Yes, a new saddle. Well, new to us, anyway. The story is long. The short version is that I finally realized his saddle didn't fit. It was both too narrow and too long. It pinched his shoulders and bumped him in the loins. He couldn't stride with either his front or his hind legs. The poor dear boy was very good for a very long time in a saddle that didn't fit.
But finally, in the middle of the fall, he said enough was enough. He just stopped working. He would not move out. He would walk, slowly, and would pick up the first few strides of trot, but would quickly come down into a walk.
Slower is not Sherm's way.
I asked the trainer; the trainer said bit. Tried three different bits, with no improvement.
I put him in the cheap-o web surcingle that I bought for my own use, and he went like a dream, longeing and ground-driving like nobody's business. Put the saddle back on to longe and long-line with the surcingle on top-- meltdown. Put the treed surcingle from the tack room on him-- catastrophic, explosive meltdown. Put him back in the web surcingle, happy camper.
And this just skims over the top of the misery he expressed while tacking up. With the web surcingle, he calmed down, but any time I came at him with equipment to put on his back-- very unhappy camper.
He was trying, so hard was he trying, to tell me that it wasn't right.
I finally put the saddle on one more time and climbed up. During our little bit of walk work, I looked down and realized that the points of this saddle were driving down directly into the middle of the muscle of his back. Yes, he's chunky, and he needs to lose weight, but losing the weight was never going to change that musculature. Worse, work to improve that musculature would only make the location of the points worse.
So that saddle was too narrow. So now what to do? Wider, wider!
But then I saw this video.
And I realized that the damn thing was also too long. The saddle crept up his neck, and for as long as I've had it, I've struggled to keep it behind his shoulders. But each stride of his hind leg was pushing it up his back, over and over.
And the thought of what those tree points were doing to the cartilage of his scapula? I did, quite literally, break down and weep at what I'd been doing to him.
And then I went back and looked at every picture I have of him with me in the saddle. And it is clear, now that I'm looking, that he has been in pain every minute of our mounted work together.
But he's such a gamer, so, so happy to work, that he kept on working. Until it hurt too much, and it was clear to him that it wasn't going to stop hurting, and I wasn't going to stop asking. And then he just stopped moving.
And I finally got it.
I wept. And I gave him time off. And I despaired. And then he became a restless booger, so I put him to work on the longe and in the long lines. And that was good, and fun, and he did great at it.
And I thought, well, maybe he's a driving horse. Maybe there's no hope for a saddle that fits, at least not one on my budget.
And I took a good two and a half months to think about this.
Yes, I want him to drive; yes, he'll be amazing at it. But that takes a team, and it takes more specific facilities/spaces to work in. And it still takes an investment of monies I don't really have at my disposal right now. And I have to start over from ground zero in my own education. So, yeah, it's an okay second career for us, and I do want to do it, but this isn't what I'd taken on this youngster for. I want to ride; I can ride by myself every day of the week. I can take him a bunch of different places to ride. I can advance as a rider a bit faster because I've already mastered beginner status; I don't have to start over.
So while I was ready to do what I needed to do to make sure he was happy and healthy and sound, I wasn't so happy myself.
And then he gave a ya-ya on a windy Thanksgiving Day when I was longeing him in the wrong gloves, and I got the ring finger of my left hand yanked, but good. It swelled to twice its size and stayed that way for several weeks. Eventually, I had it x-rayed, and there is no break or dislocation, but clearly there is soft-tissue damage that may or may not resolve itself. It's better, but there's still obviously something wrong with it, and I'll need to see about that.
So then I was neither riding, nor capable of longeing/long-lining.
So I really took some time off. All I could do was read and surf the web and think hard about where we were to go from here.
And I decided that I wanted to ride. Really, really, wanted to ride. And I gave Sherm the credit he deserved for being such a good sport about it under such lousy saddle fit, and I realized that, yeah, he wants to do it, too.
So the research began. That's 10,000 long stories in and of themselves, and this is already longer than I wanted it to be. Short version-- with the help of a very good veterinarian and a lot of reading, I've invested in a used Schleese dressage saddle.
It arrived today.
It's 10 degrees outside with the windchill. The arena is 2-4 feet deep in last week's drifted snows.
So we're not going to work today. Or probably tomorrow.
But we're going back to work.
I'll write more later about finding Schleese, and the 10,000 fitting/research/financing stories. And I'll write as well about what happens next.
But for today, I'm just glad there is a next. For many weeks during my despair, I really wasn't sure there would be.
But I think now there will be, and I think it'll be pretty good.