Posts Tagged ‘Freeform Saddle
A few weeks ago we took Blitz and Boomer on their very first adventure with cattle! Boomer was actually the first to make the leap into becoming a cow pony when I took him to a beginner Ranch Sorting Clinic at Double Rock Farm in Maryland.
This was a first for both me and him, as I really have absolutely no background in western riding (other than the new maneuvers and western riding lessons I took before the Extreme Cowboy Race last year) and as far as I know Boomer has never met a cow in his life.
I really had no idea what to expect, but I thought Boomer might approach the cows quite cautiously at first. But before Boomer could even have his first look at a cow we started out on foot. We went into the pen of cows (without horses) to learn how to move them ourselves. This was a great way to learn which way the cows would go and how they move as a group – something I hadn’t thought much about previously.
Ranch Sorting is an event that pits a team of two riders on horseback against the clock. Teamwork is the key with both riders working in harmony to cut out the correct cattle in numerical order and drive them to the pen while keeping the wrong numbered cattle back.
So after learning more about Ranch Sorting and learning how the cows moved it was time to see what the horses would do. Boomer was the first to go, and I cautiously approached the cows in the pen as they called out a numbered cattle for me to sort out. As we got closer and closer to the cows I was surprised at how calm Boomer was, and when we ended up face to face with one of them I was shocked when Boomer’s first reaction was to reach out and touch his nose to the cow’s face. I asked him to move into the cows and they began to scatter, this thrilled Boomer as he quickly caught on that he was in charge. He began tossing his head and making faces at the cows to move them along faster – and he was really enjoying himself.
I was thrilled he took to the cows so quickly, and I think a lot of it all comes back to our clicker training. When we approach objects or things Boomer is unsure of, I ask him to touch them with his nose – when he does so he’s rewarded for being brave. So his gut reaction to meeting a cow for the first time was not one of flight, but curiosity as he touched his face hoping this was the correct reaction I wanted out of him.
We had a blast at Double Rock Farm, and a few weeks later we returned (this time with Blitz too) for a Ranch Sorting practice. Blitz is a lot more cautious than his younger brother Boomer, but it didn’t take him long to figure out that the cows were not to be feared. By the end of the night both ponies were happily moving the cows around, even in and out of their pens when it was time to bring in a new herd.
Ranch Sorting was so much fun that we’re already making plans to try Team Penning and can’t wait to get the boys into some regular cow work. So what about you, ever try a western sport after being an english rider for all your life? Any other Chincoteague Pony Ranch Sorters out there?
Over the weekend I packed up Boomerang and headed down south to Maryland to compete in the MGAA Mid-Atlantic #1. It was the first of the mid-atlantic mounted games series for the year and we were excited to attend.
Boomer and I were dusting off the cobwebs a bit as typically I give him the winter off due to being pretty busy at my shop – so this was sort of a “getting back into the swing of things” competition for us.
Boomer was the only pony at the competition to compete in a Bitless Bridle and Treeless Saddle – and you will also notice our treat bag hanging from his saddle, used when I am clicker training him during competition – because the training is never done.
I think one of the common mis-conceptions about treeless saddles is that many people think that without a tree the saddle won’t be stable on the horse’s back. But, all you have to do is watch me play games in it to prove this wrong. All weekend I was leaning off the saddle like a monkey, and vaulting on from the ground.
I’m in love with my freeform saddle for so many reason, but mostly because it is the most comfortable ride I’ve ever had, for me and my pony. And as much as treeless saddle are rare in the mounted games arena (in fact I believe you are not allowed to compete in treeless saddles if you ride with the USMGA organization – why, I do not know!) Bitless bridles are probably just as rare.
I think with equine speed sports especially probably a lot of people think you won’t be able to control your horse without a bit when it’s in racing mode. Now Boomerang may not be the fastest pony out there, but he wants to run towards the finish line just like the rest of them. Because I took the time to clicker train him a really nice stop, and to respect my seat and leg aids just as much as the rein pressure I am able to successfully compete him in his dr. cook’s bitless bridle.
Many riders in the US now compete in hackamores – yet these have a much different way of steering/stopping the horse by using sensitive pressure points on the nose. Bitless Bridles use painless and even pressure to help guide your horse in the direction you want to go and does not interfere with the horse’s breathing.
And while I personally am an advocate for the bitless bridles I do believe that using a bit or not is a personal decision that most times depends on the horse too. Not every horse may be a good fit for a bitless bridle and I think it just depends on what works best for each animal in the most humane way possible.
And finally, here’s a quick video I put together of Boomerang having a blast competing.
We hope to make it to some more MGAA competitions this year – and for anyone who is interested in getting started in the sport be sure to take a look at our upcoming competitions at Iron Horse Farm.
You can read more about mounted games here.
I know it’s a little early for Christmas Wish lists, but I have one item on my list this year that I really hope to get! A treeless saddle for Boomerang!
Admittedly I’ve had my current saddle since I was 12 (14 years for anyone counting)….and after a few growth spurts as a teenager…lets just say it’s less than “fitting”. I have no idea how I’ve lasted this long with a saddle that was a couple sizes too small, it’s kinda embarrassing.
I’ve been thinking about getting a new saddle for a while now, but Treeless never crossed my mind until now, mostly because I had never even heard of it! I have a friend from across the county (Oregon) to thank for my spark into the treeless saddles, Kali from Pony Pros, Kali and her husband Les run an amazing riding program for kids that teaches them about training ponies in a natural way (their own method that involves some of clicker training & even Parelli). All of their ponies (even the lesson ponies) are ridden bitless and in treeless saddles or bareback pads. It’s pretty amazing stuff!
So what is Treeless?
Treeless saddles are typically flexible and move ‘with’ the horse rather than creating a barrier of a stiff tree. Horses move more relaxed and free because no tree is constricting the shoulder. No pressure under the cantle gives relief to short and flat backed horses.
These saddles also provide a very close contact with the horse and help horses and riders with back issues. Many riders find relief from pain because the saddles are so soft and cause less jarring to the rider’s back. Beginner riders learn to feel the rhythm and find balance much faster.
Recently, while at the Equine Extravaganza, I got to meet and talk with a treeless saddle vender. I sat in a few different models, which I found to be surprisingly comfortable (I was a little doubtful at first). I am now pretty thoroughly convinced that treeless is the way to go for me and Boomerang. I regularly ride Boomer bareback at home, because I’ve found that he seems much happier to respond to my aids without a saddle on his back – he’s also lighter and just generally seems to enjoy it more. And since my switch in March to a bitless bridle I’ve been becoming a bigger advocate for the “natural way” in my riding.
So with my decision to go treeless, I went on the hunt for the right saddle. There seems to be a lot of versions out there. You of course have the big brands like Barefoot, Freeform, Ansur, Torison (I’m sure there might be more, but these are the ones I know of) but then you also have the I guess what I could call “knock-offs” which you can find on Ebay and other like sites.
I looked at A LOT of saddles online – some I ruled out because the cantel was too high. For Mounted Games it’s preferable to have a low cantel to make vaulting onto the saddle from the ground much easier. I decided then to nix the “knock-off” ones from ebay, because as much as I liked the price tags (new saddle for $99, yes please), I knew that I would be putting this saddle through the works with all the vaulting I’d be doing – so I wanted something that would hold up. And with a $99 price tag, I doubted this was possible.
In the end (thus far) I think I narrowed it down to a Barefoot saddle. I liked the look of the Freeform, but they had a higher price tag (about $1,500) – and I was going for more a used saddle pricing, and the Barefoot seemed to fit that ($500 – $900). What I also liked about the Barefoot is that it has a VPS Panel System, which basically means it has spine clearance for your horse. A lot of people opposed to treeless saddles complain that they make it so the saddle rests right on the horse’s spine (A treed saddle keeps pressure off the spine) – so with the VPS Panel System this issue is eliminated.
The great thing about Treeless Saddles is that they are designed to fit pretty much any horse. So you don’t have to worry about an ill-fitting tree, with pressure points that hurt your horse – and it also gives you the benefit of ordering online without worry about having to send back tons of saddles.
So even though I feel kinda ok about ordering online – I’d much rather be able to try something on my horse to make sure we both like it first.
Well, wouldn’t you know that Pennsylvania doesn’t seem to be in the forefront of treeless saddles, because all my local tack shops seemed to have no idea what I was talking about. Luckily the Barefoot Company seems to have a retalier in nearby Delaware!
So if you’re listening Santa, I’d like to take a trip there to pick out a new Treeless Saddle!!
And if anyone out there has experience going Treeless let me know. I’ll take all the suggestions I can get – and I’m looking forward to being the only mounted games player in the US sporting a bitless bridle and a treeless saddle Maybe I’ll start a new trend.
What’s on your Christmas Wish List?
Images from the Barefoot Saddle Company.