Friday, January 25, 2013

In which I am a skeptic

It’s hard to believe that it was only a year ago that I posted pictures of the arduous, snowy trek from Walla Walla to PNER convention with Heather.

I actually received the offer for my current job while at convention last year. I read the offer email on my phone in the hotel room and vowed to myself that I would deal with its implications when I got home. And now here I am.

These days, home is much closer to the convention site. From my front door to the Embassy Suites Portland Airport is 54 minutes in light traffic, so I opted not to stay at the convention hotel. Instead, Heather stayed at my house and we commuted to convention each morning.

While not nearly as “star-studded” as in years past, this year’s convention had a decent mix of speakers. Heather pointed out that this year overlapped a lot with last year in terms of topics—horse health, horse nutrition, trailer maintenance. This year had a little more discussion of the woo-woo new age holistic treatments, which I actually found valuable in terms of getting a clearer view of why someone might choose to use them. I remember a couple years ago I felt pretty “out there” when I sought out a bodyworker for Otto. :) These days, bodywork is basically old hat. Now were talking about reiki and cupping and nonsense like that.

This year, I found myself tuning out the discussion of the five “elements” that horses can be until I started thinking of them as personality descriptors and not necessarily as medically relevant. Same when we are talking about energy meridians and acupuncture. I don’t believe in Qi in the way that it is explained spiritually, but I can absolutely see how using conductive needles to influence the chemical/electrical impulses of the body could be useful. In eastern medicine, I find that if you strip out the spirituality, you’re left with certain facts that have a biological basis. On that basis, I’m willing to at least listen.

So anyway, that stuff was interesting (if not useful) and so was the thermal imaging presentation.

I think if I had any input into the kind of speakers we have next year, I would try to cover more horsemanship topics. This can be hard to do in a lecture hall, but I think that more talk about the biomechanics, balance, health and nutrition of the rider would be very helpful, much like we had with Deb Bennett and Donna Snyder-Smith three years ago. Or perhaps, if we are trying to get a more holistic approach, get someone with some expertise to talk about proper rider stretching, chiro, yoga, and the like. Or someone who is a trainer/coach to talk about working through emotional issues like lack of confidence and lack of motivation—things I think most riders face from time to time.  The last couple conventions have been very horse-centric. Why not talk more about the rider’s part in it? (As someone who has owned a very talented horse and still not excelled, I’m pretty sure the horse is only half—or less—of the winning equation.) 

We had a changing of the guard at the convention this year, so I can't wait to see what our new organizers will come up with—even if it is three more equine nutritionists! 

As always, the highlight of convention for me was the used tack sale. I’m a huge sucker for cheap tack and equipment, so it is probably for the best that this only comes around once a year. The best part was that I was able to sell my old Trailmaster for the price I wanted, which offset some of the pain of buying the new one. I also picked up two sets of saddle bags to tinker with for only $15. I figure I can pick my favorite and bring the others back to resell next year!

Can you believe it was only $15 for both of these? It almost felt like stealing.

My favorite find was courtesy of Carlene, though. She sent an email before convention saying that she was cleaning out several years of barn supplies and wanted to know if anyone had any specific requests. So now I am the proud owner of a bale bag with wheels. I’ll be using it to protect my expensive bales of weed-free hay. And because it has wheels, I can just roll it up into the empty side of the trailer. It’ll save a lot of mess in the back of my truck, too.
Who knew something so big and ugly could make me so happy? (See also: Blue when I first bought him.)
So, all in all, another great PNER convention. It was fun to see everybody and get a little jolt of motivation for the coming season.Now if only it would stop raining so I can get out and ride!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Hoof update

While we were sharing registration table duty at the PNER convention, [Blog of] Becky asked how the whole barefoot thing is going. This was yet another friendly reminder that I used to be a blogger on such topics. (Who, me? Blogging? Maybe I should start doing that again...)

So, here’s a hoof update. 

It is hard to overstate the vast improvement that Blue’s feet have made in such a short period. They look great. They look stupidly, wonderfully, absurdly great compared to how they looked at the end of ride season. They look like some other horse’s feet were transplanted onto Blue’s big, fat, roan body.

My farrier came on Tuesday and had very little to do. I always feel bad because it is a pretty long trip for him to come all the way out to do 10 minutes of work and only get $45 for his trouble. (Farriers are not getting rich.)

He and I had one of those sort of vague conversations similar to conversations I have with the woman who does my hair.

Me: I think it looks pretty good. I guess time will tell how it grows out.

Professional person: Yep. Everything looks fine. I just took off a little to clean up the ends. It looks healthy.

Me: Well, let’s talk about this more in the spring. We’ll see where things stand in April and go from there.

Professional person: OK.

I think the most encouraging thing about the conversation we had was that he sort of alluded to *not* putting shoes on in the spring. I’m very much on the fence about where to go from here, whether I want to give boots another chance or if I’m going to go back to shoes and just get them reset more often to keep the toe in check. There would be major advantages and disadvantages to both. But what is encouraging is that my farrier doesn’t seem eager to push me one way or the other. I am going to ask him for an honest opinion as we get closer to the time when foot protection will matter, but in the meantime, I like that he is treating this winter experiment as something that might possibly turn into a long-term thing. 

Dec. 5

Dec. 14

Dec. 21

Jan. 23
We still have a ways to go to get the heel to come down, but I'm happy with the overall direction things are going. The farrier says that the more he is moving around barefoot, the more contact his frog will have with the ground and the more his heels will grow to compensate. Here's hoping.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

French lessons

I have not been blogging  because of all the usual reasons people stop blogging: 1) No interesting information to impart. 2) Lack of photographic evidence. 3) Indecision. 4) Malaise? Millieu? Ennui? Contretemps? (Cliché?!)

Today I’ll talk about the saddle. After much waiting, I was recently rewarded with a 17” demo Specialized Eurolight. This demo was built specifically for me, which made it less of a demo and more of a…. hmmm… je ne sais quoi. I guess I would call it a custom order with an extra-lenient return policy. Anyway, Carol at Lost Juniper did all the legwork for me because Specialized is notorious for their lax customer service. I tried to contact them a few times on my own, then gave up and did as Aarene suggested in Endurance Granny's comments! 

The saddle weighs almost nothing. I handed it—fully rigged with pad and all—to Sarah just to brag on it. I was rewarded with an epithet that I will not repeat here, because this is a family blog.

It also fit Blue beautifully right out of the box (it came pre-shimmed based on the measurements I sent). I might do a little fine-tuning to push me off the dominant diagonal and allow for his huge left shoulder, but the basic fit was spot-on. I could see right away that the design of the tree is a little different from the ancient Trailmaster that I had. The panels come down a little lower so the bearing surface of the saddle is in a slightly different space.

As soon as I sat in it, I could feel that that twist was narrower and the rise in the seat was flatter. It didn’t feel a lot bigger than my 16”, really, but depending on where I put the tape, it really is at least an inch bigger in the seat, maybe two. The space for my big, fat thighs is where I really notice it. That space is quite a bit wider so my thigh isn’t crammed against the pommel or the cantle. 

Other things I noticed: the construction of the 2012 Specialized looks cheap and sloppy compared to the 2000 model. The 2000 leather is thicker and more buttery. The 2012 is stiff (even for a new saddle) and not evenly dyed. The 2000 model uses nails, tacks, grommets and screws. The 2012 uses a lot of staples. All that aside, it is still a more thoughtfully put together saddle than 80 percent of what you’ll buy off the rack at a feed or tack store these days. I would rate my feelings about the saddle as “satisfied” as opposed to “impressed.” But then, we are living in cynical times.

Initially, I was worried about not having a sheepskin for grip (I went with the cheaper plain seat for the demo), but it isn’t an issue. I feel perfectly secure. I immediately liked the two-inch leathers instead of fenders. They give my legs a lot more freedom for cues, but they still feel substantial and not too swingy. I am a little worried that they are going to bruise my shins, though. Is it normal for them to make so much contact with the leg? I am thinking I could put the stirrup turners onto this saddle if I want the leathers to really be perfectly flat. It seems like overkill, but as long as we are making changes in the name of ultimate comfort, why not go a little overboard? 

To be really thorough in my investigation, I took the sheepskin off the old Trailmaster and put the new leathers on it, so I was comparing the two saddles apples to apples. The interesting thing is that the old saddle immediately felt a lot narrower without the sheepskin and the fenders. I know, DUH, Ruth. Of course it feels narrower without two inches of fleece between you and the seat. But the fleece has been such a non-negotiable part of my endurance tack that I hadn’t really factored it in as a vector for pain.

With the sheepskin removed and the leathers subbing in for the fenders, I got a much better feel for what the old Trailmaster was at its most basic. The old saddle was pinching where the back of my thigh/butt met the bottom edge of the cantle, but I hadn’t really noticed it before because the sheepskin was protecting me.

So the question was this: Is getting rid of that pinch worth $1600?

Hello, my name is Ruth, and I am the bourgeoisie. 

I have no real justification. I didn’t buy it to help the economy or because I particularly appreciate Specialized as a corporation. 

I bought it because it was a saddle that fit me and my horse, and there aren’t so many of those out in the world that I’m prepared to risk losing this one. (See also: Why I got married.)

One thing about this particular saddle is that it was put together a little more sloppily than the average. The leather that covers the underside of the tree wasn’t glued on right, so it is sort of wrinkled/bubbled. Anyway, the problem is in a place that no one would ever see it, but I went ahead and emailed the pictures to Carol and asked if Specialized would consider giving me a discount for this obvious factory defect.

They offered me a tiny (tiny!) amount off the base price. I graciously accepted.

And so, once again, money was “saved” through the power of complaining.

Two things I really dislike about this saddle: Staples where my old saddle had nails and the sloppy leatherwork on the tree.

One thing I really like about the saddle: Look how happy my horse is! (And yes, after seeing this photo, I did place it a bit further back the next time I rode.)