Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Why the Windridge Stadium course and I don't get along

***WARNING!!! Some of the images below include injuries around the eye and may be graphic to some viewers***

So Tristan and I have taken a pretty light summer to get comfortable at Prelim using local shows for practice. I haven't shown since FENCE Horse Trials this April, and figured we needed some warm up before the Tryon Riding & Hunt Club Trials in September. Thus, the Windridge Schooling Show sounded like a great idea to get us prepped for the fall. Unfortunately for me, this was the same showground where Tristan and I parted ways in the stadium ring last fall at our first attempt at Prelim.

We started out on Saturday schooling cross country with Eric Dierks in some pretty miserably hot weather. Eric has been working on our formula for producing efficient, powerful jumps every attempt, and I will say we started out a bit rocky. I swing between being overly assertive as a rider and being too lax, trying to find the middle ground that makes me more accurate without becoming anxious over the size or difficulty of the obstacle. Once we got on a roll, we produced some really nice jumps, even through some difficult questions. I'm particularly happy with the ability of my new Stübben Zaria Optimum saddle and how much easier it is for me to maintain a proper leg position over a variety of jumps!

A bold effort on the first attempt at the Trakehner

Tristan took a little encouragement for this AB skinny

We had a nice pat-the-ground stride in before this skinny after an upbank. Very thinking and cat-like of Tristan!

Bold effort on the downbank, plus my position stayed pretty great!
After a productive practice, we prepped for an early morning the following day for the schooling trial. We put in a fairly decent dressage test despite having to perform in a sudden downpour, in a spooky ring, with a stray dog wandering about during our test. We still need to work on the fluidity of our left bend and more impulsion in our lengthened gaits, but overall finished with a 35.9 and a very workmanlike test!

Then followed stadium. Our warm up was alright, but Eric thought we needed more power to a collected stride, and we also ended up running out of time and having to go in the ring a bit unprepared. For what followed, I take full responsibility. When I become anxious at events, my seat takes over and I begin to over-ride Tristan, which ends up either scaring him, or putting us in bad spots for jumps. We made it through the first three fences, but I got us in a bad take off for four. What followed seemed to pass in slow motion: first I thought we were going to have a stop, then suddenly we were mid-air over the oxer and I remember looking down wondering how we were going to clear the spread. Tristan made the distance by tossing his head mid-arc, meeting my face, and we landed on the other side with me immediately seeing stars. I was cupping my right eye, stunned and trying to figure out what had just happened. I heard someone call for the sidelines, "Are you ok?" and I pulled my hand away from my face to see blood dripping down my glasses with an unknown source.

It's always strange to be bleeding, but not actually feel pain, or know where it's coming from. For a brief moment I considered continuing on my course, then realized how stupid that would be and replied "I'm bleeding!" and quickly left the ring, starting to panic over the source of the blood. First concern was, is it my eye? No, I could still see from both. Then where was all the blood coming from? Turned out that when Tristan's head struck my face, the rim of my sunglasses had broken and cut deeply into my eyebrow and more superficially into my eyelid. Besides being stunned by the impact, I couldn't feel the cuts at all, which was very bizarre.

This is where it comes in handy to have friends you can count on at events. I quickly dismounted outside the ring, Eric and his wife Trayce both took Tristan back to my trailer (luckily he was unscathed by the whole ordeal), took care of him and prepped him to leave, while my fiance Nathan accompanied me to the ambulance. I was fine until someone said the word "stitches" to me, then I started to panic. I have an irrational phobia of needles, and the idea of getting sewn up, especially when I couldn't see how badly I was hurt, was absolutely terrifying. The EMTs cleaned me up and decided that, while they seriously recommended I go to the emergency room to get stitched up, I was in good enough shape to at least take my horse home and go take some Xanax before I headed over to the hospital.

Leaving the show, all wrapped up by the EMTs
 Once we were at the hospital, I got the guts up to actually look at the cut that needed stitches (I had been trying to convince the EMTs to shave my eyebrow and tape it shut, to no avail).

Not as bad as I was expecting!
It was definitely gaping, but not nearly as bad as it was in my head. Sometimes it does help to look!

Post stitches!
 The stitches were by far the worst part of the whole ordeal in my book. I honestly feel terrible for Nathan having to sit through me screaming like I was being murdered while they were sewing me up (and that was with one Xanax and two Ativan in my system).

Looking back at the entire event, I'm dissapointed I wasn't able to finish the show (I was really ready to show that XC course who's boss!) but at the end of the day, you always have to count the positives. Besides going to the ER, I walked away from the show on my own power, Tristan is 100% ok, and we live to ride another day. I've discussed what went wrong with Eric and we've decided that the best course of action is to move back down to Training level for the time being to help improve my accuracy and lower my anxiety level. It's not worth continuing at Preliminary right now with our current track record in stadium (which oddly enough has become our most difficult phase) until we can walk into the show ring 110% confident that the level is beneath us. This time, a bad miss left me with a colorful shiner, but next time it could be another concussion, an injury for Tristan, or far worse. There's nothing to say we won't be back to competing at Prelim soon, but there's also no shame in admitting that we need more time to seriously prepare for the level.

On the bright side, now we can really give the Training level riders a run for their money at Tryon Riding & Hunt Club, so watch out!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Spring Tree: #1 Reason to Go Stübben or Go Home

Firstly, I'd like to extend a huge thank you to Jim Ehrman, President of Stübben North America, and the folks at Stübben for hosting such an educational seminar at their headquarters in Troy, VA, and inviting myself and the other participants to learn about their incredible products. I was able to walk away from the clinic with a better understanding of saddle fitting, and an intense feeling of excitement at becoming part of their extended team of partners. Stübben leather goods have been a staple of equestrian sport since 1894, and they continue to create products with two simple values in mind.

1. Comfort for the horse above all else

2. Value of product to the consumer

With those values in mind, Stübben's spring tree remains the number one reason to invest in their saddles over another brand. Their revolutionary design focuses on the comfort of the horse's back by allowing the tree to bend and flex with the horse's movement and properly absorb the rider's weight while transmitting the rider's seat aids through the saddle to the horse's back.

Stübben starts off with the frame of the tree.

The blue sections of the tree are made of a molded composite (not plastic, wood or fiberglass) that will not break under normal circumstances. Jim spoke of an instance where a dually truck accidentally backed over one of these trees at a show, bending it pommel to cantle, popping most of the rivets off the steel but left the composite unharmed!

Steel makes up for the rest of the framework, including recessed stirrup bars strategically attached to the points of the tree to distribute the rider's weight evenly across the horse's back.

Within the pommel, the steel plate designed to protect the horse's withers has ridges to add strength and help eliminate the possibility of a properly fitted saddle ever damaging the horse's spine.

Ridges for added strength and stability in the steel
In contrast to most saddle companies that carry a small assortment of tree sizes (usually Narrow, Medium, and Wide), Stübben's entire line has 7 different tree sizes (27 centimeter to 32 centimeter, and an additional extra wide) to accommodate everything from narrow, high-withered thoroughbreds to broad draft crosses and warmbloods. Most other companies try to fit a wider variety of horses with a limited number of trees by simply adding more padding the the panels. The best way to understand why the tree size is so vitally important to the horse's soundness is to consider a long distance backpacker buying gear. If you were to purchase a backpack for a long distance to carry heavy equipment, you would be advised to consider a backpack with a rigid frame in place to help distribute the weight of your gear across your back. A soft backpack with lots of padding and cushion will allow shifting and movement to occur, stressing the back and leading to soreness, even if it feels lighter and more comfortable in the store. However, if you use a backpack with a rigid frame, and light padding to help protect your muscles, the weight will be distributed evenly and allow you to go longer with less stress.

Once they have the molded composite, steel frame and variety of sizes, Stübben's next step is to tension the tree and add strapping.

To tension the tree, it is bent from pommel to cantle and strapping is strategically positioned on the frame and stapled in place. The whiter strip in the picture is used for the billets. Stability and longevity is added to the billet straps by attaching them in this manner. As depicted in the image, four main straps are used to tension the tree; two from pommel to cantle, and two across the deepest point of the seat (where the rider will ultimately sit). This allows the rider's weight to be properly absorbed by the spring of the tree as the webbing works with the steel frame. Also, once girthed down, the saddle can bend and flex with the horse's back and movement.

Once the saddle is placed on the horse and is properly balanced, the circle in the above image will become the deepest point of the seat. This is where the balance of the saddle becomes very important; a rider to far in front or behind the deepest point of the seat will not allow the saddle to distribute the weight across the horse's back.

Additionally, the cantle can move in a twisting manner, consistent with the horse's motion of his back, while staying stationary at the pommel and protecting the withers.

There are a lot of saddles out there, many will be very viable options for you and/or your horse. Some manufacturers forget that the main goal of creating this vital piece of equipment should put the horse's comfort above all else, and instead focus more on their profit margin. Stübben is strongly dedicated to designing, producing, and distributing quality products for both horse and rider where the horse comes first. After all, it's hard to stay in business for 120+ years by providing saddles and strap goods in barns across the world that don't live up to equestrian's expectations for quality equipment.