I start to feel confident because some riding stuff is coming back to me, then I'm reminded of the simplest thing I didn't remember but was really really important and I feel totally green with horses all over again.
So, I bought my saddle brand new just over a year ago and it really is a lovely and incredibly comfortable saddle. But over the last year the leather has stretched and relaxed and I think Girlfriend's back and gotten just a bit more swayed since she's quite senior now at 25. My client for this morning canceled so I went out to see Girlfriend and my instructor and her student Dorothy said I could join Dorothy in her lesson. Girlfriend was acting up more than usual (I noticed that even now she still acts up a lot more when there's another horse in the arena - I hadn't noticed for awhile because I'd been out at the barn when no one else was out there so much over the summer). And Sheryl (my instructor) kept having to tell me during trotting to pull my saddle more to the left. Girlfriend would break her trot and canter when I hadn't told her to and I'd correct her and instantly Sheryl would yell, "Pull your saddle back to the left!" My back was starting to hurt both from trying to do a posting trot and correcting her without unconsciously pulling the saddle to the right, and from having to post and pull the saddle to the left (and cause I'm not in very good shape).
Finally Sheryl came over to check my girth, which was as tight as I could make it without something to give me extra torque, and she said, "Oh my god! Your saddle doesn't fit!" The tree was flush on Girlfriend's withers and was obviously uncomfortable for her and over time could really injure her. I almost sprang off her like I had a spring under my butt I was so horrified I was accidentally doing something to hurt her. That would explain why she had progressively gotten more and more pissy about having her girth tightened. I feel horribly guilty for not knowing/remembering that from 25 years ago when I used to ride.
Our lesson had just started so Sheryl sent me to go get one of her English saddles, which I have not ridden Girlfriend in yet. In fact, Girlfriend has never even had an English saddle on. Somehow me - an English rider who takes lessons at an English barn, ended up with a Western trained horse so of course a Western saddle and hackamore, but in my lessons I was still learning English technique. But honestly, I was afraid to try riding Girlfriend in an English saddle. I've ridden Sheryl's horses in my lesson in an English saddle, but Girlfriend is so hot and it takes so much effort to control her desire to run that I've been scared to give up my cushy saddle with the big, bulky stirrups and the big saddle horn right there to grab if I lose my balance. Ok, so it's been almost a year since I've had to grab the saddle horn to keep my balance, and I saw that holding onto the saddle horn didn't help Jessie stay on when Girlfriend bolted with her, but it's a psychological crutch more than anything.
After my little freak-out about how I wasn't a good enough rider yet to try Girlfriend in an English saddle Sheryl said, "Oh good god. You know this horse like the back of your hand. Go get the saddle. The black Wintek. The big one, not the kid one." So, I slunk off for the umpteenth time in the last year thinking Sheryl had a foolishly disproportionate confidence in my ability to not really hurt myself and saddled up Girlfriend in an English saddle. When we tightened the girth Girlfriend let out a big, happy sigh and I could tell she was relieved to have a proper fitting saddle on. I was happy to be using a saddle so light compared to mine that I could've juggled about three of them. Ah ... the joys of English saddles.
I used a huge amount of will-power to wipe the vision of Girlfriend bolting the minute my butt hit the alien saddle on her back and mounted. She did her usual little, "Hey! Are you we going to run now?" dance as I settled in and put my leg in the right stirrup. Then my feet slid right through the stirrups up to my heels, I pulled them back out to the correct position and they slid right through again. So, I demanded we just walk for the rest of the lesson. But after five minutes I realized that my posture and form were actually much more natural in this saddle (and my feet stopped slipping in the stirrups). I asked if my stirrups were short enough and Sheryl said, "I won't be able to tell until you trot," to which I said, "Ok fine then! Geez!" and actually tried a trot.
I think you'd have to see my horse in action to understand why I was so worried. It's taken me quite a bit of practice to give her just the right amount of half-halt and the gentlest nudge of leg to get her to trot without immediately breaking into a canter or worse a gallop. And I was really worried my balance would not be good enough to do this on a tiny little English saddle. But I really surprised myself! She did her usual trying to bolt, shaking her head around, after a couple times in the circle trying to buck because she was frustrated, but I held my ground and I stayed balanced in the saddle. Even Sheryl praised me for doing well - better than I'd been doing in the Western saddle, although I wasn't keeping my hands down and elbows ahead of me enough because I was used to having that saddle horn in the way. So, that was cool! I did something I had been unjustifiably afraid to do and I did ok with it!
I even asked Sheryl if I could keep taking lessons in her English saddle on Girlfriend because it felt more natural to me - my body kind of remembers riding as a kid more since the only time I ever rode in a Western saddle was on an occasional trail ride on vacation. My lessons were mostly dressage and jumping in an English saddle. Sheryl said she hadn't expected me to actually want to keep riding in it but that it was fine and if I wanted to use it for practice rides I could too. Yay me! I'm proud of myself for trying!