him with all the tools necessary to do what I ask. Keeping things easy and positive seems to be the key to having him enjoy his work and keep thinking and offering answers.
Everyone keeps writing about a list of things they spend money on, and things they are willing to keep buying cheap. I wanted to take this in a slightly different direction and do a review of a cheap product I use every day and can't live without.... My gloves.
Yes, I love a lot of the things in this photo. But today we're talking about only the gloves.
I'm cheap and picky about gloves. My fingers are slightly on the short side, so Roeckl's are supremely annoying to me. The fingers in that brand are probably awesome for those of you with elegant long-fingered hands made for playing the piano without struggling. However, on me the fingers have so much excess that I end up with floppy fingertips.
Guys, no one likes floppy fingertips.
No floppy finger tips. #winning
Heritage brand fits me okay, but they wear out absurdly fast. So do SSG. In fact, all other brands I've tried wear through in about 3-5 months of use. That's just not acceptable to me. I hate buying gloves that often. For years I despaired, sure I'd never find the glove holy grail. But then, it happened. The clouds parted and angels sung...
Can you hear the angles? Also, yes. I have tiny #6 hands. Don't judge me.
The Noble Outfitters Ready to Ride Glove is perfection. The glove is appropriately stretchy, fits my fingers perfectly, and only about $25. At that price I figured having to replace them a few months down the line wouldn't be a big deal. Only ...
Surviving and thriving through rides on Pig, and others (Photo thanks to Liz Stout)
I used the gloves for 2 years.
Including lots of galloping in the double bridle. (Photo thanks to Liz Stout)
No, seriously. The same pair for two years.
Keeping my grip strong for 30 miles of endurance terrain.
I rode so many times in this pair of gloves I can't even begin to estimate what that $25 works out to in per ride cost.
Even working great while jumping! (Photo thanks to Liz Stout)
Over the years with these gloves I fell in love with them more and more. They're synthetic, so I sometimes would bathe my horses in them and thus clean them as well. They held up super well to this. They breathe so well I often forgot to take them off while doing chores around the barn. They also work with my touchscreens, which is a super bonus!
Loved them so much, I even bought a pair for showing! (Photo thanks to PVDA.)
I've kept using these gloves since my first pair wore out. I even bought a second pair when I had my horses at two separate barns, knowing I'd always find a use for a spare pair.
Super strong which is perfect with baby racehorses.
With Bast, I quickly appreciated the strength of these gloves. His tendency to bolt was mitigated by these gloves. I found I was able to hold on to reins, even through some of his more absurd antics.
How about we don't, though? Eh, Bast?
Basically, I love these gloves so much. They are the number one thing I recommend to people, and I have found most of those who take my advice also love them.
"I don't love that this post isn't all about me." -- Bast, probably
If you're in the market for great gloves, definitely give these a look. I don't know how the other Noble Outfitters gloves hold up, but for me these are the absolute best gloves out there. I hope they never stop making them.
My trainer brought me a saddle to try last week. I guess she'd finally had enough of trying to teach me while I contort my body like a drunken yogini. Whoops. In my defense, life is hard when you're trying to cram yourself into a slippery saddle made for the exact opposite of your body type.
Seriously. This saddle is kinda the worst for my leg, unless you're into having your knee stick out in front of the thigh block and leg panel.
You see, I have one of the longest hip to knee lengths out there. I'm basically absurdly long there for someone of my otherwise average height. Unfortunately, that means dressage saddles tend to fit me very poorly and compromise my balance. It's really tough to stretch your leg down and put it on at the same time, when your balance gets shoved so far back in the saddle you're sitting on the cantle.
For example, Pig's saddle used to put me so far in the backseat I was always thankful I didn't fall out behind. Putting my leg on used to squeeze me right out the back, because there wasn't enough room for my long thigh. To compensate I was always collapsing in the lower abs and leaning forward. Not great. Photo by Liz Stout
While the saddle Emma generously lent me has been a godsend as far as fitting Bast, it's been doing me the opposite of favors when it comes to my position. In fact, every time I put my leg on in this saddle, my seatbone had to come off the saddle. This left me twisting frantically to try to make my aids make sense. It also left me struggling to keep my balance.
Note my twisting hips trying to keep my seat somewhat in the saddle while my leg goes on? Also my balance is so compromised my heels are jammed down in an attempt to keep me remotely with the horse. Also not great.
I've started to find the issues with Emma's saddle to be setting Bast's training back. My twisting and flailing in the canter departs couldn't be helped, because otherwise I actually couldn't stay with him. Unfortunately this twisting was very confusing to my green horse trying his hardest.
What happens when you have to choose either holding on with your legs or being able to balance your upper body...
My trainer is built somewhat like me, with a longer hip to thigh ratio. I hoped the saddle she was bringing me would work well for my body type. I also had hopes, because it's a Custom. I've always had very good luck with this brand's deeper seat and more forward flaps.
So far so good... Plus amazing gullet clearance!
Bast had been starting to shift shape and not fit Emma's saddle as well. I think he's getting wider. Somehow, he magically fits the Custom right now. The moment I threw it on him, I was astounded by how nicely it sat on him!
Can't ask for better than that for a blind fitting!
Of course, the saddle wasn't worth springing for if it didn't make riding easier for me. I had pretty high expectations and hopes for this thing when I swung into the saddle.
Leg on. Seat on. Miracles do happen, friends.
Somehow, this saddle does the impossible. It allows me to separate my leg aid from my seat aid without having to rip apart the space time continuum and force me to split into two separate people. In other words, in this saddle, riding correctly is easy.
I am pretty sure Bast breathed out a big sigh of relief as well. His canter departs have stopped being so leapy almost immediately. His movement is more relaxed more quickly into our rides. Plus I'm able to stick with him and make minute adjustments from just my seat, instead of throwing my whole balance to try to put my leg on.
No collapsing in my lower abs. No jammed heels trying to keep my balance. Easily dropped leg that can hug the horse. Magic, I tell you. All magic.
In fact, riding correctly is so much easier that my abs have been horribly sore from my last few rides in this new saddle. I'm treasuring that pain, as it means I'm getting stronger and more able to guide my goofy young horse on his dressage journey.
Anyone out there like me, fighting your saddles for years and years? Anyone else looking at finding something that fits you better? Or maybe you've never considered how much saddle fit can effect the rider? I want to know! I'm especially interested to hear from people with different body construction. How do shorter legs change your saddle fit needs? This is such a universal issue with such different answers, let's talk!
Finally able to do turns on the forehand, now that this saddle gets me out of my own way!