Statistics, such as my age or years spent riding, don’t really give a good picture of who I really am. I’m in my mid-30s if it matters. I’ve been riding darn near all of them minus a break in high school to pick up competitive whitewater canoeing and then again in medical school.
Well, I figure I need to write this out now that the cat is sorta already out of the bag and all. Clear up some details and such.
Back in October we received a certified letter from Duke with a proposed substation development about 1/2 mile to the north of our house. This would then create the need to run a new 110kv line from the substation to an already established line 1 mile to the south of our house putting our house directly in the middle.
Unfortunately, we work full time and the letter required a signature upon receipt so it sat at the post office. The first Saturday after notification, I ran to the local post office to retrieve it only to find out our local office is only open from 9-10 am on Saturdays and it was 11 am. By the time I was able to get the letter, the original town hall meeting was past.
Luck was on our side this time as hurricane Matthew hit the night of the meeting delaying it to a date we could attend. And attend we did.
The view from the house looking at the main pasture. The proposed route would either go along the tree line (removing all trees) or 200′ down hill from the trees and right through the pasture
I’ve never been to a town hall meeting before and had no idea what to expect. Duke was out in full force with the church room filled with various stations: there was a large blown up map of the proposal, a real estate specialist, the engineer for the towers, the engineer for the substation, an interactive online map to zoom in on your property, a table set up to write letters of concern, and various other employees scattered around to answer questions.
I started right away with the map proposal. There are 10 different routes the new power line could take and two of them involve us. I really wanted to gather as much information as I could before I got all Doomsday about the project, but what I learned didn’t really help matters in that regard.
The line coming our way. Our property is in red with the star.
Here is what I learned that night:
1) The line would have a 68′ easement with restrictions for what plant material could live inside it. Small fruit trees, vegetables, and native grasses were all approved. Any trees outside the 68′ easement that posed a potential to fall within it would also be cut down. Livestock is permitted to graze within the easement.
2) They spray an nonspecific plant killer, basically Roundup, along the entire easement to kill all vegetation.
3) No structures can be within the easement. Fences are permitted to cross the easement at a 30-90 degree angle, but can not run parallel within it. Any fence must have a gate and Duke provided a key.
4) Duke would have 24/7 access to the easement without providing prior notice.
Zoomed in on just us. You can easily see that the proposed line runs right down the driveway which would then be parallel within the easement. This would mean that they would need to move the driveway.
With that information, I began to ask questions.
First and foremost, our driveway was within the proposed easement and would run parallel within it. I pointed this out and was told “well you can’t have a driveway there” Uh huh. Well, my driveway already exists so….
The engineer pulled the real estate guy into the conversation at this point and he attempted to talk in circles while I continued to ask very pointed questions. First he told me ” Duke has to leave your property the same as they found it so if you have a driveway to access your property, Duke would need to create a new one for your use”.
And where would this new access point be?
The issue here is that our front entrance is narrow. Someone must have split off and sold a 4.5 acre parcel of road front property years ago as ours now enters via the drive and then fans out behind it. The only way the driveway could be moved would be to pave the front 3 acre pasture but even at that we would lose the electric gate that provides us security. When I pointed this out and the loss of pasture/hay it would cause I was told “horses can graze in the easement” Uh huh…but they can’t graze on asphalt which is what the entire front 3 acres would become so….
Continue lines of BS and circular talk.
Red line shows the only possible place for the driveway. The drive is double wide and asphalt so they’d have to put in the same, but I’m not even sure there is a way to do that with the direction the drive takes without re routing the entire 1/4 mile long drive or taking out the tiny strand of trees, the horses only natural weather break in that pasture.
My second question was about the access Duke would have to this part of our property. What if our horses were grazing when they came in and they got out? Response “Yeah, that does happen and Duke will reimburse you the cost of the animal” Uh huh…and how much is my emotional destruction when you kill my equine partner worth? Or worse yet, how much is Duke prepared to pay when a car hits a 1300lb horse and everyone dies?
My last question was about the pay out. If they wreck 6 acres of my land, do they pay the $12,000 an acre we paid a year ago? I doubt it. The real estate guy was vague. I told him I’d gladly let him run the line for 25% commission off all money earned on the line. He wasn’t up for that. Then I told him he could have the entire place. Build the substation right here. Buy me out for what we paid plus any increase in value for our upgrades and we will move away. Nope on that too.
A Google image I used last year to plan out the combining of pastures. #2,3,4 have since been combined as have 5 with 6 (extended into the blue by 6) and 1 with 7 (still working on extending into the blue behind 7). The line would take out all of 1 and run through 2 and 3 leaving us with the smallest sections in the back only during construction with the hope that we could eventually use 2 and 3 again in the future.
I had other issues. If they took out all the trees at the top of the hill which they proposed to do, would they pay the $10,000 to put in a horse shelter since they removed all natural shelter? Would they pay to board all three horses during construction since the entire property would be open and fences removed during the project? What about the run off of Roundup into the pasture killing off swathes of grazable grass and into the pond at the bottom of the hill killing the ecosystem and poisoning the fish my son catches and eats?
After hitting all the stations, speaking with everyone and gathering facts, we ended the night by writing letters to Duke stating all the above concerns not to mention the aesthetic loss and the complete destruction of wildlife habitat (owls, osprey and foxes live in those woods) and loss of property value. They ended the meeting saying that the line would be chosen in the first quarter of 2019, land purchased in the second quarter and construction to begin in 2020 and last through 2022.
Not one to sit on my laurels, I immediately reached out to the real estate agent who sold us the property and the attorney who did the closing to a) find out what our rights were if we could prove the seller knew this in advance and didn’t disclose it and b) any information about ways to fight it.
In regards to a) Duke didn’t send any information out until the letter we had received so if the seller had insider information we can’t prove it. As for b – he recommended reaching out to Forever Upstate, a local conservation agency. I called them the very next day, but they were a dead end stating that Duke can plow through even conservation granted land. I did learn from them that I can create an agreement with Duke to self manage the easement which can prevent the use of Roundup and allow a healthier environment.
My only hope in all this is that maybe they’d pay us out enough that I could afford a complete redo of my arena. It is the only silver lining I can find.
My next step was to reach out to a local land use attorney, but again I reached a dead end. He has fought eminent domain cases for nearly two decades and unless we have federal/state backing for a historic property or some endangered species on the land, we were basically SOL. He is more than happy to take our case if they come our way to help increase the purchase price and has been very successful in that regard. His name is in my back pocket in the event it gets that far.
At that point I felt like I was at the end of the road until Bette messaged me about another attorney who was involved a few years ago in a very large case against Duke and won. I immediately contacted him, but you guessed it – dead end. While he was a part of the project, he only did so because his own house was going to be 900′ from a 50 acre new station. He did give me a new avenue though. Apparently, Duke needs approval from the Public Service Committee and that won’t happen until the route is finalized. This gives me a chance to get the entire project shut down or at the least convince them to go another way.
I’ve printed out the formal protest letter and we will be hitting up all the houses on our route to get them to write one of their own. His project was stopped due to 700 letters and 50 people speaking out and there is no way we will have that many, but anything is better than nothing.
I won’t go down without a fight.
The next step for Duke is to come out and do a land survey with us present to point out all our issues. The only two ways the line can run through our property are to either a) take out all the trees along the big pasture hill top or b) run right through the pasture. Both have pros and cons. Personally, if they have to do it at all, I’d prefer the tree route. It ruins the natural shelter our horses currently have, but will have the least impact on the actual pasture and would make resale easier as it would be barely on the property line. IF they run through the center of the pasture, the trees are maintained but who wants to look at high power lines right through the middle of the yard? The construction destruction, noise and loss of pasture use would be worse going that way.
I’m crossing my fingers and going into the meeting armed with all the expenses Duke would have to pay if they came our route hoping that it will convince them to go another, cheaper way.
It devastating, stressful and pisses me off that I am having to do this after 15 years of saving and planning and dreaming of a farm. I love this property. I love the way it is laid out, the large pastures that ensure year round grass when rotated appropriately, the sunrises behind the hilltop trees and the sunsets over the fishing pond. My heart breaks as I envision the view, the loss of use and the destruction of a high power line running through the heart of it. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was tucked away at the back or came through a small corner. This would run the entire length of the property.
Riding during the winter was easier when I lived up North. Pretty much every barn had an indoor arena and while some were smaller and more difficult to ride in than others, the footing remained dry and you were out of the elements. While living in WI, I would ride indoors down to -5F which allowed me to ride pretty consistently year round. Indoor arenas are almost unheard of down here though there are a smattering of covered arenas which serve to protect you from the rain in the winter and the worst of the sun in the summer.
Watching H’Appy and Old Man Winter play is one of the highlights of my days. At 28 Pete still whoops the young H’Appy’s butt on the regular after H’Appy initiates a game of bitey face which Pete escalates to rearing, chest slamming and galloping.
This past weekend we got our first snow storm of the year. Since moving here in 2013, we have always had one week of nasty snowy/icy weather and then a return to sunny and mid 50s temperatures. I’m not very hopeful that this year will follow suit. It has dumped rain in huge quantities since September and there is no end in sight with another 1.5″ predicted for this Friday again. The ground is a soggy mess and my arena is currently under ice.
While the arena stays firm under the onslaught of rain and I don’t mind riding through puddles, this mess is going to take a while to clear out before I can use it again.
All this made me stop and think on Sunday about my training arrangement. The barn is an hour north where they got more snow than down here and I was nervous that perhaps dropping him off wasn’t the best use of my money. I reached out to the woman via text verifying that she does in fact have a covered space to ride in so that he would get worked the agreed upon 5 days a week. Her response was that she didn’t but I could still bring him up. I really do not see the point in paying to have him sit in her pasture/barn for a month and not get worked. He can do that for free at home. I’m glad I asked her and I am a bit miffed that she didn’t say anything first. I would have been really pissed had I taken off work, driven all the way there and then be told he wouldn’t be getting 5 days a week work.
My new normal routine of hanging blankets out to dry. I do not miss this part of northern living though I am now glad to have an excess of stalls to use for hanging cold, wet blankets on
This means no boot camp until probably after the holidays and into the new year. I’ve reached out to the local trainer only 30 minutes from my house that has the cross country course and a covered arena hoping maybe she has a spot available to take us on. It probably makes more sense to go with her anyway since she is the one I hope to transition to for lessons once we have our sea legs back under us. This way she knows him inside and out. We will see what comes of that.
Thankful I have a barn this year to use. The horses have been kept inside more nights than not recently. H’Appy is a bit of a nervous wreck inside and paces more than anything, but with so much practice he has started to calm down and now finishes his hay every night and half the water in his bucket.
There are a ton of options for trainers over in Aiken and their weather is more stable than ours two hours northwest. A lot of the top eventers in the NE winter there and the Aiken Facebook page is a constant stream of requests for temporary housing for humans and horses from now through March as people flood the area for winter training and showing opportunities. I’m not sure my timing is all that great for getting in with a trainer there plus the prices sky rocket in the winter. Plus it is 2 hour away and would be very difficult for me to find the time to head down for a lesson. It is a back up plan I hope to not have to engage.
Wyatt had to be picked up early at school the day after his birthday. He tried to make it up to me by drawing me pictures. It might have worked.
Meanwhile I am awaiting the arrival of my beloved new sticky leather saddle. The tack shop lost power with the winter storm and will hopefully be back to normal today or tomorrow. I might be able to sneak up there after work tonight if it has come in, but if not my Friday is now free so I can make the trip in the rain then. This weather pattern of sunny and mid 50s Mon-Thursday and then 30s and pouring rain Fri-Sun has settled over the area since early October and will not go away. It is depressing and makes building a relationship with the hairy orange beast difficult. I’m also looking into the option to pay to use the indoor at the trainer’s facility and haul over there to work him a few days a week so that at the very least we are working on our hauling skills, working in a new environment and get some saddle time in as well.
Cold wet weather means lots of snuggle time on the couch.
Not all is lost, but 2018 sure is starting to kick my butt and I’m finding my typical resolve to always find the open window when a door closes begin to wane a bit after all that has been thrown at me this year. I still need to do my Waggy Tails update (she is generally ok, still happy, still wagging but her leg is dead and we are up in the air whether to give it more time or amputate) and Duke Energy coming to do a site visit planning to ruin our entire property with a new high voltage tower line through it which I’ve tried numerous ways to fight and am hitting road blocks every which way I try. I’ve tried to write a post about that numerous times, but each time makes me want to vomit, so I stop. Fifteen years of plotting, planning and working hard to make this dream come true and after a short 10 months of living the dream it all comes crashing down. My nerves are on edge and being completely honest, this boot camp for H’Appy was what was pulling me through the rest of this year. Now that that seems to be gone as well…well lets say I’m not a great person to be hanging around right now.
Waggy tired herself out playing in the snow and spent the rest of the day curled in a Waggy sized ball on the couch
But again…all is not lost. I have some tries left with Duke, a new situation potentially in the works for H’Appy and that sticky leather luxe saddle on its way. Always look for the open window folks. I swear it is generally there.
This time of year, blogs get flooded with year reviews and recaps. I love them all. With old familiar blogs, it is a way to remind myself of their journey and relive those happy and maybe not so great moments with them all over again. For newer blogs I just found, it is a nice way to quickly catch up.
Who remembers this little guy?? He recently showed up and won a schooling jumper show in October. Still full on pony attitude but looking really good.
My year was not really that great. It could have been, maybe even should have been, but it plain old wasn’t. There isn’t a whole lot to do a month by month blow by blow recap of, so instead I’m going to try to sum up how I feel the year went, lessons I have learned, and where it puts me heading into the start of 2019.
I’m going to select my favorite picture of each month from the blog to re share.
Gem and I conquered this ditch together in February on a xc school. It was the only jump I attempted that day.
The start of the year had me really focusing on Gem and improving my own consistency when it came to riding her. I set a goal of three rides a week and it really paid off through the beginning of the month. With the recent move to the farm and having access to the arena and lights, there really was no excuse not to. It paid off too through January and February. Gem was calmer, more willing to go to work and I felt like we were really making progress.
March. Schooling rounds at FENCE. We did three 18″ rounds and Gem never said no to a single fence.
Except life happened, I needed to buckle down and study for my surgical boards and we decided to renovate the arena, a project that still isn’t completed and may never be. My consistency flew out the window, Gem started showing signs of ulcers for the first time ever and after a 45 minute ride where all I got to do was try to reinstall the halt for the umpteenth time, I finally decided to listen to what the mare was shouting at me. After 9 years, thousands of conditioning miles, a 100 mile endurance completion, a 30 mile Ride and Tie Championship completion, one amoeba level CT, and two schooling jumper shows, it was time to retire Gemmiecakes to a life of getting fat and happy in the pasture with her BFF Pete.
April. Bette, Trainer and I headed out for a fun trail ride on our bay beasts. PC: Bette
That led me into the frenzy of horse shopping, not a fun or cheap experience. You would think living only 2 hours from Aiken and 1 hour from Tryon (home of TIEC and WEG), horse shopping would be a piece of cake. Nope. I ended up choosing Eeyore, now H’Appy, and brought him home with a clean PPE in early May. We had a fun two weeks together and then he ripped his hoof half off with his shoe leaving him lame for nearly six freaking months. Currently he is healthy if more than a bit feral from all the time off and vacillates between amazingly fun and easy to hell horse extraordinaire. Depending on the day, moon cycle, status of his friends, and how desperately I am in need of a good ride.
May. My first between the ears picture on H’Appy. Better weather, better attitude, better fitness. I want this back!
And that brings us to the here and now. Not where I thought I would be and not where I really want to be, but at least he is healthy and sound once again. The attitude can be worked on.
What Went Right
Retiring Gem. Hands down this was the best decision of the year. Since retirement she has become a love bug. She nickers for me when I’m out doing yard work. Walks to meet me in the pasture. Begs for scratches. It’s a bit sad to see her lose her top line, butt muscling and abs but her mental health is the best it has ever been.
Consistency. The beginning of the year saw me really buckle down and ride three days a week regardless of how tired I felt after work, how cold it was or the dark. A lot of that was due to having and arena and lights which made riding in the evening possible. Gem was more willing work each time, knew what was expected and had more fitness. Of course that went out the window when I became horseless all summer but the lesson was learned.
Buying H’Appy. Ok, so the jury is still out on this one. I’ve spent so many hours re watching the test ride video of myself, looking at pictures and running every second spent with him during the test ride and PPE through my head looking to see if there was a red flag somewhere that warned me of his recent behavior. And there isn’t. If I were to find him and test him again (as he was then), I’d still choose him. The six months off have made him a bit feral but I believe he can come back from that. Time will tell.
New farrier. He is hard to get in touch with at times and scheduling is a bit touchy but his work is top notch and he is extremely patient with H’Appy. he has started coming out when I’m at work as long as I leave the horses in and even puts them back out after. Seriously can’t say enough good things about him. I love him even if my bank account does not.
Lameness Eval. I dragged my feet a long time before I made the appointment. It served to confirm my thoughts: Saddle fit and hoof issues. This let me let go of a deep fear that I purchased a lame horse unknowingly.
June. Went cross country schooling on the orange beast. He was really well behaved, tackled everything I asked of him and it only took me half way through the two hour school to relax, let go of past baggage and enjoy myself.
What Didn’t Go So Well
H’Appy. Yeah he is on both lists. I’m not sure I could have done much different to prevent his hoof coming off. He was being stalled at the time and out in the smallest back pasture for short periods when it happened. He had the shoes on he came with and I already had a farrier appointment set for them to be redone. Sometimes crap just happens. The spiral leading to six months off before shoes could be put back on sucked and led us to where we are now.
The arena project. My arena is awful. It sat unused and uncared for for six years before we bought the place and we new it was going to be an issue. I tried to do it myself. Fail. I hired someone to get rid of the vegetation and grade it. Fail. Now I still have vegetation but with the added bonus of really deep spots and valleys. We have called out three arena pros and each one has no showed the appointment even when we took off work to meet them. It’s a mess. Then only bright spot is that it dries really well and with winter here it should be passable until spring.
Training. I fell off my Trainer’s schedule from April-November due to work commitments, horse shopping and then lameness. When I finally got things in order to lesson again it was clear things weren’t going to work like they used to. All parties agreed a new situation would be best at least for a while until the basics got smoothed back out.
July. My favorite picture of Doofus. He is grace.
Throw away expectations. One of the biggest issues with H’Appy is that I expected A and got B. I clung so hard to A for too long which did neither of us any good. By taking a step back and looking at reality an actionable plan can be made.
Trust my gut. Always in all things. I knew my original farrier wasn’t going to cut it. I knew his feet were the root of his issues. I knew my saddle wasn’t working. I’m not always right and I make more than my fair share of mistakes, but when my gut says something I need to listen.
Exposure is key. Getting out and doing things goes a long way in the training process. H’Appy is a pretty amenable dude in general and is happy to go out and see the world. The more times he goes the better he gets. He wont magically be a great traveler or show horse without the experience to get there.
Form a tribe. So I admit to being ornery in general and hating all these new hipster terms, but this one I like. I didn’t need one for endurance, but having a support network is proving paramount in this whole jumping thing. Trainers, fitters, farriers, vets. Surrounding myself with those I trust, who I know have my best interests in mind and who want to see me succeed is what makes this thing work. I’m really starting to gather together a solid group: I love the fitter I worked with, my farrier is amazing and the lameness vet was pretty solid. I need to hone in on my training situation next.
August. Wyatt started school this year. I can’t believe how fast the time is going.
2018 can best be summed up as a transition year. To the farm. To a new horse partner. To a new discipline. I’m finding myself surrounded by new people and looking for new knowledge and experiences.
September. Trail hand walks to continue doing something with him while laid up waiting for his hooves to grow.
Going into 2019 I’d really like to get things on the training front hashed out, settle H’Appy mentally back into work and build his fitness so he can’t use that as an excuse to complain. That should set us up really nicely to make some sort of competition plans for the spring and fall which I really hope includes an amoeba level HT at Full Gallop. Its 18″ and only three mandatory xc fences plus a w/t dressage test. It shouldn’t be unreasonable to do.
October. First trail ride with Doofus. All in all he did really great for our first solo outing on new to him trails. More trail time would be fabulous.
And that is that. Maybe not the best year but a lot happened and a lot was learned. Everyone made it out alive too which hasn’t been the case for the last several years. That is something to celebrate.
This is a story about the absolute best customer service in all the land. Seriously folks. It does not get any better than Farm House Tack. I’m fortunate to live about an hour away, but they also help over the phone and online. I can’t say enough about how wonderful they have been to me.
Monday night Nicest Fitter On The Planet drove all the way to my house after work to help fit the Bates with an anatomic girth. The girth was pricey at $300 (imagine cheapskate me pretty much dying inside with that price tag) and I likely could have found a cheaper one online, but her offering to bring it to me when the store is an hour away was pretty amazing and worth paying a little extra for. Shopping local and independent is important to me and while it can be a bit extra, you can’t get service like that from an online store. I’ll buy from them again and again just based on that.
Plus you know. My new horse is the most expensive gelding on the planet when it comes to tack preferences. Gem was a cheap date. This guy? Just assume the most expensive option is the only one that will work. Every darn time.
I bored. I getting ignored. I eat lead rope while glaring at you.
So anyway, she came out and met my orange beast. He was on his goofiest behavior but she had an Appy in the past and laughed at his ways. It helps that she didn’t have to take him home with her though he is slowly teaching me to get the stick out of my own butt and lighten up. He has a long way to go. I was born this way.
She brought two options in his wide load size (50″), one pure leather with elastic ends and another leather with a memory foam liner. I chose the one with the liner becasue I knew his princess self would probably like that even better. And you know what? Angels sang when I tightened that thing. I already knew he preferred leather (see above regarding his tastes) and apparently his delicate nature approved of the memory foam liner because this was the first time since I brought him home that he didn’t try to eat me while I girthed up a saddle. He didn’t even flinch an ear when I tightened it all the way. With his fleece girth I had to dodge pawing legs and gnashing teeth while I did it up regardless of the saddle I was using at the time. It’s the reason the Stubben rep thought maybe his sternum was out he reacted so violently to being girthed. Except with this memory foam lined leather princess girth. You wouldn’t have known I was girthing him up at all.
I still ignored. I abused and neglected poneh. I paw and stamp hoof in protest.
I was leaning towards being sold at that point. He obviously approved but it still felt tight on his shoulder. Being the Nicest Fitter On The Planet, she put up with my insistence that it was pinching even though she knew better and eventually had me hold my hand in the spot I worried about while she walked him forward so I could feel. And I’ll be darned. No pinching at all. His shoulder moved freely.
I told her she could head home if she wanted to at that point. I wanted to ride in it but felt bad keeping her out at my place in the dark. Being the Nicest Fitter On The Planet she asked to stay and watch me ride in it and see my reaction. Seriously folks. Nicest Ever.
I still ignored. I sad poneh now. I stand good and rest.
From the moment I sat in it I really liked it. It was cushy enough to be comfortable yet didn’t feel like I was in a couch. The knee blocks were large enough to be secure but out of my way to make me actually learn to ride on my own and not rely on them. I think I need to move them up and back a little but that is the glory of velcro blocks. The only thing I didn’t like was how slippery the leather was. Now it wasn’t synthetic seat slippery like my saddles in the past and maybe I was spoiling myself with all the other lines I tried, but it felt a bit more slick than my wimpy butt would hope for.
We walked and he was free and moving really well without expressing any negative opinions about life so I asked for a trot. Or tried to. He had opinions on that and did more flailing and then slamming on the brakes because “oh crap this feels like work” but it wasn’t saddle fit related. That’s just him at the moment.
All was pretty great even through some tantrums. He moved super well, the saddle didn’t budge with the new anatomic girth and it fit me pretty well too. Of all the saddles I had tired to this point (14 not including the Bates), it was the absolute best fit for us both.
But I had one hang up. The girth cost some big money and the saddle was in great condition but still used and not that much cheaper than a new one. I asked Nicest Fitter On The Planet if we could negotiate the price down. Using my ever famous wife math, if the saddle could be reduced by the cost of the girth then the girth would basically be free. She wasn’t sure the owner would go for it, but said she would ask.
Well, Tuesday she got back to me that the consigner wasn’t up for reducing it. I thought on it. The new version of this exact saddle with the upgraded super sticky luxe leather was only $400 more. I loved that sticky leather. That isn’t a whole lot more money. I loved this saddle other than the fact it was slick. If new was the exact same I would not hesitate to save the money and go used but I wanted that sticky leather.
The more I thought on it the more I convinced myself to return the used one and buy new. I never treat myself. I own two saddle pads. Two. And I still feel that is excessive. Pretty much everything I have is second hand and well darnit I want that luxe leather. I work 50 hours a week in a very much thankless job and well…merry Christmas to me. (I told Hubby he isn’t permitted to buy me anything for Christmas this year since I’m spending so much in tack and boot camp. Treating myself comes with a heaping dose of guilt)
So I texted the now Ever Patient Nicest Fitter Ever and asked if I could ship this one back and have her order one in the sticky leather. Of course she said sure. I mean you don’t get that title for no reason and she definitely earned it after I changed my mind three times on which saddle I wanted. Maybe I should stalk her online and see if she likes wine?
She then went even farther. I’m telling you all. Shop at Farm House Tack. You won’t regret the experience. Anyway…since I live an hour away and work to the point where I can’t get there except on a weekend, she said the store owner was fine with me holding on to the consignment until the weekend when the new saddle should be ready to pick up and save the money on shipping it back. If I had had any doubts about spending that extra money they were all gone now. I’ll spend that much to support them any day. What an amazing experience this has been.
Good pony gets to take selfies and be fawned over and petted. Good pony is smart. Good pony needs to learn this.
Of course I couldn’t help myself from being annoying still (maybe I’m like Doofus after all. That’s a scary thought) and triple checked that it would be the exact same saddle. I was assured it would be. But what about the blocks? They would be that same big size, right? Yup. And the panels would fit the same? Yup. And the seat…not only the same size, but with the same amount of cushion and everything? Yup.
Time slipped away in a flurry of celebrating Wyatt’s 6th birthday last week and I completely missed my call for hours. I don’t have any for November, so if you volunteered at all please get them to me asap.
The saddle hunt has continued despite my best intention to narrow it down to the BC Wexford which is proving difficult to find without a wither gusset. I’m still searching multiple times a day, but I need to ride the hairy beast before he gets too far gone so I’ve opened the search back up. Some internet research shows that people who like the Wexford tend to also like the Albion Kontrol and County Conquest, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
Happy 6th Birthday little man!
First, I need to write about the Stubben visit. I nearly swore off fitters after the Custom lady tried to push an over priced demo that didn’t fit me at all and the “independent” fitter showed up with no saddles and diagnosed him with extreme back pain and ribs out of place requiring robaxin.
But I’m cheap at heart and when Michele texted me the Stubben sale I decided to burn all my money and have the Stubben rep out. I know her really well from the year I boarded with her. She was just starting back then and let me sit in all the models she had. Interestingly enough, most have been discontinued since then. Anyway, I wasn’t much of a fan but when saddles are on sale for $4,000 off, it’s hard to turn your nose up. Unfortunately, I still didn’t like any of the saddles. The good news to come from that visit was that the big orange butthead didn’t palpate painful anywhere although he did react strongly to the girth being done up. I know he isn’t a fan of the fleece girth, but I can’t buy him a leather one (why on earth does this PITA horse have to only like expensive gear?!?!?) until I know what saddle I’m going to end up with. She declared his sternum out of place which is something I’ve never heard of but I took it in stride and moved on.
It’s interesting that everyone who meets him for a few minutes diagnoses him with some new ailment completely unrelated to any previous one. Trust me. He isn’t painful, he is just being an ass.
Who me? Never!
Anyway…no matter how cheap they were I still didn’t like the fit for me at all and cried silently at another $150 down the drain. If anyone is keeping track, that’s $481 in fitter fees. That’s more than my current, albeit ill fitting, saddle cost.
That was when I said screw it, it is BC Wexford or bust. I could still hold that line but if H’Appy stays retired for another 6 months he may never come back from the brink. I need to ride my horse. The above mentioned search of Wexford like saddles showed the County Conquest and Albion Kontrol were similar in feel.
The County Conquest in decent used condition. The pommel is very high but the overall balance sits on him nicely.
It just so happened that someone responded to my ISO ad with a 17″ W Conquest for a decent price. I took it on trial and it arrived Friday. I knew immediately it wasn’t going to work but threw it on him anyway. I was right. The width was ok but the panels were made for a very different shape and came up too high with minimal contact. It wasn’t bad enough not to sit in, but I pretty quickly dismounted as the saddle was very unstable side to side with nothing to keep it from rolling down his barrel. It was a shame since it is a nice saddle. I’m shipping it back, but if anyone is interested in the details let me know.
A good tree angle match but the top of the panels sits well above his body. The saddle had a lot of motion side to side
Having failed that one ($60 in shipping lost, will return it tomorrow after work so I’ll know the total cost then) I grew pretty frustrated. There are two great tack stores near me: Farmhouse Tack and Aiken Tack Exchange. Both handle used tack and while I’ve scoured the Aiken store online turning up nothing, I hadn’t really paid much attention to Farmhouse. Being in driving distance means saving at least one way in shipping costs, so I figured they were worth a look.
Friday afternoon I perused their site and saw that they had a 17″ Wide Albion Kontrol on consignment plus a Bates Elevation Deep Seat with massive blocks that caught my eye as well. I had sat in a new Caprilli and didn’t like it so hadn’t thought much about the Bates line, but why not give it a try if I was going up there anyway.
Saturday afternoon I dragged the kiddo up with me. I really liked the Albion. A lot. So comfy. So much security. Except the panels were really curved and he needs a flatter panel. It wouldn’t have worked for him but I was glad to find that out in person without shipping costs.
The Bates Elevation DS. This saddle sits the best on his back but you can see the once glaring issue. With it girthed up appropriately, it shifts forward over his shoulder.
The Bates though. That was a nice saddle. Beautiful condition and super comfy. The saddle fitter who works there is one of the nicest people and spent a lot of time with me in the store. Bates is having a special where they are upgrading to their luxe leather (a stickier leather) for free. A new saddle with the upgrade would have only been $400 more than the consignment saddle.
I texted Emma for a voice of reason. New or used? Grippy or standard? She talked me off the ledge of buying new – thanks! – by reminding me that the $400 would be better off spent on his training versus sticky leather. I ended up taking the consignment home with me on trial though they only allow four days. Even if it didn’t work, I’d only have to pay shipping one way if I couldn’t drive back up there.
A close of view of where the saddle needs to sit for the billets to line up. Right over his shoulder. Not good.
It’s up in the air. The saddle fits him great with the wide gullet in place. The panel shape and angle suit him well and when girthed up it had a lot of stability.
Great fit through the panel without bridging. This is a pretty flat tree/panel configuration which confirms my suspicion that the lovely Albion would have too much curve to it.
I wasn’t a fan of how it sat on his shoulders though so I called the fitter and she asked me to send a bunch of pictures. Turns out what he lacks in wither height he makes up for in length meaning I needed to move the saddle back a good bit. She liked the look of it when pushed back and it no longer sat on his shoulder only the billets were too far back and I know that trick from years trying to fit a jump saddle on Gem. Girth a saddle like that and gravity wins every time. It will end up on his shoulders.
Placed farther back behind his large shoulder. The balance is even better here, but you can see the issue. Look at the tips of the billets and draw a line straight down. They lie pretty solidly behind his girth groove so that when it is girthed up it will shift forward and on to his shoulder.
I texted the fitter again and she recommended an anatomic girth to help hold it back. I’m leery. I wasn’t blogging back then but I’ve been through this with Gem. Anatomic girth. Cross the billets so the back is on the front buckle to change the pressure. Go wider. Go narrower. Nothing worked because the billets didn’t line up.
A closer view of the billets alignment. The saddle should have been a titch farther back still.
I couldn’t make it back to the store before they closed by the time I was finished with everything. She had two anatomic girths in his size and offered to bring them to me after work today so I can try it. The issue with an exchangeable gullet is that you can’t add a point billet since there isn’t a fixed gullet in the saddle.
As close to a confo shot I could get alone. His low, long wither and large shoulder are proving to be a tad more difficult to fit than I thought.
I can’t say I’m keeping the saddle the way it is now so we will see. It will be a shame if it can’t work out because I really like the saddle otherwise and think it could be a good solution.
If it doesn’t work, well at least she will take it with her so the entire experience will have cost me nothing for once plus I’ll have her keep an eye out for me for any 17 wide jump saddles that may come in on consignment. They have a lot of inventory which is nice and while I don’t want to wait that long, they may see an influx once people get some new tack for Christmas.
Keep your fingers crossed we can make this work out. I have an update coming about his behavior and my plans but it all depends on..
Ok, folks…I can’t figure out this new editor when I write on my phone. I can’t seem to get the pictures to be anything other than billboard size. Sorry.
Five years ago I was handed a book containing fifty waterfalls in SC and GA. This spurred a tradition that all three of us look forward to every year.
On Thanksgiving morning we pack up the car, load all three humans and whatever canines are with us and head out to find the next waterfall.
The trickiest part is finding the trail head as the book gives directions from a road intersection. So far we have stuck to the falls found in the Walhalla area due to proximity to us (just over an hour) and length of hike (under 4 miles) to ensure that we get to enjoy it and make it home for dinner.
This year I chose Yellow Branch Falls which boasted a three dimensional “Mayan city-esque ” feel. Our family had dwindled to five of us this year and I had convinced my mom that cooking for three days for five people was over kill and to go out to eat this year instead. This freed her up in the morning and she got to come hiking with us.
The trail head was easy to find having been in the area in the past and the parking lot was empty when we arrived. By the time we left there were eighteen cars! Being an early bird has advantages.
The morning dawned brisk in the upper 30s, but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and I knew it would warm up with the sun. The sky was that brilliant deep blue that is only seen in the fall and I spent as much time looking up as I did at the trail.
The trail was really fun with multiple creek crossings, foot bridges and plenty of technicality to tire us all out. It ended up being closer to four miles and I was so proud of how Wyatt handled it all.
The dogs remained on leash for the majority of the hike. I was shocked Dusty let Waggy come. We are still trying to figure out what brace, if any, will work for her dead leg and I thought for sure he would leave her behind. She happily kept up though and as we neared the falls and the trail grew very narrow and steep, we let the pups off and both dogs handled the terrain without issue.
After climbing and descending, twisting and turning for nearly an hour the trail came to a dead end at Yellow Branch Falls. Wyatt was in the lead and he let out a very excited “I found it!” that echoed down the valley.
The dogs were off leash at this point and both plowed into the icy water to play and drink. Wyatt wasn’t far behind them.
We learned a long time ago to pack a towel and full change of clothes as there is no way Wyatt is going to be kept from playing in the water no matter the temperature. He ended up soaked, shivering and happy before we changed and headed back towards the truck.
I was shocked at how busy the trail was on our way back. We passed an almost constant stream of hikers headed towards the falls and I’m so glad we are early morning people. (I’m typing this on my phone at 6:15 am Saturday morning).
I think we have one fall left to see in the Walhalla area before moving to those at the SC/NC border.
I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving! This tradition has been so much fun from the planing of which one to the execution to looking back and watching Wyatt grown up.
Gem has been in my life for almost 9 years now. It has been a long ride that flew by in a blink of an eye. I’ve documented her transformation as a riding horse ad nauseum on here, which was impressive in and of itself. What I find even more impressive though is her change in character since retirement.
My beautiful Gemmie
Gem has always been a very aloof, independent workmanlike mare. She had her job under saddle, get us down the trail safely, and I had mine, pick the pace and don’t miss ribbons. Our partnership worked out pretty well in endurance. I learned to stop micromanaging her and she learned to listen to my directions. Riding with others in the sport was always interesting as they never failed to mention how Gem would pick her way down the trail avoiding ditches, holes and rocks all on her own while I watched for ribbons, major obstacles and slowed or quickened the pace as the trail allowed. I refused to tell Gem where to place her feet. That was her job. If I had to watch the trail for everything I’d be at risk for missing the ribbons. Gem knew this and on the occasions I forgot this rule and began nit picking our way down the trail she would put a stop to it quickly.
She also learned to pee in the pasture when she saw me coming with a halter, eat and drink at every opportunity and be prepared for any length of adventure from a quick speedy 5 mile run to a literal all day experience. She came ready for work no matter what the job was.
What she wasn’t was overly friendly. She tolerated my grooming regimen including a big neck hug when I switched from her left to right side. She stood still and sucked up spa days. She never ran from me in the pasture as she knew that was a line to never cross, but she also refused to meet me either. If I wanted to ride, I had to get her myself. She expected me to put in my share of the work at all times.
In fact, it was almost like a business partnership.
Tolerating bath day
Then I retired her in the spring. At first she was skeptical. Was this a vacation like so many times in the past? As the months have gone by and with the addition of H’Appy as the horse the halter snags and who gets loaded in the trailer for adventures, it has sunk into her that her time for that is over. Her new job is to eat, take sunny naps and enjoy life.
With this has come a significant change in my favorite bay mare. I can no longer describe her as aloof or workmanlike. She is now friendly nearly down right snuggly.
She greets me with a nicker when I’m out in the yard beckoning for me to enter the pasture and give her scratches. She comes to the gate every night when I yell out “Gemmie! Dinner!” Even the promise of food in the past would not make her budge. She demands her itchy spots scratched before she will leave the stall after eating and will stand ground tied in the aisle for her grooming with eyes half closed and bottom lip drooping.
While she still high tails it when the trailer gets hooked up, when I enter the pasture with a halter she stares at me and then walks towards me these days. Which is nice because butt head is so jealous that it brings him over. When I do slip her halter on to bring her in at non food times, typically for the farrier or when it was going to rain and be cold non stop for days on end, she shoves her head in the halter herself. Wyatt leads her in/out of the pasture and barn by himself regularly and she walks with careful steps and a slow pace never pushing ahead or spooking at even the scariest piece if wood.
Wyatt and Gemmie…my two hearts
Was she a miserable working horse? No. She enjoyed the trail and the adventures. But she had a contract it seemed and stuck to it. She was there for the work and put up with the rest like a day job you mostly enjoy except for that one co worker who talks non stop about their vegan diet and cross fit routine. I loved her then and I love her now. I’m glad I got the chance to retire her at home so she can relax and enjoy the next ten years eating grass, getting loved on and taking long naps in the sunshine.
Okay…anyone else having issues with the new wordpress editor??? Pictures are coming in either super big or super tiny and not where I want them. Frustrating. Sorry for any weirdness in this post as I try to figure this out.
Well, there is $230 I’ll never see again. Plus I lost my temper which is something I try to avoid doing and in general I am pretty good at fuming silently to myself. Of course the moment I snapped was the moment Bette, who had so kindly invited me, happened to pull in and walk up. Sorry, Bette. My limit had been reached.
H’Appy hasn’t been too many places with me and I was pretty nervous about how he would behave. I warned both the fitter and the lovely woman in charge of organizing this that he can be interesting in new places and asked if I could come early. I was the first appointment of the day and was given the ok. We pulled in about 40 minutes early and I unloaded H’Appy to walk him around the facility and settle in.
Easy big fella
Turns out I needn’t have worried. He was on his best behavior and beyond some angry grazing he never made a peep, pulled on the lead rope or acted a fool. I was really, really proud of my big orange beast. He has come a long way from the anxiety ridden mess that I brought home.
When it was time for the fitting, I walked him over and introduced ourselves. I had had a lengthy conversation several days prior with the fitter’s wife and went over my saddle fit concerns, his size and background, my background and budget. They knew he went in a wide tree in other brands and I was looking for a close contact/jump saddle in a 17-17.5″ seat. When we walked up I told the fitter that H’Appy gets nervous around new people and asked him to take it slow before poking or prodding him. I filled him in on the history since May, the lameness eval and the fact that his current saddle is too narrow down his spine putting pressure on the spine and creating back pain. I showed him the area of concern as well.
Seriously, calm down!
Well, my idea and his idea of slow were very different and before either of us knew it he was digging his fingers into the spot I told him was sore. Surprise! H’Appy about flew out of his skin and any calm he had before that was out the window. The guy turned to me and told me I needed to put him on a muscle relaxer. I blinked and stared blankly not knowing really how to respond to this.
He moved on commenting “I don’t think your horse trusts me” as H’Appy bent like a pretzel trying to keep his eye on this strange man who was determined to shove his fingers in all his sore spots. Once he poked his other side he commented again about putting him on a muscle relaxer to which I responded that my vet said no drugs were needed, had prescribed massage which I got done (of note the massage lady who took her time found soreness in his right shoulder stemming from his foot pain but barely anything in the back) and a new saddle which was why I was there. No medicines thank you.
I mean really…
The fitter moved on to use his super cool measuring stick and make a tracing of his back at the gullet area. He measured him as an extra, extra (yup two extras) wide in the brands he carried and then told me that he only had medium trees with him. I stared. At this point my patience was about up with this process. If he didn’t have any wide trees he should have told me that on the phone so I knew ahead of time that I wouldn’t be riding. In fact, had he told me he didn’t have anything wider than a medium I would have ridden with the potential new trainer and saved the hour trip and money. But there I was so I stomped off to hand H’Appy over to Dusty so I could look at the saddles he had.
He carries Smith Worthington and Prestige and pulled several out for me to look at and sit in on a saddle stand. Only one fit my needs. One was an AP that he was fond of but I told him I don’t want an AP saddle and the others didn’t fit me at all. The issue was that it was too narrow to go on my horse. So quite pointless really as we all know the fit in motion can be very different than on a stand.
It was a pretty saddle though. Grippy, soft leather, and was comfortable enough without stirrups or a horse underneath it
He tried to pressure me into buying it. He had a whole talk about how the tree can be widened and the flocking redone and while I don’t question his knowledge or ability there, why on earth would I buy a saddle I never got to try on my horse? How does that make sense?
Then he dropped the bomb that he doesn’t sell any saddles he physically has and it would be 8-10 weeks before I could get anything. What the actual heck?!? I had told him very clearly on the phone that I needed a saddle now. Why not inform me of this little fact before?
Right at this moment I was done. I knew I would need to pay for this and had gotten nothing of use from my afternoon. I explained to him very pointedly that I would not order a saddle I haven’t ridden in and that is when Bette walked up while he mentioned for the fourth time about needing to use a muscle relaxer except now he decided to inform me that “it will help his brain” and questioned the need to find a new vet because obviously my vet was terrible for not putting him on drugs.
And because my blood pressure is now up again, here is a picture of my love with vampire teeth. I need to calm down.
I lost it. Completely lost it. First, no a muscle relaxer has no effect on the brain which is not a muscle. Some can have a sedative effect but there is no mental benefit from a muscle relaxer. Second, you are not a vet. I have already told you I’m not going to drug my horse and either talk to me about a saddle or nothing at all. I was mean. I was bitchy. I was done.
I walked back to the truck seeing flames, turned around to grab my riding equipment that I didn’t get to use and Bette walked back to the trailer with me to meet H’Appy. We chatted a bit and then I went home. On the way home, while Dusty drove, I began a fevered search online of back pain symptoms, diagnoses and treatments. H’Appy had never shown so much reaction to back palpation before but if he was that painful it could account for his demeanor under saddle. I ran that rabbit hole during the hour drive home.
Once home I palpated the crap out of his back the way I was taught by my vet. Start at the withers and using the meaty part of your fingers, slowly and firmly slide down the length of the back towards the butt looking for a reaction. I did it three times pressing down as hard as I could. Nothing. No flinch. No ear flick in my direction. No reaction whatsoever. Let me repeat that. NO REACTION WHATSOEVER.
Here is a hint. Any horse no matter how good they feel can react to finger tips and nails dug into a single spot without warning.
No pain. No reaction.
All is not lost though! Last Tuesday I ran into the local tack shop to get a new blanket for Gem. Hers is nearing 7 years and has never been waterproofed since purchase and the heavy rain (we ended up with just over 5″ Monday-Thursday last week) made me worry it wouldn’t be good enough. Anyway. There sat a gorgeous Black Country Wexford saddle on consignment in my budget. It looked a bit narrow but I took it out on trial because why not?. I rode in it Friday and my butt sang the songs of the heavens. Well, mostly. It was a bit big for me and a size narrow for him (it was a medium wide) but I did like it. The thigh rolls kept me so secure I felt like he could have bucked to the moon and I would have stayed on.
The Wexford is a deep seated close contact built to feel extra secure and is very close to an all purpose. I’ve scoured the internet looking for reviews and read everything from “too bulky, no feel of the horse” to “I ride to the 1* level in it on xc and stadium and love it”. I was a bit worried about how much saddle there is. It is billed as perfect for the novice jumper, fox hunter or any one who wants a arm chair feel. Hmmm…not sure I want an arm chair feel in my saddle. I did find out that they make a Ricochet model that uses the Wexford tree and a traditional jump seat that is more low profile and I’d like to try that as well before deciding. There is a Black Country dealer in Aiken, but she charges $200 + travel fees for a fitting and I am already $300 in the whole with useless fittings now. I’m going to contact Trumbull Mountain and see if they can offer suggestions over the phone/internet and try out a few models through them for minimal shipping costs since I already have a good feel for what I need – 17″ (hurray for half sizes!)for me and wide for lard ass. If I was ordering custom made, I’d go the dealer route but I can’t afford that so will need to be looking for a close enough fit in a used saddle.