As it was, implausibly, heading for 3 months since we got the Bates saddle it was time to book in for another check of the fit. Which meant time to try to match my schedule to a fellow livery’s (as well as the saddle fitter’s) in order to share the substantial mileage and call out fees. This was achieved, although not without some stress, and I spent a week or so with my fingers crossed because I’d booked the saddle fit but my boss was off so I couldn’t book the leave I needed to take on the day of the appointment.
But my manager returned and had no issue with me taking the leave. Great. But to add another layer of complication we also needed to see the equine dentist who by coincidence asked if she could do his teeth on that particular day. Err… I don’t know. A couple of conversations with the saddle fitter later I still didn’t know. They were sending two fitters out to us and weren’t sure if they’d want to fit us in parallel or consecutively. The dentist was committed to come out to us around lunchtime on that day to see another horse so we decided we’d wait and see. If Drifter and I were busy when she wanted to do us we’d just have to arrange another date. She is local and used to work as a groom on our yard so she doesn’t change a call out fee, which is pleasant.
So the day came round and I still didn’t know whether we should be ready to be fitted at 10.30 or at 12, and whether we would be seeing the dentist afterwards or not. I turned up just before 10.30 prepared to wait around a lot. I took my crochet with me. Of course by the time I got there it was raining again so the idea of sitting on the yard crocheting was less appealing than it might have been!
I was pleased to find that they were happy to do the fittings at the same time so I wouldn’t have to wait and we should be done by the time the dentist arrived. Excellent.
I was eager to see how the new measurements of the curves of his back would compare to those from last time we saw the saddle fitter. I feel that his musculature has changed (for the better) since we last saw her but I wanted to see if she agreed, and to match those lines against each other to see what’s changed. Drifter was less eager. In fact it transpired that he was in a bad mood. Luckily he is a good boy even when he’s not at his most cooperative, so we didn’t have any issues getting the measurements, but his expression made it clear that he was not pleased by the process (just wait until you see the dentist, I thought, then you’ll have something to look upset about!)
I was fascinated to see that he has indeed made good progress with evening up the muscling over his shoulders. The asymmetry is much less pronounced. Also revealed, which I had not expected, is that he has lost some fat in that area. It was not enough to necessitate a change of gullet width, but it was enough that the saddle was sitting lower at the front than it ought to (I thought I was just forgetting to sit up straight, but it turns out it was the saddle not helping me as much as it did before).
So we headed off to the school for a spin in it, so she could see it in action, with the promise of alterations to come.
Drifter was not in the mood. A soft, supple, yielding and submissive horse I did not have. To be honest, I never have that, but I can usually work in that direction. He was feeling decidedly obstructive. I found this unhelpful! It is not easy to feel if the saddle is straight when the horse is too grumpy to go in a straight line without constant discussion about it, and is tense and erratic to ride.
The fitter concurred with what I had felt over the last few weeks: the extra 4mm pads that she put in the right hand side were now not needed and were pushing the saddle over to the left. I still find it miraculous how much of a difference sitting 4mm makes. Additionally we had the girth straps attached at different sites on each side to compensate for his tendency to push it round if anchored equally.
The Bates was in its element again. First she adjusted the anchor points on the girth. We had a ride. To be honest it felt awkward. Drifter was arguing about everything, I couldn’t seem to press the right buttons and it was just, well, disappointing. But this was only the beginning.
She headed out to the van with it while Drifter huffed.
Him: The saddle’s off, so my work is done. I want to go back to my haynet.
Me: No. You are not done, which is why your flash is still done up. You will stay here. In order to keep your brain engaged we will do in-hand walk/halt transitions until you are listening to me.
Him: I will not listen.
Me: Then we will do it for longer. We have lots of time. But we don’t have much space because the other saddle fit is going on around us. Walk on ….
Ten minutes later and she’d had the saddle open, stripped out the pads she added in the right side last time and instead put in a matched pair at the front of the saddle to lift it up a little. We tried it.
I could really feel the difference from the pads at the front of the saddle. I was sitting much less forward. On the other hand I still felt like I was pushing all the wrong buttons and Drifter was still arguing. My fear was that maybe this was a good fit and I’d have to adjust my riding again. I was relieved to find she wasn’t happy with it yet either.
She changed the girth anchor points on both sides and we had another go.
And metaphorically, the sun shone on us. Suddenly I felt straight, he felt straight and we were riding in harmony again. He relaxed and stopped arguing with me. Everything was easy. She seemed happy too. I asked if we could have a canter, to check it would stay put, so we did, a little hesitantly because the other saddle fitting had got to the point of someone trying to have their first canter in a dressage saddle and not being able to get the transition because of the unaccustomed leg position.
When we managed to get a good space to try our canter I was grinning at once. I felt so strong and secure and straight. I felt that whatever he did underneath me I could stay beautifully upright. I realised that I’d been clinging on with my legs because I didn’t have that straight-up security. Now I had it, my legs were so free to ask for refinements in the canter. I have never felt so good cantering any horse, and never so safe cantering this one. D seemed very happy with it also and we had a beautiful downward transition because I’d been so much more balanced now that a) I wasn’t unbalancing him and b) I could help him to balance with more effective half-halts so he wasn’t on his forehand. Equipped once again with a beautifully balanced saddle I feel like I can really make progress with helping him to improve his canter. I can’t wait!
The bad news was that as he’s changing so much she wants to see him again in another 3 months. Sigh.
As we sorted out the bill I confided that I’d love to be shopping for a dressage saddle but just don’t have the budget at the moment. She said, somewhat to my suprise, that she didn’t think I’d get on with one because of the leg position. Interesting! I always listen hard to anyone who could jump on selling me something expensive but instead tells me I don’t need it! This will stop me wishing something I can’t have, and let me enjoy what I do have. I may now be the only adult rider on the yard without a dressage saddle, but just because everyone else has one doesn’t actually make it right for me! I suspect after that conversation that a dressage saddle isn’t really going to give me anything I don’t already have except that look. And if I’m flopping around in it I’m pretty sure that would undermine any look! Maybe if we actually ever get good at this dressage malarky I’ll reconsider in a year or three, but for now I won’t be wishing for a dressage saddle in my Christmas stocking!
Once I’d paid the saddle fitting bill, it was time to wait for the dentist. Happily she turned up only about 10 minutes later and in no time she had her gag in his mouth. She said she was happy to start with him because she knew he was as easy to do as they come. She didn’t need anyone to hold him and although he obviously wasn’t enjoying the process of having the power file wielded in his mouth he endured without any impolite behaviour. It must be so much easier and quicker for modern-day equine dentists than their pre-power-tool predecessors.
She was pleased with his teeth and did not have too much work to do on them. As I paid she recommended that we go from 6 monthly visits to annual ones. Hurray!
We were all done for the day, we’d managed to see both professionals and I hadn’t had to wait around more than 10 minutes or so at any point. Not a bad morning’s work!