What makes you feel you have had a good saddler out? Do they talk to you first? Look at your horse stood up? Look at what you already use? Talk about any issues you may be having? Ask about your instructor/farrier/body worker/plans/ambitions?
I have been busy upgrading my saddle fitting skills over the last eighteen months. I have realised that many people who book a saddle fitting call are uncertain as to what will be required of them when the saddle fitter comes out.
If I go through my procedure, hopefully it will help you decide whether you get good service from your saddler (hopefully you will say YES!)
It all begins with the first contact from you to the saddle fitter. Sometimes this can be face to face, at a show stand or shop, telephone call, or, as is becoming more common, a message on social media.
We would like to know lots of information about both you and your horse.
How big, what type/breed, age, work, discipline, fitness. He may be new to you. All this information helps us build a picture.
How tall, child or adult, how heavy. Does the saddle need to suit more than one rider?
Your plans for your horse, both short and long term.
Don’t think that just because you may “only hack” this is not relevant. It is!
Our main aim is to find both of you a saddle that fits, doesn’t make your horse
unhappy, allows you to ride without stress or strain anywhere and comes in within
On the day:
Please present us with a horse who is clean, tied up safely and has safe space to move around and be ridden.
We will chat to you confirming all the information we have been given over the phone including whether anything has changed since we spoke. We will be looking over your horse or pony just looking for anything that may present which may mean we are unable to saddle fit that day.
We will ask you to walk your horse up in hand and then trot up and back to watch how your horse moves. We then carry out a more detailed examination of your horse’s back to check for any tenderness, lumps or soreness. If we feel there may be a problem, we will ask if you see a suitably qualified body worker and discuss what we find.
All being good, we will talk about your horse’s conformation and how it may affect the saddle fit. We will select a few saddles that we think may suit and begin to try them. We are looking at saddle width, saddle length, angle of rails on the tree, and suitability of the panel. Girth straps are also looked at. Are they in the right place for your horse’s girth groove?
We will girth up any suitable saddles and will ask the rider to mount. Please provide stirrups, leathers and irons and girth. Sometimes we will have spares, but don’t rely on it, unless you have also requested us to supply them. Please have someone there with correct boots, hat, legwear and, if necessary a body protector. The horse will also need his usual bridle, bit and reins.
In an ideal world, we would then go in the school. If there is no school, then a corner of a field can be used. We have saddle fitted on the lane, but it is not ideal as we won’t be able to see you on a circle to check saddle movement. If you are buying a jumping saddle, then some jumps are a good idea as well. Ideally you will be able to ride in 3 or 4 saddles and then choose one which suits both of you best.
Sometimes a saddle will need some adjustment to make it perfect. Small adjustments can often be done on site, sometimes we need to make adjustments to the panel, such as deeper gussets, or maybe the rider would prefer a bigger, or smaller seat. We will then order the saddle with the adjustments from the factory. We will take a deposit (for an ordered saddle) or the full price if fitting from the vehicle. We will talk about our aftercare service for flocking and also talk about how to care for your saddle.
We ask you to allow up to 2 hours for the saddle fitting, so please don’t “squeeze” us in between school pick-ups and Brownies! We will not be able to give you a good service if we are rushing the procedure. Help us to help you and your horse and hopefully you will have a good understanding of what it takes to fit a saddle to your horse and you will both be comfortable in your future riding.
Written by Sue Paine
Phone: 01363 881327
This is Sue taking over the Dragonfly/Haynet blog for a while, while Laura is off working in Africa! She sends me photos of the beach and the diving and the barbecues, while I trudge through the mud and battle the wind and rain looking after her horse, her wicked but beloved Scarlet, and her trusty companion, Comet.
We have run Dragonfly Saddlery since 1982, firstly in Hurstpierpoint, then Ditchling, then finally in Hassocks. After 33 years we decided it was time for a change!
Closing the shop was a very big decision for all of us, daughters included, and not something we decided on quickly. However for both Richard and myself, we agreed that it was saddle fitting that we both enjoyed more, rather than the day to day running of the shop. Closing our bricks and mortar shop meant that we could both direct our energies to saddle fitting.
Saddle design has changed enormously in the last 30 years, with many changes for the better. It was with this in mind that I decided to take up some of the opportunities on offer that previously I had been unable to take advantage of, always stuck behind the till.
First up was a trip with Laura to Ferdi Eilberg’s to meet him, and his dressage star children, Michael and Maria. They are sponsored by Zebra Products who are the UK suppliers of Amerigo and Equipe saddles. Peter Menet, the saddle designer for Amerigo and Equipe, was there to talk through his ideas, the conformation of the horse and how it shapes the saddles he designs, the work that competition horses do and how saddles can help them perform at their best.
Lindsay Middleton then spoke about Sprenger bits. She is one half of the duo who run Zebra products (the other being husband Simon) and is an expert on the application of the designs and, again, how to help your horse give his best for you. It was a fascinating day, seeing this top class family and their stunning horses. We were given a tour of the yard, and said hello to their beautiful dressage horses, and admired the gorgeous foals out in the field.
After this, was an invitation from Prestige Italia to meet their designer, Carsten Engkele up in Yorkshire. This was a two day jaunt and this time Richard came along. He also fits Prestige saddles with me and we decided to make a bit of a working holiday of it!
First stop was the Mount St John dressage yard. Owned and run by Emma Blunden, Emma had previously ridden to Prix St George in other saddles, but had hit a wall with her horse. Emma had decided that maybe said horse was not quite good enough for Grand Prix, the changes were not quite through, the pirouettes rather laboured, nothing anyone could put their finger on, but Emma knew things were not quite right. Discussing this with her saddler, he suggested a change from her saddle to a Prestige Helen that he had brought with him. Emma agreed to try it out and to her joy and amazement, her horse began to improve in his way of going, self carriage improved, the changes became crisper, pirouettes were lighter. Best of all, Emma’s bad back improved dramatically. She refused to let her saddler have his demo saddle back until he could replace it for her and promptly put the rest of her rising stars in Prestige saddles. Her stable jockey who rides the babies was also enthusiastic about the changes she could see and feel in the horses, so some very happy customers that day!
The next day saw us visiting Jamie Gornalls yard where his team of talented show-jumpers were worked in their Prestige saddles. Jamie himself was away jumping in Europe, but his very talented stable jockey was there to ride and discuss what Prestige saddles meant for their horses and riders. The horses there tended to be very sharp and very sensitive, so Jamie and his team worked hard to ensure that every horse was comfortable and confident, so that when asked for their jumping efforts the horses could concentrate on the job in hand and not be distracted by a tight or moving saddle.
My next foray was to a Vale Brothers training day up in Derbyshire. Vale Brothers are manufacturers of the Harry Dabbs range of saddles including the Jaguar range, now known as the Platinum range. They have also purchased E Jeffries Saddlery and brought the whole range together under one roof.
I love fitting Harry Dabbs saddles as they offer so many choices of tree, panels, seats and girthing positions - you are virtually guaranteed to be able to design a saddle to suit even the most problematic horse and rider. It was great to meet up with other saddlers to chat and exchange ideas.
Sean Jeffs, the factory manager, had brought along a vast array of trees so we could see how the shape of the head, position of the rails and width through the gullet could all influence how a saddle sits on a horse’s back. We spent many a happy hour with some lovely horses and riders putting trees on and off and the seeing how the finished article worked on the horse. My idea of heaven!
I was fortunate also to attend two days of lectures by German saddle designer Jochen Schleese, who is based in Canada and works extensively in the USA and Europe. Jochen has written a fascinating book, Suffering in Silence, which I would urge everyone who is interested in helping their horse to be the most comfortable they can be to read. Jochen was himself when an event rider in Germany but had the misfortune to lose his best horse to shoulder injury when in contention for a team place. It turned out that the shoulder problem had been caused by an ill fitting saddle. Jochen then decided to train as a saddler with Passier and then went on to research saddle fitting with its problems to see how he could make life more comfortable for our horses. His knowledge and passion for the subject was tremendous and everyone came away brimming with new ideas and knowledge.
There are many people out there who are undertaking research on saddle design and saddle fitting. Some of this training is available to the layman, some just for professionals. I would urge people to look at Gillian Higgins at Horses Inside Out and Russell Guire of Centaur Biomechanics. Both of them run courses for professional saddle fitters, but they also run courses for the interested riders and horse owners too. I have been lucky enough to attend the courses they run for saddlers and always come away challenged and keen to apply new theories and ideas to the horses and riders I visit. Luckily my clients are as eager as I am to know what is going on in the world of saddlery research, which makes it a real pleasure to come out and help these lovely horses and riders fulfill their full potential.
If you would like to book a saddle fitting consultation with myself or Richard, or just to discuss you and your horse’s requirements, please drop us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. We saddle fit all over the south of England, from Cornwall to Kent, and would love to be able to help you and your horse achieve peak performance!
1. Harry Dabbs day showing the huge range of trees
2. A tree on a horse showing slightly too much curve in the tree
3. Jochen's course where he deals with the difference in male and female skeletal anatomy and explains why women often find saddle seats uncomfortable.
4. Meeting the dressage stars of the future at the Eilberg yard
I spent my last few days in the UK hanging out with my mum, doing country bumpkin things like apple picking, mucking out the ducks and chickens, and giving the dogs baths and haircuts. It was a lovely way to unwind after a very hectic few weeks moving out of London, road tripping in America, doing my first Tough Mudder and finishing up at work. We also had a couple of days in Cirencester, as my mum had a pretty awesome Christmas present to use – a lesson on a schoolmaster at Talland Equitation Centre, which is where the Hutton family is based. Mum decided she wasn’t quite ready for a lesson with Pammy or Charlie Hutton, having not really ridden for nearly ten years. Instead she was assigned a very nice teacher called Gerry.
Mum was a bit nervous about riding a strange horse, and this was exacerbated when the groom led out her horse – the very handsome (and therefore appropriately named) ‘Beckham’ was 17hh! It was quite entertaining watching her climb onto this mountain of a horse (she’s only 5’2”), but she was soon up, and heading into her third of the enormous indoor school – it contained three arenas which were easily 60x20m each. Mirrors lined the long side to help with accuracy, straightness and position. There was a lot going on: there was a flashy looking Arab in the middle arena, working on extensions and transitions, and a group of kids on fat ponies at the other end, trundling along with leaders. I couldn’t help but wonder what Scarlet would have made of it!
Beckham mooched round while Mum got the feel of him, and Gerry talked through what he planned for them to achieve in the lesson. They walked on both reins, and then Gerry asked Mum to pick up the contact and ask Beckham to come a bit rounder (he was plodding along like a beach donkey). It was absolutely fascinating to be on this side of the fence, to watch someone having a lesson and understand that what they felt they were doing was often not at all what it looked like they were doing! My mum is a very quiet and sympathetic rider, but, like me, this can sometimes result in the horse simply ignoring the aids. We’re both used to riding fizzy thoroughbreds, and keep our aids as quiet and subtle as possible, but as Gerry explained when it became clear that Beckham the Dutch warmblood was having a lovely time dribbling along with his nose stuck out and his hocks trailing, this horse was used as a schoolmaster and has lots of different riders riding him, so he needed extra strong aids – he said horses prefer a strong instruction over a sharp one, so not to worry about being super polite about it. If the horse ignores you the first time, do it again with feeling!
So Mum got a bit tougher, and insisted that Beckham listen to her aids, and he began to soften and move forward and make a much prettier picture. I knew (because we are such similar riders) that Mum would feel like she was banging and heaving and pulling all over the place, so I was glad I was there to film it to show her she wasn’t! It’s funny to me, because I have had umpteen schooling sessions under Mum’s watchful gaze where she would tell me to do something, I would say, “I am!”, and she would say, “no you’re bloody not!”. I suppose it’s comparable to when you have a bit of dust in your eye – you feel like you’ve got a piece of dirt the size of a 50p, but usually it’s microscopic!
In order to get Beckham off his forehand and using his quarters, Gerry had them working on lots of lateral exercises, starting with leg yield, moving into shoulder in and finishing in half pass. It looked like very hard work, with so many different things to remember about placement of the horse’s shoulders, quarters and head, and the rider’s leg, hands and shoulders. It was mildly amusing to hear Gerry shouting at Mum to ride her corners and keep her thumbs on top, because that’s something I always get yelled at about. Poor Mum looked absolutely shattered by the end of the 45 minute session, but she was definitely getting there, and Beckham had started to work nicely, moving away from her leg and softening through his back, neck and jaw.
After we had put him back in his box (where he raided our pockets for sweeties), we headed to the tack room to put his saddle and bridle away, and got talking to the groom who looks after Beckham. She gave us a bit of his history: he’s 11, and was successfully working at PSG level with Edward Gal(!) in Holland until he developed some soundness issues just last year, which cut short his dressage career. Pammy Hutton agreed to have him at Talland to assess his suitability as a school master for the riding school, and he took to it like a duck to water. He’s such a gentle giant, Mum said she felt totally safe on him which was awesome. She’s keen to go back and ride him now she has the measure of him, and would feel more confident in upping the pressure on him – especially now we know he’s capable of PSG!
So after a lovely few days at home in Devon, chilling out with the dogs and horses, enjoying some home cooking and fresh laid eggs from our resident chickens, and then a couple of days in Cirencester at Talland and various country pubs, I am now in Mozambique, volunteering my digital skills with a marine conservation charity. Hoping to get some riding in (of course!) at a place called Vilanculos: http://www.mozambiquehorsesafari.com/ The history of this safari is an amazing story of human courage and endurance which saved the lives of many horses, and I will definitely blog about it afterwards.
In the meantime, I will enjoy being on the beach, swimming, snorkelling and diving in the Indian Ocean, and occasionally spare a thought for you dedicated horse owners in the UK, facing the English winter! Thanks once again to my brilliant mother, who is looking after my angels while I’m away – Comet and Scarlet are very happy in their new home, with lots of grass (except for Comet who has to wear a grazing muzzle, the little porker) and things to stare at – Scarlet is particularly entranced by the cows next door and the wind turbines “over yonder” (an official West Country unit of measurement). I miss them hugely and can’t wait to see their furry little faces in February.
A lot has happened to the Dragonfly family since I last blogged, so lemme catch you up – I have a tendency to waffle so this could take a while. There’s a short summary at the very end if you can’t be bothered to read it all.
So, as my last couple of posts detailed (way back in spring of 2015), we had decided to close Dragonfly Saddlery, and I had retired Scarlet from anything more than the occasional spin round the South Downs, due to the fact that she was behaving like a psychopath. I was working in London once more, and my horsey life took a backseat, much to my disappointment.
The shop had an amazing last couple of months, with a fantastic response to our closing down sale, and lots of lovely customers coming in to wish us well. Mum and Dad were really sad to close, having spent 30 years saddle fitting and running the shop in Sussex, but we all knew it was the right time to go. They were hankering for a quieter life down in the West Country, so the house was sold and all their worldly goods packed up and put into storage. The horses went with them of course – much as I knew I was going to miss them, I couldn’t make my salary stretch to livery in London!
They were lucky to find a cottage to rent on a farm in Cornwall which had a livery yard and riding school attached, so the horses were literally just a stone’s throw from their front door. Unfortunately the yard had absolutely no turn out available, except for a half hour stint in the outdoor school each morning. I was worried this would send Scarlet completely off her rocker, but in fact it was Comet who struggled the most with the limited turnout. The yard had a lot of kids in it, especially at the weekend, and of course they all wanted to give him lots of cuddles, being so tiny and adorable. Scarlet, however, who was desperately craning her head out of her stable to try and attract attention, was largely ignored – people could sense the crazy, I think. She coped reasonably well being stabled for 23 hours a day, but was always on high alert with so much activity on the yard every day.
A few weeks into this new set up, it was suggested that the daughter of the yard owners might start to exercise Scarlet for me, as I could only get down to Cornwall every 6 weeks or so. I was very anxious about this, as I know what a complete moron the horse can be. However, the girl seemed keen so I agreed. Initially things were going well. She hacked Scarlet out and schooled her on the flat, and started to jump her, too. It was almost slightly irksome that Scarlet seemed to be behaving so well, and I felt that it reflected badly on me as her rider that we had had so many problems. I definitely had a touch of the green eyed monster whenever Mum told me how nicely Scarlet was going, but deep down I was very pleased that she seemed to be settling well and hadn’t blotted her copybook. I learned to smile politely over Christmas when I went down there and listened to the girl’s dad telling me that Scarlet just needed a decent rider to sort her out – I knew he thought I was a total dipstick, and who could blame him? All of the naughtiness Scarlet had displayed with me hadn’t made an appearance with them.
A few weeks into this arrangement, Scarlet decided she’d had enough of behaving herself. She was being jumped in the school one evening, just popping over a few small jumps, nothing too exciting, and Scarlet was being good, if slightly deranged round the corners. Then, out of nowhere, they approached a fence that they’d already jumped several times, and BAM. Scarlet pulled out her favourite party trick and whipped round in front of the fence. The girl flew off over her shoulder, completely (and justifiably so) unprepared for such a dirty stop. Luckily she was fine, and she got back on, but didn’t jump again. Mum had been filming this for me, so she caught it on camera, and it was absolutely textbook Scarlet wickedness. There was absolutely no reason for her to stop at that fence, and it was exactly that sort of behaviour that made me decide to retire her to life as a happy hacker.
Then, a few weeks after this incident, I got a phone call from my mum at work, to tell me that Scarlet had had an accident while being schooled on the flat. Apparently she had reared up and gone over backwards, thankfully throwing her rider clear. However, Scarlet had obviously hit her head when she landed, and the bit had fractured her jaw. The vet had been and advised surgery to wire the fracture. Thankfully my amazing mum handled everything for me, and organised the endless vet visits, did dozens of dressing changes, handfed Scarlet sloppy sugar beet and purified carrots (as she couldn’t eat solid food for a while) and was basically a star. Meanwhile I tore my hair out at my desk and lamented to my very un-horsey colleagues about my poor, accident prone angel.
So Scarlet, poor lamb, went for her third operation in as many years (the first two being for her broken hock in 2013) and had her jaw wired. That was a few months ago now and she still has a huge lump under her chin, but the vet promises that it will eventually disappear. She has to have a year off work, so I won’t be able to ride her again until spring 2017. Scarlet has her faults, and plenty of them, but she has never reared (or bucked or napped, so really she’s practically perfect….), so I have no idea what made her object so strongly to her rider that she went over backwards.
A few months after this, I went down to Cornwall to horse-sit and dog-sit while my parents went for a short break to Spain. A friend came with me, and we had a lovely few days doing lots of countryside things. On the last full day there before my parents came back, I went out early to give the horses their breakfast as usual. Comet can see the front door from his stable, and usually started shouting his head off as soon as it opened, knowing his breakfast was due. However, he was quiet this time, which I thought was odd. I chucked Scarlet’s breakfast at her, who was being her usual greedy self and holding her foreleg up, begging for her breakfast (that’s her second favourite party trick), and then headed off to Comet. He was standing near the back of his box, head down. His bed was a mess, which is very unlike him, and his water bucket was full of shavings. My heart sank. He clearly wasn’t going to be interested in his breakfast, so I put his headcollar on and coaxed him out onto the yard so I could get a better look at him. His nostrils were pinched, and he didn’t want to walk more than a couple of steps. Normally when he’s taken out of his stable he’ll drag you off to the nearest patch of grass. He was sweating a bit, and generally looked utterly miserable. I took his temperature, which was on the low side of normal, counted his respiratory rate, which was about twice what it should have been, and called the emergency vet (because of course it was Sunday morning) to ask them to come out immediately to a suspected colic case.
I left him tied up where he was, in the shade outside his stable, and quickly mucked his box out. I turned around to go and get him in and saw to my absolute horror that he was flat out on the concrete. My first assumption was that he had dropped dead, but then saw his sides were still moving. It was at this point that I burst into tears. Someone else had arrived on the yard by now, and she was lovely, giving me a hug and telling me he was going to be fine, he just had a bit of a tummy ache. We’ve owned Comet for 3 years now, as a companion for Scarlet when she was recovering from a broken hock, and in that time he has completely charmed us. He’s such a sweetheart, and so cheeky, that seeing him in so much pain was just awful.
I pulled myself together, and we encouraged him to his feet and back into his stable. I then flew to the cottage to grab my friend, who had just started to make breakfast and hauled her out into the yard. I had to muck Scarlet out, who was by this point calling to Comet, so I instructed her to ensure Comet didn’t roll. She isn’t even remotely horsey, and she stared at me, aghast.
Her: “What? You want me to… what?”
Me: “Make sure he doesn’t roll. He can lie down if he wants to, but if he tries to roll you’ll need to get between him and the ground.”
Her: “But he’s a horse! He could crush me!”
Me: “Don’t be ridiculous, he’s too small to do you any real damage. If he rolls he could twist his gut and that will kill him. And then I’ll kill you.”
So my sweet, city born and bred friend, knowing she had no choice, obediently went in with Comet and spent the next hour on her knees next to him, preventing him from rolling – which he tried to do multiple times. I tied Scarlet up next to Comet’s box while I mucked her out, and she kept poking her long nose into his stable, whickering to him, which was adorable and also heart-breaking.
Eventually the vet arrived, and looked slightly taken aback when he saw just how small his patient was. Comet was just lying on the floor of his stable, barely moving, and didn’t even flinch when the vet came in. I’m something of a fatalist so had already assumed that Comet’s number was up, but I was still desperately hoping that the vet would be upbeat about the severity of the colic. He took Comet’s temperature and respiratory rate, and listened to his gut. I couldn’t help but compare it to when Scarlet had colic, and she had thrashed around and poured with sweat, but at least she had been responsive, and aware of the vet. She even had to be sedated to have the dreaded tube threaded up her nose and into her gut, and somehow this gave me hope that she would be OK, as indeed she was. The vet explained that because Comet was so small he wasn’t able to perform a rectal exam to check for impaction (which is what Scarlet had), and therefore couldn’t diagnose the colic to be medical or surgical, ie. whether drugs would fix it or if he would need surgery. He also said Comet seemed very poorly indeed, at which point I did what any self-respecting adult does in times of crisis – I cried. Again.
You might not have been unlucky enough to see a colic treatment, but it’s kind of primitive: a bucket of water, a plastic jug and a long rubber tube is all you need. Oh, and a vet who can navigate through the oesophagus of a horse, of course. Our man warned us that sometimes horses have huge nose bleeds during the process and not to be alarmed, but thankfully Comet didn’t bleed. The vet threaded the tube in, and Comet barely moved – by comparison, Scarlet was bouncing off the walls when we did this to her, and she had to be sedated. We had tried to get him to stand for the process, but he wouldn’t budge. We pumped about 5 litres of water into him, and about 4 litres came back out, which suggested there was a blockage. The vet advised bringing Comet to the hospital for further treatment. I had managed to get hold of Mum by this point, because she would need to make the decisions in terms of his treatment. We agreed that we wouldn’t put him through surgery – at 25 we felt it would be too stressful for him – and that if he didn’t pull through with painkillers and anti-spasmodic drugs then we would have him put to sleep. We decided to give him a couple of hours, monitor him closely, and if he didn’t improve, to take him to hospital where they could scan him and at least confirm whether or not surgery would be required, and take it from there. Comet was very brave for his injections, and I eventually allowed the vet to leave, after nearly three hours.
I checked on Comet every 15 minutes or so for the next 2 hours, and thankfully, he began to perk up. I rang the vet to update him and he was very pleased to hear that. By the next morning, he was shouting for his breakfast once more, and I let him have a teeny tiny amount of sloppy chaff, and took him for regular nibbles of grass, before letting him have a haynet again. I can’t even begin to describe how relieved I was that he was ok – we love that little guy so much! And now my non-horsey friend can tell people she played a crucial role in the treatment of colic! We both agreed that it had been a mistake to watch Black Beauty the night before, though.
Scarlet and Comet are both now happy and settled in their new home, (with 24 hour turnout!) after 7 months at the rented yard. The cows next door are pretty fascinated with them both, and Scarlet was initially alarmed by the ducks next to the stables, but other than that, things are very quiet and peaceful for them.
My mum, Sue the saddler, will be taking up the blogging mantle from me now, as I not only have almost no involvement with horses (other than paying for one very expensive Thoroughbred field ornament) but I am moving to Mozambique to work for a marine conservation charity for a few months! She’s been doing lots of courses recently, swotting up on things like biomechanics and how anatomy affects saddle fitting, so she has lots of interesting insights to share.
TL;DR? Dragonfly Saddlery closed and relocated to Devon, to focus only on saddle fitting; Scarlet broke her jaw; Comet had colic and lived to tell the tale; Sue the saddler will be updating this blog from now on as I’m moving to Africa for a few months.
Saddle fitting is an enormous subject. Huge, massive, gigantic. Opinion changes, design changes, our knowledge changes. I have been lucky enough to attend quite a few training sessions over the last twelve months, to ensure my knowledge remains up to date with the latest innovations and cutting edge technology and design. Some of these training sessions are organised by the Society of Master Saddlers, which we get invited to as members of the society. Others are organised by manufacturers, such as Fairfax and Prestige.
I’ll start at the very beginning with an invitation to attend a training day run by Harry Dabbs. Long time traditional saddle makers in Walsall, Harry Dabbs make some of the best saddles I have seen anywhere. Just because they are traditional does not mean they are not hugely innovative, as I discovered when I drove up to Derbyshire to attend their training day.
Sean Jeffs, the factory manager at Harry Dabbs, produced an infinite variety of panels and showed that with the right tree and panel combination, horses could have a custom made saddle which would really suit their conformation and have a beneficial effect on their way of going.
The saddle designers at Harry Dabbs are lead by MD Peter Wilkes, who is the current President of the Society of Master Saddlers. They have produced a very radical panel design called the Freedom Panel and have designed a new range of jumping saddles using the new panel. The idea is that the panel is cut away at the shoulder to allow the horse to really be able to move his shoulder. It has been so successful that they are now also designing dressage saddles with the same intention. It was a privilege to watch dressage rider Lisa Garland ride in several of the saddles. We questioned her and her trainer about all aspects of saddle fit from the rider and producer’s point of view which was illuminating and informative.
Next up was a clinic at Wellington Riding in Hampshire. This was run by Prestige for their UK retailers. We were thrilled to meet Carsten Engelke, an incredibly forward thinking saddle fitter and designer from Germany. Carsten was primarily responsible for the design of the Prestige D1, again an innovative dressage saddle which addressed the freedom of the horse’s shoulder (can you see a pattern emerging yet?).
He pointed out something that both Richard and I had become aware of, that horses were being bred to be more efficient athletes. They are taller, shorter in the back and often front high. Maybe good for the dressage point of view, but boy does it make the job of the saddle fitter hard. Also, as an aside, riders are getting bigger - not fatter but taller and longer legged. So, here we have a problem: less room on the horse’s back for the saddle, but bigger riders to accommodate. We looked at the beautiful range of saddles that Prestige are currently producing with new trees, new panels, and, in the case of the X Breath, some radical new designing. All of this is focussed on helping sports horses really do their job without hinderance.
Another aspect, which I’m sure we are all aware of is properly girthing your horse. Prestige have carried out much research and produced two girths, one long for dual flap saddles, and one short for dressage and monoflap saddles. These were quite extraordinary to look at and there were a few puzzled looks from all of us! However, several horses of all shapes and sizes were produced for us and duly fitted with the RP (Relax and Performance) girths and it was really interesting to see that, without exception, all the horses went better in the Prestige girths. The horses were more relaxed, moved better and showed an increase in the length of stride. I was particularly impressed by one rather fizzy individual who looked so much better with the new girth. His rider was determined to get one for him as he really did show a marked improvement.
My next outing was to see Gillian Higgins of Horses Inside Out fame. If you have never seen her work, I urge you to look her up on Google. She is a very talented physiotherapist who paints horses. Not painting on to paper, but on living, breathing horses! Gillian paints on their muscle and bone structures, and to then watch these live canvases moving was amazing!
Gillian caters for the interested amateur as well as people who are professionally involved with horses. On the day, we covered anatomy, biomechanics, assessed the horse in movement and learned how to palpate the horse’s back. We as saddlers are by no means qualified to diagnose problems, but we need to recognise if problems are latent and need to be able to advise our clients if we feel that their horse would benefit from qualified treatment. No point in trying to fit a saddle to an unlevel horse and not be able to recognise a problem with the back!
A one day course with Russell Guire of Centaur Biomechanics was organised by the Society of Master Saddlers. Russell is a talented scientist, rider and teacher, and it was great to finally meet him. Dedicated to improving the way both horse and rider move and interact with each other, he has worked with our Olympic teams, analysing every last footfall of the horse and positioning of the rider at every hoofbeat. He has also worked with far sighted companies such as Fairfax in helping provide the gait analysis which produced such products as the Fairfax Performance Girth, the Fairfax range of saddles, and now the Fairfax bridle. He also works with purchasers of sports horses, providing conformation and gait analysis on individual horses. He is a UKCC level coach and competes the gorgeous Roux Bear at Medium level.
This was a fascinating day and dealt with the theory and practise of how horses move with the aid of high speed footage from top equestrian events such as the Olympics in London 2012.
We looked at a life sized skeleton of a horse, and were able to see how the bones moved and interacted, and then applied that knowledge to the horses working outside in the school. Russell’s goal is to work out how to select the most promising horses from foalhood to maturity, then how to help them maximise their potential.
It has been a pleasure and a privilege to work with these people this year, I’ve learnt a huge amount and have already been able to put my new learnings into practise at saddle fitting appointments across the south east. If you would like me to come out and fit you and your horse, please give me a call on 07496378721 or email me at email@example.com.
My last blog post was a few months ago, detailing my reasons for deciding to semi retire Scarlet. I've felt very blue about it, and the weekends have dragged, with no hacking or winter dressage or show jumping to go to - we had hoped to do some JAS and arena eventing over the winter too, so to suddenly not have those things to look forward to has made this winter feel longer than ever. I was lucky enough to be able to ride a horse locally, whose owner wanted his fitness and schooling kept up in preparation for his BE debut in 2015 but was struggling to find the time to ride him. I had some lovely hacks and brilliant lessons on Sailor, and he scorched round the 90 at Munstead at the end of March which was lovely to see. However, I have now returned to London, so my riding opportunities will be few and far between, which is a pretty bitter pill to swallow, especially as the eventing season has just kicked off, so my Facebook timeline is full of photos and updates from delighted riders.
Scarlet is happy enough, mooching round the paddock and chasing Comet around. However, she developed a cough and was producing mucus, so she's still keeping me on my toes. The vet has diagnosed Recurrent Airways Obstruction, comparing it to asthma in humans. She's been on antibiotics and an airway dilatory drug which has helped a lot, but her breathing is still a bit laboured, so she might need to be scoped to see what's going on in her lungs. She's now living out, to avoid further irritation from urea and dust in her stable, but we've no grass, so she still has to have hay - madam doesn't like it soaked and she turns her nose up at haylage, so that's presenting a new obstacle! She'll probably need a nebuliser, but I can't imagine that she'll take too kindly to that, either!
End of an era
We have run Dragonfly Saddlery in Sussex for thirty three years now, established by my parents in their living room in Hurstpierpoint. We've built it up steadily over the years, establishing a strong online presence and a successful website, as well travelling across the South East - and Spain! - fitting saddles. Our 2000 sq ft saddlery in Hassocks allowed us to diversify our stock, and we branched out into more clothing and footwear lines, introducing brands such as Rugged and Tredstep which have performed very strongly.
However, all good things must come to an end, and we have decided to close the shop and focus entirely on saddle fitting. Sue (my mum) has been inundated with saddle fitting requests in the last six months, her passion and knowledge building her a solid reputation amongst keen amateur riders. Most recently she has been to saddle fit for a client at Kevin McNab's yard in Surrey, and she came back looking a little star struck! She goes on regular courses to ensure she remains on top of her game, and is looking forward to the next one with Centaur Biomechanics, the company behind the innovative Fairfax Performance girths.
In the meantime, we're busy running our mega clearance sale! It started in the last weekend of March, and we were staggered by the number of customers who came pouring through the door that weekend! Everything is at least 10% off, with some items as much as 75% off, so I suppose we shouldn't be surprised - it's not often you get 10% off Rugged breeches or Charles Owen hats, 50% off Jeffries bridles and Racesafe body protectors, or 20% off Point Two air jackets! We've reduced lots of items online as well, so if you're not local to us in Hassocks you can still find these amazing deals on our website - and if you're in mainland UK and spend over £100, you get free postage, too!
We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their support over the years, we've got lots of good memories and made some firm friends!
Please visit: Dragonfly Saddlery & Pets
It’s been a couple of months since I updated my blog, mostly because I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching over young Scarlet. My last post covered the amazing clinic we did at Firle with Francis Whittington in September, where for the first hour she behaved appallingly and it was only due to the fact that I have a life threatening amount of pride that I didn’t just get off and go home.
It’s true that when she’s on side she’s the best horse I’ve ever ridden, but when she’s not, and that’s like, 95% of the time, she scares the heck out of me. I’m only an amateur rider, I don’t have the skills or the courage to keep getting on a horse that might decide to ditch me at the slightest provocation. I ride for fun, and because I love the adrenaline buzz of a cross country round, and the thrill of clearing a course of show jumps, and the sheer pleasure of a nice hack out on the South Downs. I love to potter around the yard on a sunny Saturday, cleaning tack, weeding the yard, poo picking. But that stuff is only enjoyable (to me, anyway) if you have a horse that loves his or her job, and I don’t think Scarlet does enjoy her job. It breaks my heart to think that, because I know what a talented beastie she is, and she certainly feels like she’s enjoying herself when she gets going, but the amount of strength, bravery and determination it takes for me to get her there is draining my enjoyment.
I’m not a naturally bold rider, but I am pretty brave and a decent enough jockey, so if I still, after 4 years (3 if you count the fact that she spent 2013 off sick) can’t get her to jump round a 2’9” cross country course without dumping me (twice), what is the point of carrying on? We went to a show jumping clinic recently and it was all I could do to get her over a 1’9” cross pole. I can’t keep spending my time and money on a horse who won’t play ball. Scarlet’s a sweetheart, and she has scope to burn - even her paces are pretty good when she relaxes and works properly - but I think ultimately she’s too much of a stress head to cope with what I’m asking of her. I took her to Blue Anchor Farm to do the 2’9” hunter trial and we got to fence 16 and she whipped round at a simple palisade and dumped me. She hightailed it off round the fields, with me and Mum trailing after her. We caught her, I got back on and Mum re-entered me, HC. Off we went, and this time got to fence 17, a straightforward sleeper fence and she repeated the trick. Off we went after her, I got back on, jumped her over the warm up fence and threw her back in the lorry. AND MY BACK STILL HURTS.
She’s been at our new yard since August - it’s a two stable private yard, with 6 acres of grazing and a school, and it’s on the same lane as she’s been on for the last 4 years - with Comet and Blue for company, but instead of thriving on the grass as we had expected her to, she’s reverted back to her old habits of box walking and eating her bedding at night. We’ve tried dozens of different calmers and feed, and she’s been scoped for ulcers, but the scope showed she was clear. There’s no reason that I or any number of experienced horsey people can see for her to be such a stressy, worried little mare, but she continues to drop condition and behave idiotically. I’ve even had a professional rider out to ride her, and although he rode her beautifully, she was a moron for him as well, and was very stressy both times he rode her. If he can’t get her to calm down, what chance do I stand? I’ve read through my older blog posts and see how each time we’ve gone out to a clinic or a competition we have to start at the very beginning each time, and that’s so depressing. I can’t go to a one day event and ask if they’ll let us have a bash at the show jumping and only count our second round! It’s also kind of depressing to scroll through my Facebook and Twitter feeds and see how much fun everyone else is having with their nice, sane horses...
She’s a lamb to handle on the ground, and she’s an excellent hack when in company, so ideally I’ll find someone who just wants to hack and does so with another horse. If I can’t find that person, I’ll just retire her, because it’s just too depressing (and expensive) to keep her going as a riding horse for me. The farrier took her shoes off this week, so she’s now happily lording it over the other two out in the field, and being lunged twice a week to stop her going feral and keep her muscles and joints in good working order. It’s so crushing to see her loafing around in the field, her talent and gorgeousness totally wasted simply because she’s got a crazy brain. We’ve come up with any number of theories and new ideas about why she’s nuts and how we can fix her - did the clinic at Firle blow her mind? was she badly treated when she was racing? - but I would rather accept that I’ve failed with her and move on than continue in the same vein for another 4 years.
A very nice friend of mine has offered me her own lovely event horse to ride a couple of times during the week as she is very busy with work, and even though I’ve only ridden him a few times, he’s already hugely bolstered my confidence in my own riding. Scarlet makes me feel a bit useless, because it often doesn’t matter what I do, if she wants to be a prat then she will be. Riding Sailor has been great, because when I ride well, he goes well. If I do something wrong, like lean forward, let my reins get too long, etc then he responds in kind. I’m hoping to start jumping soon, and that will be a huge test for me, but I know he’s such a genuine, honest horse that he’ll look after me. I’ve had some fab lessons with Sailor, and am so grateful to him and his lovely owner Polly and yard owner Beverley that I can still ride and enjoy my hobby. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
Special offers in the run up to Christmas:
For those of you who come in store, join our loyalty scheme and earn points on absolutely everything, from saddles and breeches to feed and rug repairs.
Happy Christmas everyone, don’t forget to give your horses and ponies extra carrots and cuddles!
Written by Laura Paine of Dragonfly Saddlery
Earlier this month I took Scarlet to Firle for a cross country clinic with Francis Whittington. The course was open for schooling for a few days after the BE event, so it seemed like a great opportunity to school over some BE90 fences. I signed up and asked to be put in the group people doing 80/90, and emphasised that we were green and wanted to build confidence as a partnership after a year and a half out of action.
We rocked up at Firle, with me shaking like a jelly as usual, made worse by the fact that half the county appeared to have had the same idea. It then got much MUCH worse when we let the ramp down and saw the fire-breathing lunatic in the back, with sweat pouring off her and nostrils the size of frying pans.
Me: I’m not getting on that.
Mum: Don’t be ridiculous, she’ll be fine.
We, hopeless optimists that we are, unloaded her before tacking her up. THIS WAS AN ERROR. Scarlet immediately broke all the baler twine when we tied her up to the box, so tacking her up involved throwing the saddle in her general direction and diving under her legs to get the girth done up. Then the bridle… Ah, the bridle. Many swear words were uttered, many toes were trampled, and eventually all the straps were more or less in the right place, cinched as tight as they could be. I immediately regretted the decision to keep her in a snaffle. Then we had the fun job of studding her up. We had 8 studs to put in. We gave up after 3.
By this point, Scarlet had pretty much lost the plot. The final straw was when she reared up, nearly knocking Mum’s head off.
Me: I’m absolutely not getting on that.
Mum: You have to! You’ve paid £60! She’ll be fine! (Terrible liar, my mother.)
Me: No. You’ll have to lunge her.
So after I crammed my hat on to Mum’s head in case Scarlet had another go, the pair of them jig jogged off for a quick lunge while I prayed to all the gods that I wouldn’t die a horrible, gruesome, public death. People on Facebook had assured me that Francis was lovely and kind, and great at building confidence, so that helped, and after about ten minutes of hiding in the lorry, I wobbled over to the mad beast and croaked at Mum for a leg up. Luckily we had got there with plenty of time in hand, so we walked around for a bit, and I tried to get her attention by doing lots of bending and small circles and changes of rein, but I may as well have been on a runaway train, only with fewer brain cells. Scarlet was more manic than I’ve ever known her, and that’s really saying something. All I wanted to do at this point was get off and go home, but that was really not an option. She was going backwards, sideways and up and down, and doing her very best to frighten the life out of me. Well, bravo, Scarlet, bravo.
Eventually we crept off to join the group and meet Francis. Scarlet immediately shot sideways, and he asked me to go and give her a trot and a canter. I’d rather he’d asked me to cut off my arms and legs to be honest. Off we went, with me hanging on to my RS-tor and squeaking lots of “good girl”s and “woah, steeeeaaaadddyyyyyy”s at her. We managed to trot and canter, although Scarlet’s ears were firmly jammed up my nose. He then told me to pop her over one of the 3 warm up fences. I looked at the row of fences, the smallest of which was a 3ft house, and piped up, “is there something smaller we could start with?”, thinking, gosh, that’s rather large for a group of people doing 80 and 90. He said no, so off we went, cantering towards it and sailing past it, with a huge jink sideways for good measure. We did this a few more times before I headed back over to a very unimpressed Francis. I asked him again if there was something smaller I could jump, and he, to my utter horror and humiliation, remarked that if we couldn’t even jump that, then there was very little point us being in the lesson, and he would give me my money back. I squeaked that if we could just go and jump a plain log to warm up that we’d be absolutely fine after that. He asked me if I was scared of her, and I said, when she’s like this? Yes. He sighed and said that I could tag along with the group and if we jumped, great. So the 4 other horses and riders cantered off one at a time across the field, and Francis hopped in his car and drove off. Mum gave me a sympathetic look and headed off on foot with the other spectators, and I kept Scarlet trotting in circles, waiting for the other horses to head off and hoping Scarlet wouldn’t p*ss off after them!
Thankfully we had a fairly civilised canter off after them, heading for a log with some wooden mushrooms as fence dressing. Someone shouted an offer of a lead to me, which I gratefully accepted, and, praise the lord, Scarlet jumped. Francis roared at me to go and jump it again another 5 times, which we did, and just like that I knew we’d be OK. He told me to keep her moving and not let up on her until she learnt to behave herself. We jumped another log and then as a group we cantered through the water splash and headed up on to the course. As we went, I casually asked the other riders what level they were at. “BE 100 and Be Novice”, they chirped.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME??! I was meant to be in the 80/90 group! No wonder Francis had been so disgusted!
When we got up to his car, I immediately explained that there had been a mix up, and his whole attitude changed. No longer was I the idiot who thought we were capable of jumping round the Novice, I was just the idiot who had been put in the wrong group by mistake! Hurray! He said not to worry, I could do the 90 and maybe some of the 100 fences while the others did the Novice jumps, and that he would have a word with the organiser to find out what had gone awry. Scarlet was still delirious with excitement, so we swiftly moved on, and I kept her trotting round and round and round while Francis explained to the rest of the group the sequence he wanted them to jump. He then yelled instructions atme - we cantered down the hill, back through the water splash and down to the first two logs, to then canter back up, and over the two angled houses. Sure, I said. No problem!
Scarlet, bless her bad, naughty heart, did it. She cantered down the hill, past a pony whose rider shouted what a lovely horse she was (I yelled back that I was giving her away), through the water, circled round and jumped the two logs, leapt back through the water splash and back up the hill (with a huge spook at the water trough at the side, natch), and she flew the two skinny, angled 90cm houses. We then cantered on to a steeplechase fence, where I got hopelessly left behind and hailed a fleet of cabs, and then trotted back to the group, both of us with big beams on our faces. “Keep moving!” was our praise, and I took it gladly. We did that a couple of more times, and then he told us to do the slightly more technical and bigger 100 houses. We had a couple of run outs at the second house, owing to my bad riding, and then we did it and I was so thrilled. Mum looked how I felt - astonished - and we had a moment.
Then we headed down the hill to the water jump. We paddled through and jumped the step out, before I realised that the only way back was to jump back down the step… Last time we did this, Scarlet dithered and dallied and then fell in, so I was a bit anxious about doing it again, but she had decided this was a great lark and leapt in, all 4 feet off the ground, and I lost my reins, control and any remaining dignity. Francis yelled at me, and we did it again, slightly more graciously. Then the proper horses jumped the Novice section, which was a skinny brush and a stride to the water, jump out to a corner. We jumped the 100 section, which was a smaller brush, two strides to the water and then a jump up the step out. Scarlet went straight through like a pro, and we were rewarded with a “well done” from Francis.
By this point I was a) knackered (especially as I had to keep trotting the mad beast round and therefore had no opportunity to ever catch my breath, and b) overcome with pride, that we had overcome her wild silliness and my crippling nerves at the start, and we were now jumping 90/100 fences with confidence and ease. Unfortunately Francis then came over and said how well we were doing, and what a nice horse she was and that I was obviously a very capable rider, so I did what I always do when I’m feeling emosh and someone is nice to me - I cried. Not big, huge sobs, but definite eye leakage. He was very nice and changed the subject, and told me to go back to the first two logs, the water splash, the brush to the water, the step up, and then canter up to the huge oxer that I’d eyeballed the previous weekend and said, yikes, that looks big for a 100 fence!, and onto the sunken road and the final fence. I asked Francis if he thought we were up to it, and he said he very much thought we were. So off we went, and she was an angel. Flew everything - at the oxer I gave her a tap behind my leg because I felt her backing off it, and she leapt over it (thank God, because I really didn’t want to have to re-present to it), and then the sunken road, where she was much braver than me and popped the rail and step down beautifully. We fluffed the last fence because I hadn’t appreciated how spooky it was and didn’t ride her as strongly as I should (too busy congratulating myself on the sunken road), so second time round I walloped her and she popped it.
And that was that! We had finished a cross country clinic with one of the country’s best event riders and survived! We’d jumped fences that were way beyond anything we’d done before, and she’d made it feel so deliciously easy - once she stopped being a prat. I was so proud of her, and by then, she’d stopped being an arse, and stood quietly with the other horses while Francis gave us all feedback. Everyone had similar problems, the classic amateur rider issue - the horse was behind the leg. He said Scarlet was a lovely horse with a good jump, and I was so thrilled I forgot to ask for a photo. Just as well really, as my face was the colour of a plum tomato. He also told me to get a jumping saddle, so I can get my stirrups shorter and not get left behind over the bigger fences. Luckily I know exactly where to go…
Written by Laura Paine of Dragonfly Saddlery
It’s been an exciting month for me and my naughty ex-racehorse, Scarlet. We were on something of a high through June and July, with lots of outings and lessons - and even a rosette! Perhaps we peaked too soon, as August has been something of a damp squib…
Our last show jumping outing was to Golden Cross, for the unaffiliated classes in their lovely grass arena. It was going to be a real educational outing for Scarlet, as the warm up is in a very spooky indoor school, where you have to ride through a funnel to get in and the open viewing gallery is accessible via a loud, hollow sounding staircase right next to the long side of the arena. We had our usual loading issues, and eventually manhandled her in after about an hour. We unloaded at the venue and were pleasantly surprised by how quiet she was. She soon woke up when I asked her to go into the indoor school, and we spent an enjoyable ten minutes cavorting around going every direction but forwards, until a green 4 year old gave us a lead.
She warmed up fairly well, a bit behind the leg because she was spooking and I was too jelly-legged to get my leg on. There were a couple of babies (actual babies, like, 4 year olds, not like my idiotic ten year old) warming up with us, and they showed us up by popping the cross pole nice and quietly. Scarlet had a predictable meltdown when I suggested she try and jump it too, but she took a deep breath and shut her eyes and we leapt over it a few times. Off we went to the outdoor arena to jump the 1ft6 course, and we went clear! OK, we stopped at the first fence, but apart from that it was clear. However, there were no fillers, so she had no excuse really.
There was another, smaller grass arena running clear rounds concurrently, and you could choose your heights, so after a few more jumps in the warm up, we went in and attempted a 2’3” course with some fillers. She ground to a halt a few times, but a few Pony Club kicks and plenty of growling encouraged her forward, and we finally got what I thought would elude us forever: a clear round rosette! I was all for calling it a day there and going home, with most of my dignity still intact, but as the proud owner of a pushy Pony Club mother, I found myself back in the ring facing a 2’6”-2’9” course. Scarlet had finally caught on to what I was asking of her, and I was thrilled to bits with her, she really flew! We had a skinny down, which was total rider error (it was on a related distance and I messed up the shot to it), so we came away with just the one frilly, bringing our total frilly tally to an thoroughly unimpressive THREE, earned in 4 long, unrewarding years.
Next up was a freestyle cross country schooling session at Coombelands. She came out of the lorry nice and quiet, interested but not manic, which is still a pleasing novelty to me. She warmed up pretty well, trotting and cantering and bending, and popped the first couple of small warm up fences really nicely. We cantered up to a very innocuous tyre fence, had a nice rhythm and good shot to it, and suddenly I found myself flat on my back on the ground. The little witch had decided the tyres weren’t to her taste after all. Mum dusted me off, Holly trudged off to catch the horse and I asked myself for the eight millionth time why I spend so much time, money and energy on such an ingrate.
Safe to say that dented my confidence more than a bit, and rather than pushing on and jumping the meatier fences, we went back down to jumping small, straightforward fences, like logs, brushes, etc. I felt that I couldn’t trust her at all, which made me ride really defensively (OK, badly). Luckily Scarlet decided to start behaving herself halfway round, and we jumped some decent fences, and by the end we had built our confidence back up. We even went back to the beginning to jump the tyres, which she flew.
The next battle was the loading issue. Scarlet takes about an hour to load at the moment, and we usually need the help of a couple of strong men to eventually lift her in, when we tire of the merry dance at the bottom of the ramp. So obviously it’s not ideal. There will come a day when I’m whisked off to A&E and we’ll have to rely on the kindness of strangers to get her home (or deposit her by the side of the motorway, depending on what she’d done) and that kindness will evaporate within five minutes of Scarlet being a mule. It’s massively inconvenient that she won’t load quickly and quietly. So I called a guy. He was listed on the Monty Roberts website, and having seen Monty deal with bad loaders we wanted to go down that route of understanding why Scarlet doesn’t want to go in the horsebox. He came out and was very nice, and Scarlet took to him immediately which is very unlike her! He really knew his stuff, but I suspected he underestimated just how stubborn my horse is.
Three hours later, and he admitted he had underestimated how stubborn she is.
I asked him how it was that Monty seems to get horses to load within ten minutes at his demonstrations, and he said that horses like Scarlet wouldn’t be selected for a demo. They choose horses who are frightened of loading, because Monty wins their trust very quickly until they follow him anywhere. Horses like Scarlet, who have just picked up a bad habit, would make for very boring demonstrations with no guarantee of success. He gave us some homework and left, advising us not to expect miracles but to work on correcting both our bad habits (I indulge her and let her be the boss because she’s adorable) and eventually she’ll twig that it’s easier and expected of her to load.
In happier news, I’ve moved the horses down the lane to a new, private yard. Two stables, six acres of grazing which is flat enough to use as a grass arena for dressage and show jumps, a 20x40 school with rubber surface - it’s bliss! Scarlet is finally gaining weight and looking less like a bag of bones, and Comet can’t believe his luck - there can’t be many 25 year old Shetlands who have the run of a 3 acre field with masses of grass during the day, and a nice warm stable at night. He’d much prefer it if he wasn’t made to wear a grazing muzzle, but he accepts (as many of us have to) that he’s prone to being hugely fat and has to watch his weight. The yard is a bit run down at the moment, having been lorded over by two goats and multiple chickens for several years, but the guy who owns it has been brilliant about getting fences and gates fixed, stables creosoted and rubber added to the school. There’s also the huge added bonus of absolutely no yard politics! Well, I have the odd run in with the goats, but there are no hard feelings about it.
So in theory, Scarlet should now have no excuses for not pulling her socks up. However, I had a lesson last week and she spooked so enormously at a pole on the ground that I fell off into the post and rail fence which happened to have a big patch of nettles growing up around it. So, plenty of room for improvement, I think...
Written by Laura Paine of Dragonfly Saddlery
A couple of weekends ago we headed off to Coombelands for our first cross country outing in 20 months. I was bricking it as usual, even though I was thrilled to be back on a cross country course. Scarlet was being suspiciously quiet and well behaved as we warmed up with the other two horses, popping the small practise fences nicely and working in a soft outline. We even got the right canter strike off! We headed off onto the course and Scarlet and I took the lead, jumping a small log to a palisade to shark teeth running downhill on a curve. She thought the sharks teeth were pretty scary and we had a tussle over it before she popped it. Unfortunately the next person fell off at the palisade - her horse over jumped and threw her off balance, so he helped her out of the saddle by putting in a cheeky buck. He then whizzed off up the field back to the lorry park.
Both were fine, luckily, but it caused a very long delay which made Scarlet very stressed and she started jigging around, grinding her teeth and being a pain in the butt. I whimpered at Caroline and she told me to take her off and work her, and not let her get away with anything. This helped get Scarlet's concentration back although I could see her eyeballing everything, but for the rest of the session I had to keep her trotting and cantering in between fences, whereas other horses were happy to just stand and watch. She was leaning on my hand quite heavily which she always does when she's stressed, which made her feel strong and I felt I couldn't adjust her pace much at all when approaching jumps. But, she was absolutely fantastic over the straightforward fences, cantering and popping without hesitation. She was naughty with ditches but we jumped several open ditches so I was pleased. I say naughty because she slammed the brakes on and then gazed off into the distance, totally unconcerned by the ditch in front of her. Caroline insisted she jump from a standstill but this really worried me, as Scarlet wasn't looking where her feet were going and I could imagine her falling right in it. Caroline said she wouldn't - "she's not daft" - but actually "daft" is exactly what Scarlet is. She was being stubborn rather than frightened and I knew it, because Caroline was running, yelling and waving her coat at her to make her go forward over the ditch and Scarlet took not a blind bit of notice. If she was frightened, this would have definitely had a reaction!
We also jumped the dreaded trakehner! I fell off at this two years ago, and would have again this time had it not been for my RS-tor! We jumped it on our third attempt and I was absolutely delighted. Scarlet's great with water, and we ended up doing steps in, steps out, and cantering through to a meaty house two strides out of the water. By this point we were soaked the skin thanks to a torrential downpour... We battled on, and went on to jump roll tops, log piles, banks, steps, and more ditches, before finishing in fine style down a line of fences, which Scarlet flew over. We ended with that amazing buzz you can only get from a brilliant cross country round. She had completely calmed down by now, and strolled back to the horsebox as cool as a cucumber.
She then took an hour to load. Again, we were eventually assisted by a very strong man, who walked Scarlet in a hoof at a time. She's got a neat trick of making her knees go rigid so I can't pick her feet up, but this guy deadlegged her behind the knees and she was beat. Little scamp. Loading practise next weekend!
So a very busy few weeks, and I'm so pleased with her progress. She's also sound as a pound, most importantly. We've got lots more planned - combined training, jump lessons, and hopefully a one day event in a few weeks. Nothing we do is pretty or stylish, but it's a heck of a lot of fun :)
For some cross country clips on my round with Scarlet, please take a look at these:-
Written by Laura Paine of Dragonfly Saddlery
What a month it's been! Lots to update on so I hope you're sitting comfortably.
Scarlet and I have finally been getting out and about to parties, our first one with Caroline Jeanne, a lovely instructor and former four star eventer, who reintroduced jumping to us a few weeks ago. Buoyed by this great experience, we rather recklessly decided to go to Coombelands for their unaffiliated show jumping, which is on a beautiful all weather arena.
We planned to leave with enough time to get there an hour before the 60cm clear round started, so that I could warm her up for as long as necessary. Unfortunately Scarlet had other plans, all of which involved refusing to go anywhere near my recently purchased horsebox. We're pretty good at loading horses generally, with the lunge line round the bottom usually convincing them to go in. It's always worked on Scarlet in the past, who likes to dither and daydream at the bottom of the ramp and needs a bit of gentle persuasion. This time however she wasn't budging. She had that look in her eye that only mares get, the one that says, "you and whose army?"
So we stood there for about half an hour, coaxing and cajoling, occasionally muttering a rude word or threatening her with a trip to Tesco, until Mum's next door neighbour came out and offered her considerable strength. Hoof by furious hoof, she walked a very cross Scarlet into the box. So forty five minutes behind schedule, we made our stressed and sweaty way to Coombelands. By the time we'd warmed up and Scarlet had stopped being an utter tw*t over the warm up jumps, we'd missed the clear round, so we had to go straight into the 60cm class. Obviously Scarlet found the whole experience too much, and to my eternal shame we were eliminated at fence 1. We clambered over it and the tannoy told us we could do one more fence, so we carried on to fence 2, which was identical to 1. And she stopped. We were asked to leave the ring while I shrieked "IT'S THE SAME FENCE YOU STUPID HORSE" at the stupid horse, who proceeded to do a huge spook as we left the arena, earning herself a smacked bottom.
The organisers took pity on us and our feebleness, and said we could go in again, HC. I was feeling more determined by now (and humiliated) so I rode more positively second time around. Scarlet stopped at fence 1 again. I hissed "sausages" at her and she bravely leapt over it. We managed to complete the course this time, with about 8 refusals throughout. In her defence, it was a very spooky course, with fillers at every jump, and she hasn't seen a course of fillers since September 2012. I was thrilled to have gotten round, and quickly sent my groom to enter the next class, which was 70cm. I went back into the warm up to have a pop over the cross pole to bolster my confidence, so of course Scarlet slammed the brakes on, snorting wildly.
In we went to the 70cm, feeling quite ill (me) and furious (also me), and maybe slightly hysterical (me and Scarlet). We got round with perhaps four or five refusals this time, but at least in this round I felt that she was enjoying herself, and in fact the refusals were down to poor steering by me. The course wasn't very well designed - you'd come off the right rein, jump a related distance on a left bearing dog leg and then have to haul round to the right again. I was using an RS-tor strap for the first time, and although it saved me several times from unscheduled dismounts, it stopped me from being able to open my hands nice and wide to help my hopelessly unbalanced lunatic get round corners and turns. So I was actually very pleased with that third round. Yep, despite being technically eliminated in all three rounds, we were happy!
I'm not gonna lie, it's enormously frustrating that Scarlet can be such a pillock about show jumps, and it makes me green with envy when I see other people who have had their horses for far less time than I've had Scarlet jumping clear round 2'3 courses, but I also know I need to ride her more bravely. Now I have the RS-tor strap I think I'll have more confidence to kick her into a fence without worrying that she'll stop and spin. The more leg I ride with the less likely she is to do that, but she's not above a dirty stop, and there's nothing more confidence sapping that believing you're about to hit the deck.
Despite our poor showing at the show jumping, I booked in for a cross country session at Coombelands with Caroline Jeanne. I was super psyched about it - I know Coombelands like the back of my hand, and Scarlet's been there twice before (one fall to date)
Before the cross country, I had a lesson with my usual instructor, Janet, who I haven't seen since the autumn of 2012, as we were competing a lot that winter (unsuccessfully but joyously) and then Scarlet was kicked. So it was with some nerves that I warmed up one evening after work waiting for Janet to appear. Scarlet hasn't got a great track record with lessons at home - she's inattentive at best, and at worst she's nucking futs, leaping around and being an absolute tool.
So we were all pleasantly surprised that she behaved beautifully in the lesson, producing some really lovely trot work and even getting the right canter lead! It was easily the best lesson at home we've had, and we were both exhausted by the end from working so hard. Janet always likes us to have a jump at the end of a flatwork lesson, which Scarlet always (literally, always) disgraces herself at - jumping at home is, for some reason, more terrifying to her than when we're out. I had rather thought I'd gotten away with it as we don't have any jumps in the school we use now, but sadly Janet is very resourceful. My heart sank to my boots as she dragged out two old fence posts and set up two trotting poles. However, Sally Sensible walked and trotted over them with no drama. But imagine my horror when Janet then produced a blue water bucket(!) and set up a jump! I announced that there was no way I would get Scarlet over that and please could we just call it a day there before anyone ended up on the floor? Janet obviously told me to shut up and get on with it, so I mournfully gathered my knitting up and trotted towards the tiny jump, which may as well have been a puissance wall.
To everyone's astonishment, Scarlet popped over it! She was very pleased with herself, and skipped over it several more times, without so much as a glance at the bucket. We all cheered and whooped, forgetting perhaps that I've had this horse for four years, therefore the fact that we were thrilled she decided she could an eighteen inch rail is actually is quite a depressing realisation of our painfully slow progress... That said, I'm so glad she's back and staying sound (*touches all the wood*) and even, dare I say it, relatively sane!
Written by Laura Paine of Dragonfly Saddlery
Finally a *proper* blog post about Scarlet that doesn’t revolve around her being lame or monstrous. A few weeks ago I bankrupted myself once more and bought a horsebox. I decided there was no point having a sound horse if we couldn’t actually go anywhere, and as my ancient 4x4 died last year and we always had to borrow a trailer anyway, it seemed like the logical option (a compelling argument I think you’ll agree, which magically my bank manager went along with. So I’m now the proud owner of a K reg Mercedes two horse lorry, which is amazing and surprises me every time I drive to the yard and see it sitting there in the driveway.
This meant we could finally take the mad old boot out to some parties! So we entered the Pony Club hunter trial at Wivelsden as I mentioned in my last post, thinking that as cross country is our strongest phase, it would be a good first time out. Mum then found out about some BE show jumping training with Caroline Jeanne, a brilliant and sympathetic instructor who has competed at 4* level. We did some XC arena schooling with her in 2012 and I really liked her - I was a quivering jelly and she totally put me at ease and had us happily jumping 2’9” courses by the end of the session, including skinnies, angled rails and corners. So we booked in for that as well, thinking we could do that first thing and then go cross country in the afternoon. We walked Wivelsden the evening before, and were a bit dismayed by the going -it was very rutted and overgrown with boggy patches. We decided to wait and see how the morning’s jumping went before making a decision about whether to run or not.
So, the following morning we got Scarlet washed and dressed (we usually travel her fully clobbered because she loves to whirl around at parties) and ready to load with plenty of time to lunge her for 20 minutes before our session began. Scarlet of course had other plans. She crept up the ramp of the box, snorting and sniffing, and then, JUST as she decided to go in, she slipped. All hell broke loose. She leapt in the air, whipped round (yanking the rope out of my hand, ouchies) and galloped down the ramp and into the lane, knocking my poor mother clean over as she went. Thankfully she stopped at a gateway to whinny at some geldings and a passing horsey person grabbed her. So with a cut fetlock (Scarlet), a grazed arm and hand (Mum) and ropeburn (me), we managed to eventually load and go. We arrived five minutes late, so that was lunging out, but Caroline was very kind and suggested we lunge until I felt Scarlet was ready. Of course, Scarlet likes to show me up, so although she came out of the box drenched in sweat as usual, she behaved beautifully on the lunge, and stood like a rock when Mum legged me up after five minutes. We joined the other two horses and riders who were warming up, and although she was a bit gobby at first, she started to settle and work nicely, which helped settle my nerves.
The other two then started jumping over a cross pole and upright, but Caroline told me to keep warming up as I was and to walk and trot over a couple of poles she had laid out for me. This is what I mean about her - she’s a great instructor because she assesses what she sees in front of her, not what she wants to see. It made me feel so much better, knowing she didn’t expect us to keep up with the lovely horses in the group!
Scarlet walked and trotted over the poles quite nicely, which cheered me up, as she’s usually an utter boob about poles on the ground. Caroline then put up a small cross pole, which, predictably, Scarlet shot sideways at. Caroline said I was riding too defensively and putting the horse off, so the next time round I tried to be more positive. Scarlet was enjoying herself now though, and refused to go near the cross pole for a while. Caroline turned her attentions back to the proper horses, and we bimbled about, eventually leaping over the dangerous cross pole. We trotted and cantered over it a few more times, and then jumped a different upright which she didn’t hesitate at, despite the dog running in front of it as we approached! We then tackled an upright on a related distance to another upright with fillers pulled out to the wings. Cue slamming on of brakes and much snorting, so Caroline put it down to a pole on the ground which we high stepped over, then represented to it as a cross pole and then as an upright, before combining the two jumps together. Scarlet was good as gold, and flew them, looking very pleased with herself. I was thrilled to bits, and actually disappointed when Caroline said that was a good place to finish. The other two had done brilliantly, jumping a 1.05m course with lots of fillers and related distances, but I couldn’t have been happier with our three fences of 1ft6! Scarlet had behaved impeccably, working well around other horses in a big open field over coloured fences. We’re not the most stylish combination yet, but the very fact that she behaved so well is more than good enough for me. And the fact that she’s sound is pretty awesome, too!
I was then keen to take her cross country as planned, but my mum, Caroline and another girl in the group advised against it, given that the ground was bad and Scarlet had been so good already. They said she deserved to spend the afternoon in the field, and to not risk upsetting her delicate nature with a hunter trials. So I sulkily agreed, and accepted that this was sage advice. We’re now booked in for a cross country schooling session with Caroline at Coombelands in a couple of weeks, which I’m really looking forward to.
Scarlet is beginning to work really well in the school now, and we lunge her in the Equiami lungeing aid, which encourages her to drop her nose, round her back and work through from behind. Although she’s scatty and has endless energy, she can be pretty idle in the school and not work from behind, so the Equiami is a very useful tool for us. It helps to contain her high spirits and convert it to impulsion and engagement rather than speed.
That said, nothing in the world can contain her when she sees the goats in the field next to the school headbutting each other...
Here are some video clips of our outing:
Written by Laura Paine of Dragonfly Saddlery
I've done something very silly... I've entered Scarlet into a hunter trial. It'll be her first outing since her accident last year - that's 15 months ago! I should probably write my will. For some reason I find dressage and show-jumping far more nerve racking than cross country, and it makes sense for the first time out after such a lengthy break to be something that will terrify me the least, so I can give Scarlet confidence.
That's the plan, anyway.
Scarlet is such a funny horse, full of quirks and odd behaviours that I can't understand and certainly can't predict. Sometimes I wonder if she's a bit too spicy for me, and get very gloomy about it, but then we'll have a great flatwork session or a nice, peaceful hack in the sunshine - it must have been after one of those days that I entered for the hunter trials!
We've started lunging her in the Equi-ami lungeing aid, and she's working really well in it. She's lunged using two lunge reins - one in the usual place and one round her bottom, which stops her turning in (she's frightened of the lunge whip, natch) - and the Equi-ami encourages her to work from behind and accept a contact. Occasionally a goat or two will pop into the school, so that keeps us all on our toes.
She's starting to work really well under saddle as well, accepting the contact and occasionally even carrying herself. Despite her bottomless pit of energy, she starts to flag after about 30-40 minutes, and gets very heavy in front, so I try to keep her schooling sessions to 30 minutes for now, but of course if she prats around for 20 minutes first, she has to stay much longer.
What's been really interesting is that we're still having the old problem of not getting canter on the right lead. She strikes off on the left lead perfectly, but the right lead, under saddle, still flummoxes her. So, given that nine times out of ten she'll strike off on the right lead on the lunge, we decided to test something... I go into sitting trot but keep my legs still, rather than sliding my outside leg back, and Mum (standing in the middle to supervise) gives her the vocal aid to canter. And it works! So obviously it's something to do with my weight distribution, and suggests she's not in physical pain whe cantering right under saddle. Which is good news! Mum gives the vocal aid because she's the one who lunges the beast, so Scarlet is tuned in to her "caaaaanTA!!!", but we'll work on that.
We're hacking out fairly tentatively at the moment. I drag poor Mum out around the hills, and occasionally hack out with my friend down the lane, which means we can go further afield. A few weeks ago we headed out for a two hour hack, with some great canter work and lots of trotting and good behaviour. I was thrilled, and waved goodbye to my friend who turned for home leaving me and Scarlet to plod the last fifteen minutes home alone. Scarlet took unexpected umbrage at this, and dumped me, before hightailing it off back in the direction we'd come. My friend saw this, and galloped off after her, along with lots of foot followers - yep, we had quite an audience! Thankfully she was caught and hadn't managed to break any bones or bleed any blood, but she had snapped her reins in several different places, so it was quite a long walk home for us. A real pity, because she'd been angelic the rest of the ride, and it knocked my confidence considerably.
Still, that's horses for you, and I am genuinely looking forward to our first outing on May 18th - watch this space!
Written by Laura Paine of Dragonfly Saddlery
Scarlet and I are now hacking out semi-properly at last! It would be more proper if my mum wasn’t still escorting us clutching the lead rein, which I occasionally squeak at her to attach if things get a bit...exciting. I’m so relieved Scarlet is a) staying sound and b) being less and less of a lunatic each week. Ithink the increasing workload is helping her sanity levels, but I’m 95% confident that the biggest factor is putting her on a bucket load of valerian. She gets two scoops in each feed and it’s worked wonders! She no longer has that crazed look in her eye, and she’s becoming more like the old Scarlet - fresh and forward and a joy to ride. We’ve even managed a couple of short canters! Valerian isn’t competition legal, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it...
You’ve probably noticed that the sun has made an appearance at long last, which is helping to dry the fields out. Sadly, because we’re at the foot of the South Downs, the ground is clay, so the mud is absolutely disgusting, and as it dries out, you lose horse shoes, wellies and small children if you try and go through it. Scarlet is quite the mud lark, so she launches into the mud and ploughs through it, while Mum brings up the rear, squeaking in dismay as the mud pours over the top of her wellies. I should take a moment to say I’m hugely grateful to my mother for accompanying me on on my hacks with my naughty pony, I don’t know what I’d do without her! Need to get her a nice, reliable cob really so she doesn’t have to walk everywhere - she refuses to ride Scarlet since she got bucked off and went to A&E in the back of an ambulance…
I’m absolutely thrilled to bits that after the weeks and weeks of horrors and miseries when Scarlet was being an utter monster, we are now back on track, and we’re even beginning to plan her first outing. I was hoping we’d make it to Firle hunter trials at the end of March, but because we don’t have transport, it’ll be impossible to get her out and about beforehand, and I don’t think it’s wise for our first outing since November 2012 to be at a very popular hunter trials! We need to get out to some low key clinics and clear rounds before we let her loose on a cross country course.
Speaking of horrors and miseries, Holly’s pony Blue has come back from his year at a riding school. He can be spectacularly naughty if he thinks he can get away with it (he bucked her off on her birthday a few years ago… I’m not saying it was deliberate or anything, but I’m pretty sure he was smirking) but very handsome, with an impressive beard and moustache and paces to die for. So if anyone wants to buy or loan a 13.2 gypsy cob, Blue is very much on the market. Comet is worried he has been usurped, but he’s definitely still everyone’s favourite simply because he’s so gosh darn adorable.
The Dragonfly team headed off to BETA International a few weeks ago, which is always such an exciting show to go to. We get to see the new products coming out in the next 12 months and I try out as many saddles as I can, while Holly scopes out the breeches and Mum goes dotty for the rugs. It’s nice to have a hobby! We love the fashion show, where the models parade around in their breeches and boots, keeping admirably straight faced while the audience sniggers, depsite secretly wishing they looked like that in their horsey gear. Kudos to Airowear for winning the innovation prize for their new body protector, the Hickstead - it’s designed to be as discreet as possible, so people who are a bit embarrassed to be seen wearing a body protector should definitely check this out!
Hope you are all enjoying the sun, and finally reaping the rewards of struggling through the wettest, most miserable winter known to man - we all deserve medals!
Written by Laura Paine of DRAGONFLY SADDLERY
I haven’t blogged since before Christmas – the abysmal weather coupled with the behaviour of the subject of my posts have been too depressing – so this means you're in for a long, rambly post!
Scarlet has been back in work since the new year, with her abscess finally all cleared up and her hock pronounced as healing well by the vet. Unfortunately any brain cells that were desperately clinging on in the vast chasm of her stupid empty head have gone on holiday for the winter, and don’t seem to be in any hurry to come back. She’s been an absolute monster. I’m not unreasonable, I understand and appreciate that she’s been out of work for a year and with the vile weather her turnout is limited to a weekly hoolie round an incredibly muddy paddock, so of course she’s entitled to a few high jinks when she’s out and about.
Her behaviour is not limited to a few high jinks. Her spirits aren't so much so 'high' as 'stratospheric'. The frustrating thing is that often we can be halfway through a ride and she’ll suddenly go bananas, with no warning whatsoever. Maybe she’ll see a bird flying in the distance, or a dog walker, or, heaven forbid, another horse out in the lane. I can cope with her silliness, the odd spook and head toss, etc., but I can’t cope with her utter hysteria at these times. It’s like she just loses the plot, and there’s no reasoning with her. After maybe five to twenty minutes of turning herself inside out (which usually involves standing up, bucking, piaffe, pawing the ground, reversing, chucking her head so high she clonks me on the nose) she’ll calm down and hack home quiet as a lamb (sort of, depends on the lamb in question, really). For a while I was riding out with my mum walking with us, clutching a lead rein just in case – if I come off, the last thing we want is for Scarlet to be haring down the lane minus any humans. But as of last weekend, I’ve decided she’s just too terrifying to ride at the moment. So we’re long reining lots, and waiting for the fields to dry out so she can get some proper turnout and work off some steam. It’s going to be a bloody long wait, but she’s a danger at the moment when she goes bonkers.
Not that long reining is much safer, to be honest. She still throws her huge strops, but it’s preferable to on the ground than in the saddle when she does. And it is cheering, in an odd way, that she’ll go nuts regardless of whether she’s under saddle, ie. it’s not my electric bottom that winds her up. Last weekend was a classic example of her completely losing her head and being a danger (although it wasn’t her fault, honest…) We long reined her down a private lane up to a livery yard, which runs between two 5ish acre fields and is topped and tailed by cattle grids. The fields are unfenced where they border the lane, so in the good old days I would school her at the livery yard and give her a canter home along the edge of the field as a reward (she was always good as gold…*sob*). Anyway, we had done the gate at the first cattle grid and were nearing the second, and she was behaving herself despite the wind, when an Asda van came hurtling down the lane towards us, approaching the cattle grid. I was at the front leading her, with Mum at the back holding the long reins, and we both put up our hands to ask the driver to slow right down. We were also decked out in high vis, so he definitely saw us. He zoomed down and whizzed over the cattle grid, making a godawful racket, and Scarlet whipped round and tore off in the opposite direction, with us hanging on to the long reins. She was forced to stop by us hanging on, but of course she didn’t just stand still – she tied herself up in knots by jumping up and down, doing handstands and cartwheels. This frightened her even more, and she wrenched the reins out of our hands, and set off at a gallop down the lane, heading straight for the first cattle grid.
Mum sprinted off across the field hoping to cut her off (fat chance, she’s a Thoroughbred), while I dashed off down the lane (was I hoping my stumpy legs would somehow catch up with her?!). The Asda driver had slammed his brakes on as soon as Scarlet whipped round, and was nervously crawling along the lane behind us. All that was flashing through my mind was, oh my god she’s going to try and jump the cattle grid, she’ll break a leg and have to be put down, and I haven't even paid off her last vet bill yet. (I didn't really think that.) I waved furiously at the van driver, gesturing for him to drive up, which he did, and I threw myself in his van, screeching at him to drive me up until I said otherwise, and possibly threw in a few choice insults and threats at the same time – he certainly put his foot down anyway. When we got round the corner in view of the cattle grid I saw to my immense relief that Scarlet had roused a few of those MIA brain cells and had halted at it. The long reins and lead rein were tangled round her legs, so I have no idea how she didn’t go crashing to the ground when she bolted – my shoelaces only have to be undone for a second before I’m flat on my face. I shrieked at the driver to stop, threw myself out of the van and jogged towards Scarlet, trying to keep my voice friendly and approachable (pretty sure I didn’t achieve it). Bless her, she tripped her way towards me, just as Mum came hurtling down the hill, looking as shocked and terrified as I felt. We untangled her and checked her over, and thankfully she was fine, no cuts or lameness. The traumatised van driver was still glued to the spot (I think I bellowed DON’T BLOODY MOVE at him as I departed his passenger seat) and we crept past him and continued with our walk. I gave him a nod as we went past, to show that I wasn’t going to murder him and the horse was OK. He wiped his sweaty brow and drove off, considerably more slowly than before!
I’m thinking quite hard about getting something else, because if she carries on being a lunatic I won’t be able to do much with her, she’ll have to be retired (which she would LOVE). Fingers crossed that it’s just a combination of being confined to a stable for the best part of a year plus next to no turnout plus appalling weather which is making her loopy, because she has way too much talent and heart to be cast aside. It's just odd that she's only now decided to be crazy – why not two months ago or six months ago? Was there some kind of trigger, or has she just reached her limits of sanity? I've just started her on a valerian based supplement, so I’m hoping that will help take the edge off. She’s always been a bit of a loon, but in a manageable way – when she goes nuts now there’s nothing I can do as a rider to stop it, and that’s really scary. In the meantime, I guess I'll have to start training young Comet up to be my new event horse – he's in his twenties and stands approximately 32" high, but he does love a party…
If anyone has any similar experiences, please do share them with me!
Written by Laura Paine of Dragonfly Saddlery
My poor pony is lame again. Rode her on Saturday, she felt fine, got back to the yard to untack and she stood there holding her near hind up as if it had broken. In my usual cool, calm, capable way I immediately hit the panic button and rang my mum, instructing her to drop everything (running the shop two Saturdays before Christmas) and get to the yard immediately. I whipped the tack off, threw a cooler over her and began probing her hock and trying to find any heat or swelling in her leg. Mum then turned up, and agreed that there was none to be found. Poor Scarlet was still dangling her leg at us in a very pitiful way, and it occurred to us that the last time she did that (not including when she was kicked so hard her tendon nearly severed and part of the joint fractured) it was because of an abscess in the same foot. We wondered if the reason she was so acutely lame now when she’d been fine an hour before was because the ride had stimulated blood flow, causing a build-up of pressure (I know right, I could be a vet).
I called the emergency vet, trying not to think about my poor bank account, because even though we can treat an abscess at home with hot tubbing and poulticing, the pus first needs an exit route, which only the farrier or vet can create unless it bursts. Kat duly appeared an hour later, with an expression of pity and resignation on her face. I think I’ve had to call them out to see Scarlet outside of office hours on at least six separate occasions in the last 12 months, due to colic, kicks and abscesses. That seems rather higher than it should be.
Scarlet is now a bit of a pro at being a patient, and stood nice and quietly for Kat to inspect her foot. Well, there was some dancing about while Kat removed the shoe, but on the whole she was very good. Kat pointed out where the hole from the abscess in August/September is still growing over, and pondered whether the infection had not been eradicated entirely last time as hoped. A good lot of pus came out of the enlarged hole that Kat created, and she was rather gloomy as she showed me how the abscess had tracked a long way into the hoof. She said if in a month or so the abscess comes back again, the hoof will have to have some serious excavation, and that will not be good news for either my pocket or for Scarlet’s recovery time.
It’s been nearly a year since Scarlet was kicked, and it’s been a catalogue of disasters for her. Two serious operations, colic, abscesses, stiffness from prolonged box rest – she’s really been through the mill, and yes, cost me an absolute fortune, and I still don’t have a sound horse to show for it. I’m tempted to rough her off and give her six months out in the field, but she has a tendency to go a bit feral when she’s out 24/7, and knowing her, she’d inflict some hideous injury on herself if left to her own devices in a field.
So for now, it’s back to hot tubbing, poulticing, iodine and sugar pasting, and endless hours of mucking out and filling haynets, while mournfully reading all the #twittereventing updates from people going out to do clinics, BSJA (can’t get used to calling it BS...), BD and going for lengthy hacks. Once again, Scarlet and I are housebound, with no chance of getting out and about any time soon. To say I’m feeling dispirited would be an understatement.
Luckily the saddlery is getting very busy at the weekends, which keeps me distracted, and there’ll be a lot of boots, coats, rugs and bridles getting unwrapped on Christmas Day! Probably the biggest seller has been the Cavallo Abbey quilted jacket, which has proven to be very popular amongst mums and instructors, who do a lot of standing around getting cold during lessons and competitions. This jacket is super warm and it’s knee length, so it keeps legs and bums warm too.
As I write, rain is pelting against the windows, which explains the surge in waterproof exercise sheets! The Equisafety Polite sheet is doing well, and ensures your horse will be seen even on those dark winter afternoons, and the Horseware Rhino competition sheet is being snapped up by those hardy riders who compete and have to warm up in the cold and wet.
Stocking presents are doing well, particularly the Mountain Horse Orbit Headband, which fits under riding hats, saving ears from being blasted by wind and rain. Personally I’m loving the Mark Todd neck warmer, which stops the wind finding any gaps and whistling right through to my bones – and it’s less than a fiver! Totes a bargain.
If Scarlet had been out and about this year, she would be unwrapping a new set of Professional Choice boots this Christmas, but she hasn’t, so instead she’ll get a lump of coal. Just kidding, she’ll get a Likit Boredom Breaker, so she’ll hopefully refrain from chewing her ancient stable down to matchsticks. I’ve got this Prestige jumping saddle on my Christmas list, but I’m not feeling too hopeful – Father Christmas tends to ignore my saddle requests. Comet will get an Uncle Jimmy’s Hanging Ball (sugar free, obvs), which is about the same size as his head and will keep him occupied until next Christmas. He’s been the perfect companion for young Scarlet this year – low maintenance, not interested in Scarlet’s brave attempts at flirting with him (despite the fact that she’s literally twice his size, at 16hh to his 8hh) and cute as a button.
Thank you for enduring my endless blogs about my Scarlet related dramas, I hope they’ve been vaguely interesting! I’m really hoping that 2014 will be more successful than 2013, and I look forward to another year’s blogging. Have a very merry, pony-filled Christmas, and see you in the New Year!
My horse is a monster. Does anyone want to swap? She’s (mostly) sound in wind and limb, not at all sound of mind, very beautiful and usually covered in mud. As long as you don’t want her to move in a straight line, obey basic aids, or be cost effective, of course. Think of her as an expensive, time consuming, unappreciative pet. I’m looking for a well-mannered, nicely schooled event horse, ideally competing at Novice level, to do a straight swap. Get in touch if you’re interested!
OBVIOUSLY, I love Scarlet dearly, but she IS a monster. We’ve been hacking for about 2 or 3 weeks now, and she’s turned out in a reasonably sized field from 7am to 6pm, so I really think she has no excuse to be so wicked. Surely her excess energy has been burnt off? Our quiet plods down the lane have turned into adrenaline fuelled rollercoaster rides, with piaffe, half pass and pirouettes all thrown in. I wouldn’t mind so much if she was at least on the bit while she did it, but she’s not even close! Half the time her ears are dangerously close to my own. That said, if it weren’t for the Micklem bridle, she’d be throwing her head around risking whiplash.
It doesn’t bother me hugely at the moment (though I could definitely live without it), but it does worry me that she’ll be a psychopath when we start getting out and about again. Scarlet’s always been a pretty interesting horse to take to parties, what with her lack of brain, but I felt that we were getting a handle on it, as she went out more. She was allowing me to ride her instead of just perch on top hanging white knuckled onto the neck-strap. I’m worried we’ll go right back to the beginning, and I’m not sure if I can go through it all again – being bucked off in the dressage, thrown off in the show-jumping, galloped off with at clinics – which would be very frustrating after spending all this time and money fixing her hock after her kick!
I suppose I’ll have to turn to the internet again to start searching for a calmer, which is always a hideous process, simply because there are so many calmers available and everyone has a different opinion on what works and what doesn’t. And you have to give a calmer at least 10 days trial before binning it, which is expensive and means it could take months before you find one you think might work. I think I’ll start with Valerian, which I think I’ve tried before and might have made her a bit less crazy. It’s banned in competition, which gives me some hope that it might actually be effective!
Does anyone have a happy ending story involving calmers? Recommendations welcome!
Despite being such a badly behaved ingrate, I treated Scarlet to a treatment from a physio last week. She had a two hour session, working mostly on her quarters and upper hind legs, which were tight with tension. Scarlet was of course badly behaved when the physio arrived, because she (the physio) was wearing a Stetson hat, and Scarlet refused to go anywhere near her for about 15 minutes. Eventually she allowed the physio to run her hands over her, and look for trouble spots. I told her we had real problems getting right canter lead, and wondered if she had a pelvic alignment issue, but the physio (whose name I have forgotten, sorry, but her business is called Equilibrium Veterinary Physiotherapy) said Scarlet was actually pretty symmetrical, so I guess it’s just something we have to keep working on. She used a laser to treat the tightly knotted muscle group running up from her hock to her bottom, and a few other problem areas. It’s hard to know how helpful the session was because we’re still restricted to short walks, but I’m definitely going to get her out again when schooling is back on the table.
So, please help me out with calmer recommendations and pep talks, otherwise Scarlet will be on the next bus to the Findus factory!
Written by Laura Paine of DRAGONFLY SADDLERY & PETS
I’m now pretty confident that Scarlet and I are cursed… I began to ride her again about two weeks ago, after her abscess had finally cleared up. She felt sound and happy, and it was lovely to be back on board. Then the farrier came out and ruined everything! He took the hind shoe off the foot where the abscess had been, and her sole came away with it! Apparently this can be a consequence of a serious abscess (a sub solar, I think?), and he assured us that it wasn’t necessarily a disaster. He advised keeping her in for the next week without a shoe, with lots of gamgee padding to support the foot while her sole grew and hardened again. He said he was amazed she hadn’t been lame on it, but I’m pretty sure Scarlet is composed of 60-70% adrenalin as opposed to the traditional water, so she probably didn’t even feel it. What she did feel was the bandage on her foot, and she proceeded to hobble for the next two days, before she realised she wasn’t actually in pain.
A week after that setback, the farrier came back and was really pleased with how the sole had grown back, and that the big hole in the wall where the abscess had exploded out had also grown down really well. So he popped a shoe back on and this weekend we ventured out once more, despite the howling wind. She was a monster, as predicted, but to be fair she hadn’t been ridden for about 10 days and it was blowing a gale.
For about a week before the sole setback, I had been trialling her in a Micklem bridle to see if it helped with her stroppy head carriage. Even though we’re still only in walk, the difference in her has been amazing – and I’m not just saying that! Scarlet is usually really argumentative when I pick up a contact and ask her to go forward; she throws her head up and down, she yaws, she sticks her neck forward like a camel and is generally a real pain in the butt. The Micklem hasn’t quite turned her into Valegro, but she is so much quieter and more accepting when I ask her to go less like a beach donkey. Her teeth grinding has all but stopped, she doesn’t try and give me a black eye and is generally a much nicer horse to ride. My only grumble about the Micklem is that the reins are too short! So instead I’ve treated me to a of bio grip reins, which are super soft with good rubber grip.
So, just in time for some epic winter storms, Scarlet and I are once again on the road to recovery, for the fifth time this year… Keep your fingers crossed that no more disasters befall us!
We’re seeing lots of awesome winter products coming in now, from perforated headbands you can wear under your riding hat to keep your ears warm without impairing your hearing to the Point Two air jacket designed especially for winter hunting, because it fits snugly over your jacket and can be worn instead of a body protector (NB: I would ALWAYS advise wearing a body protector and not just rely on an air jacket, but some people think wearing a body protector reeks of amateurism, so, whatever) – obviously for cross country an air jacket can’t be a replacement for a body protector… OK, I think I’ve covered myself sufficiently! Meanwhile I’m still umming and aahing over which jacket to get for winter riding: either the Equetech Squad jacket or the Cavallo Avril jacket… I know right, #firstworldproblems!
FYI, we do offer the Micklem bridle as a trial product, so you can use it for a week or 2 weeks and have a lesson in it, compete on it, etc., and if you like it, you keep it; if you don’t like, return it for a refund minus something like 10% of the purchase price. We do the same for the Fairfax Performance girths, too. Give us a call/email/tweet/Facebook if you’d like to know more!
Written By Laura Paine of DRAGONFLY SADDLERY
Holiday over, back to the cold, grim reality of horses in winter!
Here are some ideas to make it a bit brighter...
So, week in Spain over, it’s time to face the hairy beast currently tearing up the paddocks! Scarlet is looking very sound, and quite porky, so this weekend I’m going to saddle up and take her down the lane – it’ll be the fourth time I’ve tried to bring her back into work since January, and I’m really hoping it’s successful this time! She’s never been particularly settled in her head carriage, so I’m road testing a Micklem bridle. So many customers report great things about them that I figure I should give it a whirl. I’ll let you know how we get on!
The winter stock is now pouring in, and looking absolutely fantastic. Cavallo is one of our newest suppliers, and the coats are just gorgeous! The Adriatic is super luxurious and cosy, with fur linings to keep the wind out, and water repellent too. The Cavallo coats come in more exciting colours than the traditional blacks, browns, greens and blues of winter clothing, including silver/ivory, red, and aquamarine, so they’ll be guaranteed to brighten up those miserable winter mornings where you can’t see more than six inches past your nose, and you ask yourself for the hundredth time why you have bloody horses. A nice jazzy coat is just the tonic! They come in gilet form, riding length and instructor/frozen mother length. We’ve also got some really lovely coats in from Equetech, including a quilted jacket that I’ve added to my Christmas list.
Cavallo really do some amazing winter clothing – water repellent and fleece lined breeches, anyone?! Cosy hats and snoods will be perfect stocking fillers, and as long as you don’t drop them in a bed of shavings, will keep you looking swell and free from frostbite. Equetech have delivered some proper nice headbands, which are fab for keeping my frizzy mane off my face, and will keep your ears toasty warm when you’re doing those never ending stable chores.
We’re also drowning in new rugs, for every size and shape of horse and pony, no matter how wide their hips (Scarlet) or stumpy their legs (Comet). Bucas remains a favourite with people seeking long lasting, quality rugs – where you can chuck the horse out at 6am and minus five, and know it will remain warm and comfortable throughout the day no matter what the weather does. If the rug then gets soaked in a downpour, the horse will remain bone dry, and you can leave the rug on the horse to dry overnight! There’s nothing worse than having to hang a dirty, wet rug up, covering yourself in four inches of mud and muck, only for the rug to be depressingly cold and damp the next day. Scarlet pretty much lives in her Bucas Smartex from October to April, and is warm and comfortable no matter what the weather throws at her, even though it’s technically classed as a medium weight and she’s a delicate little Thoroughbred. The ballistic outer ensures that even the most destructive horse (or field mates) has his work cut out ripping it, while the patented stay dry lining that means you can work your horse into a muck sweat and then put the rug straight back on is also anti-bacterial.
For the smaller budget, or for a horse which doesn’t rip its rugs to shreds or wallow in mud for six months of the year, the Rhinegold Blizzard offers amazing value for a winter rug. It’s a super rug, with a rip-stop lining and heavy enough to keep horses warm in the depths of winter, so for £55 it’s a real bargain. We also do Horseware and Castle, so we’ve definitely got rugs covered this winter.
Special mention must go to Equicloth, an amazing bit of equipment which works miracles on muddy, stained horses (and cars, tack, dogs, furniture…!). A good scrub with an equicloth and some Carr Day Martin Stain Master spray (money back guarantee) and Scarlet’s four white socks are sparkling!
I popped over to Pulborough this weekend to watch the BE90 cross country, and I felt very sorry for the competitors - it was absolutely hacking it down! A lot of breeches had gone very see through indeed, which makes me think I’ll be investing in the Cavallo water repellent breeches for competitions as well as for everyday use in the winter. It was lovely to see that although everyone looked pale and miserable in the warm up, as soon as they set off cross country they were soon beaming and praising their horses after each fence - and the happy faces as they galloped through the finish, soaked to the bone and splattered in mud, really shows that horsey people (and the horses!) are tough as old boots and truly doing what they love.
And perhaps slightly insane.
Hopefully I’ll be reporting good news next week about Scarlet’s soundness, and a positive review of the Micklem bridle too. No more snatching!
Written by Laura Paine of Dragonfly Saddlery and Pets
Laura was lucky enough to win tickets via Horse Quest to Burghley Horse Trials including a course walk with event rider Sam Griffiths. She was also unlucky enough to have a real job that she couldn't skive off from, so Mum and I took the tickets, and Wednesday night saw us buzzing down the motorway to stay overnight in a lovely hotel!
It's safe to say that despite us both wearing our smartest Rugged breeches and having dusted off my Mountain Horse boots, we rolled into the posh hotel looking a total mess, especially next to a group of men in their evening wear (including a dapper Oliver Townend).
We set of to Burghley the next morning, full up from a luxury breakfast courtesy of Horse Quest and in our most comfortable walking boots (Mountain horse and Kanyon, of course!).
I then had my second sighting of OT who was chatting away to a bevvy of admiring fans on the Equi-Trek stand. I grabbed him for a quick photo and told him about Scarlet. He was very sweet (not what I imagined) and we wished him luck.
After a quick nose around the trade stands and much admiring of the new seasons collections (gorgeous coats from the likes of Cavallo and Equetech), we settled down to the dressage.
Watching the dressage at a 3 day event is fascinating & very different to watching the same level at a pure dressage competition. The horses main job is to go round the cross country, bravely & at a fair pace, tackling everything the course designers fiendish mind can devise! It is a fairly safe premise that dressage is not normally their first love & this was fairly well demonstrated by the horses we watched. Tension & excitement was simply too much for some & they raced round the test, simply longing to crack on with the next phase. There were also some simply stunning tests to be seen & we were lucky enough to watch Andreas Dibowski with FBH Butts Leon perform beautifully in the main arena. All the riders were interviewed after their test, which was highly entertaining. The interviewer demonstrated some fairly nifty footwork himself in an effort to keep from under their hooves!
We had just finished stuffing down some hog roast sandwiches whan we got a message to say that the course walk was now earlier than first expected, and our well planned lunch hour, leaving time for it all to settle before the marathon trek, went out the window. We sprinted to meet up with the other 20 lucky winners and meet the lovely Sam Griffiths.
This is where Mum will take over. If you know me, you'll know I get lost – a LOT. I got lost at the beginning and missed the entire walk. I spent two hours wandering around and then being befriended by some lovely old ladies who insisted I sit with them by the Grey Goose jump. All good fun!
So, to the course walk! As Holly has just confessed, she missed the lot. It was the HIGH SPOT of the day & I still can't believe I lost her – ho hum. I was not going to miss this, so I'm afraid I abandoned Holly to her fate & texted her instructing her to meet us at the end of the course as Sam walks at a fair pace & I did not think she would ever catch us up. Oh my word, Burghley is very hilly, the jumps are huge & the ground is very undulating. Even the jumps that Sam cheerfully described as “let up” were simply huge. Discovery Valley, where we began our walk, looked fairly straight forward, but took a fair bit of riding & took some very well known riders out of the running on Saturday. Sam was an excellent, informative & completely charming person to accompany on a course walk. At every fence, he would tell us his thoughts & how he planned to ride each fence, both approach & getaway.
The fence that sticks in my mind simply has to be Centaurs Leap. It is by no means complex like the HSBC Maltings complex, or twisty & tricky like the Dairy Mounds. It is just huge. Bigger, wider & more awe inspiring than anything else we saw that day, actually. Sam did admit that, like a lot of the riders, he just looked at the hedge from the other side & walked on. He simply did not want to look into that massive ditch.
My opinion of event horses & riders (always my favourite types) is now higher than ever. To be bold, brave & yet careful, together with the demands of the dressage & the show jumping days, seems to me to be the absolute pinnacle of achievement for both horse & rider!
I would thoroughly recommend doing at least one course walk to everyone who loves eventing. It is such an eye opener & makes watching the cross country day a much richer experience.
After the walk, we stumbled upon a rider who was doing a meet and great at one of the stands. Yes I finally got to meet the very tall, very handsome William Fox-Pitt. He knelt/lay down for a photo with me, and asked me if I had a nice pony... I guess the bunches made me look about 8. I told him about Comet (probably didn't help me sound like a grown-up, what with Comet being a tiny Shetland) and told him about Scarlet (not too much, didn't want to bore him). He signed a card for Laura and myself and we left him in peace. I can die happy now.
This was our first time at Burghley and it felt very laid back compared to Badminton, however perhaps XC days are different. We loved getting up close to some of the famous jumps, including the planet, the picnic table and of course the terrifying leaf pit!
Written by Sue and Holly Paine (Haynet's Featured Bloggers Laura's mum and sister) Come and visit Dragonfly Saddlery for more information