Saturday, November 29, 2014

DIY Bareback Pad

Once I figured out that Quest was fine with bareback pads, I started researching everywhere for the perfect one. I tested out T's pad last month with the intentions of purchasing it if it worked well after a test ride. While the pad functioned as intended, jerry-rigging the straps once was incredibly annoying to deal with (I don't want to imagine doing it again) and the pad itself was much too long for short-backed mare Quest. I could foresee a bad rub a coming.

Options on hand exhausted, I decided to go shopping. Good news was I found a ton of options, the bad news was I found too many options. I needed more time to shop but wanted something temporary to use...being the craft-sy person that I am, I decided to make my own. Convinced that I wasn't the first person to think of this idea, I scoured the interwebz for a tutorial and surprisingly I found NOTHING at all. Only thing I read was someone using stirrup leathers to strap a regular AP pad to a horse- it didn't seem comfortable nor safe. Not to be daunted, I came up with my own design!

The materials for this are minimal. All you need is an AP English saddle pad (I picked the thickest one from my pad stash- it's thicker than the normal cotton pads and has a waffle cloth so it breathes better), nylon webbing (I used about 2 yards), needle, and thread (I suggest upholstery/nylon thread- it's the TOUGHEST stuff you can buy). I used chalk for making marks on the pad and webbing to know where to cut and make billet holes- it rubs out easily and doesn't stain materials. The lighter was used to burn the edges of cut webbing so it doesn't fray. I won't bore everyone to death with every minute detail but the construction is pretty simplistic once you have everything planned out and stay neat with your hand stitching. Yes, this was done by hand. I think the entire thing might too thick/cumbersome to fit through a sewing machine! I had some leftover nylon from a previous project that I was able to attach as a grab strap.

Most of the bareback pads sold nowadays use a cinch with latigo straps. I wanted to make billet straps that worked with the girth that I use on my saddle so I used two separate pieces of webbing. The holes in the nylon were punched with a stove-heated nail. I preemptively made some fleece covers to slip over the billet straps and buckles in case of rubbing but they turned out to be unnecessary and the pad was fine just as is.

Test ride...and success!
I've got quite a bit of experience working with nylon webbing and sewing but this project is definitely within range of crafty beginners. Hopefully this inspires others to try and make their own bareback pads!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Ups and Downs

The past week has been bitterly cold and the freezing temperatures have created cement-like conditions in the outdoor section of the indoor/outdoor arena. Being limited to half of our usual riding space and plus sharing the arena with 1-2 other riders, we were much too limited on space to work comfortably and safely on things that require more room to maneuver, e.g.; flying lead changes. Not to be daunted, I decided to tackle another goal I had in mind. About a month ago, I had hopped on Quest bareback and just sat there for a few moments before getting off. While she did not do a single thing wrong the entire time, her confusion was obvious. Not knowing her history with bareback, I decided the only fair thing to do was to transition to her it slowly using a bareback pad first. My friend T was awesome enough to bring her pad to the barn for me last week for us to try out.

I introduced the bareback pad to Quest, letting her sniff and explore. Once her curiosity was satisfied, I tossed it on her back and took it off several times with zero reaction from her- I wasn’t surprised but hey, you never know. When it came time to girth up though, I realized that I had NO idea how to do up the straps. I’ve used bareback pads before and they have always been pretty straightforward nylon buckles. T’s pad had one extremely long nylon girth strap with D-rings; there was no cinch, nothing. After repeatedly trying to decipher how the straps worked and even enlisting the help of a western-savvy rider who was a regular bareback pad user to no avail, I resorted to use A’s pad instead that used a normal cinch and latigo set-up.

All cinched up, we walked into the indoor where I tugged, yanked, pulled at the pad. No response. I moved over to the mounting block and leaned over with my weight, wiggling around. Nothing. I hopped on. There was an ear flick and nothing. Cued her to walk forward, and off we went cruising along like old bareback pros. Once we both got comfortable, we had some fun with a set of ground poles in the arena that we walked and even trotted over. I was super happy to note Quest’s ears were pricked forward and up, she’s taking to working poles well so far. We ended the ride with a calm Quest and a happy me- will definitely add bareback sessions to our winter rides. Now to go shopping for a pad!

On Saturday after our usual lunge warmup, Quest and I headed out for a handwalk on the trail while A had a riding lesson. It was the first time that I had taken her out on just a lead since her meltdown about a month ago and also our first time doing it solo. We couldn’t go too far due to time constraints but were able to get quite a distance away from the barn to see tremendous improvement with zero calling out and minimal fuss. Quest got worried when she heard some roofing workers banging and nailing away on a house in the adjacent neighborhood. We stood there for a bit until she figured out nothing was about to eat her. After we got back to the barn, we tacked up and met A and J for the trail ride. We decided to do a trail around a lake that I had never been on before but was familiar to our trail escorts.

Wind everywhere
 Quest and I started off in the back at first then moved into the middle behind J when we started to trot a couple stretches since Smokey tends to be a little meh at first. Quest was ratable and responsive and walked nicely when asked. The path to get to the lake crosses a parking lot and Quest walked briskly and seemed quite eager to lead so J let us take the lead and we did a bit of trotting along the lake. We paused for a moment to wait for A who was doing some walk work with Smokey. While waiting, I could feel Quest telling me she was ready to GO. A caught up, she gave the okay for us to all canter and we headed out. I'm not sure exactly what happened next but one moment A was in the saddle, the next she was on the ground. She wasn't hurt fortunately but we all dismounted to wait.

When I got off, Quest did NOT want to stand still at all. She wanted to move but of course we weren't going to do that. She started to get into my space to try and move forward. When I reprimanded her and made her back up out of my space, she got more worked up. When we finally mounted, Quest's energy was still up and keeping her at a walk was a challenge. I did not want to keep hauling on her mouth so I did half-halts and sat deep. She tried to jog off several times so I put her into tight circles and only let her straighten out when she settled into a ratable walk. Back at the barn, I took tack off of my lathered mare (she did have nice sweat patterns though) and got out the rope halter and lunge line to review groundwork until Quest remembered that staying out of my space REALLY MEANT staying out of my space and I had a much calmer and happier mareface at the end.

While things ended on a positive note, Quest's pushy attitude when waiting on the trail was definitely not permissible. Granted her bundle of nerves could have been due to fact that it was her first time on that particular trail, being right by the highway with all the traffic, seeing the lake for the first time, etc...I don't think it's ever a good reason to allow for bad manners. On the bright side, I don't think I have to worry about Quest being lazy on the trail, we do need to work on getting her energy down and relaxing more. The tight circles worked really well while I was in saddle but when I'm out of the saddle, I was thinking about unclipping the reins and lunging her if there is enough room on the trail (I have a halter-bridle so there is a ring to clip to so it won't be on her mouth/bit). Plausible? Any suggestions for things I can do with her on the trail?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Feeling the burn

Halfway through No-Stirrup November! I've been ever diligent and doing my part to torture myself as expected. I did a ton of no-stirrup at the walk and trot last Friday night. My friend T asked me if I had ever done it at a canter which I said no, but of course I was game to try. Quest cantered, I stayed on, my thighs and core burned. Success.

All the no-stirrup work recently has re-inspired me to work on getting her more comfortable with bareback riding. Couple weeks ago I hopped on after a lunge session just to see- while Quest wasn’t rude, she was wary so I stayed on until she showed the slightest bit of relaxation, hopped off and gave lots of praise. T is letting me try out her bareback pad this week, so super excited to see if it works out for us. 

We had gorgeous weather again on Saturday, beginning to feel quite spoiled. When I got to the barn as per usual, I lunged her first before tacking up. The plan was to ride in the indoor for a little bit and then head out for trails.  I mounted up, asked her to move out and Quest started wiggling all over the place- nothing dangerous but I never felt her SO worked up before and questioning every request. After double/triple checking that her feistiness wasn’t anything tack or rider related, we settled to do a bit of walk and trot. Only when I felt her giving me her full attention that we headed out. On the trail she was great and even did some leading too.  

 After the trails, I wanted to see if Quest’s wiggling stemmed from doing arena work or needing a change of scenery. I decided to test the latter so we went into the full outdoor arena to see if it helped. Quest settled right down to work for the whole 30 minutes, listening and compliant. I also got a nice lower leg and core workout doing a ton of 2-point at the trot. That plus all the no-stirrup I did the night before did my balance a ton of good but left me feeling pretty wiped out.

So yeah, pretty sure Quest HATES working in the arena if we are inside two days in a row, but a change of scenery/being outdoors seems to improves her attitude. This is extremely telling and I’m taking this information to heart so I don’t find myself with a very arena-sour horse by the end of the winter. My current ride schedule has been 3-4 days a week with a day in between rides- it has been working out great and she’s always been eager to work every time.


Monday, November 10, 2014


With all the rainy weather lately, I felt so spoiled with the goregous fall weather this past weekend. Of course we had to hit the trails. Which we did. Twice.

The mareface was so good both times. We went out with a different rider/horse each time but did the same trail so it was very interesting for me to see the difference it had on Quest. On our first time out, my friend J led the way and Quest had the easy job of following another horse. Mareface did great overall- not even a flinch when some startled deer went bounding through the forest, though she got a little excited at one point while we riding in an open field and J began cantering her horse. I asked for a trot and Quest moved to canter instead and I had to be quite firm with my hands to bring her energy down. She was perfect for the rest of the ride.

The second time out was with A and Smokey. Smokey has had less experience leading on the trail so Quest had to step up to the plate a few times and tackle some obstacles. She was hesitant at first and protested, even popping a small rear but I kept my cool and just kept working with her- backing up, circles, getting her head low/relaxed, giving her rest and releasing pressure the instant she answered my request correctly. There was one sticky area that after repeated efforts to ride past, it became a better choice to dismount and lead. Quest followed me with no issues and I was able locate a convenient rock to remount.

There was a large construction crane parked right by the entrance to a trail head which caused some angst with Smokey and Quest. There was protest and I half-considered getting off again when suddenly Quest decided the crane wasn't a creature ready to eat her and moved right along past at a trot without a second glance. Since forward was the right answer, I let her move along down the trail for a bit, all the while heaping tremendous amounts of praise. Her ears were forward and I could tell she was feeling good. I brought her down to a walk and patted her neck so proud! I intended to end the ride on that note but Smokey had decided that being left behind wasn't too fun and followed us in. Quest calm and quietly proceeded to lead the rest of the ride until it was time to head home.

When we got back, I decided to ride past the gate and trot away from the barn to gauge Quest's energy and reaction. This will be necessary since part of the tentative conditioning route I have mapped out for us for the spring will involve going past the barn at least once. Poor mareface was definitely confused at first but once I insisted that I was dead serious, she moved willingly. I let her move out a bit before stopping and heading back, tons of praise and neck pats.

Despite the hiccups along the way, I'm thrilled with how the ride went. We did about 4 miles total and it was very informative to see how Quest behaves with different riders/horses out on the trail. Quest feeds off of that confidence and when asked to step up to lead she can do it, though hesitantly. Not knowing what prior trail experience she has had, I'll chalk it up to lack of confidence which is something that will improve with more rides and time.

So far so good!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Oct Review/Nov Goals

October In Review:
I didn't really set any particular goals for October because well, Quest was still quite a mystery to me so the month was less structured and more "go with the flow".

  • First ride US: Completed on 10/8! 
  • First trail ride: Completed like a boss on 10/18, so very proud of her!
  • 2pointober Challenge: Completed with improvement of 2mins to 5:20 mins. The benefits of this exercise are so worth the pain haha I'm planning on doing this every ride as warm up.  

November Goals:
These are probably pretty tame/vague goals but I still don't know Quest's potential and experience with certain things so I think its only fair to stick what has worked last month which was going with her pace.

  • More trail rides, maybe 3-4 (weather pending): We started one yesterday but the route was blocked by construction early on. While short, Quest led a part of the ride with ears forward, feeling confident and calm- I was SO proud. We trotted a section of the trail and she immediately came down to a walk when asked. I'm excited to see how she fares with more trail exposure. 
  • Transitions: Particularly trot-canter-trot. She likes to go straight to a walk when I request a downward transition. We nail all other transitions though so I think this goal is quite within reach. 
  • Work on flying lead changes: We experimented with this the end of last week. I'm pretty sure Quest knows it from WP show training so I'm thinking its mostly on me since I've never gotten to ride one properly. Quest can balance herself quite well counter-cantering though! 
  • No-stirrup November: It's been quite awhile since so the plan is to start with 5-10 minutes and work my way up to at least one full ride...oy vey, my thighs...
  • Start trimming!

The tiniest forelock braid ever