About Me

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North Lawrence, New York, United States
I can be described as lover of life, an animal lover, and lover of education. I am constantly striving for knowledge and learning opportunities. I've been around horses my entire life. I enjoy working with horses and their human partners through natural horsemanship philosophies, natural balance bare foot hoof care, reiki, red-light therapy, essential oils, aromatherapy, crystal healing, chromotherapy, flower essences, and more. I am a Usui Shiki Ryoho Reiki Master Teacher who offers treatments for people, horses, dogs, cats, and other creatures great and small. I also teach Reiki classes for those interested in learning how to treat themselves, their loved ones, and even their animals! Natural Horse Lover Farm is located in Northern New York between the St. Lawrence River and Adirondack Mountains. Heaven on Earth. naturalhorseloverfarm.com

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Saddle Fitting: Where success and failure equals learning opportunity for both horse and human

Clare and I took the time to evaluate my three saddles today. I know what I think I need but wanted to confirm and what better time then when I have Clare here to give me a second opinion. Therefore, we took the time to download and print the saddle fitting materials on the Parelli Saddles website, got out the ruler, flexible wire, paper, notebook, and pencils, and got to work. It was an interesting exercise, loosely scientific, and very revealing.

My assumption going into this exercise was that my Wintec All-Purpose Saddle (16 1/2") would not fit any of my horses and was destined to become part my log home decor or would be sold, that my generic, all-purpose brown leather English saddle (18") was okay for Fosse and Whiskey (maybe Lola) when used with the Theraflex Pad, that is was okay for Fosse and Whiskey, questionable for Lola but in a pinch would probably be okay, and that my Marathon Endurance Saddle (20 1/2" seat, total saddle size 22") may work for Lola but was probably too big and most likely would also be sold. My assumption for Lola is that a Wintec Ultra Wide or Parelli Super Wide were going to be the proper saddle for her.

While Clare was reviewing the Parelli Saddles materials, I made our wire measuring tool, got the measuring tape, a broom (to use as a stick to check the horse's back angle), situated our work space, and haltered Lola. Okay, so our work was not entirely scientifically accurate but, I do believe we did the best job we could with the tools we had. Here is the diagram drawn based on Lola's measurements.

We also took the time to measure the saddles several components to confirm our findings. This was quite an interesting exercise as we were able to see how gullet measurements from the outside of the saddle differed greatly from gullet measurements at the stirrup bars point underneath, padding differed, and overall design was quite varied. Here are a few images of the saddles.

Marathon Endurance Saddle (Above)
Bars 22", Seat 20 1/2", Saddle 22", Gullet at Stirrup Bars 4", Gullet at Front 4 1/2"

Generic All Purpose Leather English Saddle (Above)
Bars 17", Seat 18", Gullet at Stirrup Bars 3 3/4", Gullet at Front 6 1/4"

Wintec All Purpose English Saddle (Above)
Bars, 16 1/2", Seat 16 1/2", Gullet at Stirrup Bars 3 1/2", Gullet at Front 5 1/2"

We also looked at Lola's body shape and angles. Our findings were right on target with my assumptions. The Wintec All-Purpose Saddle does not fit any of my horses and became part my log home decor (it looks great), my generic, all-purpose brown leather English saddle is okay for Fosse and Whiskey when used with the Theraflex Pad. I've been using this one for years and really like it despite it's lower quality---thanks to the Theraflex, has worked out okay. It is questionable for Lola but in a pinch would probably be okay. We decided that Lola indeed needs a Wintec Ultra Wide or Parelli Super Wide saddle. But, we thought we'd try the Marathon Endurance Saddle despite looking a bit big as a good alternative until such time that I could purchase a new saddle for her. We tacked her up and went to play in the round pen with the intention of test riding a little in the playground.

We proceeded to the round pen with a nice mosey and some grass eating along the way. Lola had been very patient and wonderful throughout our morning saddle assessment. I checked her girth and set her loose at liberty to allow her to move with the saddle (as I'd done with my brown English in the past). I asked for her to back with a yo-yo and then to circle at a walk. She decided that bucking and cantering around like a lunatic was better and she did so, jumping over barrels and circling. After a few laps, it was apparent that the saddle was slipping ans so, I asked her to disengage, she did. Unfortunately, before I could reach her, the saddle slide right around and as I am sure you will guess, things got bad. She bucked and kicked and freaked out, she was scared (and rightfully so). She went running full speed, blasted through the round pen fence tape, down the driveway, toward the field but could not get in and ran through another fence tape dragging it for a bit, headed down the driveway towards the road. Clare and I were heading down the driveway and I ducked into the barn at bout the same time that Lola had turned her head and she saw me. She came running into the barn, slide on the floor, looked at me, I took my carrot stick and savvy string and signaled her to make a transition as we would do online to slow down and stop, to calm down, she stopped moving, I tossed the string over her neck, Clare luckily came into the barn and we both immediately unbuckled the girth and the saddle was off. Lola was haltered and seemed okay. We fed her treats and then poured some grain and treats on the saddle that was laying on the floor. She munched away and caught her breath as we caught ours.

I assessed her injuries and they were minor cuts and scrapes. I wiped her off the best I could and Clare and I took Lola to the grass, back to the round pen, and played approach and retreat. She was okay with everything and enjoyed some fresh, tall, clover outside of the round pen. I also had an apple in my pocket and she was thrilled to eat it. I hosed her legs off and gave her some bute. I played a lot of friendly all over her body and she liked that. We went back in the barn to sniff the saddle and she was fine. I put a saddle pad on her and rubbed her belly and she was okay. Clare and I also simulated cinching and once again, she was fine. We let her loose with Fosse and Whiskey and sat out in the paddock. The three about mugged us for treats and hung out. Lola seemed no worse for wear despite this harrowing experience. Clare and I wonder if she did not associate us with the experience and perhaps maybe not even the saddle. We wonder if Lola made a connection with her bucking causing this incident? What is this horse thinking? HMMM, how interesting.

A few thoughts Clare and I came away with from this experience were the following:

-Lola was looking for help and came to me when she was no longer blinded by fear and is thus, primarily sensible.
-Lola is a short horse, she is a round horse, and her buck is not that big.
-English girths are easier to remove than western cinches in an emergency.
-Prior and proper preparation for such a catastrophe is a good idea---simulate this problem because saddles can slip at anytime, especially on round horses.
-Lola should be desensitized using the flank rope exercise, by dragging things underneath her (IE hay bags, bags with cans, the small barrels), play with more straddling over large logs and barrels,lots of friendly game under her belly.

During the evening, Clare and I reviewed Lola's horsenality report and identified several things to be aware of. A few important points are that I need to give her time to respond to phase one, be creative, and not to micromanage her. I believe that over the weekend when I was playing with her (with Clare here) I was more direct line than normal, pushy, and perhaps, this affected her ability to respond to me in the round pen prior to the saddle slipping. Had we been more in harmony, she may have reacted differently. That said, we should be prepared for this kind of issue and I need to help her be calm in a dire situation.

So, as you can see, Clare, Lola, and I had quite a day full of successes, failures, and learning opportunities. Be safe and savvy with your horse, prepare for the worst and hope for the best. I felt terribly guilty about this accident but Clare reminded me that Lola hadn't held any grudge and we all learned a great deal despite the circumstances. I learned what I need to work on, what saddles my horses need, and that my horse trusts me and asked for help once she was back to her thinking state of mind. Lola learned that measuring saddles was fun (she was really having a good time biting my pencil and stealing my hair scrunchy), that perhaps that bucking was not a good idea, and that I would help her if she was in danger.

There is a lot more to consider but frankly, I need more time to digest it all. I hope you never find yourself in this situation becuase it is terrifying for everyone, horse and human.


Parelli Central said...

Hi Michelle, Thank you so much for sharing your experience! I thought this was an excellent blog. Things happen - sometimes because we didn't evaluate things right, sometimes to no fault of our own - learning from this incident, reevaluating and taking it on as a learning experience is a superb way to grow and learn. I'm glad you, Clare and Lola are ok! Keep up the good play :-)

Petra Christensen
1Star Parelli Junior Instructor

Michelle AKA arabhorselover1 said...

Thanks, Petra. It was difficult to talk about but, I think honesty and transparency may help someone else! :)


Nikey said...

Interesting............love to read.
Thank's for sharing with us


Nikey Maniz
Wire Fencing

Naturally Gaited said...

Hey Michelle -

I think that this is a great summary of the events of the day and our conclusions. All's well and ends well, right? ;-)

We had a wonderful visit with you guys. Now, we have to get started planning next year's visit. Perhaps we could meet up at a clinic in PA or camp with Lola & Guinness!!


inchwormwv said...

Hey Michelle, Sam A, the instructor of our driving clinic said one of the first things he does with horses when starting them is "sacking out". I know he is not Parelli, but his horses, who he farms with and has had since they were weaned, are calm, friendly and reliable. He basically described "sacking out" as the friendly game with plastic bags, tarps, grain sacks, bags tied on sticks etc. Even though I can helicopter the carrot stick and string over Augie's head at Liberty from zone 5 - he is surprisingly jumpy at new things, and I found when I looked that there were some big holes in our friendly game. Basically, I am able to get Augie to be very calm and then play extreme friendly, but we lack experience getting calm when his energy and life are "up". Hope this is of benefit - and really glad Lola and you and Clare are all fine!

Michelle AKA arabhorselover1 said...


I agree with you, playing nore friendly and extreme friendly with the stranger things is really a good plan. Especially if I intend on taking my horse anywhere! it is on my to-do list!


Parelli Central said...

Michelle, playing friendly game is a great plan. A lot of times horses stand still, but they are not calm. Look for blinking, soft eyes, relaxed neck and overall relaxed body...You might try to play friendly game while your horse is in motion and see whether she can maintain rhythm, relaxation and contact.
Let me know whether this idea helped!

Petra Christensen
1Star Parelli Junior Instructor

Michelle AKA arabhorselover1 said...

Petra--I like your idea. How would you recommend I play friendly while mounted? I often rub the withers and comb the reins. I also give scratches while mounted (but usually when the horse is not in motion) all over on the horse's face, ears, neck, etc.