Let’s Discuss: Rein Recommendations

For the past few months, every time my dressage trainer hops aboard Jack she comments on how strange my floppy reins feel. But for the past few years, those PS of Sweden Softy reins have been my absolute favorite. They are thin, felt comfortable in my small hands, not rubber (since I was in the habit of riding gloveless) and needed no breaking-in.

My beloved PS reins

But after getting a pair of Lund Eventer Series rubber reins, part of the best logo prize package ever,  I have started to see the benefits of rubber reins for dressage. My infant-sized hands have gotten used to holding the thicker width and whether it’s the bit (a double-jointed wonder bit) or the reins, I can attest that Jack seems to enjoy a steadier connection with this set up.

And the also beloved Lund bridle and reins

So, if I were to venture into the territory of dressage rubber reins… are there any reins out there that people just love? I’d like something quality that will stand up to both the (currently) frigid temps as well as the nasty humid heat of summer, that doesn’t need breaking in, and that won’t break the bank (less than $100 ideally).

Any suggestions?

 

For Sale

Trying to clear out the random ish!

18″ Wise Bates Caprilli General Purpose Saddle – $750

46″ brown leather girth – $15

Waffle white dressage saddle pad. Schooling condition as does have some stains. – $3

White dressage saddle pad with green and black trim. Has saddle/girth marks. – $5

NC State Dressage saddle pad. Has saddle staining, used condition. – $15

Kensington Roustabout Saddle bag. Used <5 times. Retails for ~$120. – $80

60″ Courbette strirrup leathers. Very lightly used, just need a good oil after being in storage. – $15

32″ Ovation black gel Body Form girth. Used less than 1 month. – $20

Cell phone holder (iPhone for reference). – $3

Safety stirrups (no bands). – $5

Let’s Discuss: Bling in the Ring

If you are an on-trend equestrian, you have probably noticed a bit of sparkle taking over your local tack store. Bling seems to be anywhere and everywhere, as the English disciplines learn the delights that Western pleasure riders have known for years.

Dressage queens have been adding a bit of shine to their game for some time, starting with incredibly subtle bits of glimmer, such as twinkling spur straps, and slowly but surely becoming emboldened over time. Bedazzled ear bonnet, browbands, saddles, and helmets are all currently en vogue at your average competition these days.

Subtle. (find them here.)

Jumpers have always had a lot of freedom when it comes to style, and eventers maybe more so. And while I haven’t noticed so much dazzle in the eventing world, it does peek in occasionally. Rhinestones adorning the cantle of a saddle, for instance, or along the stirrup leather keeper.

 

Less subtle.

For myself, I would be happy to leave the bling at home. Having just purchased the below bridle, I find myself cringing slightly when thinking of keeping all that flash clean. Instead I’m in the market for a toned-down browband with the same shape and a little less… that. Perhaps the fact that my horse already looks like a child’s plaything contributes to my not wanting to adorn him in all things twinkling, maybe I’m just not a blingy person.

The Kavalkade Mia Bridle

Where do you fall on the spectrum? Bring on the bling? Or go without? What trends have you noticed in your local arenas? What is the most outlandish, or your favorite sparkly trend you’ve seen? Do you have a favorite way to add some shine to your traditional riding gear?

Let’s Discuss: Does Smitty Need a New Bridle?

Purely self-serving discussion today, folks. My bad.

But.

I bought this charming PS of Sweden knockoff because I just got the news that, shockingly (not), Smitty had just destroyed the bridle I sent him off to training with. Since we can’t have nice things, I decided to hold off buying the real thing and get this bit of strappy goodness for 1/3 the price. Win win, me thinks.

bridle1

But upon trying it on, it’s obvious that the throatlatch is never going to fit- it’s way too big for him. But what about the rest of it?

bridle2

I’ve had some people in person say no, it’s beautiful, keep it. A quick instagram debate said it’s too big for his face.

bridle3

Part of me is definitely having trouble shipping out a nice, cheap bridle that my pony could do with (since besides this bridle we are down to zero brown bridles- first world problems yo). But hey, if someone in blogger land wants to pay me $75 for this worn-once PS knockoff, maybe I’ll part with it. Or, I keep it and take a pair of scissors to that dangly throatlatch.

bridle4

Its fate is in your hands, blogland!

Saddles for Trial: First Impressions of the Stubben Excalibur

Like the Amerigo monoflap, the Stubben Excalibur is an attractive saddle. The leather has a tougher feel, not nearly as soft as the calf leather on the Amerigo, but of a quality that was made to last. This saddle also has been properly maintained, and looks to be in almost new condition.

stubben

Sitting on Smitty’s naked back, the saddle seems well balanced front to back, with plenty of wither clearance. It did seem a little tight around the shoulders, but not in a conclusive way, so I hopped aboard.

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My first impression was that while still close contact, that there was more under my leg than in the Amerigo, likely to the saddle’s more solid construction- it’s built like a tank. It is comfortable though, and my leg hung in the right place. However, when we started trotting, Smitty went hollow and unwilling to more forward. I ran my hand under the front of the saddle, and sure enough, the saddle was super tight just under the knee block.

stubben_problemspot

The problem spot highlighted

Considering his grumpiness, I decided not to press the issue, and sadly put the saddle in my car to begin its trip home. Thank goodness for trials, is all I will say!

Tonight I go back to the Amerigo, and will hopefully not be a nervous nelly and actually give the thing a proper test ride. Saddle shopping… ugh!

Saddles for Trial: First Impressions of the Amerigo Vega Monoflap

Yesterday was basically Christmas at the house on a hill. The poor mailman brought not just one but two hunks of gorgeous leather to my door, and my spirits sailed as I opened each box and inhaled that beautiful leather aroma. Here, hopefully, is a saddle that will end my shopping woes.

I decided to test ride the Amerigo monoflap first because, quite frankly, it’s beautiful, and it happens to be the cheaper of the two. The calfskin leather is supple and squishy, and though it’s in an obviously used state, the saddle appears well taken care of.

Amerigo monoflap

Setting it on Smitty’s back, the saddle provides enough wither clearance, and I like the way it fits his shoulder- no pinching or tightness to my [untrained] eye. There was a slight rock to it from front to back, but not enough so as to be unrideable with a wool pad underneath.

smitty-amerigo

On the lunge a bit of this bounce was still evident, but Smitty seemed to not be bothered and so I hopped aboard.

Smitty: Does this saddle make my butt look big?

Smitty: Does this saddle make my butt look big?

It didn’t help that it was dark, hadn’t ridden in a week thanks to the fat leg (gone, by the way, thank goodness!), and was alone- so I was tense and unable to fully appreciate the saddle. But I did note how close my leg felt to him. Nothing felt immediately out of place, and I didn’t feel like I was swimming in it despite the 18″ seat size.

Tonight I’ll throw on the Stubben Excalibur, and plan to alternate between the two options for the week while I get a good feel for which is the clear winner. Buh bye, money!

 

Saddles for trial

I won’t lie, searching for a saddle that both fits Smitty and that I feel secure in has been an absolute chore. Not only does the saddle need to be wool flocked so we can adjust for any likely changes that Smitty’s topline is going to make, but it also has to accommodate his somewhat sizeable withers, and be in the narrow to medium range that is most likely to fit him. Then add in a sprinkle of my own demands, being a 17.5″ – 18″ seat, a monoflap, and hefty knee and thigh blocks.

After searching high and low for a Stubben Zaria that would fit, I’m come up completely blank. But next week I have a couple saddles coming to me for a trial period, and I have high hopes that one will work.

excalibur

Stubben Excalibur

The first is the predecessor to the Zaria, which is the Stubben Excalibur. It’s a little different looking to my eye, but hopefully shares a lot of the same qualities that I lust over in the Zaria.

vega

Amerigo Vega Monoflap

The second is an older version of the above Vega Monoflap. It checks all the boxes, and while the calf block is not as big, it’s an attractive saddle with an even more attractive price tag.

My hope would be that if one of these guys works out, then I’ll have something that would conceivably get us through the next couple years while Smitty grows (in what direction, who knows), and then I can find a more “permanent” solution.

Now I just need that hot, fat leg to fix itself so I can sit in them!

Let’s Discuss: Nattering about Nosebands

First of all, does the word natter translate into American English? It may be one of my favorite words. Along with ninny. So today I’m a silly ninny nattering about nosebands.

Ahem.

This past weekend, while assisting a friend in her own horse shopping adventures, I witnessed some very, erm, strong opinions on nosebands. In the world of dressage, there’s a lot of different nosebands that are totally legal. Flash nosebands, regular cavessons, drop nosebands, figure-eights… all totally legal. Beyond dressage, there are even more options. And in this individual’s opinion, the flash was the only thing a dressage horse should go in and the rest of it (as in a bridle without a flash) was “hunter jumper stuff.”

Happily modeling a well-fitted flash

Happily modeling a well-fitting flash

Now I’ve used a flash noseband plenty of times, but my main preference is to go without if possible. So as soon as I purchased the PS of Sweden bridle, I tossed the flash attachment in the bag and never looked back.

Wah, I loved this bridle.

Wah, I loved this bridle.

To me, a flash can easily mask training issues, like bracing against the bit and hide underlying tension in the form of gaping and gnashing the bit. I have nothing against those that use a flash in their training, so long as the flash is at an appropriate looseness. But plenty of times I have seen a horse with the flash making an obvious depression in the horse’s skin, to me an unfair application of equipment for the sake of a better impression. For me, I go the way of the Wofford when it comes to flashes.

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A dressage pony modeling a Micklem bridle

But then there are other controversial nosebands out there. Some people absolutely abhor crank nosebands, reasoning that they invite overtightening. Some dislike a dropped noseband, or a big floofy noseband, or a thin noseband, because of aesthetics or other reasons. For instance, I’m not a huge fan of the way Micklem bridles look with their noseband. But I have no beef with those that use them, since I appreciate that the riders who use them are doing so for the comfort of the horse. Nonetheless, there are dressage enthusiasts who would wish them out of the arena in a second.

Johnny models a traditional noseband

Johnny models a more traditional noseband setup

It’s interesting to me that for such a basic piece of leather, that there are boundless options that elicit so many opinions from horsepeople. Whatever your style, or beliefs, or discipline, I’m guessing you took some kind of consideration into what adorns your trusty steed’s snout.

Or, you know, no noseband!

Or, you know, the naked nose works too!

What do you use on your horse? What is your rule for tightening, if you use a crank or otherwise? What nosebands do you avoid at all costs? What options would you consider other than your current choice?

 

 

Saddle Envy

So it’s no secret that one of the pros of horse shopping that besides sitting on nice horses, you also have the chance to sit in different saddles. Nice saddles. Voltaire, Amerigo, Pessoa, Antares… you get the deal.

I also had a mini lesson from a friend on her OTTB who is a lead change maestro, so that I could finally get to sit on a horse that had this skillset and learn the cues to ask for the change. She has her guy in a Stubben saddle, and I was prepared to loathe it as I have every other Stubben I have ever sat in, including the other Stubben she had on her pony cross. But you know what? I loved this saddle. More than loved it, in fact. I actually came to realize why exactly she describes the sensation as having one’s ass sing. It’s amazing. My leg fell exactly where it should. I felt more balanced in the 2 point than ever before. The feeling of security I had in that saddle was incredible. The con? The saddle, a Zaria Optimum with the Biomex seat, retails between $4,000 and $4,500.

Cantering about in the Stubben Zaria Optimum

Cantering about in the Stubben Zaria Optimum

This of course compared with the lovely Voltaire saddles I’ve also sat in recently, which supposedly (because my 30 second google search didn’t find anything new) retail for around $5,000.

Voltaire loveliness

Voltaire loveliness

Of course the major trouble with all this is that I have opened Pandora’s box- I now know what it is like to sit in a saddle that puts you in the right place, and conversely I now feel how much I am constantly fighting my Toulouse monoflap. It’s become a definite thing for me, even though searching for saddles before having the new horse is a thoroughly moot activity. But I’m taking the opportunity to sit in anything and everything in hopes that I can find a cheaper alternative to the buttery leather options that command such high price tags.

A Prestige I attempted to squeeze in.. this one was not a good fit but was a good deal. Womp womp.

A Prestige I attempted to squeeze in.. this one was not a good fit but was a good deal. Womp womp.

So far, no dice. I have a long thigh bone that requires a more forward/long flap than some of the close contact options I’ve tried. Plus, there is something really really nice about that calf block.

This guy felt good in the store, but having heard that Pessoas don't hold up well [opinions?] might avoid the brand

This guy felt good in the store, but having heard that Pessoas don’t hold up well [opinions?] might avoid the brand

I’ve now mentally started budgeting for a used option of a higher quality brand, in addition to the new pony costs. Because nothing says “I’m an equestrian” like being money poor but rich in pony breath and leather goods.. right?

Let’s Discuss: Neck straps

Not too long ago, amidst some random equestrian googling (side conversation: am I the only one who does this?), I came across an interesting little ditty featuring the prodigious William Fox Pitt touting neck straps.

As one of the many (I assume) that falls prey to jumping anxiety from time to time, I’ll gladly add something to my mount’s attire to make the experience safer. It wouldn’t hurt of course if the addition of a bit of leather around my horse’s neck also increased the size of my jumping balls. (Which are scientifically proven to be a smaller, much less impressive size than my dressaging balls, but yet still prove to be massive compared to my trail riding balls. There’s a difference.)

A time when I had bigger balls. Kind of. Actually I remember being terrified walking that course.

A time when I had bigger balls. Kind of. Actually I remember being terrified walking that course.

My original assumption regarding neck straps was that they came in two forms- a leftover stirrup leather, or a belt. The C4 belts seem to be growing in popularity recently in the eventing world, and little wonder- we eventers go ballistic over anything that can be customized to our cross country colors.

It turns out though that there are a variety of neck straps on the market though- ranging from colorful nylon versions akin to the C4 belts, to thick stirrup-leather styles, and more. The type that appeals to me most is the Nunn Finer version, but I may just be falling prey to the clever product description. Because who doesn’t need an Oh Shit strap?

Grab strap

So, blogosphere- I want to know- how many of you follow WFP’s lead and don your horse’s neck with some extra hardware? Have any of you found the neck strap to be useful, or otherwise? Is this just a cross country thing, or does it translate to showjumping or even flatting as well? Comment with your thoughts!