Magical Saddle Pads – Part 2

Well, it’s been a few days of riding with the new saddle pad. You can read part one here –

I still feel it’s worth the money (which was a LOT of money). Previously, no matter what I did, my mare would never lower her head below about level with her shoulders at the trot. Now, we’re trotting along and she’d be completely happy to let her lips drag on the ground. I’m not sure I really want that, buy it’s an interesting change that I noticed.

I do think the pad has helped make Ava more comfotable under saddle. She’s less grumpy during tack up. She seems happier to lift her back if I’m not asking for any hard work.

The fleece part is staying nice. It’s dirty now, but even if sweaty I just lay it upside down and it dries out well. Still fluffy and nice.

The negatives are that it did not make me a miracle rider. I still have all the same problems. So, no magical fixes there. Haha.

I rode stirrupless last night and felt much less guilty about my flopping. ūüôā

I definitely would buy this saddle pad again.

Magical Saddle Pads

I splurged last week and ordered a new, super high-tech saddle pad. The impetus behind it was Hilda Gurney really emphasized having more than a simple cotton pad under the saddle with every rider that rode in the clinic. Hilda was saying that even if your saddle fit perfectly, having additional layers to help disperse the riders weight was more comfortable for the horse.

I have some huge guilt complexes about how much I bounce around on Ava’s back. I mean, it REALLY makes me feel bad about being a lard ball and slamming into Ava’s back whenever I lose my balance (often).¬† So the saddle pad was purchased to assuage my guilt (yeah, that’s right… I’m using a dictionary. haha).

Thinline Sheepskin Comfort Dressage Square

I’ll tell ya, I was sweating bullets after I ordered it. I didn’t know if it’d be too bulky under the saddle, or possibly it wouldn’t fit under it at all. I can’t afford to spend this kind of money on a stupid saddle pad. But everyone swears by this brand… Part of me thought it was hype. You know… some people spend hundreds on a stupid pair of jeans just because of a name on the label. I was worried this was the same deal.

From the manufacturers website:

These pads are constructed with Ultra ThinLine sewn on top of the highest quality cotton with medical grade sheepskin under the panels and at the front roll. Underneath the Ultra ThinLine layer is a pocket to insert shims to help with minor saddle fit adjustments. This is one fo the finest ThinLine products we have produced. Increase performance in how horses lift their backs, and all riders will sit closer, quieter, and be able to do more with lighter aids!

* heh. they spelled “of” wrong.

This pad costs a ton and I was really worried I’d just thrown away a couple hundred dollars. I don’t have the kind of income to throw away that kind of money.¬† Heck, I never spend more than $30 on a pair of jeans.

Anyway, the pad was delivered Thursday and the tag on the pad says, “money back guarantee that you and your horse will see improved performance and communication”. I’m like, “Yeah, right.”¬†¬† * roll eyes *¬† As though my horse is going to magically become a super dressage star simply because of a saddle pad.

I am such a pessimist.

Yesterday was the first day I tried it on my mare. It looked bulkier than I’m used to seeing, but overall fit decent under the saddle. I jumped on Ava and as soon as I got my bum in the saddle I noticed that it had leveled my saddle out better. I wasn’t tipped forward like I had been. The seat was more level. So that was a really good thing. And strangely, with the slightly added height of the pad, it felt like Ava was narrower. Which was an awesome and magical thing because she’s so darn wide I have a hard time getting my legs wrapped around her. But with this pad on it felt like my legs just hung straight down along her sides. I didn’t have to fight and wiggle my legs around to get them to hang beneath me!! There wasn’t any bulk under my leg like I feared there’d be, and I actually DID feel like my leg hung closer to the horse. It was like little angels were singing above me… that’s how awesome it felt.

The true test of the pad would be whether Ava liked it and whether I slipped to the right (worse than I normally do).

I asked Ava to trot off, and Ava immediately pinned her ears back and snaked her neck around. She looked like she HATED whatever was on her back. I started getting a little worried she was going to buck. At this point I’m thinking, “Oh, great. Super expensive pad and it’s worthless. Awesome.”

I was trying to puzzle out Ava’s behavior and whether it was the pad, or the fact that I had worked her really hard the day before. We’ve been working muscles she’s not used to working. It could just be she’s sore and grumpy. So I decided to give her two 20m circles at the trot and if the behavior stayed the same, or worsened, then I’d assume the addition of the pad was hurting her back.

Before we’d even gotten half way around the first circle her ears were pricked forward and she was humming along smoothly. In fact, the longer we trotted, the bigger and looser the trot got. Which was neat. She didn’t seem in pain or discomfort.

We tried some canter with a focus on getting her to stretch over her back and she really stretched this time. It felt neat. When I asked her to rebalance and drop into a trot she did so engaged and balanced, and then pushed directly in to a big, energetic trot.

That’s all we did yesterday as far as ring work. We went for a short walk around the property after that and called it a day. I’m sure she was a little sore from Thursday’s ride, so something easy and more interesting to her was called for.

I gave her a couple of apples before turning her back out, and let her graze on the better grass outside of her pasture for a long time.

Today I’ll do a full test of the saddle pad with some real work. I’m encouraged though. It did seem to make Ava more comfortable and better able to use her back. And I didn’t feel like I was continuously sliding off the right of her. It was easier to stay balanced because the saddle was sitting more level and my legs were hanging correctly around her. And my aids did seem to be more effective because the padding under my calves was minimal (my other saddle pads are bulky and get in my way a lot).

So I’m not quite ready to say it’s a miracle pad, but from what little I rode with it yesterday… I’m very hopeful. At the very least, maybe I can feel just a little less guilt ridden after flopping around like a sack of potatoes on Ava’s back (I seriously have a complex about this).


Training Update for April

If you subscribe to my YouTube video or Google+ then you’ve probably already seen this, but I’d like to put down in writing where we’re still having problems and my thoughts on it.

April 20, 2014 Training Update:

The music stops at 1:48, so either mute the volume or wait it out.

Our half-passes suck! Definitely not enough bend, not enough forward, not enough collection. The swing just isn’t there. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to identify the HP we were doing as a HP (so if you don’t see one, then it’s the crappy riding and not your eye).

Our lengthens at least show a bit of lengthening now. It’s not much, but compared to the absolutely NO lengthening we were getting at this time last year… it’s much improved.¬† I think it’s an okay lengthen for a First level horse, but it’s not a good medium trot for a Second Level horse. We still need a lot of work on that. More uphill balance, more suspension in the stride, more oomphf from behind with more lift in her shoulders. We’re going to really get dinged for this in the tests if I don’t figure out how to fix it.

Our walk pirouettes (55 seconds into the video) were kind of sloppy, but I really liked how active she was behind. I think she had good bend in the pirouette, and the rhythm stayed pretty close to her regular walk rhythm (didn’t die out or lose energy). Every time I finish a walk pirouette I pat Ava and let the reins out, then I’m like, “Hey, let’s do another one right now… wait, not right here… here… nope, nope…. maybe more toward the center.” I seriously need to get more definite about what I’m doing and where.

My shoulder-in’s sucked. I fixed them on the next ride. I didn’t have her shoulders over enough, she wasn’t really on the outside rein, and the connection was bad. Which completely explains why the half-passes were so terrible, but for some reason during the ride I couldn’t figure it out. Isn’t that how it always goes?

I still, for the life of me, cannot ride a 10m circle. The horse is completely capable of it. If I’m yelled at for it then I can do a semi-nice one. For some reason I always misjudge how much I need to turn. I really have to wheel her around the inside leg as soon as I start the turn off the rail, but I don’t start thinking of it until I get to the quarter line and then it’s too late.

And the ‘down the center line’ at 3:21. We were all over the place. She keeps sneaking out the right side.¬† And she got crooked (butt was right). I need to practice those more. I never quite know how to fix it though. I want to practice them perfectly, but it’s always the same issue (she slides out the right). Even though I know she’s going to do it and I’m on guard for it, she still gets enough wiggle in to mess up the straight line. If I get too aggressive about keeping her from sliding right, then we go careening left. Straight lines are HARD!

Canter wasn’t that great. She was behind the leg. She broke at 4:07. I watched a video on how to keep the horse in front of the leg (called Keeping the Power), and the lady was saying to do a lengthen/medium canter every other letter then back to collected canter in order to teach the horse to stay hot off the leg. Also, she was saying that if you focused on keeping that same energy in the collected canter that you had in the medium then you’ll get a bigger jump up (more power).¬† I’m going to try that the next ride and see if I can get it to work on Ava. You’d have to have the horse really listening to the seat and straight, so it’s not really going to be as simple as the lady made it seem.

The canter/walk transition on the right lead is really getting rather nice. She’s still too much on the forehand. We did get one really nice one to the right. The left lead canter to walk is a hot mess.

We still have a lot of work to do before I feel comfortable calling her a Second Level horse. At this point, she should be able to do nice canter/walk transitions on both leads. We aren’t there yet, so she’s still basically a First Level horse with moments of Second level collection.

Sometimes this horse really frustrates me. She goes over and above on finding ways to avoid using her bum. I have to keep jumping between tricking her into using it or threatening her to use it. This has got to be the most uncoordinated, unbalanced, least naturally engaged horse I’ve ever ridden in my life. To be honest, every little bit of engagement we’ve got at this point has been an extremely hard fought battle to get.¬† I rode a friends horse a couple weeks ago and even when it was on the forehand it had more natural engagement then my horse has. Sometimes I worry that I’m asking too much of Ava… but she keeps trying, and honestly she seems to enjoy the challenge of dressage. She never quits trying… so I’ll stick with it until she says she’s had enough I guess.


I made a playlist for 2014 training videos called “Training Updates 2014”. It only has 3 videos in it, but I’m hoping to get one every month so I can see a progression over the year. It’s never as easy at it sounds though.

USDF Adult Clinic

I audited the first day of the USDF Adult Clinic, featuring Hilda Gurney. That was interesting.¬† I drove an hour and a half each way, and paid $45 dollars to watch this clinic…

Warning: This post is depressing and relatively negative. So, you may want to skip it. I promise to be more optimistic and upbeat on the next post.

In order to ride in the USDF Adult Clinics you have to go through a selection process. You send in a video of you demonstrating the movements of the level you are claiming you’re at, along with instructor references, a written statement from your trainer describing the riders abilities and history, and a list of clinicians you’ve ridden with in the past, PLUS scores earned at what competitions. The selection committee is supposed to have three different people view the video submissions and pick the top riders. The ones they all agree on get selected for the clinic. There’s a long 2 page document detailing the selection process and guidelines for it. It’s supposed to be very thorough to ensure that the riders are capable enough to demonstrate an independent seat, can give correct aids, and can incorporate the instruction into the riding immediately so that the auditor can see the difference put into practice right then.

What really happened… and leave it to my region to end up with this… smh.

Before we even start watching anyone ride, they give us a hand out on basics for horse and rider. You know, like what is rhythm, what is balance, what the basics of dressage are and the corresponding pyramid levels.

The first lady is riding a horse she had been training for the past two years because she “wanted to bring her along correctly” and she “wasn’t rushing the training”.¬† In reality, the horse wouldn’t accept contact with the bit, curled under when the reins were used, traveled heavily on her forehand, and was so unbalanced at the canter that Hilda expressed concern for the riders safety (strongly expressed concern).¬† On the plus side, we got to watch Hilda transform this horse into moderately level balance at the end of a 45 minute session. The quality of the gaits improved, the contact improved (not great, but at least was there more than it wasn’t), and the horse could make it once around the ring at the canter without looking like she was going to skid sideways and fall down. So that was nice…

The second rider rode a plain jane looking draft cross. If you saw it in a field you’d never give it a second glance as a dressage prospect. As introduction, the lady told us she’s riding Second. The lady warmed up the horse, and the draft drug itself around on the forehand with the most pathetic gaits. The lesson started and the rider was yanking and jerking the bit. Hilda kept asking her to shorten her inside rein, and every time Hilda asked, the lady jerked her hand backward or downward hard. Finally Hilda stops the woman and reams her out for it (Thank God). The lady finally stops yanking after the little “come to Jesus” moment Hilda has with her, and Hilda gets the lady to shorten her reins and actually start riding the horse. The transformation was amazing! That horse could really MOVE. Wow! I bet if he were ridden correctly consistently he’d have some serious suspension in his trot. His canter was to die for once he was off the forehand. Absolutely beautiful horse that has serious dressage potential, assuming the rider can learn how to ride.

Hilda refers to the hand out and specifically goes over what independent seat means and how important it is… again.

The third horse and rider come out. This one is a professional rider. I was really looking forward to seeing some good riding (finally). She was on a really cute, well-built, long-legged QH that she’d had since he was super young. The rider told us that she’d done all his training. He was 14 now and competing at Third (or Fourth, I can’t remember now). The minute they start the lesson, horse is dragging itself around on the forehand really badly, absolutely no suspension in any of the gaits (not even the canter). Not only that, but the rider is seriously sawing on the horse’s mouth. I don’t think Hilda saw that while the horse was warming up because Hilda was facing us trying to explain to one auditor why having the head too low was causing the draft so many problems. Hilda starts the lesson with the pro rider and is working on getting the horse more up in front, more forward, and carrying itself more correctly. She’s trying to convey the concept of softening the poll to the rider and is referring to the horse’s head/neck as “a broomstick” because it’s so stiff. This is when the rider decides to saw on her horse’s mouth right in front of Hilda. Who immediately gave a tongue lashing to the lady. After that the lesson went pretty well as the lady gradually was able to get the horse more engaged and moving forward correctly. Hilda also helped by getting the horse straighter (it looked like a crab cantering), and getting the withers up so that the hind end had some place to go (instead of sideways).

Most of the riders look about in tears at the end of the lesson. It was hard to feel sorry for the ones yanking and sawing on mouths though.


I went outside for most of the fourth rider so I could try and warm up some. Jogging in place looks really stupid in that setting. I made a note to try and not care what others thought.


I was getting pretty disillusioned with the whole clinic at this point, and was contemplating leaving. It was such a long drive and a ton of money in gas and fee’s that I felt like I needed to stay a little longer.

After lunch it starts off with a well built, lovely warmblood and a lady who doesn’t take lessons. That session ends with Hilda strongly encouraging the lady to start taking lessons. I think the lady was near tears. Then another lady with her horse decked out with a double, who’s horse four beat cantered while heavily on the forehand. Hilda immediately had her put a plain snaffle bridle on the horse and then worked on getting them off the forehand and moving forward again. The transformation in the quality of gaits was amazing from before and after. Hilda talked about how introducing the double too soon can really wreck a horse, but she let the lady know that her horse wasn’t beyond repair. I think that lady left near tears too.

Finally, toward the end of the day there were two riders that came out with well trained horses. Both could ride too. It was beautiful to watch them ride, and see how they improved during the lesson. You could tell the basics were there and at that point it came down to the rider having to be more conscious about their body positioning and weight, and expecting more perfection from the horse (instead of allowing an imperfect transition, to make it perfect). With those two riders we were able to get into half-steps, flying changes, and tempi’s. Hilda stressed control after “opening Pandora’s box” of flying changes.¬† Good to know.

All in all, I’m glad I went. I learned enough to make it worthwhile, I enjoyed my time there, and I got to meet Hilda in person! I tried to take notes, but it was so cold most of the day that the ink in my pen kept freezing. And… did I mention I got to meet Hilda Gurney!! And she is actually a super nice, friendly, person IN person.¬† So, all in all, I’m glad I went.

No pics as that was against the rules. I would’ve like to have taken some video of before/after on some of the horses, and edit it to show the transformations.

Side note: If I meet one more middle aged woman that just has to ask Hilda a question so that said lady can then talk about her own life for the next 20 minutes… I’m probably going to kick that lady in the shins. Just saying… We’re all glad you came to the clinic to learn, but we’re not here to talk about you. You’d learn more if you closed your mouth and opened your ears.


Last thing… I decided not submit an entry for the clinic because I was so concerned that my riding and my horse’s training were not good enough.¬† I thought it was going to be¬† super star riders, with perfect hands and perfect seats, on the best trained horses you’ve ever witnessed. That’s how I imagined it. So at least now, I won’t have any¬†misgivings about sending in an app for it in the future. I can’t be any worse than the worst of what I saw.

p.s. I am extremely glad that the riders in this clinic put themselves out there and did this. Not only so the auditors could learn, but so that they could be better riders/trainers. Anyone who’s willing to lay it all out for the whole world to see gets a kudo’s in my book. I have the highest respect for them for riding in that clinic. I didn’t have the cojones to do it.

You wear your classical dressage like a Prada bag

I’m a bit annoyed by the “OMG, it’s classical” crowd. I’m all for using whatever training works best for you and your horse, but when the label means more than the actual application then I start to question the driving force behind it. It starts to sound a bit more like “My handbag is Prada”, then an actual understanding of the training itself.

I know Jane goes to all the classical trainer clinics in the area. She only goes to classical dressage trainers. Jane is excited about going to a certain classical trainer’s clinic this year.¬† Jane explains how great this guy is because he’s, ahem, classical. I look up the trainer to find that he trained with a certain trainer who I took clinics from previously (lets call her Lisa). Lisa trained with Nuno Oliveria. You really can’t get more classical than that. However Jane refused to clinic with Lisa because Lisa did not advertise herself as “Classical”.¬† Jane’s newest classical trainer does label himself classical. Ergo, he’s classical while the lady that trained with the father of classical dressage is not classical.

Then another lady went on and on about how a certain classical trainer trained with Carl Hester. OMG. Carl Hester… I was impressed. But then I found out this meant the Classical Trainer rode in two clinics with Carl Hester. I didn’t know we counted clinics as “trained with”? Is that what we do now? Can I list every clinician I’ve ever ridden under for 45 minutes as “I trained with..”? Did my 45 minutes of riding actually imbue so much direct knowledge that I am suddenly a master of what that trainer had to teach? Somehow I doubt that.

Side Note: This also makes me question all the other “trained with” claims that were made by riders or trainers. Did you really train weekly/monthly with that person, or are you saying you rode for less than an hour with that person once or twice in your lifetime? It’s not really the same, is it?

Anyway, there was a post about classical dressage on a facebook group I’m in. I asked which theories of classical dressage differed significantly from competitive dressage. Most of the replies were poorly spelled insults that didn’t make much sense. I did get one good response, but in essence it said that if you rode well then you were a classical rider and if you rode poorly then you were a competitive rider. It’s nice to know that every rider that claims he/she is classical is a thousand times the rider a competitive rider is. However, since classical riders don’t compete, and never share video of their riding, then all claims of superb horsemanship by them must be taken at face value.¬† Which makes us competitive riders idiots.

You know why I love Because trainers can’t claim to be expert FEI level trainers without proof anymore. It’s our one defense against the¬†Nick Peronace‘s of the world. But with many classical riders/trainers they’ve hidden their riding so completely that it is impossible to verify or refute their claim that they are excellent riders/trainers.

There are just as many bad apples under the umbrella of Classical Dressage as there are in Competitive Dressage, but at least in competitive dressage they shine a big bright light on that crap for all to see.

I think from now on I’ll give the die hard classical dressage folks a wide berth. They seem to be treading the path of the Parellisits.