I was lucky enough to get to go to Your Horse Live yesterday which was held not too far away at the great agricultural event center, Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire.
I had been two years ago and hadn't been prepared for all the shopping and exhibits on offer so came prepared this year with spending money I had saved up by Ebaying tack and stuff that I didn't need anymore, bringing my own sandwich (food there is very expensive) and bringing my pink shopping trolley for me to carry all the stuff I bought in!
The good thing about Your Horse Live is that there are all kinds of equine stands there from tack to feed, insurance, to stands selling riding boot polish or offering information on equestrian university courses. There are LOTS of feed stands giving out free samples and I got three good size shopping bags full of various feed samples including a pot of Biotin which was handy as I needed some too. It's the feed samples that weigh you down so I was glad I brought my shopping trolley with me. I entered loads of competitions to win a years supply of feed, a Jeffries saddle and bridle, an Equitrek horse box worth £27 000 and an Ifor Williams horse trailer. I wouldn't mind winning the horse box or trailer as I REALLY could do with some transport to get to shows!!! I won a bag of Top Spec Leisure Time horse feed on Friday so I'm hoping my luck extended to Saturday as well.
When I had gone in 2008 to Your Horse Live, there wasn't anything side saddle there but I was pleasantly surprised by the few aside perks that were there!
When we first arrived, we came across a tack stand which had a small concession of vintage and antiquarian horse books. I just had a quick look through the selection and found To Whom The Goddess, Hunting and Riding for Women written in 1932 by Lady D. Snedden and Lady Apsley.
I had wanted this book for ages as it has a photo of a lady named Mrs. A H Straker as in 2005, I bought several of her 1930's Roberts & Carroll riding habits from a lady in Rutland that knew her.
This is Mrs. Straker, note her saddle with the short off-side flap and long billets...
and this was one of her habits that I bought. It was too small for me, it fit about a 36" bust and all of her habits were made from navy blue cavalry twill. I wonder if it was the same one that she was wearing in the photo?
We wandered around a bit and came across a stand selling some 2nd hand tack and lo and behold, there was a side saddle for sale!
The price was £1000 so out of my budget now after paying for my Manorgrove saddle but it seemed to be in pretty good condition. I didn't see a maker's label but it had an Owen fitting on it.
The seat from cutback to cantle was 18" and a comfy 15" across the seat. The length from front of fixed head to cantle was 22". The lady, who looked about 5'11" or 6' (I'm 5'9" and she was taller than me) who was selling it, said it was one of four that she had owned and ridden in but now was the last one she had. I really liked it but the gullet only measured 5" so was a solid medium fit but Hattie needs a medium/wide 5 1/2".
We came across some riding simulators which used mechanical horses and to my delight, one had a side saddle so signed myself up to have my riding analysed. It was being done by Sue Carr at Equine Extra, and was a bargain at £5.00 for 10 minutes.
I explained to Sue that I had ridden side saddle before and about my accident and how my riding has now gone to crap since then and could she please help me!
First Sue made me get on and sit astride to center myself. The saddle as a 16" Mayhew with a slightly dipped seat but very comfortable. To my surprise, I felt so wobbly up there on my robot horse, Bob. It made me realize how much our real horses compensate for us!
Then she made me hitch my legs up so that I could feel both my seat bones. I have nasty habit of just relying on my right seat bone and leaving my left one floating around. That felt weird too.
when I could feel both seat bones, she made me sit astride again and turned Bob on at a walking pace to get the feel of him. Although bob felt very similar to a real horse, it was a more sway- front and back movement if that makes sense? I suppose how a smooth gaited Paso Fino horses or similar feels. We also did a bit of trotting and cantering astride.
Sue noticed that I carry my left shoulder higher than the other and that my left leg was creeping up. She said that all my left side was stiff and tense and that this was normal due to the nature of my accident as it was the way my body carried itself while I was injured to hold everything together and a way now to protect itself. She made me sit square again so that I could feel both seat bones and pulled my left leg back to show me where my leg should be when sitting side saddle.
She also told me to BREATHE as I'm tensing up from nerves due to my body being tense from the accident- to breath in through the nose and out through the mouth as that helps to relax the muscles. I must say that it does work as I hacked Hattie out on a fast hack today and she was off her head today (I decided to ride astride) and did my breathing as Sue told me and it help to calm me and Hattie down and enable me to ride her positively despite her cantering on the spot and going sideways!
Then Sue let me sit side saddle and told me to keep my diaphram up and to BREATHE (LOL, who would ever think that it would be so hard to breathe!). She told me not to keep my right shoulder back so much and to lean slightly to the left as my left shoulder was up and my left seat bone floating around. I felt weird doing this, it felt foreign but immediately when I did it, Sue and her assistant assured me that I was now sitting perfectly level!! I'm naturally wonky anyways but it's strange to think how much of a degree that I'm crooked and how it must affect Hattie.
She had me so some shoulder exercises while I was riding at the walk and canter to help loosen up my tense muscles but we didn't do much trotting aside as I need to work on loosening up my muscles first and it was causing my left leg to creep up into it's fetal position to grip the leaping head in a death grip!
When I hacked out today, I did some stretches before getting on Hattie and tried to lean slightly to my left as even in my astride saddle (a flat close contact saddle), my left seat bone floats around. When I did this, I felt both in contact with the saddle. I also did my shoulder exercises too when I rode and this did help to "de-tensify" me.
After my mini side saddle lesson, Sue told me to just start back and square one with side saddle and to do walking only for the time being, preferably without the leaping horn to learn to keep my leg down. This is a bit of a bugger really as the Manorgrove leaping horns are hard to get back in so I may just length my stirrup leather a hole or two to encourage a longer leg. She wrote a list of things to work on while walking:
1) LOOK UP!
2) BREATHE, in through nose, out through mouth.
3) To use my core (this is the part of keeping my diaphragm up) but don't hold breath!
4) Keep my shoulders square and do my left shoulder exercise which are backward shoulder rolls.
5) Make sure I am sitting center (I will have to remember to lean slightly to the left and get someone to check that I am straight).
6) Keep my right knee forward and down (I was tensing and gripping too tightly around the fixed head).
7) Don't do a death grip on the pommels with my legs so this is where the non-leaping head work (or in my case, longer stirrup length) will be beneficial to stop my left leg from creeping up into the vice grip.
My overall comments were "Quite alot of tension" and to "spend time working slowly". She also recommended to start with my lessons again which I will once my finances recover.
I think this £5.00 that I spent on my mini lesson was the best £5.00 that I have ever spent as it answered my questions of why I have been riding so badly and how I start to fix it again. I knew I had to do things slowly but at least I know the area that needs to be fixed which will help my aside and astride riding.