Monday, February 9, 2015

Deli’s big rehabilitation update – and saddle fit issues.

So Deli?

She’s doing pretty darn good, all considering. As I believe I’ve mentioned the “new” barn, which is just someone’s backyard barn, not a fancy “boarding barn”, is a huge step up from the kinds of things I’ve seen while boarding my mare the past couple years.

Her rehabilitation is pretty much at the “build up strength” stage. We have only been stalled somewhat by the dreaded problem of saddle fit issues. That, and the weird as heck weather this winter. It is winter, right?

I am going to share something that makes me cringe somewhat. I like seeing a smooth finely muscled and healthy horse as much as the next person. But I’m going to share photos of my horse, who is out-of-shape and coming back from what is, in reality, at least two years of rehabilitation and rest from various injuries.  Never the same injury, mind. She has yet to re-injure any of her specific soft tissue problems, though her right hind is a huge weak spot for her since this leg has been hurt in various respects. It's not particularly pretty, though SHE is the prettiest creature to walk this good green Earth. Obviously.

So first, a photo of her the day after we moved to the new barn about a month and a half ago (we were still in solid re-hab phase then, coming back from that horrific bite injury):

She is not standing on particularly even ground in this shot but observe the more swayed back, the pointing hind end, and general discombobulation. I am very happy to be away from the previous barn because the hay was no good, she was being harassed and beaten up (and the barn staff didn't care), and she wasn’t in a field big enough (or dry enough) for me to be very happy about it. This horse needs lots of room to move. Don't they all, though?

Deli is a VERY high-headed horse (courtesy of that Saddlebred in her, I’m sure), and her conformation does predispose her to a sway back. My vet was right in saying that just hand-walking and lounging her wasn't going to help develop her back muscles. When I'm riding I’d really like to get on top of building her top line this year because she is turning 16(!) and will be officially over the hill. Sort of. She’s still an Arab so I’m fully expecting her to live and be happy well into her 30s.

Next, a photo taken just a couple days ago:

I think she looks better. Her topline is more filled in, though it obviously needs work. She's also a better weight, a testament to having better quality hay and more room to move.

One thing I can’t help but notice when compared to much older photos of a very fit Deli: more of a dip behind her withers. This is something I have been fighting against a lot lately: the problem of her current saddle combined with her big laid back shoulder and very far forward heart girth. Yes, I use a contoured girth. Yes, I have tried SEVERAL types.

Another reference picture.
 My County dressage saddle has been with us for a long time, but I’m coming to accept that both our conformation has changed over the years (and various injuries to both of us) such that it may not be viable for much longer. This, and the change in our sport-focus (from dressage to trail and endurance riding) makes the saddle less suitable. Yes, I know many people do endurance in a dressage saddle, but for long term I want something that spreads my weight out more, is more comfortable for me (this saddle is REALLY really uncomfortable if I’m in the saddle for more than 5 miles. Like, crotch bleeding uncomfortable), and does not have the continuing issue we have with fighting fit issues caused by Deli’s forward heart girth and big laid-back shoulder. Ideally I'd want something that would still allow me to ride in a dressage-y position, balanced with legs underneath me. And I definitely need something I can get into a comfortable half-seat or two-point in, because that's how we canter these days.

I do have another re-flocking planned very soon to see how much we can get this saddle, which was custom made for Deli and I around seven years ago, to stay good for us at least in the short term. Because saddles? Saddles are expensive. My lovely mare was one of those fabled “free horses”. No such luck for my saddle! And used, without being specially adjusted for Deli, probably isn't going to cut it.

I’ve recently tried several other brands of saddles, including a Tucker and Startrekk (which is treeless). Neither fit well, in large part due to that forward heart girth issue. She’s going to need something with forward-set billets or other special rigging to accommodate this conformation. After sitting in one at Convention, I am coveting the Specialized Eurolight. The idea of being able to tweak saddle fit as Deli changes shape is very appealing to me. As is something that stays comfortable for me on the long miles of trail I'd very much like to ride.
The Startrekk before we started work. That girth crept even further forward.

In the meantime I have been doing more “strength training” than under-saddle work. This involved free lounging Deli over small x-rails (to build her hind end) or with her neck stretcher. I have also been riding her some with my Skito bareback pad, which has helped me realize that my seat is still good and I don't experience pain in that situation. But riding Deli bareback much isn’t great, as ideally I want more between me and her back. 

I’ve lost 30 pounds from my top weight, which is great, but I’d still like to lose 15-20 more before really getting into endurance riding. Luckily it is coming off slowly but steadily – the healthy way. (As an aside, thank you to all the lovely people who commented on how good I looked at the PNER Conference; I never see it because I look at my boring face every day.)

Deli isn’t back sore yet, but I care too much to push to the point that she would be. Her health and happiness is the most important thing. With the upcoming re-flock I’ll also ask the saddle fitter to see if anyone is interested in my awesome dressage saddle. It’s an unusual size (County Competitor 18” and XW, with knee blocks custom made for someone with long legs). Is anyone interested? It’s an awesome saddle, and I won’t be able to afford something new until I sell this one.

Along with bareback riding, I also threw on some new tack which may help with the forward-girth issue at some point: a crupper. This is a piece of tack new to me, and it requires a back-center D-ring – which my bareback pad has but my saddle does not. Deli could have cared less that it was there regardless of how tight it was or whether I was tugging on it at the time. That’s not too surprising as she LOVES having her tail massaged and pulled (it’s a stretch for their spine).

 She really does love having her tail pulled. The above photo is also a good reference so that I can SEE how much even her croup is. After the fall and bite, her right hind croup was  somewhat atrophied. Consistent programmatic (boring!) work has improved that leaps and bounds and she is much more comfortable all around now.

Deli is headed in the right direction. I'd much rather worry about saddle fit issues than her being injured and in pain, you know?

And she's happy and healthy and my own barn anxiety has faded. Now I just get to enjoy our bond, whatever the world has in store for us next.

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