The rain and snow have slacked off, the weather is warming up, and the trail beckons. You put a date on the calendar to go ride with your favorite horse buddies. You anticipate the day’s ride coming up with visions of a warm spring breeze on your face, green grass and spring flowers abound, and your horse’s mane and tail gently blowing in the wind. You sigh…., “I can’t wait until this weekend.”
The first rides of spring can be glorious. But be sure to take some precautionary steps to avoid unwanted surprises. Most importantly, check the frame of mind of your horse! The completely dependable trail horse that you put away in November for his yearly time off, may not prove himself to be all that dependable the first couple of rides out.
Start off with some round pen work, or put him on a lunge line if you don’t have a round pen or arena. Watch how he moves at all three gaits keeping your eye out for soundness issues. How exuberant is he? Perhaps several days of lungeing are in order. Saddle him up and send him around some more. Has he lost or gained weight? Does the saddle still sit level? Girth still fits?
Then, choose an easy trail with good footing. If it’s too muddy, consider going a different way. It’s safer and doesn’t chop up the trails for the rest of the year. Be sure and give your horse some breaks if he gets winded, and gradually increase the length and difficulty of the trails as you both get back in shape. Watch for chicks and cubs who might be hanging around their nests and dens. Protective mothers in the wild are not to be messed with.
Don’t’ forget to stop and smell the roses. And pack your sheepskin seat saver; you may need it after an hour or so! Happy Trails!
Mariano Fernandez has a ranch in Argentina. He raises cattle and sheep and has about twenty ranch horses – real working horses that help to move the livestock. But this story is not about Mariano. It’s about his ranch hand, Tito.
Tito has been working on Mariano’s ranch for the last twenty-eight years. He is seventy-two years old, fit and lean and weighs in at 120 pounds soaking wet. Mariano describes Tito as a true representative of an Argentine gaucho.
Historically the gaucho of Argentina was known to be a skilled horseman who worked cattle. The gauchos of the Buenos Aires pampas, or grasslands, have been recorded as saying, “A man without a horse is a man without legs.” The Argentinean Criollo horse comes from the Andalusian and Arabian horses imported by the Spanish conquerors centuries ago. These wild horses adapted to the harsh conditions of the pampas and are tough and known for their endurance.
Mariano shared this story about Tito. “Eighteen years ago Tito was riding on horseback, probably chasing some animal. His horse put one of the front feet in an armadillo hole and rolled over. This resulted in a broken hip for Tito, the horse didn’t get hurt. Apparently Tito’s hip bones didn’t heal the same way they were so from that point on, he sort of rides slanted to the right side. The funny thing is that you tell him that and he doesn’t acknowledge it. I’m saying this because if you look at the saddle, you can see that it has been definitely ridden off balance. A very non-advisable thing to do with a treeless saddle in particular.
“Typical Argentine saddles in this area are called recado,” Mariano explains. “It is a succession of layers without any hard structure. You basically have a sweat pad, one or two wool pads, a leather pad, the “saddle” and on top of that a sheepskin. This recado saddle is very comfortable for the rider but it is usually not very good for the horse. The most common problems are pressure points and galling of the withers. Most people don’t wash the sweat pad so that results in even bigger problems.”
Traditionally the gaucho’s recado, a multi-layer design, was built with local available materials – leather and wool. When the gauchos are out on the pampas, the recado saddles can be disassembled and used as a sleeping bag when needed.
Mariano continues, “Tito rides different horses. There are about fifteen to twenty ranch horses and we rotate them in groups of four every shoeing cycle. We wanted to give Tito a saddle that was comfortable for him and the horse, but also adaptable to every horse that we have.
“Tito is seventy-two years old and has been working with us since we bought the ranch in 1990. He uses the horses to move cattle, sheep and muster deer as well. During the hunting season he also guides hunters on horseback. He is a true representative of a gaucho but now modernized with a Barefoot Atlanta Treeless Saddle. Everybody that meets him believes that he was born one century too late.”
According to Equus Magazine, “It’s a standard rule to discard any helmet that was struck hard in a fall. As a general rule, it’s best to get a new helmet every five or six years—replace your helmet sooner if it’s been exposed to extreme temperatures or chemicals like those found in automatic fly spray dispensers.”
It’s also common sense to replace a helmet with any visible signs of wear and tear on the harness, chin strap or clips, or cracking, peeling, or dents.
Don’t need to replace your helmet?
9 Tips for Care and Cleaning your Helmet.
Most helmets have a liner that you can remove. You can then hand wash this liner with cold water and mild soap. Allow to air dry completely away from the sun.
Clean the exterior with a soft cloth, and brush the interior with a soft tooth brush. You can use cold water and mild soap on the exterior if it’s plastic. If it’s a leather exterior, use a dark damp cloth. and a bit of leather cleaner if necessary.
Let your helmet air dry, but not in the sun, after each use and after cleaning.
You can use compressed air to clean the helmet’s vents and channels.
Do not machine wash, put in dish washer, or dry clean.
DO NOT use or spray any products other than mild soap on your helmet. The chemicals can ruin the protective coating and compromise the integrity of the helmet.
Store your helmet away from direct sun, chemicals, solvents, bug sprays, cleaning products, or fertilizers. Do not store your helmet in your car where temperatures can exceed 100 degrees.
Store your helmet in a bag that has ventilation so it can dry out between uses. This will also help keep it clean.
To keep your helmet smelling fresh and clean, throw a dryer sheet into your helmet bag.
I have read some articles about horses and mud fever, and the emphasis of the articles often refers to mud fever on the back of the horse’s pasterns, just above the heels. In my horsey life, this pastern dermatitis is called scratches, greasy heels or cracked heels. However, when I was studying to become a British Horse Society Instructor in England, we referred to mud fever as a general irritation or bacterial infection of the skin most often found on the legs and belly. And as the name suggests, it is caused by continual moisture and mud, that can break down the natural protective layer the skins provides. Constant moisture softens the skin and the continual abrasive soil, sand or grit can permeate the skin’s protective barrier allowing bacteria to grow and become a problem.
To prevent mud from penetrating the skin, causing mud fever’s bacterial infection, you can do a couple of things. Follow this first and foremost rule of grooming: Do not brush wet mud. Especially after riding your horse through the mud, and the horse is still warm and skin pores are open. It is tempting to use a stiff brush to get the mud off. However, you must let it dry thoroughly before brushing it off. You could hose it off, but often in the winter and early spring when there’s mud, it’s too cold, and the horse will be wet, cold and take a long time to dry.
If you have a barn stall or covered shelter, put your muddy horse inside your clean, dry enclosure and let him dry off, even if it takes until the next day. Then you can brush the dry mud gently off his belly, legs, and don’t forget the back of the pasterns. Keeping your horse’s coat and skin clean and dry is the best preventative measure against mud fever.
The short answer is yes! Stirrups now come in all shapes, sizes, and materials. Personal preferences and style of riding have quite a lot to do with your stirrup of choice. However, safety stirrups are often preferred by trail, endurance, and recreational riders and safety should always be a consideration around horses. The worst train wrecks with horses are never predictable. That’s why a helmet will only provide protection if it’s on your head at all times. Same applies to safety stirrups. Safety stirrups can help to enable you to get clear of the saddle and the horse when needed.
One component of being safe in the saddle is how your foot is placed in the stirrup. You should strive to only have the ball of your foot in the stirrup, no further. This is a safety measure to help your foot come out of the stirrup when necessary. Also the old “heels down” rule is not just for looks. When your weight is in your heel, your foot will slide out of the stirrup easily. It amazes me to see Grand Prix jumper riders ride with what looks like only their toe in the stirrup as they fly over five-foot fences.
If you choose to ride with safety stirrups, there are so many more choices today. It’s like we’ve had a stirrup explosion. But first, let’s not forget the tried and true Peacock Stirrups.
One would think that the elastic bands on the outside would come off all the time, but actually, they do not. Generally, a rider doesn’t put their weight on the outside of the stirrup, so your foot rarely touches the outside of the stirrup which is where the elastic bands are. Peacocks are a favorite choice for children in English saddles, yet many ladies also choose this stirrup for peace of mind. It does require an English 1” leather to go with it.
Icelandic Stirrups have the top bar of the stirrup at a 90 degree angle to the base of the stirrup. This allows the stirrup to hang perpendicular to the saddle, so you are able to slide your foot into the stirrup easily without fishing for it. It also has an S curve shaping to the sides that allow your foot to come out of the stirrup more easily. They also require an English 1” stirrup leather.
EZ Stirrups with Cage prevent your foot from sliding through the stirrup, much like western Tapederos stirrups. Riders have told me that small twigs and leaves can get caught in the cage holes when you are brush busting. However, there are many happy people riding with EZ Ride Stirrups with Cage with no problem, and they are very popular with endurance riders. You can use a western or endurance fender, or 1” or 2” leathers with EZ Ride Stirrups.
English Flexible Stirrups have a rubber covered hinge that flexes when you put pressure on it with your ankle. It helps to absorb the motion of your horse’s gaits, particularly in the sitting trot. The flexible hinge will release your foot to slide out during a fall. Many people find them more comfortable than a traditional English stirrup iron.
Easycare came out with a new EZ Ride Aluminum Ultimate Stirrup with Cage that is a lightweight safety stirrup that prevents your foot from going through the stirrup. It has a nice cushion pad and wide platform for your foot. It can be used with any size fenders or stirrup leathers.
So, when you are considering your choice of stirrups, consider your own comfort. But also keep safety in the forefront of your mind.
I recently took home the Startrekk Treeless Dressage Saddle to try on my TB cross that I ride on the trail and in the dressage arena. Action Rider Tack has carried the Startrekk Western, the Comfort, and the Endurance models for years, but we just recently stocked several dressage saddles.
First, I have to say, the Startrekk Dressage Saddle by DP Saddlery of Germany is a good looking saddle made with quality leather. It looks like a traditional dressage saddle and sports a deep seat, prominent knee rolls, and traditional wool flocked panels. The panels provide good wither and spine clearance, so you don’t have to pair it with thick saddle pad inserts in your saddle pad. It also has quite a bit of structure and is stiffer, if you will, than other treeless saddles that are a bit squishier. (Squishier is a technical term.)
My Thoroughbred cross has a bit of a wither, but is also fairly wide in the wither and shoulder area. I didn’t take the time to swap out the gullet plate for the wider one that my horse needed, but with an extra half pad underneath, it sat level and rode comfortably.
Treeless saddles feel different. It takes a couple of rides to get used to them. I immediately felt the closer contact, even though I felt I was sitting in a traditional dressage saddle with support. As I let my horse warm up at the walk, and he took his very first step I could feel his back legs moving much more clearly. I could also feel his sides, his breathing, his ribs and his back moving.
After fifteen minutes or so, I began to settle in. I have found through the years that riding on a 15-20 meter circle, continually doing transitions between the walk and a slow sitting trot, is a great way to sink into a saddle and get in tune with your horse’s rhythm. It’s seems like it would be boring, but actually, I find it very relaxing as it makes you stay in the center and sit upright to stay balanced for the downward, then the upward transitions. Repeat. Your horse also relaxes and becomes in tune to your forward aids and your half halts, balancing back into the walk.
The great thing about the Startrekk Treeless Dressage Saddle is it’s adaptability to your horse. If your horse’s weight or muscle tone decreases, or he develops more muscle through the years of training, the saddle will still fit. There are six different gullet plates that bolt into the firm leather in the front under the pommel that you can order if you need them. When you put in a wider gullet plate, the channel under the saddle also slightly widens. The channel, or gullet, is about 3” with the average gullet plate fitted in the saddle.
I rode with my normal English leathers with the buckle up under my thigh on the stirrup bar. Some people might prefer Barefoot English Leathers with the buckle down by the ankle, or the Barefoot Dressage Leathers with a T-bar at the top and the bottom for a seamless transition under your thigh.
Saddle fit can be a nightmare. Treeless saddles like the Startrekk Dressage Saddle can solve some of these saddle fit problems and can also be a saddle you can take to the next horse. Because we all know, you can’t just have one horse, right?
Hudson, my handsome Thoroughbred cross gelding, had been very slightly lame, but only intermittently. These lameness issues can be a long involved saga, so I’ll keep it short.
It appeared the soreness was in the right front. The vet nerve blocked the right front foot to help diagnose where the pain was coming from and he appeared to go better. We did x-rays and ultra sound with no conclusive results. No swelling, no lumps, no bumps. He had many sound days. But it kept reoccurring. Hudson is not comfortable barefoot, and with riding and just moving around his corral, his feet wear down. He needs horseshoes to protect his hooves from wearing down too short.
At the advice of my horseshoer I tried steel shoes with pads, aluminum shoes, and egg bar shoes with and without pads, but no improvement. The egg bars actually made him more uncomfortable. Then we tried EponaShoes.
EponaShoes are not made of steel. They are made of polyurethane material and so the shoe can flex with the hoof, more like a barefoot horse. It also has a softer pad on the sole side to avoid any pressure points on the frog or sole. Eponas also absorb the shock from the ground better than a metal shoe, and so is easier on the horse’s joints. I especially appreciate this benefit when Hudson and I go for long trail rides, and some of the ground is a bit rocky.
After putting EponaShoes on the first time, I took Hudson out and lunged him in an arena and he looked sound and forward. He also looked good on the hard driveway. When I rode him, he felt stronger and had more spring to his trot. I began to remember why I thought this horse could have a dressage career.
I still do not know conclusively what the source of his mild lameness is or was. I do know he is going sound, looks happy, has energy and willingness with lots of go, and I am so thankful. I only wish I had tried EponaShoes sooner.
There is so much going on in the world of saddle fitting that it’s overwhelming. We get people calling us in total frustration – trying to get a saddle to fit their horse. These are customers who have had custom saddles, tried numerous saddles, and just can’t get anything to work. It can be challenging, as there are so many options. There is usually a conformation challenge involved with their horse, and some specific requirements that the rider needs.
Do we solve these saddle fit nightmares? Sometimes! We don’t just sell saddles from one saddlery, and Action Rider Tack is probably one of the only companies in the world with such a varied selection of treed and treeless saddles. We find we need a wide variety of saddles, saddle pads, shims, girths and cinches to be able to help customers make selections that make sense for their particular horse and horse activities.
Saddles are an investment, but an important one for your horse. A quality saddle can last up to 30 years or more! I know that for a fact as I have retired an over 30-year-old saddle reluctantly. It was an old friend. My butt knew that saddle and it was hard to replace. However, getting the right saddle regardless of the money invested is well worth it. You and your horse must be comfortable. Poor saddle fit can be the cause of resistant behaviors, sore backs, sour attitudes, and even lameness.
There are some new tools in the saddle fitting shed. DP Saddlery of Germany has introduced to the United States their adjustable gullet saddles. These saddles have truly revolutionized the saddle fitting world.
There is a strong gear in the pommel area of the saddle tree that can be incrementally adjusted, millimeter by millimeter with the simple turn of an Allen wrench. This is superior to different replacement gullets or different tree sizes. What if your horse is in between sizes? A rider can turn the allen wrench, no strength required, until the saddle sits level, clears the spine, and does not impede the shoulder. The tree is a flexible carbon fiber, and the panels are attached at the front and the rear of the saddle to aid in the saddle flexing and moving with the horse.
The selection of DP Saddles styles will appeal to almost everyone – English all purpose, dressage, endurance, Baroque style, western, and trail saddles. It’s very exciting. It might be the last saddle you will ever buy, as obviously you can easily adjust it from horse to horse. The panels underneath are traditionally wool stuffed and can be reflocked or restuffed to customize it to your horse if necessary.
Take advantage of winter’s relaxing barn time – grooming and just being with your horse.
Take advantage of some down time with your horse during the coldest winter months. Enjoy the relaxing, therapeutic visits with your horse on days when riding is not possible. Without the expectation of riding, there is ample time for an extra-good grooming. Grooming is valuable for bonding, checking for lumps and scrapes, and assessing your horse’s muscle tone and weight. I find blanketed horses especially love a good currying to itch those places they can’t get to with the blanket on.
If your horse is stabled, you might take him for a walk in-hand around the barn, or lunge him for a short time without getting him too sweaty. It’s better to keep exercise short and more frequent when there is the possibility of your horse sweating too much in his winter coat. It takes a while to dry out that thick coat, and walking him around with a cooler is helpful to dry the coat and keep him from chilling while still wet. If weather permits, but it’s still cold, ride with a rump rug to warm up muscles and keep them warm while exercising. Plan for a bit more time at the end of the ride for walking to be sure he arrives back at the barn nice and dry.
Free access to water is very important as always, but especially when it’s cold as horses tend to drink less in colder weather. Check for ice and broken pipes several times per day. When I take boiling water out to the barn to warm my horse’s water, my horse comes over for a nice long drink. He has started to look forward to it, so I make sure I warm up his water at least twice a day. Extra carrots are a good way to supply succulents when fresh grass is not accessible.
There is truth to the old horseman’s rule to feed your horse “little and often.” It is advised that to help keep your horse warm feed sufficient quality hay. What type of hay depends on your horse, but foraging on hay throughout the day will help keep his body warm by turning hay into warming energy. A haynet is especially handy in the winter, as it can save your hay from being stomped into the mud, and also extends the time it takes your horse to eat it. In very cold weather, depending on your horse, you might slightly increase the amount of hay you feed him as he burns energy just staying warm.
Your horse’s winter coat will keep him warm, if he can stay dry and have shelter from harsh winds. If it rains hard and blows hard, his coat can become completely saturated. Generally speaking, once it falls below 40 degrees and starts heading to freezing temperatures, it’s appropriate to take extra measures to keep him warm and dry. There are waterproof horse blankets that are designed to keep your horse comfortable. Re-adjust the blankets in the morning and again at night to be sure they stay in place and are not rubbing.
Excess moisture in the field, or standing around in a wet stall can play havoc with horse’s hooves. Pick out his feet often to remove mud, manure, ice and snow. Apply some kind of thrush treatment as a preventive measure against thrush and abscesses.
When was the last time you braided your horse’s mane and tail just for fun? Play around, make him beautiful, give him a special hairdo, add a red ribbon and take a selfy of the two of you. It can be your Christmas card next year!
Why does your saddle slip? Well… it’s complicated. Saddles can slip side to side, saddles can slip back, and saddles can slip forward. Not only is it annoying, it is unsafe. And safety with horses should be your number one priority.
First we have to address the simplest and most obvious cause. Your girth or cinch is loose. It is extremely important to check your girth before mounting, after mounting, after just a short walk away from your mounting block, and again after 5 minutes or so. During a long trail ride, check periodically. There are some saddle pads with foam or other inserts and they compress after you settle in the saddle, and can compress further after a long ride. Your horse may sweat during work, and your girth may need tightening after several hours in the saddle.
The next issue is saddle fit. A saddle that is too narrow or too wide will slip side to side and even forward or backwards. If your saddle has a tree, it must be the right size and fit your horse. There is no way around it.
Another common cause of saddle slip is while mounting. The way in which you mount your horse can effect how easily the saddle slips. For instance, how much you pull on the horn, pommel, cantle or seat. Mounting from the ground is putting torque on the saddle tree (if there is one) and possibly tweaking your saddle and the leather. As a daily ritual, mount from a mounting block. It will help your saddle, tree or no tree, last longer. It is also safer.
When out on trail, carry a step stool, search for higher ground, a log, a rock, anything to gift you a boost. There are saddles on very round horses that do indeed fit the horse, but still will not stay put for mounting from the ground. It also depends on the weight of the rider. More weight, more slip. Safe Rider makes a Trail Mounting Aid that keeps the saddle in place while mounting.
Saddles slipping side to side can also be caused by the rider. It is more common than you think that you ride with more weight in one stirrup than the other. Many times your stirrups are not level. The best way to tell if your stirrups are equal length is to take them off and put them side by side. It might surprise you. To tell if you are weighting one stirrup more than the other, have a friend stand directly behind you while in the saddle. They will be able to see if your saddle is off center. You can also look down at the pommel and see if it is lined up with your horse’s neck. It may be necessary to ride without stirrups, or drop the longer stirrup to train yourself to stop putting more weight in it. It may take awhile to self-correct, however, it is worth the effort for both you and your horse. Your horse’s musculature will compensate for your unevenness, and your spine will suffer if you continue to ride with one collapsed hip.
You also should rule out any lameness. According to the British Equine Vet Association, the saddle will slip to the lame side. Your horse also may also be asymmetrical in his muscle development, shifting the saddle from the more built up side to the weaker side. Shimming the saddle pad may be necessary to even things out.
So – when you rule out a loose girth, uneven stirrups, ill fitting saddle, unbalanced riding, lameness, and asymmetrical muscles, there are ways to combat saddle slipping in any direction.
Your choice of saddle pad plays a big part in saddle slip. Fleece is not a good choice, neither is felt. That rules out lots of saddle pads. You can try putting a non-slip, thin, inexpensive saddle pad under your other saddle pad. It kind of looks like shelf paper, but is more substantial. It’s only 18” x 22”, but worth a try since it is under $10. The HAF Saddle Pads from Italy have a pebbly, egg carton underlay that is helpful. There is also the Getta Grip Non-Slip Western Pad, and the Tacky Tack Western All Purpose Saddle Pad. I personally use a Dixie Midnight Saddle Pad under my other saddle pads, and even though the Dixie Midnight company does not make a claim for non-slip, I find it does help.
Your girth or cinch choice is also a factor. Mohair is pretty grippy, so is neoprene, synthetics with egg carton looking underlay, and girths and cinches that are wider in the middle. Again, fleece or felt is not a good choice as a non-slipping material.
Breastplates and breast collars are designed to stabilize your saddle. The English style breastplate attaches to the D rings on either side of your saddle and to the girth stabilizing side to side movement, and preventing saddles from sliding back when going uphill. The western breast collar functions the same way and attaches to each side and it often has a neck strap to aid it in staying in place. I recommend either of these for all trail riders.
The back cinch of a western saddle can also help the saddle stay in place, but some horses are not used to them so a breaking in period may be necessary. To avoid the back cinch sliding too far back and becoming a bucking strap it must be attached to the front cinch with a connector strap or flank cinch hobble strap.
Lastly, cruppers prevent the saddle from sliding forward going downhill. They can be used on western or English saddles and are made of synthetic material or leather. Word of caution – some horses will come UNGLUED when you put one on, so a training period is needed. However, some horses will never tolerate one – proceed accordingly.
To sum it all up, as with everything involving horses, it is a case by case situation. It is necessary to evaluate your horse, your riding, your saddle and all your tack and equipment to come up with a working and safe solution to keep your saddle in place.