On Saturday morning, I met Rick Payne at the McMullen’s stable at 9:30am. Handsome was quite surprised to see me so early – I normally ride in the afternoon on weekends. But he was happy to come out of his stall and get a brush. Handsome has had only two light rides since the PineRidge show on June 4 and 5th – his back was quite sore coming out of that weekend, so I gave him some time off.
When Rick gave him an assessment on Saturday, he was very impressed by how soft and relaxed Handsome’s back muscles were. He said when most clients call him, their horse’s backs are as stiff as a board and sore, sore, sore.
Rick had me go through my normal tack-up routine. I saddled Handsome, and he shuffled his feet and made the grumpy face he normally does when I do up the girth. Then I went through my normal warm-up, suppling him, softening his poll and getting him to walk, trot and canter in both directions on a circle. I told Rick that I had been struggling with my right lead canter, so of course, Handsome gave it to my right away. He was stiff though, and counter-bending with his nose tipped to the outside. He was also sluggish, and I really had to push him into his trot and canter.
I told Rick the magic number was generally 15 minutes – after 15 minutes of solid riding, Handsome starts to show discomfort.
Sure enough, at the 13 minute mark, we were cantering on the right lead when Handsome lost all his impulsion, stuck his nose into his chest and slowed right down until he was almost cantering on the spot. We pulled his saddle off and Rick felt Handsome’s back again. This time, Handsome’s muscles were tight and he flinched at Rick’s touch.
I feel bad for Handsome when he’s uncomfortable, obviously, but it was really helpful that Rick could compare comfortable Handsome to sore Handsome. He was able to see exactly where the saddle was pinching.
Rick didn’t have any wide tree saddles with him, so the three models he tried on Handsome were all too narrow. He agrees that I need non-gussetted rear panels, and that I also need a saddle with a good wide channel to clear Handsome’s spine. Rick seems to think that an Exselle Axcess is the way to go – it’s an English-made saddle on a spring tree that provides some flex in the gullet. It can be stretched to fit Handsome’s shoulder. It also has the right panel shape, and Exselle (formerly Crosby) saddles are renowned for fitting tricky horses.
Rick has asked a local Exselle distributor to open up the tree and send it over. Tonight, I’m going out to Westgates Horse & Country to sit in an Axcess and see what size I need.