As I wrote on my April 4th post, Schleese Saddlery Service recently became a LOPE sponsor. We were especially excited about their sponsorship because LOPE has been learning more and more about equine biomechanics, and the huge importance of proper saddle fit to horsemanship and horse health.
Lightening Ball, a 15-year-old TB gelding, raced until age 9. In new situations, he would often display tension under saddle and became very tight in both his body and emotional response. He would sometimes whirl and spook unexpectedly at these times. But within a few minutes of riding him in a borrowed Schleese saddle, Lightening Ball showed a large aptitude for dressage movement and relaxed tremendously in his demeanor.
Soon after, Schleese donated a saddle and custom fitting to LOPE for Lightening Ball. The first step in the process was carefully measuring him -- so that the donated saddle could be adjusted perfectly for his body. Kristen Vlietstra of Schleese did the fitting session -- we were all very impressed with her professionalism and knowledge of horse biomechanics. She carefully assessed Lightening Ball’s conformation and body measurements -- and even measured me (to make sure the saddle would be a proper match to my leg length).
A few weeks later, a beautiful Schleese saddle arrived for Lightening Ball. During his first ride in the saddle, he responded with great enthusiasm to its fit. He set off into a lovely, flowing trot, lifting his withers and moving with quiet elegance. We began riding together in his new saddle several times a week and took regular lessons at Hy Court Farm.
Lightening Ball learned how to use his body differently and seemed to be delighted to discover that his saddle was now a help to him (not a hindrance). And I learned how to ride more correctly, with my leg back and upper body straight (instead of perching anxiously over the reins). The Schleese saddle encouraged my leg to be more stable and my seat to settle further back.
Lightening Ball loves his new saddle! But I had no idea just how deep his feeling was until the day I rode him in his old hunter saddle. I wanted to see if I would notice a difference in him -- and I definitely did. Within minutes of starting the ride, Lightening Ball tensed his back, shook his head and began spooking mildly. Once the saddle was replaced with the Schleese, he immediately went back to his calm, happy demeanor.
After a few weeks, I decided to put Lightening Ball (and me) to the test. I signed up for a schooling show at Hy Court Farm. After reviewing the choices, I selected a riding class series that combined a trail/obstacle course and a group equitation ride. Lightening Ball and I had never competed in a riding class at a show before. It was our big debut into the show world.
My goal was to expose Lightening Ball to a supportive show environment. I assumed he would be nervous and a little tense. To my surprise, he took the show in stride -- he warmed up quietly, with a soft eye and calm attitude. He seemed to like the trail versatility course, looking with interest at each obstacle. His movement was especially light and flowing during the group equitation class, exuding confidence and relaxation. After the class, I went to check the results and wondered if we scored well enough for a ribbon. I was proud of Lightening Ball and was pleased that he had enjoyed his first show outing. A ribbon would be icing on the cake. And sure enough, we did earn a ribbon -- the blue one.
We won the class!
Thank you, Schleese Saddlery Service.
Note: The time between my first ride in the Schleese saddle on Lightening Ball and his show win was less than 4 weeks.