It arrived yesterday morning, just before I headed off to work, a Barefoot Cherokee saddle:
Of course I had to unpack it in the kitchen, and dream of a lovely ride in the evening. So post dinner, post 4 year old in bed, post story, post cuddle, out I headed. It was later than I wanted but I was anxious to take things slowly and not lose the soft connection that has grown with Ben in this time (about 7 weeks) without a saddle.
I put Rosie in the stable with her tea and some hay and proceeded to tack up Ben, slowly, waiting for release from any possible tension at each stage. He gave me release at each stage, with enormous yawns as the saddle cloth was produced, and plenty of licking and chewing at other stages.
The Barefoot saddle is treeless and has its own saddle pad which has integral shims. The Cherokee is the model used for trail riding but with knee rolls, which can be positioned to suit, to allow for jumping small jumps. The stirrups are set further back than in my old saddle and the buckles on the leathers are down low by the stirrup iron. It takes a dressage girth. The pommel comes with a fibreglass insert in size medium so I ordered a wide insert, as recommended, for Ben. You fit the insert against the horse’s shoulders where it should sit flat. There is a template for this on the website.
It was fiddly. Saddle on, I realised I had forgotten to change the insert. This necessitated a call to my husband to help as I struggled to fit in the wide insert. The stirrups were fiddly, as was the girth. I am not used to a dressage girth. I stood back to check everything for the umpteenth time and Ben decided it was time to go. He was standing at liberty for all this, and he just headed off along the track towards the back gate.
Excuse the blurred photograph, but I couldn’t resist a quick shot before I followed him. Half way along he heard a digger start up somewhere and he stopped to check it out. I came up and he moved on a bit, stopped to listen again. So I went past him and said ‘Coming?’ and he followed me, at liberty, to the back gate.
Mounting up, the saddle slipped. This might be an issue, Ben is very round right now, what with early summer grass, although strictly limited, and lack of work. It will make me very nimble I hope! Mounted, we set off. My stirrups were too short, but I had no idea how to adjust them from the saddle and I had no knee rolls as I had forgotten to put them in, but we were off, our first hack from home in nearly 7 weeks.
One big spook at a white gate post in the growing dusk, which I felt through the saddle almost before it happened, and Ben suddenly settled. He blew through his nose, his head stretched down, his stride lengthened and he walked out, my lovely Ben, relaxed, forward going and I, despite too-short stirrups, loving the saddle for the feeling of following and absorbing the movement that it gave.
It was late so we did a short ride, half an hour at the most, but how lovely to be riding on a relaxed horse, on a quiet evening, smelling wild honeysuckle. Not even occasional clouds of midges disturbed our harmony.
We arrived at our open back gate. I usually dismount there for Ben to eat the long grass that is just outside the gate. As I turned Ben towards the gate, he slowed and looked around at me as if to say, ‘Is that all we’re doing?’
I will write more on the saddle as I go, but so far I can report that in that saddle Ben definitely carries his head lower and longer and has a longer, much smoother stride than in my old saddle.