Monday, July 26, 2010

My Quest for the "perfect" saddle

Has anyone else out there had this joyful task of late? What a pain in the Wazoo!!
As a kid I rode bareback for a year, worked hard and saved my $$ and bought a saddle for $85. Then I traded the saddle and $15 to boot for a horse. Then I was bareback again until I saved enough $$ for my fancy buckstitch tooled saddle. It was so gorgeous I didn't want to mess it up so I still rode bareback!
But I don't want to ride bareback these days and I keep searching for my perfect saddle that may not exist.
I want - yes I want - a saddle with at least a 5 yr warranty on the tree. Do you realize how many have a 1 yr warranty? Boy are they proud of that one! And I don't want a plastic tree especially on a $1500 saddle. Where do they get off on that?!
And have you ever noticed how every saddle's customer testimonials read "The most comfortable saddle I have ever sat in"? Well maybe for their fanny but not mine.
Strangely enough the saddle needs to fit me and the horses.
I don't want custom because it will only fit the horse it is built for and who can afford two of those? The same applies to saddles made in a variety of tree widths. I don't want to have to play with parts and pieces to change the fit, nor do I want to turn a crank to adjust a saddle because who's to say I know what I am doing in that department.
And yes I had treeless also but didn't think they were really the best saddle for the horses. No weight distribution and there is pressure on the spine. I could always get on but I know people who have trouble with the stability of the treeless saddles. Cross them off my list.
Years ago I managed to find a saddle that amazingly fit everything we ever put it on. I wore it out! No white hairs ever, no dry spots, no rubs, it was fantastic. Andi still has one of those saddles, it's English and I gave up that riding style a few years back. My old injured back likes the support of the western styled saddles. Lately I have noticed another new trend where the stirrups or way out in front of the rider so you sit like you are in your Lazy Boy recliner. Now how is that going to help me stay balanced and on board when they spook and buck?
Yes I am asking for a lot, but it's my hard earned dollar, my fanny and my horse's backs.
So with all my criteria in hand I started exploring, and after a few months settled on the flex panel and flex tree saddles.
Oh yes that's another thing, the flex tree saddles come in a 16" seat or bigger. OK I have gained a few pounds over the years but a 16" seat is way too big. So that left me with the flex panel. I tried one in a 15" very padded tush-friendly model and - oh my - that 15" seat was a 14 so it didn't work. But the saddle worked well on the horses, adjusting itself to all three different width horses. They have a great air channel and no pressure or dry spots. Hmmm. Maybe I was on the right track.
This led me to my present saddle, a 15" Timberline that seems to fit all three of the horses. No rubs, no dry spots and the horses have a good attitude. It fits me also but the seat "could" have a narrower twist for a bit more comfort, so it's not perfect but it will do. The dropped rigging is adjustable so I can position it where it won't rub. This saddle fits "most" of my criteria. It's an improvement, but it still isn't perfect - mostly due to the wider seat.
Now I have to ask anyone out there - do you think you make or sell the perfect saddle? Yes? Then let me try it, if you dare. I am the Princess and the Pea when it comes to saddles. :-)

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Photo by Tami Rougeau
I have been lucky enough this year to be able to venture to Central Oregon for two rides. This has given me the opportunity to visit with old friends that I haven't seen for a long long time! What a treat! But all day as I traveled the 100 miles of SunRiver, people kept asking, "Karen, how many times have you ridden SunRiver?" A lot! That was my only answer but once home I did the research.
One year that I didn't have to look up was 1977, my first SunRiver. It was also my very first 100 mile ride on my big horse, Sunny Spots. Nancy Cox and I rode together, it was also her first 100 on Rakar. I broke a stirrup and rode into camp at the 50 mile point, packing my stirrup in my right hand. Not to be deterred I borrowed a saddle for the next 50 miles. This first year the ride camp was in a meadow on the banks of the Deschutes River near the town of SunRiver. It was beautiful!! The 50 mile loop was uphill for the first half and down for the last half. 10 started and 5 finished. We were out until pretty late, leading our hroses down a hill in the dark, and we saw headlights. This startled us a bit and we were trying to figure out who it could be. Turned out to be ride management out looking for us. Gene Petersen took one look at us leading our horses and said, "Time to ride girls!" He picked me up and put me on my horse and then followed us in the pickup - hey now we had lights. We were tired and sore but the horses were fine.
And that my friends was the first of many more 100 mile rides. I rode Sunny on five different Sun River 100's. One of those just a couple months after Andi was born. I rode the 100 four times on Moka's Pat-A-Dott.
One year I borrowed a horse, Reno, from Jennifer Horsman, so I could ride the 100. Zap did the 100 at SunRiver/Chuckwagon twice. Yet another year I took a new horse, Jafar, on his first 50 there. It is always a great first ride of some sort.
This year it was Thunder's second 100, only three weeks after River Run. A bit closer in timing than I like but I was able to go at that time and reasoned were weren't going fast so we would be fine. It stormed and rumbled and poured and flashed Friday as we stood huddled under a small shelter for our ride meeting and dinner. We all hoped this wasn't a preview of Saturday.
I met Tami Rougeau from Nevada, a fellow Easyboot Glove user, and we talked and decided to ride together.
We left a few minutes late and they never saw the other horses leave camp. May & Thunder walked calmly out of camp and were well behaved all day! It was wonderful. It was a cool 42 degrees! We'd had 85 at home just a few days earlier and these temperature extremes are hard on the horses and riders. I layered clothes and used a rump rug on Thunder for the first time. During the day we encountered some rain, sleet, sun and fog. It felt more like April than mid-June. But the trail had no dust and it really was good weather as long as we kept moving. We'd get chilled waiting in the vet checks. The biggest thing was the horses were starving. They tried to graze on the mountain nibbles of grass but it was sparse at best. Thunder never stopped eating in the vet checks, they just needed more time to eat. We picked up another new friend, Nancy Cardosa, around 55 miles and the three horses traveled well together. Thunder and his two mares, May and Elektrika, were all troopers and we just kept plugging away to the finish. Our CRI's were great at 40/40 and Dr Bensen said Thunder looked great at the finish. So we placed 11, 12 & 13 out of 17 starters. Not that it really matters to me. I just wanted to finish on a healthy horse!
So back to the original question of how many times did I ride it? A total of 14 times, 12 of those rides were on the 100 miler. I rode it when the ride moved camp out by the Rainbow Bridge, then up to Kiowa Springs when it was also renamed ChuckWagon Express. Then later camp moved to it's present site at Wanoga Sno Park and was eventually renamed SunRiver Classic. And a classic ride is what it remains today. Thanks to all who work so hard to keep this great ride going. The management is as classy as the ride!!!