Sunday, 18 August 2013

Lovely Day

The weather keeps fluctuating between cold and rainy and sunny and warm (much to the annoyance of my arthritic hand which have been swelling and de-swelling with the weather!!) so decided to get out while the going was nice this weekend for some fast hacks (and to practice what Roger Philpot taught me!).

We did two circuits of the cow field at a fast canter and gallop which goes uphill and which has furrow and ridge and putting my weight forward onto my left thigh towards the knee, really does make for a smoother and more secure cross country ride. It also helps when braking as I can put the leverage on stronger as I start to sit upright for the transition downward.

My "new" off-side Champion & Wilton did not move all through our fast hacks this weekend and is a VERY secure and comfortable saddle. I'm so pleased with it.

After our gallops, there is a meadow in the adjacent field which you can walk all around. You can do any fast work as many people use it to walk their dogs but it's so peaceful just to walk around it. The other week, there were hundreds of butterflies flying around it and this weekend, I had choirs of crickets singing to me. It's like a piece of heaven.

I also have started conditioning my C&W with Effax and scraped down the mottled seat with sandpaper so is much more grippier and cleaner now. I also gave the wykham pad a good vacuum as well. Here it is, an off-side wykham pad complete with ventilation holes at the gullet channel. The bottom is lined in linen.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Meet Champy II

I had a brilliant day yesterday as Roger Philpot came out to fit a Champion & Wilton off-side side saddle that he had brought to the Nationals for me to try on Hattie. I had been riding in it a few times this past week and it rode well and seemed to fit Hattie too so fingers were crossed for when Roger came for him to give his OK that it fit too!

This saddle is unlike anything I've had before, it's VERY close contact due to the lack of safe (it never had one- ever) and it has a blocked head with an extended flap that goes over the cutback head for leg support due to it not having a safe. So it's an "open head" side saddle but the little flap makes it not so open headed. I rather like the angle of the fixed head too, I like them well over towards the middle of the saddle. The blocked head is a dream to ride too. The 22" and a bit seat (UK 17") is plenty long enough for me too.

You can see that the flap over the cutback, is actually part of the blocked head cover, there is no seam connecting it to the blocked head but one continuous piece of doeskin.

There is a small flat piece of iron inserted into the flap to keep it rigid across and over the cutback.

It also has a Champion & Wilton safety fitting which makes a nice change, as all my off-side side saddles have only ever had roller bars. The safety fitting is reversed for an off-side side saddle and mine has a little "O" stamped on the arm for "off-side".

A regular nearside Champion & Wilton safety fitting...

An off-side Champion & Wilton safety fitting...

I was so happy and relieved when Roger came and had a look at it on Hattie yesterday afternoon. He said that it was actually a really good fit and that not much needed doing to the saddle to fit it to Hattie. He put a felt him between the wykham pad and the tree for support under my right thigh, adjusted the flocking in the leaping head for me and tightened the thread on the leaping head with PVA tape. He said that I can shave a bit of the felt off of the nearside at the cutback to keep it away from Hattie's withers but that it wasn't pinching.

Once those little tweaks were all done to the saddle, it was time for my lesson and for me to get tweaked! Roger was helping me to get my position more centered which in turn, leads to much easier ride!!

For example, when I am on the right rein to help me stop cork screwing to the off-side, I am to try and keep my hip pointed in the direction of Hattie's nearside shoulder and on the bend to the right, I am only to move my HEAD in that direction. This helps to keep my body still but Hattie can still feel the weight of my head going in the direction she needs to go in.

On the left rein, the hip thing and head thing still applies obviously, but I am to bring my left hand back a bit to "take the rein" and not bring my whip/cane so far back as that will act as my inside leg to bend around.

I am also to keep my head up too! I have an awful habit of dropping my head and looking down but Roger told me to keep my nose, up, Up, UP!

All these tweaks will help me to be a quieter, more effective rider and I must admit, makes riding a whole lot easier!

Next, building on from the tweaks, was cantering and Roger was getting me to get my weight in the saddle more forward so that my right seat bone was very light in the saddle and my weight was concentrated on my left thigh towards my left knee.  He also got me to think about following a "rolling slide" rhythm at the canter with my hips and thigh when keeping my weight centered forward rather than an upright dressage position. Doing this makes you very secure in the saddle when out cross country and jumping and helps you sail over uneven ground.

I can safely say this was tested out by me yesterday as we sailed around the field in our new forward weight, "rolling slide" position. Hattie was flying over the ridge and furrows and uneven ground and I did not feel any of it, it was so smooth, I was laughing and smiling all the way around! I lost my stirrup a couple of times, but it didn't matter as my new position felt so secure in the saddle that roger said I didn't need it. I totally get now why they always say that your side saddle stirrup should only be used as a foot rest.

I've got to practice all these as he is coming next month to work on jumping which I am VERY looking forward to.

The saddle was a dream to ride, the seat is between a sweepy and flat seat. Roger said that the saddle was from about 1908 so there were both styles of seats kicking about then so I guess this was a happy medium between the two.

Despite not having a grip pad or an extra point strap, the saddle did not move on Hattie at all. It was nice to finally get a riding saddle that I did not have to have panels rebuilt to fit her or extra point straps added.

I did put the girth on the point and 1st strap on the off-side and then the first two on the nearside for maximum set. I still don't use a separate balance girth but instead, the combi girth with the little balance girth attached. This arrangement seems to work for Hattie as it causes less drag and this saddle feels stable with it any ways!

I'm very glad to be able to give Champy II a new home!

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

A Very Grand Old Lady

One of the first side saddles I ever saw in person, was when I was a teenager (I was 15 going on 16) when I visited a tack shop in Cape Cod, Massachusetts while on vacation with my auntie who has a house there. The tack shop had an old Victorian side saddle perched on the banister and I was intrigued by it as it had all fancy stitching on it and a slipper stirrup. I had only ever seen plain 1930's style side saddles shown in my horse books so it caught my eye and also the fact, that I loved side saddle so much but hadn't access to any side saddles or side saddle lessons. It was so TINY too, even as a teenager, I would have been too tall to ride on it.

Well, my auntie didn't buy me the tiny ornate side saddle but a pair of Cottage Craft rubber riding boots and a Breyer model horse, both of which I was VERY HAPPY to receive but that little fancy saddle always stuck in my mind.

Now as a "grown up" and a side saddle rider, that little saddle that I saw all those years ago, keeps playing on my mind and I have kind of been looking for one for dsiplay as well as wondering how those Grand Old Ladies ride. Most of them I have come across, have been VERY narrow- even narrower than the yellow narrow gullets in the Wintec and Thorowgood saddles (Hattie takes the green narrow/medium in Thorowgood saddles and a black medium in Wintecs) and MUCH too short in the seat for me to even try at my height of 5'9" so never really made an active effort to persue finding one to buy.

Sometimes it's when you make the least effort that you come across something though...

Laying in a heap, in the grass, I spied a disgusting old side saddle. It was FILTHY and covered in dirt, dust, spiders, old spider webs and goodness knows what else. The leather on the safe was all curled over on itself- it looked a right old mess.

There wasn't a price tag so asked the vendor "how much" and she said she'd accept offers on this wreck. People passing by, giggled at my as I picked up this Poor Old Lady and made my offer. Then she came home with me and turned her into this Grand Dame...

She dates to about 1860 and was made by a saddler called H. Selden who was a "Carriage & Cart Barnet(?) Maker" in Tenterden (Kent). They also made ropes, twines and cordage! The original paper labels still are present on each side of the saddle.

The saddle is REALLY well made and was crafted for a tall, well fed lady on a well fed horse, lol. I honestly did not think this saddle would fit either Hattie or me and bought it for it's display value. That is, until I put Hattie's wither tracing against it when I got home and thought, "Blimey" and then sat on it on the stand and thought "Blimey!" again!

With that, I took it for a spin on Hattie to finally see how these old Victorian saddles with their off-side crutch, lack of cutback and their dipped seats rode and I was certainly surprised.

As soon I put it on Hattie, I could see that it fit like a glove at the tree (it has a long nearside and off-side point). Even the cutback less head cleared her withers with enough space but not too high to feel like you would be riding uphill.

I don't think the saddle was ridden in much as there was a serious lack of flocking at the back but the addition of a fleece riser, solved that problem. I did not encounter any bridging with the saddle at all and actually sat quite nice and level on Hattie's back although she does not look impressed. It has a roller bar fitting so used the same leather and iron as I use on my off-side Beck.

I also used a soft leather three buckle girth from a Bit on the Side Saddle for extra security in case one of the old billets broke. Note the lack of balance girth and the long tree points on each side. This was another reason to use the three buckle girth so that the pressure was spread evenly over all the billets to help balance it better. I put a thin gel pad underneath as well for extra comfort but despite being 150 years old, the panels are in remarkably good condition. Looks like all the spiders that once inhabited this saddle, earned their keep by keeping the moths out!

Then it was time to get on and I was so excited! My butt found the sweet spot in the saddle immediately and the crutch at the front of the saddle fit my ample thigh like it was custom made for me and not some stranger 150 years ago. 

The leaping head was a perfect fit too, usually on old saddles, the curve is too tight for my leg but the lady who had this saddle was a Good Doer like me!

The original owner of this saddle was probably a tiny bit shorter than me (maybe 5'7"-ish) so there is a little bit of "butt spillage" at the back as the saddle is just shy of 21" (it's about 20 3/4", I take at least 21") but my seat bones are comfortably on the saddle which measures about 14" wide! all in all though, it's not too bad a fit for me and I've ridden in saddles which have been larger in seat size but so uncomfortable! I did not feel uphill in this saddle at all either.

On a separate, humorous observation, I think I know the reason why I prefer NON flat seated saddles and why I don't feel like I'm riding uphill on sweepy and dippy seated saddles- it's because of my AMPLE BOTTOM!!! You can see in the photo, how the "extra padding" thigh and bum "fill in the gap" of the dipped seat which then in turn, lifts up my bones inside my body to actually sit level on the saddle. Flat seats don't give my padding anywhere to go but non flat seats, give it some where to go somewhere. I'm no expert and don't have any medical degree but you can't argue with the photo below!!!! 

Now the fun part, the riding!!! We started slowly at the walk, just getting used to everything and to make sure the saddle didn't start snapping to bits (and me getting used to riding on the nearside again) but once I felt confident in the saddle, off we went at all three gaits and even did some extended canters down the long side. I even tried holding onto the off-side horn as it was often used as a hand hold but couldn't see the point really, much easier to keep your right shoulder back than to hold onto that thing and lose contact with your rein. Unfortunately, the overgirth did break as i got a bit over zealous in tightening it!

Not once did the saddle feel unstable or move due to the lack of balance girth and there is something to be said about the dual long tree points that the Victorians used to use in their saddles, they do make a side saddle more stable (although harder to fit) if the curve of them fits your horse well. 

I took the following photos while I was seated on the saddle and there was no pinching at the off-side tree point and good clearance at the withers without being too high up over them (there was 2 fingers clearance). I would probably say that the tree on the saddle is a good, sound medium width for a Thoroughbred. you can see how well the curve of the tree follows Hattie's conformation.

All in all, I was delighted with how this saddle rode and Hattie did not seem to mind it either, so we may be onto a winner here!

Monday, 12 August 2013

2013 Nationals Pictorial Review!

Well, the Nationals was a blast this year! Although I wasn't showing, I still had an amazing time meeting and chatting with everyone and helping my friend Sarah on her stand, A Bit on the Side Saddle. There was too much to take in and I didn't get many photos of the classes as I was busy helping, talking and shopping but I think the photos I did get, show the good atmosphere of the show. Hopefully, Hattie will be there next year!

Early Friday morning shot of the dressage rings on the way to the toilet!

Trade stands full of every side saddle thing and related items you could EVER want. Boy did I shop...

Saskia von Ehrenkrook's stand, a yearly favourite of mine to visit as she always has beautiful saddles and accessories for sale. She has a small seated off-side Mayhew for sale as well.

Another favourite stand to visit with lots of lovely saddles for sale- Laura Dempsey's stand! This year she had Jocelyn Danby, Nicola Watson and Tiffany Parkinson on hand at her stand. I was very lucky as I had the whole team there poke and prod at my poor Mayhew. Fortunately, Laura said that my Mayhew wasn't damaged beyond repair and she whacked the loose rivet back in. She said that the tree was in good condition for it's age and although it was ridable as it was with the rivet whacked back in, she said that if I continued riding in it, the rivet would just work loose again as it was shorn off on the other side (from when Hattie fell). She showed me the points where to get the metal on the tree welded to each other.

Laura and Tiffany fitting a saddle at her stand...

Johan Ulvede from Viking Saddlery was there repairing and refurbing old trees and saddles. I was amazed with how he repaired some REALLY BROKEN old trees so that they were as good as new. Laura suggested I take my Mayhew to him to get the points she showed me welded and now I have a Mayhew that is as strong as it was when it was new!

The Wilkins Family stand displaying a variety of saddles including the synthetic Millenium saddle which they hope to produce again soon. They also had a beautiful Edwardian riding habit on display and lots of side saddle photos. I could have stood there hours looking at everything.

Another one of my FAVOURITE shopping stands, Side Saddles! They sell pretty much anything you could imagine side saddle.  A word of warning, NEVER come to the Nationals without plenty of money to shop.

ANOTHER favourite stand of mine, Showtime Supplies owned by Trish Daly. She made by lovely green keeper's tweed habit and can make any habit you desire at a reasonable price as well as altering an existing habit. I brought my navy Mears cutaway jacket and two of my aprons to the Nationals get altered by her.

And last but not least is Sarah's stand, A Bit on the Side Saddle where we hung out and talked horse and side saddle for all the days of the Nationals. Sarah introduced her new Melody side saddle (the off-side Megan version was not ready in time for the show but I brought my off-sider for people to try at the show to see how it feels to sit on the off-side) and it is SO COMFORTABLE to sit on. The leather is lovely on it and it's all European. I'm so looking forward to the Megan.

Sarah's special side saddle boots where you get a shorter right boot with suede on the outside of the right boot for extra grip on the saddle. She informed me that I could get these made for off-side riding....

AND the lovely NEW and MODERN riding habit made from soft shell material! I've already ordered and paid for mine and am getting two aprons, a near and a off-side one. The jackets come in standard sizing but the aprons are custom to your measurements, which is good, as I needed a longer one than the display one. so if you are tall, it's not a problem! The jackets will fit you whether you are tall or short! I couldn't believe it when I tried on the jacket and the sleeves FIT my long arms as well as fitting shorter ladies who tried it. I can wait to get mine.

Sarah and I did get to see a couple of classes during quiet times and I snapped these photos of the historic costume class.

On the Saturday night, we went to see the Rider of the Year class where the final four riders battled it out to be the Rider of the Year. Basically, all 4 riders had to ride 4 unknown horses and keep rotating until all 4 had ridden each horse, the judges judging their equitation each time. Samantha Boxhall was the winner this year and I would not have liked to have been a judge as I couldn't choose between any of the riders as they all rode so well. It was very interesting and something to aspire to!