Monday, January 31, 2011

It's coming...

Until recently, I owned the *perfect* breastplate. All flat leather, lots of adjustability, no loose, flapping ends, and not an overwhelming width. It was perfect.
And then it broke.
Now, I knew that my *perfect* breastplate was on its last legs - I'd had the damn thing for about 10 years, and it was on its way downhill when I got - so I had been searching for a replacement as perfect as the original.
Analysis: Perfect replacement does not exist.
There is a company called Bit of Britain. They cater mostly to eventers. (Come to the Dark Side... we have cookies.) Their in-house line of leather goods is called "Nunn Finer." I like Nunn Finer products. They are well-made, quality products that appeal to those who want workmanlike items that will last forever with proper care.
There is an Amish harness shop called Bartville Harness Shop in Middle-of-Nowhere, Pennsylvania. They cater mostly to people who want good quality, workmanlike leather goods. They sell their items at about half the cost of a normal retailer. Oh, and they make many of the Nunn Finer products for Bit of Britain.
As you may or may not know, The Boyfriend lives in the Bronx (yes, New York). I sometimes go to visit him. It turns out that Middle-of-Nowhere, PA is about 2.5 hours from the Bronx.
I like road trips.
Moral of the story: I now have a perfect replacement for the *perfect* breastplate being made by the Amish, to my specifications, for me. And it is going to cost me less money than purchasing an imperfect replacement at a normal retailer would. Even with the cost of gas for the roadtrip. YAY!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Lessons Day!

Since I've decided that Sparky needs more, uh, exposure to various kinds of riders, and because I had Monday off work, it was decided that Jen and I were going to take our horses to her barn of employment so the Sparkplug could be used in one of her lessons she teaches for young people who are generally of the teenage persuasion. Jen was also thinking that riding her OTTB, Tiki, in a lesson with Jen's Boss-Lady would also be a good idea (See blog here: ). I had planned on just watching, but somehow I ended up getting dragged into it, too... so I figure, well, if I'm going to lesson on one horse, why not two? So it was decided to also take Kelly, a young SWB mare I've been riding for a friend, in order to take a lesson on her, too.

After a slightly mad rush to load, trailer, unload, and prepare horses, I hopped up on the Sparkplug. Jen and I rode in our lesson, and, once complete, I rode Kelly. Oh, boy, was she hot that day. The lessons were nothing earth-shattering: W-T-C and jumping through a gymnastic. Jen's Boss-Lady had a faboulous analogy about the contact we should keep with our leg: it's like holding an egg. You want the contact to be supportive enough that the egg doesn't fall, but you don't want so much that the egg cracks. Nobody wants raw egg on their pants, especially their Tailored Sportsmans. Jen's Boss-Lady also introduced to me "The Ear Game." If your horse twitches an ear in response to something you do, you have their attention. If there is no ear twitch, you're pretty much background noise, and it's time to do something to get their attention back on you. Fabulous trick. Overall, Sparky was a very good boy; Kelly was as good as she could be, given her mood. Jen's Boss-Lady said the best thing I can do for her is to make her uncomplicated, and work towards keeping all her parts working together as one unit.

I've decided this about lessons (especially when taking a lesson with someone from whom you don't frequently): It's not about taking EVERYTHING to heart; it's about taking the bits and pieces that help you NOW, applying them, and filing away the rest for future reference. It was very interesting to hear another person's opinion on my overall equitation, both good and "needs improvement"... I was actually complimented on my upper body over fences, which has never happened before (so it very well may have been a fluke!). It was also pointed out to me that I tend to put my horses *too much* on the rail, which forces their (substansial) hind ends off the track. Hmmm... see, this is why eyes on the ground are good. I will be keeping this in mind.

After riding two horses I know well, the obvious next thing to do is to ride a horse I've never before ridden in yet another lesson, this time with Jen's students. The point was to either a) Be a good example, or B) Serve as a terrible warning. So I did this in the same lesson in which one of Jen's students-of-the-teenage-persuasion rode Sparky. Again, it went well overall. I think I managed to not be a terrible warning, and Sparky mostly behaved himself. As he started to get tired near the end, he did pop in a buck that sent his student-of-the-teenage-persuasion over his shoulder... but she really should have been sitting up better. ;-) She was good-natured about it (else I wouldn't have mentioned it), saying that she *did* need that as a reminder to sit up.

The big take-away messages of the day were the egg analogy and The Ear Game. Sparky got in some good experience being ridden by a rider who isn't me. Kelly got some good experience in being off her native lands. Quite nicely (as in a nice surprise type nicely, not that I was told it in a nice fashion - the fashion was a little more matter-of-fact, rather than "oh, let me fawn on you"), I was told that I was a good rider for these green horses. I guess, sometimes, having more guts than brains works out.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

And the hunt begins...

It all started innocently enough just before Christmas. We got a "new" saddle in at the store (I work at a consignment tack store): a Collegiate Diploma Convertible. As sort of an impulse, I took it home to try out on my horses, with the thought that it could potentially be a second saddle (not that I can ride two horses at once, but there have been times that having a second saddle would have been a good thing!) Well, so much for that innocent whim. The saddle (which I had thought would be far too narrow) actually fit my horses much better than I expected; as for me, I felt much better balanced, and I wasn't ending up in a chair seat on Star (always a challenge, due to her conformation). The fit is still not quite ideal for my horses, but much better than my current saddle. It was really the kick in the pants that I needed to get moving with finding a new saddle.

“Well, it sounds like you just did!” you say. Weeeell… no. The problem is this: I'm a tack snob, in the sense that I prefer better-quality tack because it wears better and lasts longer. There were also some structural features of the Collegiate (especially when changing the gullet) with which I was not thrilled, and to be honest, though the saddle was much better than my current saddle, it still wasn’t a perfect fit for me OR my horses. So I returned the Collegiate.

After talking with the owner of the consignment tack store where I work on Saturdays, she suggested I try the County Symmetry that we had in. So after I got back from Christmas, I did. And it was saddle LOVE. Comfortable, balanced, fit horses well, fit me well - I was able to do an auto release over a 3' vertical, and I've never been able to do that over anything bigger than 2'6" before (and even that might be a stretch). Problem: $2000 for a used, discontinued model. I can’t justify that kind of money right now. So back it went.

However, I am now out a saddle, because I cannot, in good conscience, put my old saddle back on my horses' backs. *Sigh*

So I start trolling eBay. Lo and behold, I find a used County Symmetry that was going to go for a good price, so I put in my bid.

And thus goes the Master Saddle Procurement Plan:
Plan A: Win the Symmetry off eBay

Sounds great, right? It was. Until I got outbid.

So the Master Saddle Procurement Plan changed to something like this:
Plan B: Buy the Collegiate for now and us the extra money to participate in the Greg Best clinic being held at a nearby farm
Plan C: Buy the Collegiate for now and continue saving money to eventually purchase a nicer, higher-end saddle.

As much as I would have loved to have participated in the Greg Best clinic, I chose to go with Plan C. To get the most from the clinic, I would have wanted to participate all three days, and two things prevent me from doing so. #1) Having to take a day off work doesn’t work so well when an individual has no available vacation time, and #2) The clinic is the same weekend as the IEA show. Jen, my honorary big sister, usually uses Star to meet her team’s horse quota for IEA shows, and I couldn’t just say, “Nope, not available, sorry.” (Well, I could, but I would have felt bad).

So I now own a Collegiate Convertible Diploma – the very same saddle that started all this.

But the hunt continues…