Sunday, January 24, 2010

Second Test Ride in EZ-Fit Saddle

On Saturday, I tacked Zephyr up in the demo treeless EZ-Fit saddle that I have on loan from Wendy Jordan (email me for contact info) for our second and probably last demo ride.  I already knew that the foam panels don’t have enough angle (you can see this in the picture below), but I needed a few good long trots so I could tell whether it would be comfortable for me.  Our other ride was in fairly deep snow and I’d gotten tossed all over the place!

It was sunny and maybe in the high 20s when I headed out.  Zephyr has a full winter coat, as you can see! I wore my long flannel-lined nylon duster, thinking I’d need it to block the wind.  I left him barefoot, as I knew we’d be riding along a paved road the whole way to my friend’s house, and I figured if anything it would give him a good pedicure!


This size Medium saddle (15-17” adjustable) fits nicely on top of the ThinLine barrel-shaped wool pad.  The size Large saddle is 2” longer from front to back, so it would be a closer fit, but would still work.

The adjustable V-rigging makes it so I can put the cinch exactly in each horse’s girth groove.  Zephyr is wearing this cinch a bit farther back than the girth was placed on the Barefoot saddles, partially because those saddles are designed to fit so much farther forward, which makes the girth sit more forward.

My endurance breastplate works with this saddle, without any adjustments.  I don’t think it has a crupper ring but I don’t see the need with this saddle... it has so much more structure than the Barefoot I had before, and didn’t seem to budge during either of our rides.

Everyone who has seen the pictures of my last ride commented that the stirrups are very far back.  Yes, yes they are!  I hate chair seated saddles with a passion.  On my last ride, I thought maybe they were an inch too far back, but this time I decided they were just right. 

In the picture below, taken when I stopped at Gary's house to drop off my duster because I was too hot, you can see my position at a halt.  I will confess that at the time I felt as if my heels were down, but they’re not... and frankly I don’t care.  I know that they go down when I post the trot, and that’s all that really matters to me as far as security in the saddle.  You may also think my knee is too bent in this picture (stirrups too short), and it’s possible that you are right.  It FELT right, and when I take my foot out of the stirrup the tread is at my ankle as it should be, but next time I will probably try it a hole longer just to see.  I do have to keep them somewhat short just because of the way Zephyr trots, I have to stay off his back a millisecond longer than you need on other horses.

In this same picture, you can see that the cinch has not budged from the place I put it.  This saddle felt very stable to me, even though I did need to tighten the cinch at this stop.  Lateral stability was good even with a loose cinch, though I probably couldn’t have mounted from the ground without tightening it.  If it weren’t for the fact that I already own a perfectly good ThinLine dressage girth, I might consider getting the western rigging (in leather, not nylon as shown here).


After our brief stop to drop off my coat, we continued on.  Zephyr trotted willingly for probably 2-2.5 miles out of the 3 that it took us to get to Alysha’s house.  His gait was smooth and even, and very relaxed with a low head and nicely rounded spine.  My posture was better than it ever was in the Barefoot, no matter how refreshed I was!  I was able to keep my shoulders back so much better, posting was effortless, and it was much easier to keep my heels down.

I headed over towards Lysh’s house partially so she could take a closer look at this saddle with the funny-looking buckles, and partially because when I’m road riding I need a destination to keep me going!  I don’t like riding the road because of the cars and other things to spook at, and Zephyr doesn’t like it because it’s boring (except for when there are things to spook at).  For me to be willing to ride the roads when he’s getting fresh from so little exercise is a real testament to how secure I feel in this deep-seated saddle!

A great example was when we got to the bridge about 1/8 of a mile from Lysh’s house.  There was a car parked there, and the driver was standing down below the bridge on the ice, cutting a minnow trap hole with a chainsaw.  Now, Zephyr is fine with chainsaws, and he’s fine with fishermen, but this was the first time he’d seen this particular combination.  Every second or two I would urge him forward a step or two, which he did willingly, then he would stop and look some more.   When it got to the point before the bridge where the road was narrow enough that it would be unsafe if he spooked, we sat patiently and waited for the man to shut it off.  As soon as he did, and we chatted for a moment to be polite, Zephyr was happy to trot off.

When we got to Lysh’s house, I dismounted so she could sit in the saddle.  She said it was very comfortable for her to sit in, but both of us could see that she would have needed the bigger size if she was going to post a trot.


As you can see in the above photo, the saddle still hasn’t budged, and neither has the cinch.  It is a very stable saddle!  As I remounted and trotted away, I asked Lysh to judge our form.  She said we both looked great, so now I know that it doesn’t just FEEL like I have good equitation (posture, form) in this saddle, I DO have it, and he IS moving well in it even despite the panels not fitting his back well.

Speaking of moving well, he did great with bare feet on the pavement and gravel/sand roadside, with the exception of one particular road that was re-done last summer with some pretty big rocks mixed in.  On that road he preferred pavement to roadside, but on all the others, roadside was just fine.  His feet are really toughening up!

On the way home I stopped back at Gary’s house to collect my coat, and of course I had to go in for a beer, so Zephyr got stripped and tossed in with his buddies Rocky and Peyton for a little playtime.  He thought that was awesome, and so did Gary’s kids and their friends... he was an instant hit with them!  When it was time to go, it was almost dark, so I experimented with tacking up as quickly as I could.  Some setups go fast, some don’t, and this one was FAST, even with the western rigging.  As I rode away through the field and up the hill, I urged him into a hand-gallop to show off a little for the kids... it was fun, and I still felt very secure despite his huge lunging movements because of the deep snow!

My ONLY reservation about this saddle is that the suede seat has a bit of a bump at the top of the twist (right under my crotch) but that’s not a deal killer, I’m going to see if I can use some thin foam underneath the seat to flatten it out... or maybe Eli (the saddle maker) will have something he can do about that.

I’m sold.  I’m ordering my own EZ-Fit this week.  They will build it with sharper angles to the foam panels, to fit Zephyr’s A-framed back, and the brochure says they will also send a Port Lewis Impression Pad with it so I can make sure my weight is being distributed across his back well enough.  There’s a 2-week satisfaction guarantee so what do I have to lose?

When I talk to Wendy, I need to ask her if she has this saddle scheduled for another demo right after mine.  If not, Gary may be interested in taking it on demo.  He’s been looking for a saddle with a larger seat and more seat padding, and when he sat in this one last week, he said that might be the one!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Demoing the EZ-Fit Treeless Saddle

My friend Gary and I hauled over to the Great Pond Mountain Wildlands yesterday for a nice long ride, thinking that the trails would be hard-packed from the snowmobiles. 

Gary rode his horse Rocky over from his house a half-mile away, because I wasn’t sure my rig would make it up his driveway.  Rocky, Gary’s 6yo foundation QH gelding, hasn’t been on a slant-load trailer since Gary bought him, and we don’t know his history before that.  But he hopped right on, saddled and all, even with the left half of the trailer closed up for the tack compartment.  Zephyr, as always, loaded right up too.  After I drove over the frozen-in wheel chocks we were on our way!  Gary told me later that it was the first time he had ever been a passenger in a truck that was hauling a trailer and driven by a woman.  In fact, while I was in the house getting a bottle of water, he almost got behind the wheel by accident!  I got a big laugh out of that.

The Wildlands is only about 10 minutes from my house, and when we arrived there were no other vehicles.  I jockeyed the trailer around until the back end was on snow instead of ice, so that the horses could unload safely.  Next time maybe I’ll bring a bucket of sand just in case.

Rocky didn’t feel that comfortable about stepping down out of the trailer, but with just a bit of coaxing, he did it.  Boy oh boy was he shaking, though!  That had to be the first time he’s backed out of a step-up trailer.

It took me a few moments to get Zephyr saddled with the demo EZ-Fit treeless saddle.  First the cinch was too far back, then the saddle was too far forward!  It’s a far different type of saddle from the old Barefoot Cheyenne that I’m used to.  This is a picture from after my very short test ride on Saturday.  It’s possible that it was too far forward in this picture.


These funny-looking buckles hold the seat down.  It’s a treeless saddle, and the whole seat lifts up (forward) and another piece lifts up (backwards) revealing the straps for the stirrups and the front girth loop.  I think I have the stirrups an inch or so too far back right now.  It puts me in very good posture for walking, but makes trotting awkward and after a while makes my hips sore.


I finally got the tack all set and we turned to the next hurdle… would there be a path around the gate that was sufficiently wide for the horses?  It turned out that there was just enough room if we put the stirrups over the saddles and led them through.  Rocky was hesitant at first but it didn’t take too long before he followed Zephyr through. 

The next hurdle was getting on my darn horse!  I don’t know why, but he seemed at least a hand taller than usual.  I could have led him over to the gate but I needed to know whether I could mount from the ground in a pinch.  Gary got a video of a later attempt, which he has threatened to post online, but this first time I needed him to hold down the other stirrup just in case so his hands were busy.

Off we rode, at a raging walk.  The snow was just firm enough that it would hold their weight for a millisecond and then give way.  The horses were fighting to be in the XC-ski tracks instead of the snowshoe tracks, but I didn’t want to let them because horse prints ruin XC-ski tracks.  After about a mile we met up with the snowmobile trail, which was marginally better.

Shortly after, we met up with a lone snowmobiler.  He was very nice; he stopped and shut off his engine.  It turned out that Gary knew him.  They chatted for a few minutes, so I took advantage of a better opportunity to get a shot of Gary and Rocky.  Rocky’s not actually “over at the knee”, he’s just standing awkwardly here.


The corresponding picture of me isn’t very good because Gary was shooting into the light.  (He also needs lessons on taking pictures of horses/riders – always get the whole horse, who cares about the rider!!).  This shot makes the saddle look huge, but keep in mind that the actual back of the saddle’s seat is about 2” in front of the flap that overhangs and is fastened by buckles.  The seat size is pretty good for me, I have just enough room in front of my thighs that I don’t hit the pommel when I post.


We trotted short distances a few times, which was amusing.  NORMALLY I’m a balanced rider, and although my heels do seem to always come up, I post properly and efficiently, and from my hip joint rather than from my knee.  Not this time, oh no.  I sounded just like my friend Kathy… every time we trotted, I’d just start giggling.  The more I bounced around, the more I giggled.  Every time, I eventually resorted to holding onto the pommel with one hand.  Side note… Zephyr has recently remembered a long-ago forgotten lesson to slow down or stop when his rider leans weight onto his withers with their hand. 

I stopped at one point and dismounted to straighten the saddle pad.  I don’t know what was different, but when I went to climb back on, my horse had grown to about 7’ tall!!  It was then that Gary took the aforementioned blackmail video.  He said he thinks people who don’t know the story will probably assume that I’m drunk.  I think I told him to shut his pie hole and ride.

We got in a short canter or two along this stretch.  Surprisingly, the canter was pretty good!  On my short Saturday ride I had a hard time riding the canter, but this time it was much easier.  Maybe it was because the saddle was farther back.

As we made our left-hand turn to go up the hill and see the view, the snow got deeper and deeper.  Rocky started to really have a hard time catching his breath.  We took several breaks as we went up, but eventually we got off to rest them.  I was pleasantly surprised at Zephyr’s fitness level, he was working hard but it never took him long to catch his breath.  (Yay!)  It took Rocky a few more minutes before he was ok, so we decided to see whether it helped to just walk in front of them.  Our weight wasn’t really enough to break through the snowmobile path, but having our weight gone was enough to help the horses. 

We still hadn’t made it to the top, though, when Rocky decided he’d had enough.  We took his cue and turned around.  He did much better downhill, so Gary was able to re-mount.  I took this picture because I was amused at how low the stirrup was in comparison to Gary.  He’s about 6’5” and I’ve never asked his inseam but I’m guessing he must wear about a 36-38”… the stirrup in this picture is about 6” below his knee!  He could literally just step into it!  Mine wasn’t quite that low, but I did manage to mount with less of a spectacle this time.


Here’s the view we saw once we turned around to head back down the hill.  Not too shabby, especially since it wasn’t even from the top.



Once we got back to the main trail, Rocky was doing so much better that we decided it would be ok to try one more off-shoot trail, this one a gentle downhill with tracks from only one snowmobile.  Both horses did great on that footing, but we didn’t dare trot or canter because we knew Rocky was tired.

As we reached the point where the snowmobile trail turns left and we go straight, four snowmobiles came from in front of us.  In my opinion they went by too fast, but then I’m picky.  Both horses behaved well.  Right afterwards, another 4-5 sleds came zipping up from behind us.  Man I hate that high-pitched whine, it sets me on edge!!  Again though, both horses did well.

We were back at the gate in no time.  Rocky had an easier time getting around the gate, I think he may have even led.  This time Zephyr went on the trailer first, and Rocky got the more difficult 2nd berth.  I say more difficult because the escape door is in front of the first stall, so Gary… 6’5” Gary… had to lead him on and then duck under the divider into Zephyr’s stall, then turn around (crouched over) and climb out the door underneath the breast bar.  I had a good laugh over that, but when we got to Gary’s house I was nice.  I volunteered to do the reverse operation.  Rocky wasn’t as confident with me at his head, he really wanted to jump back into the trailer, but in just a couple seconds he was out.  He’s a good boy!

In summary… I really like this saddle!  I LOVE the Y-girthing system and the deep, secure seat.  I don’t want the suede seat, it’s a little too grippy and the leather they use on the outside edges of the seat (and the seat itself when it’s not suede) is grippy enough on its own.  I do think I want the 4” tall pommel instead of the 5” I tried, this one got in the way a little on the hills.  I think the 5” cantle will be fine.  I like the english stirrup leathers, but want twice as many holes so they’re more adjustable.  I need to find out whether the angle of the foam panels can be made more narrow.  This one is just too flat and I don’t think it’s laying its full width against him.  I also want the dressage billets on the Y-girthing; this western system is too imprecise.

I will try to take some detailed pictures of the saddle’s construction sometime this week, as I know there are others out there who, like me, were dying for more visuals.