Friday, July 12, 2013

Answers to "What's Wrong With This Picture?" Basic Horsemanship Quiz

Hey folks! Sorry for the late post. It's been busy 'round these parts. Let's get to those answers for the quiz from last time. What is wrong with this picture?

 1. The rear cinch (sometimes called a bucking girth) is too loose. A horse that kicks at his belly against flies, or steps too high, can get his hoof caught in a loose rear cinch. In addition, a rear cinch that is too loose is less effective at its job. Rear cinches should be tightened to a snug fit. (This video makes a convincing argument that they should actually be used just like a front cinch. Note that this idea is also used in conjunction with the idea that cinches shouldn't be pulled very tight at all. More about that later.)

2. The rear cinch is not connected to the front cinch. At higher speeds, this means that the rear cinch could swing back and hit the horse in the gut or rear legs. That's a recipe for bucking!

3. There's no hobble around the stirrup/fender. Good catch, Firefly!
The strap around the lower part of the fender is there to prevent the stirrup from flipping upside down, should your foot slip loose while riding at higher speeds. You can't get your foot back in when the stirrup is upside down! This happened to a friend of mine just a few months ago. She was OK, but it was scary.

4./5./6. The blanket and saddle are too far back on the horse. This can be counted this as two or three separate problems, because so much is impacted when this happens. The gullet sits further down on the withers, a big no-no. The blanket slips back, and will continue to slip back, eventually leaving places un-padded. (If you have to "cheat" a too-short blanket, put more in front!) Sitting too far back lessening the saddles ability to hold itself (and you) on the horse's back in the proper position. All of this affects the horse's way of going.

I admit, I'm very guilty of being lazy about some of these things. Most of my saddle time is spent at a walk or trot these days, and so I get stupid about the rear girth-- I have a very bad habit of considering it "just decoration," and leave it hanging. I'm constantly adjusting the stirrup lengths, because I'm short, my husband is tall, and guest riders are always using this saddle, and so the stirrup hobble lays forgotten in the tack room. Bad North Horse! BAD!

Now let's talk about what was not wrong with this picture.

A) The blanket. Oh my lord, the arguments about blankets! Spend any time in a Western chat room, and eventually there will be a huge fight about 'em.

"If a saddle fits correctly, you shouldn't even need a pad! Pads just protect a saddle!"
"Thick padding is necessary to prevent soreness and rubs!"
"Thick wool pads don't bend and flex, you need a gel pad!"
"Gel pads wear out really fast, get wool!"
"Wool collects sweat!"
"Synthetic fibers are bad for a horse's skin!"
"Cowboys only used thin blankets!"
"Thick blankets spread out weight and impact!"
"Thin blankets allow your horse to feel your seat better!"

Arrrghhhhh!  I've come to the conclusion that no one is 100% right about blankets. There's no magic answer. You have to decide what fits you, your horse and saddle best. In this case, I had a saddle fitter come out. She said that this particular saddle is slightly narrow in the front for broad-chested Annie, my model for this photo, and that a thinner blanket would put less pressure on her shoulders/back. I promptly switched over from my thicker wool pad, and now of course everyone comments that this blanket looks amateurish and not thick enough to prevent soreness. Goddammit. 

Horse people have love and hate shopping for saddles & blankets. NOTHING will be perfect, but we feel the need to try!

B) Several people commented on the billet strap in front. Again, this is one of those things where everyone has different opinions. On Annie's right side, I use a billet strap and leave it on the last hole. On her left, where I tighten the girth, I use a longer, thinner strap as a traditional latigo, tightening or loosening it depending on how fat Annie is this season, how excited she is on a given day, etc etc. Some folks prefer latigos on both sides. Others say that straps with holes don't slip, and should go on both sides- this is what the clinician said at the Horse Fair. I used to do this, but found myself over-tightening sometimes, when one hole was too loose but the next one wasn't quite loose enough. I suppose you can always punch more holes, but when your leather starts to look like Swiss cheese... Anyway, you just do what works best for you, okay? I know, I know, all of this wishy-washy crap is not like me. Therefore, I will give you one bit of regular bluntness: Do NOT Over-Tighten Your Girth!

I said I would get back to this, and now I am. Over-tightening a girth is VERY bad. It results in horses that become cinchy or even violent when tacking up, and it hurts the horse while riding. People over-tighten because they're scrambling and climbing into the saddle, relying on it to help them mount, or they're unbalanced and relying on it to keep them on the horse. Cinches are NOT meant to act like zip ties! Theoretically you should be able to mount up without the cinch even fastened, and you should be balanced enough to ride without it fastened too. I say "theoretically" because I fully admit to being short, fat and unfit, so I rely on the girth more than I should. The point is that you should know you're doing it, try not to do it, and stop depending on squeezing your horse in half!

C)  A few notes on saddle fit here. First, go watch this video. It's a great starter on saddle fitting. Secondly, several people caught the weird rise in the back of the saddle. This is just a result of my always being rough on it and picking it up by the back of the skirt. (Seriously, I pretend I don't show because I don't like it, but really it's because I could never keep anything that clean or nice.)

A couple folks mentioned the saddle might be too big for Annie. As I mentioned above, it's actually a bit narrow. When it's properly placed, it's not sitting on the horse's withers. How do I know it's narrow? The saddle-fitter taught me this:

First I put the saddle on the horse without a pad. I stick my hand underneath the saddle and run it downwards. If you can't push your hand through easily, it means the saddle is in too close contact with the horse and is pinching.

Confusingly, this pinching CAN be caused if a saddle is too wide as well as too narrow. This is because a too-wide saddle sits too far down on the withers. My saddle fitter said mine was too narrow, so I'm trusting her judgement.

(However, I'm sure a different saddle fitter would have some different ideas.)

Dammit, this horse stuff is hard.

Finally, let's address Jennifer's comment. What else is wrong? "We can't see her adorable face?" D'awwwww Jennifer, thanks. Well here she is now in full frame, being a very patient model, my Annie! She looks so different in the summer. Her face gets darker and I think that makes her look... more wild-eyed? I dunno, but I think I prefer her with just the eyeliner and dark lipstick look. Does your horse change colors/appearance drastically in different seasons?

Speaking of horses we love, I still need more pictures for that I-Love-My-Imperfect-Horse post! Send 'em to


  1. My mare stays the same color, she just turns into a woolly mammoth in the winter. Though, when she grows her hair back in after getting clipped, she grows the black hairs in first, then the red.

  2. Wow.. I seriously FUBAR'd that one... been riding in an Aussie too long.. LOL

    1. Haha, I know the feeling. I ride English (close contact jumping saddle), so my Western tack knowledge is zilch!

  3. Testing testing testing