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).
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).