My gear has changed quite a bit since my last check in, and heading into endurance training season it’s a good time to dig into what I’m using this year. My previous gear did manage to get us through the Cross State Ride (not well, as it turned out), a full summer of adventures and an LD (a bit better with some adjustments). I’ve kept the Wintec as my arena saddle, for it’s unkillability and adjustability through the seasons. But I’m happy to retire it from trails, I never felt super secure in it and trying to get everything attached was a constant process.
Saddle: Last October I found the saddle which matched the image I had in my head of what I wanted: A Western tree and seat, with a raised pommel (no horn) a higher cantle, with English rigging. I was thrilled to find it used at a local tack sale, for the grand old price of $850! This is a huge steal considering the $3-5000 dollar saddles I’d been considering, including a custom made Synergist. My new to me saddle is a twenty year old Synergist, but I’ve had to futz with it a bit to get it just right. Thankfully Synergist sells an Equifit kit, which you warm up in the oven and then mold it to your horses back (this took three tries on a cold winter’s day be we got it close enough!) According to the kit and Tarma, it fits her well enough and we’ve put some solid rides into it, both longer rides and faster ones. I’m so much more secure, it sets me in place without locking me in which leads to me not constantly wiggling around and Tarma’s back is all the better for it. I feel bolder, letting her go however she wants to without feeling I’ll get left behind. It also comes with saddle strings and a ton more attachments points overall, which I hugely appreciate. I’ve paired this with my Jen X pads with inserts, and I recently found a used Skito with inserts as a spare. I’m using the Total Saddle Fit girth, though with the neoprene liner instead of the fleece.
Saddle accessories: I’ve passed along my grey Fuzzy Butt to Kade and purchased myself a new one, which matches Tarma’s coloring better. I love this for the extra warmth and comfort it provides, though I ride without in on the hottest days. I love the saddle strings for tying up my riding skirts or jackets when it’s not raining. I have also added an Apple Airtag in a waterproof clip, it’s use is a bit limited but for most of the places I ride near home (that have cell service) it can help track her if she ever does take off solo. I’m using Total Saddle Fit stirrup leathers as the fenders that came with the saddle didn’t go short enough for me, and they are wider than most English stirrup leathers for stability. I’m using MDC S ‘Flex’ English stirrups with cages made by Moss Rock Endurance for safety, and they have a twist at the top to save my ankle.
Bags: I’m still using my lovely, custom Horse Bums bags, though I’ve attached them to the cantle for now. One of the coolest things about my saddle is the leather water bottle holders it came with. They are fleece backed and set high enough they don’t touch Tarma, and my husband 3-D printed me some bottoms with drainage holes for them. For sub 10 mile rides, I use one for my water and one for carrots/treats for Tarma. I also have yet another pommel Horse Bums bag for shorter rides, in which I keep vet wrap, a hiker’s first aid kit, a multitool and snacks. For longer rides in my cantle bags I keep a spare boot, wet wipes, more snacks, loppers and various ties. The Synergist came with three leather bags as in the photos above, but I didn’t like them as the top bag dug into Tarma’s back and it’s hard to shove stuff in the stiff side ones.
Headgear: We’re still in the process of finding what works best for Tarma in this realm. At the start of our first endurance ride last October, she reared before we even made it out of camp (I dismounted like I meant to do that!), then dumped me into some blackberry bushes about two miles later (lots of factors into this but different headgear with a tiny bit more whoa now would have helped). 90% of the time the cross under side pull does us just fine, but there are a few situations we’ll need something different for. During arena rides when I ask her to bend she doesn’t know what I’m asking, the cross under just isn’t clear enough. Most endurance riders will actually ride with a bit or some type of hackamore the first loop of a ride, as the horse you have at home during regular training rides is not always the horse you tack up on ride morning. There are a lot of emotions when the trail opens, so part of it is relationship building and knowing your horse and planning well, but I’d appreciate a bit less of “please ma’am slow down now” of the cross under and “Whoa Nelly” of something more direct (but not painful of course). I have a mechanical hackamore a friend gave me to try just for that circumstance, so we’ll see what Tarma thinks of it. For my own head, I recently parted ways with my third Troxel, which for some reason didn’t fit at all, to a brand new (and so much more comfortable!) OneK with MIPS helmet. It might be a bit hot in the summer, but I’ll just carry an extra water bottle to dump on my head.
No foot no horse: Tarma’s feet have come such a long way under Jerry’s direction, she’s got solid hooves now. That said, wet relentlessly muddy winters lead to softer feet, so I recently switched from Scoot Boots, which work fine in the summer, to Cavallo Treks for eating up logging roads. The main downfall of any boot with Tarma, I’m finding, is her dang pretty white socks. Her heel bulbs, especially in the front, tend to rub, so I’m using a variety of tricks to prevent this. I rub coconut oil on the boots, that sorta helped. I’ve purchased the pastern wraps from Cavallo so we’ll try those for our next ride. We went through a spat where the mud straps of the Scoots rubbed her and with just the pastern straps she kept tossing them, so I’m happy she hasn’t lost or twisted a single Cavallo yet, though they are bulky. Once March rolls around, if I can swing it, I’ll have Jerry pop on those sexy new glue on Easy Care Versa Grip Octos shoes, similar but different to the ones she wore for the Cross State Ride. I won’t have to obsess over rubs then!
New Category: Food: Other than headgear, the aspect of endurance I still struggle with, and consider myself a Green Bean, is horse and human food. At base, Tarma is healthy and well kept, but endurance requires such a huge output of energy she’ll need more, just as any performance horse would. Electrolytes are all important for endurance over other sports, which may require higher energy outputs but on a shorter timeframe. 50 miles can take up to 12 hours, most of those moving out at the trot. Things like weather, weight, and terrain can vastly effect how much and what type of electrolytes will best suit your horse, and right now I have no idea where to even start. I do know enough to take a wide variety of food with us, and inevitably she’ll like what someone else has at a ride over anything I bring. So long as she eats and eats well, I’m happy.
Human food is another kettle of fish, one I will need to pay more attention to for longer distances. Fruit leathers and cheese gets me through an LD or a long trail ride just fine, but won’t give me the brain power at mile 49 that I need to take care of Tarma too. Thankfully there’s a lot to choose from and experienced riders to learn from. I do know I’ll never drink Gatorade during a ride, throwing up at the Mount Adams ride years ago showed me that’s a definite no no!
Just recently my sister from another mister pointed out that I never stop problem solving. We all love to fuss with our gear (well, most of us), but she and I are definitely the most consistent. I’m on a constant quest research and try new things, whether it be gear or training or nutrition. One of my favorite things about endurance, among many, is that literally anything goes, as long as your horse is sound and you are both comfortable.