I was all anxious about whether or not to show in the extreme heat but it appears I might not get a choice in the matter.
I've had sore muscles on and off since Saturday. I was blaming my position work in the dressage saddle and Theo's way too big trot now that all his joints have been juiced up. It was mostly in my hips which is typical, a little in my knees And then my back started to get into it. And my shoulder. Really, body? Every little issue decided to wake up and demand attention at the same time. I'm used to this but it struck me as odd that I had achey abs even when I hadn't ridden in two days.
Last night I spiked a fever for who knows what reason. No cough, no sneezing, just a fever. And I'm not someone that gets fevers very often, I didn't even realize what was going on until my husband walked into the living room and found me under a throw blanket.
Him: What are you doing?
Me: I was shivering, it's cold.
Him: It's 78* in here.
Him: That's not normal.
My human thermometer was dead since neither of us have needed it since . . . last decade? So we got creative. First I tried the digital meat thermometer I use for cooking. That told me 103* and I was certain I was going to die. I run cold and I've never seen a high fever. Cue much eye rolling from the husband as he rummaged up the laser gun temperature reader thing he uses for brewing. Industry specs, very accurate. According to his reading of my ear, 101.1*. Okay, good, probably safe to go to bed and rest. By that point I was also picking up a headache but who knows if that's related, due to my panic, or because I was dozing in my recliner with terrible support.
Or my restaurant poisoned me. I felt fine at dinner. Just sayin' . . .
I could touch my chin to my chest with ease so I decided it probably wasn't meningitis swelling my brain. No nausea, either. Anxiety is fun for these situations. I took two Alleve and went to bed. I forced myself to not bundle up too much in the 70* bedroom though it felt like the arctic. By midnight, I had all blankets off the bed (my poor husband) and was having fever dreams. About 3am I woke up covered in sweat. This morning at 7:30 my fever was gone.
I'm still not coughing or sneezing or anything. I have a bit of a headache that feels like a dehydration headache so I'm forcing fluids. As a precaution, I'm missing my work team's fun outing today so I don't get our nurses sick. I'm very disappointed, especially when I mostly feel fine! Tired due to really awful sleep, a bit of a headache, but totally ready to go out to a brewery. But one of the nurses is also doing home care for her mother and fevers are no joke. I will keep my germs at home. I guess some viruses start with a fever and then the rest of the party shows up later.
ETA: And then I fell asleep for an hour after writing that so apparently I'm not fine, I'm stubborn. ETAA: And then my fever came back so I'm apparently still sick.
So a show in the high heat and humidity probably isn't going to be an option with whatever the hell this is. Still have sore muscles though I haven't ridden in four days, so that's starting to register as odd. Husband is in charge of notifying me if I start acting feverish again because I, apparently, don't notice. I let my Alleve run out with no return of the fever, but who knows. Trainer A is exercising Theo for me today since it's going to be in the 70's and he could use a hard school while we can get it.
I spent the last week getting all of the maintenance done on my horse. He's feeling good, being sassy, and we've got a show on Saturday. All lights are green.
Then I see this.
Seriously??!! There's a reason I live in New Hampshire! And that's the actual temp, the heat index will for sure be over 100*. From experience, Theo will be panting and dripping sweat just from existing.
My ride times are at 10am and 10:30am so it won't be 100* yet, but it will probably be 90*. It's just two dressage tests but come on, that kind of heat is not something Theo does well with.
Now I have to consider whether or not I scratch. I've got good ride times so it's right on the line of being reasonable but do I want to try to trailer in those conditions? I'm so torn! I don't want to throw away entry money but it's going to be so hot and miserable. I'll be debating on this all week.
I get asked this a lot, especially at shows when I mention that I do both. Sometimes even in the same weekend. What's the difference between western dressage and traditional dressage?
Here's the perspective of one rider that started with traditional dressage and then stumbled onto western dressage.
Our western dressage debut in 2018
Tack, obviously. That freaking 35 pound saddle is a dead giveaway as to what style I'm working on. Horns are not required on the saddle but western style fenders are. There's also very different rules regarding bits. My loose ring snaffle is allowed for both disciplines, but a curb is allowed at all levels in western dressage. Ports of up to 3.5" are allowed as are bitless bridles, bosals, and spade bits. You see quite a variety of rigs, though the hands down most common is a small Myler curb bit. Even Theo owns one. For some riders having more bitting options is a reason to go western but I've heard rumor that the rules will change to snaffles only at the lower levels in the future.
Short shank Myler bit, good occasional reminder when pony decides he wants to hang on my defective shoulder
Two hands are allowed at all levels and with all bits, but one hand is also allowed with a curb bit. Two reins (a bit and a bosalita) is also allowed and I'm tempted to train Theo to a bosal with the goal of going two rein. Probably this winter to keep us from going crazy in the indoor. One day, in the distant future, I want to ride a test one handed. It's a good goal to work toward.
The movements are a bit different between the two disciplines. Turn on the forehand is seen in competition starting at Level 1 and keeps showing up right through Level 4. Turn on the haunch is a stationary movement and goes up to 360 degrees. Want to work on your horse's balance and attention? Do a 360 degree turn on the forehand right into a 360 degree pivot on the haunches. There are no mediums or extensions, just lengthening of stride in jog or lope. Not all tests have lengthens or might only lengthen one gait. A lot of movements hint at reining patterns. No flying changes until Level 4, but you also get half pirouettes and a canter entrance at that level so it's a big jump from Level 3. There's more halts in general and a lot more reinback, including reinback on centerline. Yikes.
Cobra Western Dressage Level 4 test 4 - YouTube
Level 4 Test 4, currently the highest level test
You can talk to your horse and cluck at them, which I love.
Jog and lope are, in reality, not that big of a change from trot and canter. Especially with the collected gaits, I change very little between the two rings. The neck still lifts, the hocks step under and take more weight, all of that. I turn the dial up more for the traditional dressage ring so that he shows a bigger trot and canter. In western dressage, Theo's natural collected gaits are quite good and I let him just do his thing. Not having to turn the dial up keeps him in happy, floppy eared pony land and keeps our harmony score up. It's most definitely not western pleasure gaits but don't expect to get great scores just because of big gaits. If it doesn't look easy to ride, looks tense, or feels frantic, it's not going to score well. Think about the kind of gaits you'd want to live with if you needed to spend hours in the saddle or the gaits you see in ranch pleasure classes. You want to get there in a timely fashion, but it needs to be something you can live with all day. Your horse also needs to look like they can keep it up for awhile.
Doing a good job of looking very chill
The biggest difference in my experience is in the expectations and the scoring. The emphasis is on a horse that looks obedient, attentive, and easy to ride. Light contact, light leg, harmonious picture. Heavy contact is a big no no. Instead of a submission score, it's a harmony score with a coefficient of 2. Harmony is usually our best mark. When the judge says your horse looks like a blast to ride, you know you just got a good score. You're being scored on how easily and smoothly you as a team complete the test. Your goal is to make your horse look like a super fun, easy ride that the judge wants to kidnap for their own barn.
Not really all that different
In traditional dressage, I get hit a lot for Theo not having big enough gaits or enough energy. Those requirements change in western dressage. Your horse must be forward thinking but not at the expense of rideability. Your horse needs to be uphill in collection but it can't look tense. I still get 'needs more ground cover' in my lengthens, so that doesn't change. A horse that doesn't halt well or jigs is going to have a hard time. Halts are everything in western dressage since you're doing it all. the. time. Also straight lines away from the rail and down centerline. The Level 3 Test 4 with the canter-halt-turn on haunches-canter sequence is brutal if your horse drifts. Spoiler: Theo drifts.
2015 WDAA World Show Level 3 Test 4 Lynn Palm and Larks Home Run - YouTube
This is the old Level 3 Test 4 but you get the idea, scored 76.7%. This was also our judge at our last show
Western dressage is getting more popular. It seems to hit that niche for riders that find traditional dressage to be out of reach for them or their horse but still want to focus on the precision that the sandbox requires. Several of the more nervous ladies I know feel much more comfortable presenting at the jog and lope in a western saddle. Less emphasis on 'get them more forward' and more saddle for them to grab on. Showing in jeans? Sign them up! And the pretty saddle blankets. They own QHs and paints because that type of mind makes them comfortable. Now they have a chance to show them in a venue where they feel comfortable and those wonderful minds are rewarded.
For Theo, western dressage is the better fit. It matches his personality and natural abilities. We will still show traditional dressage because, I want that dang Bronze. I also find that the traditional dressage training pushes us to improve his power and forward thinking so my western dressage tests look easier and easier.
If you've got access to a western saddle and there's a western dressage show, it's fun to try. Some horses do very well with the change in emphasis. It's new movements for a seasoned competitor to learn and you get to show in jeans. Seriously, showing in jeans is amazing. White breeches are dumb, give me dark wash jeans any day.
Theo and I are on break and that means he needs to get some maintenance done.
Sleeping off some tranq
The dentist was out yesterday and Theo got floated. Interestingly, for the first time since I got him, I was told that he had some issues. He had lots of sharp edges and I was told that as he moves up the levels, he'll need to be floated more often. Like twice a year now and apparently one Grand Prix dressage horse gets done four times a year.
Has anyone else heard that? Theo was a couple months over due so the sharp edges aren't shocking, but is this yet another thing that will need more care as he works harder? And if so, why? I'm just befuddled that upper level dressage horses would wear their teeth in such a different way that they need to be floated more often. Unless they're grinding their teeth during work, but that's a whole other thing. If Theo's grinding his teeth, we've got a training problem.
Today was hocks and stifles. I decided to hang on to the SI injection and see what the stifles get us. When we did hocks, the left lead canter straightened right up. If the flat tire moments and reluctance to sit in the canter are fixed up with the stifles, then I know where the problem is. If the stifle is making him compensate, that may be why his SI is out about once a quarter. The chiro is happy with his improvement with regular massage, so we'll just do hocks and stifles today.
The vet is recommending I do the SI either way to help stave off future issues and I think that's what's going to happen. Theo is a show pony and that means a lot of special care and maintenance to support him while he does hard work. I've still got a Bronze to earn, we've got a lot of work to do.
He's now stuck in a stall until Saturday, gods help us all. Saturday is also a massage but he'll get a couple hours in turn out before that happens. I like the massage therapist and want her to come back. Next week is a farrier visit. By the time we go out and show on the 20th, he'll be feeling like a whole new pony.
Mad man with a gas can. Our clinician smiled quite broadly when I called him that, so I feel it's accurate. For the second year in a row, Theo went to a clinic for mounted police style despooking. Last year I had no idea what I was walking into. This year, I was prepared.
This year's class out in the 90* heat, poor Theo is the big black horse third from the left
Theo rocked it. Seriously rocked it. I put more pressure on him this year, asking him to walk through things quicker and offering him as the lead horse more often. Most of his spooks were brief and he would walk forward through the obstacle once he got a chance to look at it. I may have loudly announced 'I will sell you for a plug nickel' when he stopped at a board on the ground. He believed me and promptly walked forward.
He let several horses graft onto his tail for comfort as he marched through. Pool noodles, moving bridges, tarps on arches, he can manage all of that. He even handled the smoke bomb pretty well. He didn't like it, but he spiraled in as needed and walked through it so long as there weren't horses spinning in front of him.
Fire is the one thing that makes him go 'NOPE, exit stage left'. Two times he completely noped out and went flying across the ring. Only when it's a big fire, though. Once it's under a foot tall, he'll go through it calmly. When it's first lit? He's having none of it. That first cloud of smoke billowing up and the flames jumping up makes him want to run. We got it down to about 30 seconds from lighting to him being okay with going through but he couldn't be the first horse at any point. It was just too much for him. He is really sensitive about things moving at his feet.
He understands his job and he will bravely push through once he understands. He went so far as to shoulder check a hesitating horse out of his way when he decided that he was just going to go through and get it over with. I felt bad but he really wasn't letting me have an opinion. He was supposed to be on the other side and dang it, he was getting this over with and I was coming with him. He's such an odd little duck sometimes.
While working through multiple obstacles with fire, he went on the contact, lifted his shoulders, and really worked through it. He is a horse that gets confidence from his rider and that includes going into a working frame. Someone called for me to loosen my reins and I replied 'I can't!'. Theo was on the contact like when we do collected work and if I let go in that moment, he would have fallen on his face. Smarty pants had his hocks way under him as he stepped through the pool noodles and fire. I wasn't pulling, he was pushing. As a dressage rider, he felt amazing. Clearly impulsion really does come from the scary end of the arena. Maybe I can hire someone to light fires around the arena during my tests . . .
Leading a drill with a fellow western dressage competitor, dressage horses are good at this stuff
Aside from escaping from his stall and the round pen theatrics, he was a model citizen. I couldn't ask for more. He stared down a drone, a truck with sirens and lights going, smoke, fire, a barking German Shepherd (also offered to teach the young dog a lesson about getting too close to a horse's hooves), and even the thunderstorm that rolled through.
As a repeat student, it wasn't about learning new skills this time. It was more of a refresher. Most of the skills I used were the same skills I used to get around the arena at our shows this spring. It's been awhile since Theo was faced with something truly terrifying that he needed to push through, not skirt around. It's important we both remember the procedure and the rules for those occasions. It's even more important that we remember that we can. We walked through fire. We're a bad ass dressage team.
I've spent all weekend working on getting Theo to accept a certain level of pressure and chaos. We all know that shows are chaos, especially in the warm up ring. Practicing trying to hold to a line while horses spin and spook is great practice and helps him manage his impulses.
But it's not absolute. Theo's not a robot, he's a living, breathing, feeling creature. He's got a personality and history that combines to make him unique. What blows one horse's mind won't even ruffle his feathers. He'll lose his marbles over things other horses don't notice. All horses are like this. Exposure and training can minimize unwanted responses but the base personality is always going to be there. Your sound sensitive horse will always be sound sensitive, they'll just be better at coping with the impulse.
Shoulder in right in our Level 2 test at Mount Holyoke
Theo will always be a high energy horse. There's no way around that. He will always be rather intense. He will always have the potential to boil over when confined and that potential will increase the longer he's confined. He's been like this as long as anyone's known him. I used to think it was lack of experience but I was flipping through his history and he's got a lot of miles. Not just shows but clinics, stall rest, general outings. There's no improvement over time. If anything, it's getting worse as he gets stronger.
Is it fair to ask this high energy, intense horse to sit in a stall for 20 hours for multiple days in a row at a show so I can get a ribbon that he doesn't even understand?
Theo was being well behaved today, but he has tells for when he's over charged. When I groomed him, his skin shivered. He reacted to sounds that he usually ignores. I know what it feels like to be desperate to move. When I'm in my cube at the office and I feel like my skin is crawling because I need to get up and do something, anything. Theo reminds me of that. He's doing everything I tell him to but he's distracted and twitchy. I can't risk an overreactive horse in a crowded ring of spinning horses. I put him in the round pen and he completely lost his mind bucking and bolting for ten minutes. Afterward, he was calm again. In the clinic he successfully coped with things like pushing through pool noodles, facing a police siren, and walking over fire. He accepted horses blundering into him or following him so closely they were touching his tail.
I know I'll have to work him in the round pen again tomorrow and that it will be more than 10 minutes. Giving him flip out time appears to be the key to keeping him manageable when he's in a stall, but it can't be pleasant to feel trapped and frustrated for hours and then blowing your lid.
He was so good for day one, no need to lunge. He was so good at our jumper show and our western dressage show. He can do one days without real stress or problems. He understands. He goes to a ring, he does his job, he goes home to his field. It's the overnight shows that bring out all of the problems. This year the western dressage championships are in New York, a five hour trip. It's a two day show. I would, as always, be showing alone which means I'd be managing Theo's issues on my own. Theo wouldn't enjoy going for three days, two nights without turn out. By the time the actual championship classes came around, his skin would be shivering and he'd be jerking away from noises. I'll have to lunge him down with him bucking and carrying on in order to show him. Is it fair to ask him to compete like that?
10m turn left
I don't think it is. It's a job, I get that, but I don't want him to do a job he hates. I put a lot of effort into finding a job for him that he likes. Theo HATES being in a stall. It's a strong word but it fits. He becomes violent, he does whatever he can to get out, and he gets worse the longer he's in a stall. He managed to get out of his stall during the night at his bombproofing clinic and it's a bit of a wake up call that his impulses are going to get him hurt. He was loose for hours and no one knew, the staff found him at breakfast. I heard him battering at his door today, trying to figure out how to get out with it double locked to keep him in. They had to add hardware to the door to stop his escapes. I did think bringing him in several nights in a row at home would help him learn to cope but then he hurt my farrier and I sent him out to his field before he could make another bad decision.
We adapt our goals for our horse's physical limitations. I think I need to adapt for Theo's mental limitation. He's not some four year old that needs more miles, he's fifteen. I think I need to step away from things like trips to Saugerties with four days of competition. I need to understand that Theo isn't wired in a way to easily cope with confinement. Every other horse I've shown has coped with being in a stall for a couple nights and do better as the show progresses. Allen was a high energy horse but he loved horse shows. He got extra attention and plenty of exercise. I've never run into a horse that reacts like Theo. Some horses hate showing, but the actual test is when Theo is at his best. It's everything else he can't handle.
Maybe if I was showing with a barn I could make it work. Have someone give him a lunge while I clean his stall, take him for a hack with friends in the morning, have a trainer school him, anything to burn that energy off of him. Showing by myself, I get overwhelmed trying to manage him. I've got a scar on my scalp to remind me of what happens when I'm exhausted and he's explosive.
It's hard since I'm so competitive, but I'm going to skip both of my championships. I can't think of any scenario where I go to these solo and either of us have a good time. I'll do some more local one day shows instead. I can focus on my Second level scores rather than chasing tri-colors in New York. It's a sucky decision for me. I've got Theo to the point that Worlds and Nationals are legitimate possibilities, but it's not the right decision for him. On the bright side, it means I won't need to stick to my ramen lifestyle.
Anyone remember the mad man with the gas can I rode with last year?
Guess where I'm going tomorrow.
Last year's class, apparently almost all of them are returning
I'm clearly insane. Out of my gourd crazy. This time I know exactly what I'm walking into and I signed up anyway. Three days of despooking courtesy of a mad man with a gas can.
A few changes from last year. Last year it was early spring and freezing. This year it's going to be 91* for a high on day one. That should bring energy levels down a notch but I'll be managing Theo closely so he doesn't overheat. Paste electrolytes are packed. In addition, the deer flies are absolutely appalling this year so having Theo in the ring for six hours will be a lesson in coping. I'm going to put his riding fly mask on to give him a fighting chance and I bought a whole new tub of Swat. I'd say that he needs to learn to focus but I've seen the size of the welts he gets and I've been bit by those flies before. It really hurts.
I'm also swapping to my western gear as I now have a western saddle that I know won't roll or slip. I think the bigger tree will help Theo since I'll be riding a lot longer than usual. I also think the horn and cantle will help me stay on. I'm swapping my split reins for the rubber reins off my jumping bridle since I'll be sitting about 100 spooks and spins each day. I don't want to drop a rein by accident.
We've got a stall and I'll be using this to test some coping strategies for multi-day shows. I know he's going to get more explosive each day, so time to see if I can get him into a rhythm. Hand walking doesn't do it, I'm thinking a morning lunge/buck session may be what he needs. He does settle nicely after getting to absolutely lose his mind for 20 minutes on a lunge. Time to embrace the fact that Theo needs a daily flip out and give him a nice, safe opportunity to let all that naughty out.
Because someone hates being in prison
But the big question is: Is it appropriate to pack a flask for this kind of clinic and, if so, what should I put in it? I have a very nice aged tequila that would be much appreciated about the time he busts out the gas can. Or maybe the maple liqueur. Or just load it up with vodka since it's all about taking the edge off the rider. Tonight there will be explosions in the sky but tomorrow the real fireworks start.
I used to do the h/j ring so show prep was a big deal. When I worked at a show h/j barn, show prep was an every day thing. You can't get a dozen fancy hunters ready to show the day before and if they're campaigning? They pretty much always need to be ready to go. This means manes are always pulled, legs and ears are always clipped, tail is always conditioned and protected like its made of gold. Not brushed or trimmed or banged, heaven forbid! Though we did have to do some creative shortening on one draft cross that was always in danger of stepping on it if he backed up.
When I was showing Fiona a lot, I followed the same procedure with her. Kept her pulled and clipped all the time. Her tail was trimmed and banged, her mane was pulled, her fetlocks were kept neatly clean clipped, and her whiskers were shaved. My concession to her life in New Hampshire was that her ears weren't clean clipped. I folded them closed and got rid of the stuff that stuck out. In short, I kept her very trimmed up and polished. She enjoyed the process and had a stall so it worked.
Now I have Theo. Things have changed. I'm older, have a demanding job, and have been removed from the h/j ring for a long time. He's also a half-yak that lives out 24/7 because he destroys stalls. I started out with keeping him as trimmed and pulled and fussed over as everyone else.
My clipped and braided to within an inch of his life pony.
This is no longer how we do.
When I met Theo, his mane was thick but not unusually so. After four years of careful nutrition and care, Theo now grows a full double mane. Keeping that in shape for standard braids is awful. Theo hates having his mane pulled, I hate pulling it, and it's a weekly chore just to keep up. I have to pull so much we end up with bald spots under his mane and when they start to grow back in? My braids become an epic nightmare.
My braids are so, so bad at this show
Combine this with the fact that he lives out 24/7 in New Hampshire and I've had to make some changes. I no longer pull or shorten Theo's mane at all. He does have a thin bridle path to help keep his bridle on his face. I don't trim the base of his tail. I do bang it because it gets crazy long, but otherwise let it do it's own thing and get as big as it wants. I leave the guard hairs on his belly and under his jowl (he needs those!). I don't trim his whiskers at all. I don't use clippers on his ears or his ankles. I go in with scissors to get rid of the worst of the owl tufts and make sure that his ankles actually have some shape but that's it. His ankles need the protection from rain, mud, and bugs.
I've discovered that he looks just fine.
The real problem here is that my boots are filthy from lunging him right before going in
He's not showing in hand, the judge is stuck in a booth and the closest we get is something like 15 feet. Everyone's too busy staring at his dapples to worry about if his ankles are a bit hairy. Anything that adds volume to his tail game is going to get rave reviews. The scalloped style braids look just as nice and add a bit of height to his neck which is an added bonus.
I spend a lot less time fussing and doing stuff he'd really rather I not do. His mane is kept in pasture braids and taken down once a week to be conditioned and reset. His monster tail gets a full brush out once a week.
His casual at home look
My show prep is now a quick bath and about five minutes with the scissors. It still takes me 30 minutes to fully wash his tail but that's just how life with the best tail in the region goes. It takes me 20 - 25 minutes to braid him and I do it the morning of the show. The forelock is tucked away under an earnet and boom, he looks quite civilized.
In western dressage, we let it all run wild and free.
Snapped this while he was being demo pony for training a ring steward
It's taken a lot of getting used to, I still feel like I'm not prepared enough. Like I'm not a good enough mom because his ears are a bit fluffy and his fetlocks don't look as thin because there's hair on the back. I still worry that I'm not presenting him appropriately. But I'm also realizing I'm the only one that notices. The judges have enough time to note braided mane, shiny coat, and a tail that doesn't quit. They aren't checking to see how well clipped his ears are especially when I usually show in an earnet.
I don't know if I'd let another horse be quite as au naturale, I'm too set in my ways. Theo's a special case and really takes after his Canadian half. All the Cheval Canadians show in natural manes and tails, so he blends right in. I've given up on pretending he's anything other than what he is. He's my unique, PITA, feral wannabe stud with really fantastic hair.
He lights up like it's the Fourth of July, grabs the bit, and has a blast. We did 2'3" and 2'6" courses just for fun and a change of pace. It was 90* out which really didn't help our speed but he loved getting out to do something different. On our last course I was able to get right up off his back and let him cruise between fences with that steady, balanced canter we've developed. His first course was a bit shaky while he figured out what game we were playing but each course got more forward and more confident. He keeps this up, I'll have to rethink taking him into the equitation ring. He was hitting his distances in the related lines and happy as a clam. Slow, but happy as a clam. A jumper he is not but we took all of the inside lines and kept ourselves out of trouble with the clock.
Super fancy show horse right here
Seriously, all the inside lines. If you can canter a 10m circle, there's all sorts of inside turns that open up. Every inch counts when your pony is kind of slow. I will admit to making faces and struggling a bit in the warm up with my jumping length stirrups. It's been awhile.
And then I take him out to do this.
Level 2 Tests 1 and 4. He was sore on Saturday after his jumping efforts (the fences are 2'6", you do not need to put in an extra foot), but his massage therapist was out to put things right and he had his game face on for our show on Sunday.
I really can't complain about this horse's versatility. He's pretty game to try whatever I toss at him so long as there are cookies in my pocket. I like to keep him guessing and keep all three saddles in rotation. He gained a couple of new fans this weekend with his incredible ability to sidle up to people and convince them that his ears need scritches. I'm trying to remember a course or a test and then I look down and realize Theo has abducted yet another stranger to shower him with praise and love. How does he do this?
He managed the somewhat spooky indoor and got a 67% and a 70% from Lynn Palm. That got him the champion ribbon for adult ammy at the level (just 0.5 behind the professional showing at our level on her stunning QH). We got an 8 in our collectives for harmony and Lynn said he looked like an absolute blast to ride. She's not wrong.
And so ends our crazy June of showing. We now drop off into the July break. We've got despooking next weekend, then a real break while Theo gets his joint injections done. We'll do one show on the 20th to support the local western dressage community but that's it. We're going to chill, absorb all of the feedback from the past six weeks, and tune some stuff up. Or sip margaritas in the heat, one or the other.
Background: Theo is a 16.2h Perch/Cheval Canadian cross with big honkin' shoulders, very long withers, a short flat back, and an uphill build. This is basically the opposite of your run of the mill stock type horse. He was tricky to fit for English saddles, western saddles proved to be borderline impossible. I spent the better part of 1.5 years trying to get him in a western saddle. He couldn't go in a full QH bar tree but he also struggled with the semi QH bar because it pinched his shoulders. Saddles rocked on him. I finally gave up and settled on a treeless saddle to get us into the ring but it didn't give me the support I needed as we moved up the levels. As Theo's back came up and he got more bounce going, the treeless saddle didn't work for me. Theo was happy but I was struggling. I took a chance and ordered the demo of the Harmony Western dressage saddle as it was one of the few advertised for the discipline.
The Product: The Harmony Western Dressage saddle is made by a subsidiary of Foxtrot and is built on an elastomer tree from Steele Saddle Tree. That means it is a flex tree but as a hybrid, it has rigid parts to keep it from collapsing. It also features a Sil-Cush lining for shock absorption. Every saddle is custom made. You can pick the leather colors, the tooling, the type of horn, anything. The saddle was originally meant for gaited horses but was so popular with western dressage riders that they decided to market to them. The stirrup and seat are designed to keep the rider in the correct alignment for western dressage. It comes in three models based on weight. I had the original with the round skirt and semi QH tree shipped out.
Base price is $2,495 and it goes up from there.
Review: I absolutely LOVE this saddle, as does everyone that borrows it. It fits most of the horses in the barn since it's a flexible tree and the right width for most English discipline horses (aka horses with withers). The short, round skirt suits my horse and makes it flexible enough to fit a lot of other horses.
Every show I go to, someone comments on how attractive this saddle is. I've been riding in it for months now and it gets better looking as it wears. It's the basket weave/floral tooling option with silver conchos and it gives me just enough flair without making us look overly flashy. I also like looking at my swell and seeing pretty flowers.
It fits Theo nicely. We did have to play with saddle pad and cinch options to get it settled but I've learned that's expected with western saddles since you can't flock them. Theo needed a 1" thick, 28" long Five Star wool saddle pad and a Total Saddle Fit cinch to get everything settled. The dropped rigging is wonderful for stability but with a standard cinch, I found the saddle inching up on his shoulders throughout the ride and his saddle pad slipping back. His girth groove was forward of where the cinch landed so it would creep forward and take the saddle with it. The Total Saddle Fit cinch fixed that and the thicker Five Star pad got everything settled and locked in.
With the gear settled, this saddle is rock steady and neither the chiro nor the massage therapist have noted any problems. Theo does all of his laterals as easily in this saddle as his dressage saddle. I took it trail riding and found it very easy to relax with the horn and cantle to keep me feeling secure. The seat is memory foam but under that you can definitely feel the rigid ground seat. Everyone that has sat in it finds it very comfortable but it's not butt candy soft. A good thing if you're in the saddle for hours, an overly soft seat starts to suck, but don't expect it to be a pillow. The twist is wider than my English saddles but my hips adjusted just fine after a couple rides. This is the first western saddle where I don't feel like I need to fight to keep my position, especially in the canter.
The negatives? It's freaking 35 pounds. Some of the ladies can't use it because it weighs too much to get up on their horses. With my tall horse, it's a bit of a show watching me saddle him. There are lighter models with the Ultra Light coming in at 25 pounds, but it has less tooling options and a fleece skirt instead of the Sil Cush and leather. I wanted the tooling and extra shock absorption so I deal with the weight.
Due to the flex tree, you can't drag, rope, or otherwise abuse the saddle. Not a concern in my world, but it is a limitation if I decide to dabble in trail classes or cow work. It's not meant for sports that put a lot of stress on the tree. The flex tree was a concern for me in terms of holding up, but it comes with a 100% Lifetime warranty on the tree so I decided to take the risk.
Also cleaning the basket weave sucks. Why would anyone do this to their saddle? It's such a pain to clean and I'm sitting on large parts of it so you can't even see it. Cleaning a saddle with a toothbrush is enough to make someone question their sanity. That has nothing to do with the saddle quality, the tooling is gorgeous, but I freaking hate cleaning it. I like handling the leather since it's so nice, but the tooling makes me batty.
Conclusion: Awesome saddle that's made for the discipline. It's comfy, stable, and does well on horses that are not the typical western shape. English riders find it comfortable and don't feel like it's putting them in a weird spot. Customer service was fantastic. If you want to invest in a saddle for western dressage competition, check this one out.