Monday, September 7, 2015

Saddle Demo Discussion - Hold on to your butts!

You know...so I posted this the other day, then took it down thinking I didn't want controversial/negative feelings from those I know who may read this...and then I realized there's nothing negative about this post.  And if I can't post thoughtful discussion on my blog, what's the point?  So here we go.

 Tad Coffin came out recently to do a saddle fit clinic and demo.  First off, let me first thank and compliment him and his staff for their generosity and professionalism in coming out to speak to folks about their product, and doing such a thorough demonstration.  They have a great desire to inform and educate, and that is extremely admirable.  This was truly a wonderful experience and I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had it.  If you're thinking of having him and his team out, I highly suggest it because some horses will probably benefit from it.

I'm somewhat familiar with his theories regarding saddle trees and their design, as well as his innovations.  The folks at this barn have had particularly great luck with his saddles and their performance on their horses.  They swear by the tree allowing more freedom of movement, relieving back soreness, and having the potential to transform horses.  Now I don't consider Soon to have back issues - he has always been willing to come forward and bring his back up.  He has a well-developed topline (for his training level) and strong back thanks to a lot of systematic schooling.  He has not been sensitive to the touch or reactive during back palpation.  I was strictly curious to see if there was a big difference in his way of going in the Tad Coffin Performance Saddle, as there will come a time in our future when a new saddle is in order, and I'd like to educate myself on our options.

And truth be told, even after the demo, I don't know if I'm any closer to a decision on buying the TCPS or not.  My jury is still out, and it's going to take a longer look and lots of demo rides for me to be convinced that this is the correct answer for my horse.

Tad did a lovely and very thorough discussion of his beliefs regarding saddle design and fit.   And I honestly agree with every one of them.  He backed it up with photos and anecdotes from his test horses and how they improved using the technology he developed.  He compared his technology to the seemingly antiquated design of other saddle trees used today.  It was a well thought out, academic discussion and very thought-provoking.  They were also very upfront with some "preposterous" statements that they made, and how they were going to prove them.  I can't remember all of them, but here are a couple:

- Saddle fit needs to be based on the dynamic, moving back of the horse, not one standing still in the crossties.  Yep, I agree with that.
- Because a correctly traveling horse assumes a similar, common position in motion, these saddles will work on every horse.  Nope, don't agree with that at all.  Maybe that's just me being stingy and old-fashioned, but I've read enough reviews to know that not everyone has success with these saddles, just like not everyone has success with any other saddle on the market today.  Not every horse is completely the same.  They are all individuals and there are cases of horses not going as well in these as they do in other brands.

But one point he and his staff highlighted during the talk was that if the horse is moving freely forward, using his back, and was traveling free of tension, then "you're golden!"  And I thought to myself, Well, this makes me feel slightly better about my current saddle and that I'm maybe not a completely horrible person, since Soon has (in my amateur opinion) checked those boxes.  I honestly felt pretty relieved because I know I've put a lot of thought and effort into developing Soon carefully and as correctly as I could, and based on that guidance, my saddle was working for him.  That was until we got to the barn and it was Soon's turn.

Tad examined him visually and then felt his back, and actually told me that he hadn't seen a back that sound on a Thoroughbred in quite some time, and that was rare (yes I was very pleased to hear this from him!).  The back looked strong and Soon wasn't reactive, until he got to the lumbar region and there was some sensitivity with stronger pressure.  Hmm, that is something to watch.  And to be fair, Soon and I had taken a walkabout during the height of the activity that ended with him spinning around and rearing (!!!!), so that may (or may not) have had something to do with his tension.

Yep did this only not on purpose and definitely not magical

Tad put his saddle on and proceeded to ride him for about 35 minutes.  I think the scientific method part of me wished that he could have seen the horse go in his normal saddle with normal routine, make observations, and then try the TCPS.  Or vice versa...either way, see the horse with the old tack before trying the new.  That said, he was extremely generous with his time, and put a great deal of effort into each horse he rode.  Like a true horseman, he didn't rush the process and let the horse tell him how long they needed to work.  And yes, he absolutely rides my horse way (WAY!) better than I do, I'm the first person to admit it!  Soon got lovely and soft and swinging.  You can see Tad's ride on Soon in its entirety below:


And my ride on him immediately afterward (clearly I am not going to the Olympics any time soon):

One thing Tad noted during all of his rides on various horses was the "lightbulb" moment, in which the horse acknowledges the freedom the saddle is allowing in his back and the horse relaxing into it.  That's when they start to move more freely forward, start lifting the back more, etc.  This seemed to be about 10-15 minutes into the ride, depending on the horse.  Some got there faster, some took much longer depending on their individual issues.  I was told Soon's not moving as well in the very beginning of the ride was back soreness...The only contention I have with this is that I don't think I've ever seen a horse come out of its stall, off the trailer, or even out of the field and being as loose and forward as it is after a thorough athletic warm up.  They're athletes.  As athletes, we all have a specific warmup routine that is designed to get the body ready to perform.  So while yes, I know there is that "lightbulb" moment for horses that aren't used to experiencing freedom in the back or aren't allowed to use themselves correctly (either due to riding or tack limitations), all horses still need to warm up.  I think expecting any horse to come out and look as good in the first minute of the ride as they do 20 minutes in is pretty unrealistic, honestly.  Again...my amateur opinion.



SO. LOVELY!

Equally lovely.  Tad Coffin ladies and gentlemen


He was lovely when I got on, but also keep in mind:  he had just been ridden by a Gold Medalist who has a knack for bringing the best out in horsesSo I don't know if he felt great because of the saddle, or felt great because of Tad's excellent riding, or felt great because he was actually warmed up...But I found it interesting he mentioned that he felt Soon only had two positions: very long/low, or up and short, and didn't have anything in between, which is where Tad wanted him to be.  That's funny, because a lot of the work my trainer and I did last summer/fall was all in getting him moving up and out, because he was kind of stuck in that poll-level-with-withers outline.  Soon usually loves a more huntery outline.  Another interesting comment was, "He doesn't move like this in your CWD!"

I don't know...doesn't he?









And maybe that's me being a dull-witted curmudgeon, I don't know.   Also, it's worth noting that I had a dressage lesson the day after the clinic, and I was not excited to see that Soon was visibly back-sore that morning.  Very sensitive to the touch and flinching at even the lightest pressure, which he has never done.  That could simply be due to him going in a different saddle for the first time in two years.  Or because Tad had him really using himself for a longer period than Soon is used to.  Or maybe that was due to the Airs Above The Ground shenanigans from the day before.  Or maybe (maybe?) it could be because the TCPS actually did make him sore.  Or maybe a combination of those things, I don't know.  All this testing and trial is due to the fact that horses can't talk.  And I can't pass judgement (for or against) the TCPS based on just one ride.

Let me also state that I am open to new and/or unconventional methods!  If I sound skeptical about any of this, it's not because I'm afraid of what's new.  As a runner (jogger), I tried nearly every shoe, piece of equipment, training, and therapy option out there to deal with severe shin splints.  And after over a year of trial/error/doctor visits (and specialists telling me to just take up swimming), do you know what I found worked best for me?  Barefoot running.  As in completely barefoot, no shoes whatsoever.  It's the only way I can run consistently, comfortably, and injury-free.  Been doing that for five years with no major injury.   Put shoes on because I had to for work, ran regularly in them, and shin splints immediately developed.  I know that one trial experience does not mean that piece of equipment is the solution.  So many shoes I tried felt great in the store.  I had so many running specialists tell me that shoe was going to solve all my problems.  Only weeks and miles later did I realize they weren't right for my body.  BOTTOM LINE:  I'm not afraid of an unconventional, outside the box solution to a problem.  I guess my issue with the saddle is that I'm not sure there is a problem in the first place.  

Yes, I am seriously considering a Tad Coffin saddle for Soon, but not before I ride in one over a longer period of time and better observe/compare Soon's way of going in both that and my CWD, and now well he does in the TCPS over time.  Thankfully there are a couple (both close contact and dressage varieties) available at the barn for me to try when they're not otherwise being used, so hopefully we'll be able to take a closer look at them and whether or not they're the solution.  Because the asshole amateur in me is saying that my CWD is not as awful as they want me to believe it is.  I have two years of a horse that has not been back sore and has not been moving crappy telling me he's ok with it.  But if in our trials he tells me that he loves the TCPS, then that is the way we'll eventually go, and at that point I will be happy to do so.

At the end of the day, I am beyond thrilled to have a double Olympic Gold Medalist ride my horse and have my horse look that amazing under such a great rider.  Tad is a truly gifted horseman, a wonderfully soft and talented rider who could probably get on a sawhorse and make it look like it's going Third Level.  He and his team are also very passionate about their saddles and improving the lives of horses.  I sincerely appreciate them taking the time to come out, to teach and demonstrate their technology, and giving so much of themselves to the attendees.  Yes, I have my reservations about this saddle and whether it will work for Soon, but I'm open minded and will be interested to see how things go from here.