Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Update from a Retiree

Notes from Justin
Monday, 8/29/11, 3:30 pm
Via Sue Hopple

These comments are not in any specific order and they are from my notes of Sue’s interpretations of what she visualized with Justin. Most of the comments were volunteered spontaneously.

Overall body scan
He feels that his left front foot is compromised but it is from compensation but he puts no judgment on it; he just deals with it. His body overall is not stiff or sore anywhere else and the problem that he had before with his right hind is now OK. Sue saw a limp on his LF.

As for his living situation, Justin says that there is a sense of ancestry and it is spiritual place and there is a quiet-ness about it that he likes. He likes the space and the lack of stress.

He says there is a “bitchy one” and the horses all look at her.

He says he likes his food but might prefer a bucket once in awhile instead of a nosebag and I told him that wasn’t an option and he said, “OK.”

He would like more of the “new” hay as he keeps looking for more of it. Sue kept hearing MORE, MORE, MORE and she said he was picking through the hay and moving the other horses away from it.

He says that his supplements are helping him and the pasture is helping him so he feels pretty good.

He likes to help with the other horses and feels that he is their “spokesperson” and he likes the importance that he has now and feels that he has a good sense of purpose in his life.

He said that a horse that recently died and had a hurt leg came by and visited them.
He said that the Native Americans that were on the land come by now and then and are “Running around” and that they like the horses and they are the “keepers” of the land. (All she knew is that he is located in Littleton…)

He fancies himself a “Lookout” and he is very alert.

He likes his routine.

He doesn’t like the bugs.

He has a pain that comes and goes in his right jaw (would be right under a human’s earlobe) He doesn’t feel that his thyroid is a problem.

He can hear the goats calling from where they are now and wonders if there will be something else in the pen that the goats were in. (She knew nothing about the goats.)

He said there is a person who is like the Pied Piper who has lots of buckets and things swinging from her arms with dogs and other animals following her and she makes noises, like she is calling out.

He said that another person, who is older, also has things swinging from her arms and smells good.

He said that he knows “Barb” through her horse and she is very quiet and he likes her.

He said that he was fine during the winter but there is one more thing about “winter” that I need to clarify with Sue.

He said that sometimes he is an “observer” of my dreams and when I dream about him that he is indeed there and confirmed proudly “Yes, that’s me.”

He said that there are two stallions that I am trying to help and that he can feel that energy. (And yes, there are two stallions that I’m worried about because they are in ill-fitting saddles and there’s nothing I can do about it and he knows these stallions from his previous barn.) Sue knew nothing of this.

He described my “pattern” when I come out to visit him: that I process things when I am with him, I talk to him and brush him and we walk around and it is good and he’s interested in what I have for him. He also said that it’s OK if I can’t make it out some days.

She sensed that he is a grounding rod for me.

He isn’t as interested as I am about me getting on his back again. (Well, OK then.)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Justin's latest chat with the animal communicator

I've decided to post this in full as Kelley (KelleyANichols@cs.com) was so thorough, as usual -- I highly recommend her!

Note: For some reason the picture of him makes him look like he has short legs -- something about how it imported...imagine longer legs!

January 2010

Hi Alice~ You are such a good horse mom to check in with Justin and see how he's doing. Justin wants to say first of all the he is very lucky to have you as his human. So many that he knows of do not have that relationship and he knows yours is different, special. He's very proud of his human and wants you to know that he could not have picked a better life for himself than the one with you. Sometimes you wonder what would make him happy, what would make his life easier, what he would enjoy that he doesn't have. He says that the fact that you worry about such things is the very thing that makes him complete in his needs. He knows no lack in his life. He's ready to move on to questions now that he's delivered his message to you. :

**Reminder here: I'm not a vet so I can't diagnose or prescribe medications, but I will tell you exactly what I am hearing.

Check his mouth for a sore from perhaps a sharp tooth …it would look/feel like a canker sore. Something is off slightly in the mouth so check it and see what you find.

The ribcage issue he describes as a bruise…needs time to heal, trotting is most aggravating as it is not as smooth in movement and the bounce is what is annoying with this bruise location. When he shows it to me, he shows an area of heat (the image he sends is like looking at an infrared camera picture)…perhaps try a bag of frozen peas used like an ice pack on that spot to see if it helps matters since the heat image is being sent by Justin. The timing on this, has it been about two weeks that you've noticed a behavior shift? Justin is putting this in a very recent time frame on the bruising sensation. There is no recollection/mention of a specific incident when I ask yet he insists it feels like a bruise to him. Other than the bruise, there is nothing coming up with him that would contribute to a fussiness when he's asked to trot. * Bruising is also helped by arnica Montana (herb) and I don't know the specifics on this as to what circumstances, dosing, etc but it could be something to check into if you have a holistic vet or therapist as with all herbs, there are toxic levels to this and guidance is definitely needed...

The diet is good, altering a bit when flare ups occur in the stomach. He tends to be more acidic is the sensation he's sending right now. Meds are in balance with his body, but his body can be off just a tiny bit and he will be more sensitive to the imbalance than others would. That's just Justin. There's no magic formula with him on this, but tweak things ever so slightly to balance the system when you intuitively sense it is "off"- never big adjustments, minor tweaks. How much grazing time does he get per day? You may want to bump it up a bit if that works with your barn manager. He tells me on the side here that you always worry about what he eats.

The digestive system can fluctuate with him, but currently he does not feel stressed in that area. He's more focused on the outer irritation of the ribcage area right now.

Time with you is so important to him and he states you are generous with your time where he is concerned. He says that you benefit from quality time with him as much as he does. Quality time meaning the time not spent in a lesson or training situation, but one spent in the moment of joy just being with each other. This is the good stuff to him. If he can get 15 min of the quality stuff at each visit, no matter how you spend it, it will be like a cherry on top of the ice cream so to speak for both of you.

He would like to be able to be the horse that can take you to whatever level of riding you want to be at. This is an aspiration of his. He is athletic and in good form he states plus he is quick of mind. He may need to be reminded on occasion that he isn't a youngster, but a wise mature fellow that commands attention with his presence alone. :) He desires to always bring you joy, never pain. Unconditional love. He would give his life for you as he loves you that much and he states you would do the same for him. You two have what many only dream of in a relationship.

Alice, when I ask about the cross ties, it is as if he is embarrassed at his behavior, and shrugs it off as if it were nothing and wouldn't be repeated.

Let me know if you have any confirmations for me or need clarification on anything~ hugs to you both!! Kelley

Adjusting Saddle Trees

Courtesy, in part, of Gene Freeze, President, County Saddlery, Inc.

County Saddlery can have the trees in our saddles adjusted by putting them in a vice-like device, however, we strongly recommend against it. The concerns raised by consumers about how to maintain fit when horses change is largely addressed by the fact that County designs allow for substantial adjustment within the panels themselves. They are further addressed by our tree change policy, whereby County will replace the tree within twelve months of purchase if the horse changes enough to warrant a different size tree. The cost is a pittance compared to the performance, soundness and value of the horse.

So what happens when a tree is “adjusted” from the original design?


It is difficult if not impossible to simply squeeze or open tree points EVENLY using the devices typically used. It is no wonder, therefore, that trees that have been so altered rock on the horse’s back and create uneven pressure at the points.


Different tree sizes have different shapes. So it is impossible to make a pommel designed for a narrow horse spread to the shape of a wide horse by simply pressing it open or closing it .

What happens to the REST OF THE SADDLE when you stretch or close the front of a tree?

Consider how the saddle is constructed:

...The tree is made to very precise specifications in terms of shape and balance and calibration.

...It is reinforced with steel over the top and underside of the pommel as well as down its length to a precise tension.

...The tree is then strained up with nylon webbing from front to back and side to side to a precise tension and shape.

...The seating material is then placed on the webbing.

It all begins with a tree and any alteration or adjustment to the tree after the saddle is initially made affects every other aspect of the design:

...The tree shape is altered and no longer calibrated ...The tension in the steel reinforcement is altered ...The strain on the webbing becomes looser or tighter ...The seat itself is now sitting on a platform compromised by all of the above.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Musings, #1

Why do horses always roll in the mud five minutes before I get to the barn?

Which is Best in Saddle Panels?

Which is Best in Saddle Panels? Wool, Foam or Air?

Courtesy of Gene Freeze, President, County Saddlery, Inc.

Wool Flocked Panels

  • Wool has always been the saddlers’ choice for flocking panels.

  • Wool flocked panels are not assembly-line made with the one size fits all attempt in mind.

  • Wool is extremely comfortable on the horse’s back and disperses the rider’s weight over a broader surface area, assuming the correct design and fit of the saddle.

  • Because wool flock consists of “long individual strands” it can easily conform to the polymorphous shapes of the horses’ backs. Foam, regardless of how soft it may feel, does not compare to wool’s ability to conform. Wool can be easily adjusted to compensate for asymmetry in the horse’s conformation.

  • Wool can be completely replaced in older saddles for relatively little cost.

  • It provides stable support for the rider’s weight.

  • There are no sharp edges.

Criticism of Wool

An often-heard criticism of wool by manufacturers who use foam panels is that wool knots up. I rarely to find knots in wool panels unless it is improperly flocked by a novice. If there are knots, they can easily be removed and replaced with fresh wool.

Typically wool only knots when it is being removed from the panels.

Note: Wool panels alone do not guarantee comfort for the horse and cannot compensate for a poorly designed or fitted saddle.

The bad news is that wool panels need to be topped off or adjusted periodically to compensate for compression or changes in the horse’s back due to a variety of reasons including diet, training, age, season etc.

The good news is that they easily can be!

Foam Pre-Formed Panels

Foam preformed panels are made in molds and designed for more of an assembly-line production process geared toward speed and cost reduction.

  • The problem is that horses’ backs are not preformed to match the panels.

  • Foam does not conform to the polymorphous shapes of horses’ backs.

  • It cannot be adjusted to compensate for asymmetry.

  • Foam panels very often bridge in the middle even when the saddle appears to be balanced.

  • Soft foam panels collapse and may create extreme pressure on the horse’s back and withers causing soreness.

  • Harder foam panels often have sharp edges which bear most of the weight instead of distributing the weight over a broad surface area.

  • Many foam panels are attached at the front with a covered nail which can dig into the back.

  • They must be completely replaced when they collapse.

Air Panels

When air panels first came out on the market, there was a lot of buzz and enthusiasm which lasted for a couple of years of trial. Many saddles were converted to air at a dear price and later reconverted back to wool.

Although a clever and interesting alternative, they have failed to replace wool as the premium material for a variety of reasons.

  • Air is unstable and tends to expand and contract as temperatures change.

  • There have been many problems with leaking valves leaving the rider with a “flat” before a big competition. Unlike wool you can’t just compensate with a little more padding to get you through.

  • As the rider’s weight goes forward the air tends to be forced in the opposite direction leaving the back unprotected.

  • If there is too little air pressure, the horse's back may be exposed to the tree, and if there is too much pressure, the saddle often rocks on the horse's back.

  • A Swiss study indicated that some riders reported a lack of communication and effectiveness via their riding aids when riding on air panels.

Which is Best? Plastic vs. Wooden Trees

Courtesy of Gene Freeze, President, County Saddlery, Inc.

Although both may suffice, the following information will help you make an educated decision. The question becomes which material is best suited for the job and why.

Natural or Synthetic?

Note on “Flexible Trees”: I have seen claims for trees which are so flexible that they can move with the horse’s movement. Although they may in fact move when the horse moves, they cannot possibly move in “concert” with the horse’s movement. To do so they would have to conform to a multitude of dynamic vectors and the exact speed and timing of muscle movements. Not even skin can do that, which is why skin slides. Saddle trees of any material, which are flimsy, are similar to insecure backpacks, they cause instability and discomfort.

An improperly designed tree, regardless of the material, will be uncomfortable and hinder performance.

Synthetic Plastic Trees

A property often associated with plastic is the “creep factor”. The creep factor describes the tendency of plastic to be unstable and lose its shape over time or as a result of environmental factors.

It is more problematic to test plastic trees before mass-producing them because of the cost to make prototypes to test. Too much vertical flexion or torsion can cause the tree to over-flex and injure the horse’s back. Too little does not allow for dampening of the forces applied to the horse’s back.

Although there is a significant initial cost to produce a plastic mold, molding plastic trees significantly speeds up production and decreases cost to manufacturers.

Because of the high cost of initially producing a plastic mold, there may be less incentive for the manufacturer to make changes necessary to correct faults in the mold or designs by producing another mold.

Natural Wooden Trees

Wooden trees are hand made from laminates such as beechwood, similar to the way wooden ships were traditionally shaped and manufactured.

Vertical flexion or torsional rotation can be easily tested in wooden trees and corrected for by adding or reducing laminates in various areas. Although it is much more expensive and time-consuming to hand make wooden trees, design benefits make it worthwhile.

Wooden trees made from laminates are generally considered to be more comfortable for both the rider’s and the horse’s backs.

The term “Spring Tree” refers to the spring steel reinforcement of the tree allowing for dampening the pressure applied to the horse’s back while controlling the degree of vertical flexion. It does not mean, as I once read, that the tree springs up and down.

Trees made from solid wood are referred to as rigid trees and are virtually never used in modern saddlery manufacturing. As the name implies they tended to be as rigid as many plastic or composite trees.

Friday, October 30, 2009

10 Points of Saddle Fitting


Fitting saddles is like fitting a child's shoe, it needs to be done correctly to allow for movement without pinching or pain. If you are noticing discomfort or changes in your horse's attitude or behavior under saddle then it may be time for a professional assessment of how your saddle is fitting.

All the following steps need to be done with your horse standing squarely on level ground with his head and neck straight ahead, so an assistant may be necessary. Perform all the steps on both sides of your horse (most horses are asymmetrical) and with the saddle in direct contact with your horse's back, no pad.

1. Position of the Saddle
Place the saddle slightly forward on the horse's withers. Next, press down on the pommel and slide the saddle rearward until it stops at the resting-place, which is dictated by each horse's conformation. Repeat this procedure several times until you feel the saddle stop in the same spot repeatedly, well behind the shoulder blade. Resist the temptation to place the saddle too far forward on the withers. This is a very common fitting mistake and can interfere with your horse's soundness and movement.

2. Point Angle
To find the points, lift the flap of the saddle and look for a little leather pocket into which the wooden processes of the pommel are fitted. This is the point pocket and there is one on both sides of the pommel of the saddle just under the stirrup bars. These points should lie parallel to the withers. If the angles are too narrow, the points will dig into the musculature, also causing the middle of the saddle to be in uneven contact with the horse's back. If they are too wide the saddle will sit down in front putting pressure on top of the withers. To assess the point angles, stand looking from the front with the flap lifted; the points should be parallel with the musculature within 10 degrees of the heaviest side. Some points are concealed making it difficult to determine their angles. If this is the case, you will have to rely more on the panel pressure procedure to determine if the point angles are correct.
3. Panel Pressure
(Note: The panels are the wool stuffed underside of the saddle, which rest on the horse's back.)

Place one hand in the center of the saddle and press down to secure the saddle in place as you test for panel pressure. Run your other hand between the front of the panels and your horse's musculature and feel for any uneven pressure under the points. The front panel should not pinch the withers in any area. While maintaining pressure on the top of the saddle, run your hand, palm up, under the entire panel along the back feeling for even pressure. You may also raise the sweat flap to ensure that the panels fit snugly and evenly on both sides of the withers and along the back to check for bridging. Bridging is a space near the center of the where the panels do not make good contact with the horse's back. Wool stuffed panels are almost universally considered superior to foam for the following reasons: assuming correctly designed panels, wool conforms to the many shapes of the horses back and can be adjusted if necessary to correct for a multitude of fitting problems. You cannot, however, correct for a poorly designed or incorrectly fitted tree.

4. Pommel to Cantle Relationship
Visualize a straight line parallel to the ground from the pommel to the cantle. In saddles with deep or moderately deep seats, the cantle should be between 2 to 3 inches higher than the pommel. In shallower seats, such as close contact jumping saddles, the cantle may only be approximately 1 to 2 inches higher than the pommel. In almost any saddle, if the cantle is level with or below the pommel, the saddle is not properly fitted.

5. Level Seat
Visualize the same straight line parallel to the ground and look this time at the deepest part of the seat. This area should be level in order to put the rider squarely on their seat bones and in balance.

6. Wither Clearance
There should be adequate clearance between the pommel and the top of the horse's withers, approximately two to three fingers. More than three fingers’ clearance may mean the pommel is too high, i.e. the tree is too narrow. A saddle with less than 2-3 fingers may mean that the saddle is too wide. With wool stuffed panels, make allowance for the saddle to settle a half inch or so. There is an exception to this indicator: horses with flat, round withers may have more clearance than usual under the pommel. In these situations you may need to rely more on the balance of the seat and pommel to cantle relationship. On horses with high, narrow withers maintaining proper clearance is something that has to be monitored and maintained.

7. Channel Clearance/Gullet Width
There should also be adequate clearance over the spine and connective tissue throughout the channel of the saddle. A channel that is too narrow will impede the horse’s movement dramatically and may even cause the spine to be observably sore. Feel the width of the spine and connective tissue with your fingers and estimate its width. The channel of the saddle should completely clear this width, resting on the long back muscle of the back called the longissimus dorsi.

8. Saddle Stability
The saddle should remain stable and not shift excessively from side to side or from front to back. Keep in mind that such shifting may be a function of your horse's symmetry and not the saddle. A certified saddle fitter should be able to make suggestions to minimize or eliminate the problem.

9. Seat Length
The saddle should never go behind the 18th thoracic vertebra, which is the vertebra corresponding with the last rib. Behind this vertebra are the lumbar vertebrae, which is the weakest, non-weight bearing area of the back.

Repeat Steps 6 & 7 with the rider in the saddle, checking for adequate clearance over the withers and spine.

10. Horse Response
Throughout the whole saddle fitting process, monitor your horse's response. Watch his ears and body language. Does he try to step away from the saddle or flinch when it is placed on his back? Or is the opposite true; is he more accepting of the saddle? How does he move when he is ridden? Does he seem freer or more restricted? The horse is the most honest indicator we have when fitting a saddle so pay attention to it and note any changes.