Around my barn, we shift into a lower gear this time of year, based on surviving winter. Here in the high mountains of Colorado, winter comes early and stays late. We had plenty of sub-zero temperatures in November, which deep-freezes the footing in our outdoor arena, chasing us indoors to ride for the next four months.
Don’t get me wrong, I count my lucky stars to have a toasty indoor arena, but going round and round becomes tedious for both horse and rider. Personally, I can handle the monotony—it’s my choice to ride after all—but I do not like my horses getting in a dull frame of mind. I like them to stay fresh and interested—and that’s not easy in a small, fully-enclosed space.
I do what I can to avoid falling into a rut. Some days we work obstacles, other days we work the cutting flag, or the garrocha pole. I also do a lot of bareback riding in the winter—it challenges my balance, and it turns a short riding session into a good physical workout! When I ride bareback, I feel like I have a different focus—more on my riding skill and less on my horse’s performance. I think she enjoys that.
We keep our horses barefoot in the winter so they have better traction in ice and snow, and for the health of their feet. Since we live in the “heart of the Rockies,” the ground is hard and rocky everywhere. It’s tricky to manage their feet when transitioning from shod to barefoot, because if we get snow, followed by a deep freeze (which is often the case), their feet can get very sore from the ice. I’ve learned to watch the weather closely in the fall and have the farrier leave the feet a little longer than normal to help with the transition.
In other news, as many of you know, my mare Annie is 14.0 hands tall and round as a barrel with very low withers. She’s also extremely short-coupled and has some asymmetry in her shoulders. This all adds up to making saddle-fit an ongoing challenge, and one of the hardest parts is how short-backed and dainty she is. Her roundness and low withers would point to a wide tree but her small stature makes her swim in it. A full-skirted Western saddle is way too long for her.
Recently I ordered my new Cascade Crossover Saddle by Circle Y for Annie—it’s a regular tree with a 15” seat. I’ve been riding in a 16” saddle for some time, which is a tad big for me, but I like the extra room. I designed the Cascade saddle to be very close contact, with a deep seat, so it rides much like a dressage saddle. The Cascade has a unique tree and the regular size fits narrow and high-withered horses well. While I don’t think of Annie as narrow (because she’s so round), she is quite small and much to my delight, this tree fits her well.
My main goal in using the 15” seat was to have a saddle with shorter overall length that would match her very short back. Again, I am pleased with the way this Cascade fits her. But the bonus for me is that this smaller seat size also places my legs in a better position, and I think I ride better in this saddle! Getting the right fit for the horse is imperative. Getting a better fit for the rider is icing on the cake!
As this year winds to a close, I’m reflecting on the accomplishments I’ve made with my horse this year, what I want to do more next year, and how I can continue to develop myself as a rider, trainer, and teacher. I’m not a fan of the status quo—learning, growing, and evolving my horsemanship is the whole point of the endeavor to me.
Starting next month, we’ll begin a 9-month plan to do just that—accomplish new heights in your horsemanship in 2023! Whatever that means for you—going on an overnight trail ride, mastering the canter, competing in horse shows, starting a horse under saddle, completing a 50-mile endurance ride, building a solid relationship with a new horse, or simply enjoying your horse more—nothing will happen without planning and commitment.
Whatever your goals are, developing a plan and systematically assessing your progress is critical to your achievement. I’m still mulling over my own horsemanship goals for next year. To me, dreaming and imagining the possibilities is fun. I’m not sure what I will come up with for myself, so stay tuned!
I hope you’ll join me next month, and together we can wrangle our dreams, set some lofty goals, and bust out of the starting gate! #horsegoalsorbust!
In the meantime, I hope you all have a wonderful holiday with friends and family. As always, stay safe, and enjoy the ride.