Sunday, 31 October 2010

Presenting...The Equxtra Manorgrove Side Saddle!

I got it today!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The saddler called me on Friday evening to let me know that it was finished but I had to arrange for him to come today as we had a Halloween Eve hack and Halloween party in my tack room yesterday.

It BEAUTIFUL!!!! And it fits!!!!

The saddler spent a few hours tweaking the fit of it for Hattie as at the beginning it was still sliding forwards on her. He used a medium/wide tree as Hattie is a bit tricky to fit as she has wide chunky shoulders which would suit a wide width saddle but her high withers suit a medium tree which ends up being too narrow in the shoulders for her. A heavily flocked up medium/wide fitting is the best of both worlds for her. He put loads of flocking at the off-side shoulder which helps to keep the saddle put and not slide forward onto her shoulders.

It's got a REALLY COMFY, lovely flat and wide 14 1/2" seat. I got the 17" seat (it measures 20 1/2" from cantle to front of the fixed head) as my thighs are stupidly short for someone of 5'9" so if anyone out there who is tall, and decides to order one, just check your thigh measurement as you may need the longer seat than what I got. The saddle also made me a lovely 7" wide fixed head to support my poor arthritic knee too, my knee thanks the saddler for this consideration!

I just have serge lining instead of linen and serge as the serge provides a bit more grip and Hattie needs all the grip she can get to keep saddles put. The saddler also made me a Mayhew stirrup leather, three buckle girth (like my antique Owen one!), balance girth and even gave me a new side saddle stirrup iron too! That is handy as I can keep my collapsible one on my off-side sidesaddle as it only has a roller bar fitting and saves me having to swap stirrups around all the time.

I wanted to make sure the saddle was perfect for Hattie and the saddler needed to see what needed tweaking so we did some walking, trotting and cantering on both reins and I popped a little 1' jump. She did it perfectly the first and third time but refused the second time, LOL! I think I was starting to get a bit tired as I am SO out of shape which then affects your position and balance and Hattie felt that from me. She's a good mare as if she feels me start to waiver, she will just refuse to do anything or do it VERY begrudgingly so that I don't get hurt. I think she felt bad when I fell off and broke my rib as she just stood there over me and didn't move, not even to graze on the grass. The two times we did jump today, felt really secure and comfortable. I even felt secure at the refusal!

I don't think I'm going to be ready for the Prelim dressage tests this month as I need to build up my fitness again and Hattie won't work properly if I'm all off balance and uneven. We might do an Intro A or B test at the end of the month just to ease us back into things and to test out our new saddle.

After the saddle left, we went on a short hack down the lane, had a little canter on the grass verge and walked through the ford river. I'm giving her the day off tomorrow as she was good today!

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Off-side Hacking

Josie took some photos of Hattie and I from our first hack out aside on Sunday. They were taken just after we rode through the little river...

She just wouldn't stay still for the photos though!!

I'm glad to see that my "feel the burn" bike riding and "speed-walking-the-dog-after-dinner" exercise regime is paying off a bit. I have lost about 2 lbs so far and see that my butt no longer hangs off of the back of my off-side saddle. I'm not too keen how the body protector looks on me though but I do like the pink color!

I haven't heard back from the saddler yet about whether my saddle will be ready for this weekend which is a bit disappointing as I had wanted to try it out on the Halloween Hack a bunch of us were planning on going on. Maybe tomorrow he will call.

*Hopefully* if my new saddle is ready soon, I'll be able to start practising for the next two dressage shows. One riding club is doing the Intro B and Prelim 10 tests on November 28 and the other club is doing the Intro A and the Prelim 18 tests on November 21. I'd like to be able to do them all although I don't think I'll be able to manage the Prelim 18 test in such short time as it's a hard test.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Finally Aside!

We had very nice weather this weekend and decided that Sunday would be the day that I would get back into the side saddle so got all off-side side saddle, three buckle girth and balance strap all ready to go along with my pink body protector. To be on the safe side, I also put a running martingale on my bridle for extra security as I didn't know what kind of mood Hattie would be in.

Got down to my stable with all my tack in tow to see these signs that the police had put up at every barn on the lane warning passer byers to be vigilant. I've been at my stables for 2 years now and have been broken into three times, twice this year so I'm glad that the police have put up these signs. Maybe someone will spot one of the b*ggers and the police will actually be able to arrest someone. It's not fair, I *should* be able to keep my tack in MY locked tack room without worry of it getting stolen but instead I've got to lug everything around.

Anyways, got Hattie tacked up (yippee, her girth still fits her fat belly!) and then attemped to get on in my friend's arena with my body protector on. Now THAT was fun..trying to get on the off-side (which is weird feeling at the best of times) with a bulky body protector! LOL, even though I was using a mounting block, I felt so stiff with it on and trying to get my foot into the stirrup with the front of the body protector bouncing off the leaping horn of the saddle. I'm glad no one was filming as all you would need is some Benny Hill music to turn it into a comedy!

FINALLY got on and walked around the arena for a bit to check all was ok (the body protector didn't feel too bad when I was actually in the saddle) and went out on a hack!

Well, the doctor warned that I should take it easy when starting riding again but Hattie wasn't having any of it, she wanted to GO! She wasn't spooky but was just forward with striding out at the walk (why can't she do that in our dressage tests?) and then when we got to our canter spots, she was like "Mum, PLEASE can we go NOW!" so I said ok! We had a few FAST canters along the grass verges of the lane, trotted through the river and then stopped (well attemped to stop as Hattie did not want to) to watch some dressage tests at the show we were *supposed* to be in had I not gone and broken a rib.

Then we got back to the stable and Hattie became her usual donkey self and fell asleep..

My new saddle is supposed to be ready this coming weekend so I'm so excited as then I will be able to work Hattie properly as the seat isn't quite long enough on my off-side to do any serious schooling in it.

I also had an invite from one of my friends on Facebook asking if I would be be going to the SSA Area 5 Late Autumn Show on November 21, held at Roger Philpot's Pittern Hill Stables. There is a novice equitation class that I would be able to go in but unfortunately, I have no transport to get to any shows! It's really annoying as I practice and work so hard at riding and then are unable to get to any shows without having to rely on my friends being able to take me. We don't have a 4x4 so even if I bought a trailer, we couldn't tow it and even if we had a 4x4 to tow a trailer, my husband DOES NOT want to tow anything. I don't have a drivers licence either so it's a bit of a quandry really. I need to win the lotto and get a professional horse transporter to bring me everywhere!

How is the weather where you are? This morning when I got to the stable, there was hard white frost everywhere (the photo doesn't show how white it was though). The water buckets were frozen too. Winter has come early this year and I'm sure glad I got all my hay and straw in!

I found this interesting late 1960's photo taken from an old slide from The Slide Guy blog of a lady (who looks to be in her 60's), riding side saddle through the streets of London. There are more interesting and funny slides on the blog but this is the only one of side saddle.

It's a photo of contrasts as the lady was probably born in the late Victorian era, learned to ride side saddle in the Edwardian era when there were no such things as red double decker buses or girls walking around in mini skirts. Yet, there she is riding the way she learned how to at the beginning of the century wearing her 1960's thick rimmed glasses and girls in mini dresses walking by on the street! It's just an odd photo that makes you think.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Whitman Side Saddles

Went out on a hack this morning and Hattie was good! Forward but good. We had a bit of a canter and went through the ford river without mishap. I didn't ride side saddle unfortunately as my off-side side saddle isn't the best of fits for me and with going out on the roads with friends (one of which bought a new horse and was just getting used to him), I thought it best just to stick with astride.

When we got back, I schooled for about 10 minutes to try and build up my fitness. We just stayed on a 20m circle and I practice walk/tot transitions and keeping Hattie forward at the trot. Attempted cantering on both reins and managed a canter on both but the left canter was hard work as I'm battling my wimpy muscles and crooked position (stupid heels kept coming up too) but at least we did it! I ended up throwing my body protector on the floor as it kept getting in the way of my position when trying to canter. The back of it kept bumping on the cantle when I was trying to sit up straight and down in the saddle to stay put and quite while asking for the canter. When I took it off, Hattie cantered.

Think I may have to chop off even more of the back of it off....

I love collecting old advertisements for side saddles and have an ad from September 1905 for a Whitman Lady's Saddle showing a Whitman side saddle on Edith Carrow Roosevelt's mare Yaeganka.

I found an article on the internet saying how Yaeganka and President Roosevelt's horses were kept at the White House stables. Unfortunately, the White House stables no longer exist as they were demolished in 1911.

Whitman side saddles were produced from the 1870's right into the 1930's and are known as "combination saddles" as they are English side saddles built on Western saddle bars rather than a forked tree see on "regular" English side saddles. They were built for park riding and are not suitable for jumping.

I found an ad on Ebay a long time ago from August 14, 1880, showing the trees of Whitman saddles including the tree of a side saddle! Note the lack of a fork at the front.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Miss Blaby and the Busvine

I FINALLY rode out for the first time in two months yesterday! I free schooled Hattie first to see what sort of mood she was in and then saddled up and walked and trotted around the arena for a bit to see how my rib would be. I rode astride as I wasn't sure how my ribs would like sitting trot in a side saddle and figured if Hattie decided to trot, at least I could rise and save myself any unnecessary jolting.

Didn't do much as my astride riding is absolute rubbish now and the doc warned me not to try and do too much when I start back riding anyways so just went on a hack down the lane. I was a bit naughty and had a bit of a canter too. I had on my body protector and the stupid thing is too long! It kept bouncing me forward as the bottom of it hit the top of the cantle, preventing me from sitting up straight. When I got home, I chopped 2" off the bottom of the foam lining inside. I don't know why manufacturers make them so long as I'm 5'9" and the darn thing was even too long for me! Goodness help those who are shorter than me...

I hacked out again this morning but Hattie was ALOT stronger today and wanted to GO! I find the body protector makes me feel stiff like a beginner riding. I don't like wearing it but I don't want to break my rib again if I come off now that it is weak.

I'm going to hack out again tomorrow morning but first will lunge Hattie to get any excess energy out of her as I'm still trying to get my fitness back without having to hold in a strong horse. I don't know why she's gotten so strong as I've been free schooling/lunging her 4 times a week for 30 minutes a go and she's not on any feed at the moment as she's out 24/7 on good grass- same as she's been all summer! I'm also going to ride in my off-side side saddle as well to see how I get on with my body protector riding side saddle!

Speaking about long Edwardian riding habit jackets on the Downton Abbey post, reminded me about my old 1910's Busvine riding habit that I used to have. I bought it in 2006 originally to resell but when I tried it on and saw that it nearly fit me, I decided to keep it. It was made of navy blue cavalry twill and lined in beige silk satin and had a nice long jacket.

I finally got to wear it in 2008 when I hit 165lbs (the skinniest I have ever been and will ever be) to the Miss Blaby Beauty Pageant Procession, were local riders accompany the winner of the Miss Blaby competition where she starts her reign by opening a summer fair in Blaby, Leicestershire. I rode Senara, an Arabian mare I had on loan for a little while. She had never done side saddle in her life (she was 17 at the time) and took to it like a duck to water! The saddle was my old Champion & Wilton before I had the Wykeham pad put on for Hattie.

Here is Josie (before she got Chance the Welshie) and I making our way to the park where the procession was going to start from. It was a June morning and it was already VERY hot! I was boiling underneath that habit and it wasn't even a heavy weight one either!

Josie, me and m,y ever suffering husband, Gary, waiting in the park for Miss Blaby to turn up. It was a VERY long wait and Senara started to get a bit antsey. Horses aren't normally allowed on that park as there is a bit "NO HORSES" sign but the policemen didn't seem to mind us being there.

I was the only side saddle rider there! Note my antique Edwardian ladies side saddle riding whip with the little horse leg handle, I bought it especially for the procession and has been my good luck whip ever since. I can't believe how skinny I look there! Gah, I hate being 30lbs heavier now!!

Miss Blaby FINALLY turned up but there was a problem.... Every year the Miss Blaby winner gets driven to the town fair in a horse and carriage. Unfortunately, that year as the carriage was coming to meet us all at the park, the horse spooked and the carriage overturned in the road. Thankfully, no one but the driver was in the carriage but it caused a bit of a problem as how would Miss Blaby get to the fair to open it?

In the end, it was decided that Miss Blaby would ride one of the quieter ponies in the group and one of the rider's mums would lead her as she had never ridden in her life. Unfortunately, AGAIN, Miss Blaby had chosen to wear a mini-dress that day which isn't conducive to riding a horse so she her mother had to go back home and bring her a pair of jeans to wear undeneath her mini-dress. Poor Miss Blaby but at least all of us riders had a good time riding in the parade!

We even had a police escort and they blocked off the road for us! Senara didn't like the roundabout cricle painted on the road however.

All of us nearing the end of the procession. The end of the parade wasn't organized very well as we were all just kind of dumped in the middle of the road near a busy dual carriage way road with no police escort. Senara started to freak out as little kids kept running up to us wanting to pet her and mothers pushing baby carriages right behind all the horses so Josie and I just turned around and went back home as it wasn't safe.

Although the Miss Blaby competition is still held every year, they no longer have the riders accompanying the winner nor does she get to the fair by horse and carriage. They use a limo now...

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Side Saddle Sighting on Downton Abbey

ITV has been running a new drama series about a wealthy Edwardian family set in 1912 over the past several weeks. I keep missing it on TV but do manage to catch up by watching it on the ITV website.

Last weeks episode featuring a hunting scene with one of the main characters, Mary, riding side saddle and several extras in the background riding side saddle as well. There were mainly upper body shots of the heroine riding so you didn't get to see the saddle or much of her riding but I managed to do a few screen saves of the side saddle scenes for those who unable to watch the programme.

Mary spotting the handsome Kemal Pamuk riding towards her...

Mary liking what she sees!

Some head shots of Mary getting flustered while speaking to the exotic Mr. Pamuk who is from Turkey..

I'm not liking the baggy veil though, the judge at my last equitation show would have had something to say about that especially since the extra's veils in other scenes weren't baggy!

Cantering towards Mr. Pamuk..her apron is very full for 1912 standards...

A nice shot of Mary cantering...

Monday, 18 October 2010

The Next Generation of Aside Riders?

Some of my son's horse crazy friends in his class came down to my stables today to hang out as it's half term break for schools here in the UK and they had been pestering me at school to come and see the horses and the chickens. I put them to good use grooming and helping to hold Hattie while the farrier put new shoes on her with a promise of a side saddle ride afterwards.

All three girls are 9 years old, two of whom take weekly riding lessons and the third has never ridden in her life so decided to use Josie's 13.1hh Welsh Section C gelding, Chance as a side saddle mount for the girls. The only side saddle I have at the moment is my off-side side saddle which fits Chance as well so used that for them.

I tell you what, I wish I had learned to ride side saddle when I was 9 as all three girls (including the one who has never ridden) all had natural seats and did not bounce when trotting even though Chance's trot isn't the most comfortably of trots either. They had such easy, calm positions although  I did have to keep reminding them to keep their "LEFT SHOULDER BACK" and the two girls who had ridden before, even did a tiny jump at the trot!

This is Hannah, who has never ridden before in her life with her relaxed seat and she even remembered to keep her left toe down too!

Chance did really well today too considering Josie has only ever ridden him side saddle once before for a few minutes at a walk to see how he would react to the saddle. He took it all in his stride today. It looks like we may have another generation of budding side saddle riders.

Josie and Chance...

The saddler who is making my Manorgrove side saddle called me today to let me know that my side saddle with be ready not this coming weekend but the weekend after! I'm so excited!! He did ask the tree makers about having an off-side tree made but they told him that they would have to have a new block made to make the tree on and that he would have to purchase it for £1000. Unfortunately, this would be then added onto the cost of making me an off-side side saddle so I would be looking at about £3000 in total to have one made which is way above what I can afford to spend so it looks like I shall be sticking to my vintage off-side side saddle for the time being.

It is also the four week mark since I started conditioning Hattie (see my September 21 blog post) by regulating her eating and schooling her by lunging and free-schooling while I have been out of commission so that she would not be out of shape by the time I started back riding (my lack of fitness is another story!!). In the four weeks, she has started to muscle up, her coat has become VERY shiny and dappley, she is carrying herself better on the lunge and free-schooling and her transitions alot smoother. Hattie also seems to have a better attitude to schooling as well and just seems more forward going.

Here is her after photo taken yesterday, Sunday morning...

Now if only I could get someone to regulate my feed and lunge me!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

The Mayhew Side Saddle

Thanks to the generosity of my friend Gill for taking me to the auction house after we both finished work (thanks Gill!), I finally got to get my "new" Mayhew side saddle!

I tell you what, it is in rough shape but it's so sturdy made that it is a testament to the workmanship that went into these old name side saddles. It looks like it was left in a barn somewhere as the panels and anything stuffed with wool, has extensive moth damage with old moth casings stuck all over it (I hate moths, they ruin antique and vintage clothing and side saddles). The saddle also had 70 years of dust and dirt stuck to it along with some white paint splattering.

My husband took one look at it and said "you ain't bringing that into the house!" so I took it into the kitchen to have a good look at it and then proceed to scrub it down. It looks to be from the 1930's due to the lack of handkerchief pocket on the off-side, a very wide and flat seat, the Ilsey foam rubber panels and the fact that the "Twin-Grip" leaping head was patented in 1928. The fixed head has the Mayhew brand and "Improved Grip" stamped on it while the leaping head has a very faint "Twin-Grip" stamp on it. I also found the Lissadell stamp on the saddle beside the leaping head!

Lissadells were substantial saddles made for hunting and jumping and were reinforced with metal.
Unfortunately, the Ilsey foam rubber panels so popular during the era, were crumbling "devil's dust" all over me and everywhere so I sat down on the kitchen floor and unstitched the panels myself.

It wasn't hard to do as I had watched my saddler do it when it came to reflock my old side saddle before I had a Wykham pad put on it. I finally managed to get the darn crumbling panels off (with most of the orange dust on me!) and put them in a garbage bag under the kitchen table where they still are now.

With the panels off, the saddle already looks so much better and you can see the iron hunting bar at the pommel of the saddle which kept the tree safe for jumping. There is rusting on the iron from years of storage so would not use this saddle for jumping but the tree looks sturdy for dressage or if you wanted a park saddle. I didn't see any insect holes in the wood at all, it seems that all the bugs were interested in, was the wool. I tested the tree the way Laura Dempsey showed me how a few years back as well as the tree points and all seems sturdy so that is good!

There is a white paper label on the underside of the seat but all the print is worn off which is very annoying as I would have liked to have known who it was made for and when.

The seat measures 13" wide and 21 1/2" from front of the fixed head to cantle (or 17 1/2" from cutback to cantle) which is my size. I put it on the back of the couch and sat on it and it seemed comfy! Unfortunately, some idiot during the past 70- 80 years decided that saddle soaping the doeskin seat and pommels was a good idea and they have lost their nap. I tried my suede brush on the seat and panels but couldn't bring the nap back.

The Mayhew saftey fitting still works but it's a bit stiff. I need to get some oil to put on it as the stamp says "Keep Joint Oiled".

Before saddle soaping it, I got the vacuum out and gave it a good vacuuming to get all the dust, moth casing, dirt and orange foam residue off of the saddle as I was getting very dirty handling the saddle. I put the hose in every crevice I could get to on the saddle and could hear all the dirt being sucked down the hose. Then, I got a bucket of nice warm water and saddle soaped the heck out of it. I had to change the water after doing the near side of the saddle as it was black and managed to get all the white paint specks off. The saddle soap did soften the leather a bit but I didn't have enough saddle oil to do the entire saddle.

Rats did manage to chew a small chunk out of the edge of the nearside flap and there is insect damage to the stirrup flap but all in all, it tidied up well!

I couldn't wait to try it on Hattie so brought it to the stables Saturday morning.

Without the panels, I can't get an accurate picture of how it would sit on her as without the panels, it sits too low on her withers, but wanted to see if the general width and shape of the tree would work for her.

The girth straps are set too far back on the nearside for Hattie's conformation..

But the offside has them placed a bit more forward...

and with a handy point strap as well!

Unfortunately, when I checked the width of the tree on Hattie, I think it's going to be slightly too narrow in the gullet and the wrong tree shape at the points.

As it is without any panels on it, the gullet fits her fine, just like a medium/wide width. However, with new panels put on or a Wykham pad, it will become a true medium fit and be too narrow for her chunky withers. Her off-side side saddle measures 5 1/2" in the gullet and is a medium/wide fit whereas this Mayhew measures 5" making it a medium fit (most narrow width side saddles measure 4 1/2" in the gullet). Hattie does tend to become a medium fit in saddles coming out of winter between March and May do I really need a saddle that I can only use 3 months out of the year? It's the crucial 1/2" that is needed for her for me to use the saddle for the rest of the year!

The shape of the nearside tree point is also wrong for her conformation. Hattie has chunky shoulders and although the tree does flair out enough at the top, it then curves back inwards at the bottom and digs into the side of her a little bit. With a panel or Wykham pad on, this would be excruciating for her when the girth is done up and the weight of the rider is on the saddle.

Thanking back out of all the saddles I have tried on Hattie and from riding in a Mayhew at a Roger Philpot clinic last year, I don't think Mayhews in general suit Hattie's conformation very well. They seem to have been made with curved tree points suiting less chunky horses whereas Owen style trees (which my off-side side saddle is based on), tends to have a gentler curve to them suiting the fatties.

I tell you what, with this side saddle business, you have to learn fast and on a steep curve!!!

Although I would love to get this saddle restored to riding condition as the tree seems to be fine, the saddler that is making my Manorgrove saddle emailed me today to let me know that my saddle will be ready in two weeks (yippee!!!!) and that he is going to call me next week with regards to having a new off-side side saddle made.

I can't afford to restore the Mayhew (especially now that I know it will not work for Hattie's conformation) AND save up to have a new off-side saddle made for me unless I win the lotto this week!

So I have to decide what I'm going to do....