The first day, Liz went over basic conformation. (She does this in the
Icelandic Gathering video series, so I was somewhat familiar with what she
was saying. )
She put large sticky dots at key conformational landmarks and then
connected those points so you could see angles and length. Then, she told
us what the significance of those angles and lengths were. For example: A
long humerus means a horse should have good reach and length of stride.
The angle of the humerus indicates the lift of stride -- flatter angle means
We learned the length of the functional back is from the crest of the
withers to Lumbar Sacral joint. To find the LS joint, pinch the spine and
watch to see where the horse flexes. The space from the Lumbar Sacral
joint to the top of the hip is the lumbar span. This lumbar span is the
weakest point of back because there's no support either from the pelvis or
the ribcage beneath it. Interestingly enough, a short span makes it
easier for the horse to raise his back for collection. Short is also
indicative of strength.
Length of neck is from the poll to crest of withers. Ideally, it
should be same length as the functional back. If it's shorter, it will be
harder for horse to collect.
I thought it was interesting that where the femur ties in at the hip is
one of the factors that indicates gait tendency. The farther behind the
halfway point of an imaginary line between the point of the hip and the end
of the pelvis (towards tail) the femur falls, the more lateral the horse.
If the length of the pelvis, length of the femur, and length of the gaskin
are all equal, the horse will probably lean towards trot. If the gaskin
is longer than the other two measurements, that would be a factor which
would lend the horse more towards lateral gaits.
Liz mentioned the wide pelvis of Icelandics as well as their
well-sprung ribs which contrib their strength, along with their good bone
and joint size.
Liz marked up Soley and then proceded to tell me all about how my
horse moves based on what she saw conformationally (without ever having seen
her move yet). It was quite astonishing. She hit Soley on the head.
She said she was likely a multi-gaited horse (she is), that probably doesn't
have trouble with diagonal or lateral gait (she doesn't), and that probably
had the potential for pace as well (she does -- but I never encourage her in
that direction -- have only paced her three times in her life) and that she
was a very strong horse. She then did a mini lecture on Icelandics being
capable of carrying adult easily and not to be fooled by their short
stature. She pointed to the 15-16 hand TWH also marked up and in the arena
and said Soley would be conformationally more able to carry weight.
Well, I was afraid of this news, but kind of expecting it based on my
loved/hated Lewis pad results:
My saddle is too peaked and Soley is too broad. Liz looked at my beloved
Rembrandt Dressage saddle in a 36 cm. tree and also found it to be bridging
somewhat. Not the worst case she's ever seen, but there was enough to
I learned bridging is not what I thought it was. I always
thought bridging meant a complete gap in the contact along the back, with
the back and front of the saddle taking all the weight. Well, that's an
extreme example. There is more subtle cases of bridging which is what my
When I felt down the channel, I could feel about an inch
of the soft, stuffed panels off Soley's back. In other words, the contact
with her back was occurring an inch in along the panel. So, less surface
area distributing the weight. Also, all this time I had checked for
bridging by sliding my hand up and under the saddle from each side. Liz
showed me to check for this by sliding my arm down the gullet as the saddle
rested on Soley.
Of course, your saddle gullet has to be wide enough to
accomodate an arm and that was the thing she did like about my saddle. She
said it was the widest gullet she'd ever seen on an English saddle. For
the riding portion of the day, Liz tried to shim my saddle up enough to make
it a better fit for the riding portion of the lesson, but we gave up on that
and went to my faithful bareback pad. (More on that later)
Liz then did a back mapping on Soley. Boy, was that fascinating, and WHAT
A TOOL! You can see how to do this step by step on Dave Grendyk's
(spelling!) website, and could all do this yourselves. If you do, please,
please, please send Liz a copy. She is hoping to take this data to a saddle
manufacturer and convince them to make a few trees/saddles that will
accomodate the Icelandics she is finding out there for whom no saddle seems
to work. (And you know who you are - we've all commiserated on these
lists enough over the years!)
With the back mapping, you clearly see the contour of your horse's back.
(Easy to see if your horse is level, built uphill, built downhill and
EXACTLY how much in either direction). It also shows you the length of
your horse's back in regards to the room you have for a saddle. The most
interesting part for me was the comparison of the horse left side to right
side. Soley, like most horses, is uneven.
Now, to me, it looked like a
huge amount and I voiced this concern. Liz said it wasn't bad at all, But
I'm still bothered. It looked like a huge discrepency to my eyes. She
told me some arena excercises to do to help build the left side to match the
right -- basically suppling work to get Soley to round that side out.
But, the sad news was there was no treed saddle Liz could recommend for
Soley because she said there isn't an adequate tree being manufactured.
(Did you know it costs a saddle manufacturing about $10,000 to develop a new
According to Liz, there is no saddle tree on the market
today which will accomodate my very broad-backed mare. And you know what?
After 9 years of trying dozens -- and I mean dozens -- of saddles on this
mare, (including a custom John DiPietra where I actually sent in a plaster
cast of Soley's back), I am inclined to believe this. Oh am I inclined to
One saddle would seem to work for awhile -- and I'd think
"Eureka!". . . . but then, after a few months, I'd just feel Soley be off,
or not as peppy, and I'd go oh-oh. You see, the new saddle would have
different pressure points than the previous one, so for awhile, Soley WOULD
feel better in that saddle. But, after enough time, the new saddle would
start creating it's own pressure points too. And the cycle would continue.
I would go back to my bareback pad and the search would start over. Much
as I hated to hear this, I guess I felt a little validated. I was
starting to think I was being too obsessive/anal about this saddle business.
Why was everyone else able to find a saddle that fit but not me!? Well,
come to find out, Tank Mare is aptly named. She is one of the
widest-sprung Icelandics Liz has mapped thus far.
Liz is not a big fan of treeless saddles. But, she said I really
had no choice when it comes to "fitting" Soley. There is a type of
treeless saddle no longer being manufactured that Liz seemed to think would
be best. . . So, the hunt begins to find one of these on the used market.
Anyone have a Thoroughgood,, synthetic, Adult sized treeless saddle with
moveable panels on the underside? Please???????
Eitill's saddles were no go either -- again, I suspected. The good news
is though, is he is a "normal sized" Icelandic in the barrel. Liz was
optimistic that I would find a saddle that fit him and gave me a suggestion.
And, a HUGE surprise, Eitill's back mapping was nearly symetrical between
his right and left sides. Liz said he was nearly perfect. What?!?
Funny, I of the two, I would have bet money Eitill would have had a more
asymetrical back. Of course, his mane does fall on both sides and you
know what they say. . . .; )
I was asked to bring both Eitill and Soley to help with Liz's back mapping
project. I knew this was going to cause me problems.
Separately, I can haul either horse to events and/or trail riding and be
fine. But, if I take them together to a strange place -- Gawd, they
arrive bound at the hip.
They can't possibly be out of each other's site
for ten minutes, or so they think. Soley is, by far, the worst of the
two. If you will remember, we had our first quiet, solo trail ride this
year, so being without a buddy is something we have been working on, but we
aren't there yet in all circumstances by a long shot.
To those training young horses -- I'll say it again: Don't do as I did!
Take those young horses out and about on their own in all circumstances!
Get them to rely on you as their security blanket, not another horse!
Don't think a dominant, bold horse (which Soley is) will be less likely to
be buddy dependent. Take them out alone anyway. Otherwise, you will
have a hole in their training that will show up later as I do now, and as I
deal with now. Okay, that's my sermon.
Anyway, the arena set up was a VERY long arena with about 50 stalls on
either side. Soley and Eitill were in stalls side by side on one wall.
I thought that perhaps, because they would still be able to see each other
if one was in the arena, it might not be so bad. . . No such luck.
Soley the first day. Eitill was quite mad that Soley was out in the arena
and he wasn't. Soley thought she needed to call to Eitill every 2
minutes to make sure he was still over there since these were "big horse"
stalls and he was barely visible over the half door. Her focus was
completely on where he was, not on me.
Liz tried to shim my dressage saddle to make it okay for the riding
and she did the girth up quite loosely to boot. I thought I rode with a
loose girth. Well, not by Liz's standards I don't. : o
initially intent on getting back to Eitill and I had to really get after her
as she thought she would make her way back to him. I did a few sharp
turns with her to get her attention back (as well as stop her from leaving
the arena -- ahem) and woops -- big saddle shift. No retrieval.
Mission aborted. (Terri has this all on tape for future blackmail. : )
I looked at Liz as she rushed up to help me and said, "I don't think this is
going to work with the shims and the loose girth. I'm a bit wobbly up here.
" I then did a rather ungraceful (but feet first -- Thank you Lord)
dismount. "Can I just put my bareback pad on?" Liz said sure and away I
went. Ahhh, much better.
After that, I had my barings. I was in my
happy place on my horse. : ) Soley was revved up, but tractable for the
rest of the lesson, and even though she continued to call for Eitill every
now and then, she at least was listening to me.
Of course, when Eitill saw us going round and round, he decided he
should be out and about too. He starts knocking his stall door. As I
made one pass near his stall I heard a fatefull, "click" then a little black
nose came through a six-inch gap that appeared in the sliding door.
whole little black horse was stepping through the door. Oy! Eitill
started walking down the isle, away from us! He could care less where
Soley was, and was just happy to be out of that %!$@# stall I guess. A
friend also attending the clinic caught him and put him back for me. He
tried his Houdini act a few more times, but this time the latch held firm.
Always looking for the positive, Liz said,
"Look how smart he is! Boy, that trick worked for him once and he has
learned to try it again. . ." Oh yeah, that's my boy. . . smart. . .
What I learned was that Soley's most natural gait is the saddle tolt.
When pushed, she can true tolt, but the saddle tolt (saddle rack) is her
gait of choice and easiest for her to perform. She's never had a great
deal of speed in tolt compared to some, so I'm not surprised. Also, her
head ties in low giving her a naturally low head set, so this to contributes
to her gaiting tendency towards saddle tolt.
One thing that readily became apparent at this clinic was that gaited horse
people often really don't understand what gait they are looking at. Or they
are referring to it by the wrong name.
Part of the reason for this is that the original, old definitions of each
of the various soft gaits have been used indiscriminately over the years
within the gaited horse community. After awhile, things get clouded,
For example, the bulk of the horses present were Tennessee Walking Horses.
Some of their owners were breeders, trainers, and
long-time fans of the breed. One gal had a beautiful Black and White
stallion she was obviously very proud of. But hers, like most of the
others, immediately went into a stepping pace when asked up from a walk,
instead of a rack and/or a running walk.
This woman, like most of the
other attendees, however, considered what her horse was doing a running
walk, or maybe even a rack. (I wasn't sure.) She sure didn't think it
wasn't the signature gait of her breed! Afterall, this was as stallion
she was standing!
To Terri and I, the horses performing a stepping pace looked like a
smoother version of what we would call piggy pace -- very lateral, but
didn't seem as bumpy for the rider to me. It was an uneven, four beat
gait, but it sure looked two beat to the "naked" (untrained) eye.
However, when Liz wrapped both left legs of one horse in vetrap, there
was a collective "ahhh" amidst the auditors and watching participants. We
could see that the back leg was hitting just before the front leg and not
working together as it had appeared without the vetrap.
That didn't change the fact it still wasn't a running walk or rack by
People didn't like this idea.
Liz explained that in the push for more speed in the running walk in the
show ring, the horses were literally being pushed beyond their natural gait
into the realm of excessive lateral-ness. The true running walk is not a
gait of speed. It covers ground, but it's not fast.
Of course, like the lady with the BREEDING stallion, judges aren't
necessary well-educated about gaits either, depending on what their
background is. Once the judges started rewarding the fastest mover
(ignoring the fact the gait was now technically incorrect), the trend caught
All it takes is a few ribbons and everyone starts imitating.
People forgot what the real running walk really was. The stepping pace had
become the accepted "running walk" in the showring and it spread to the
breeding barns and on the trails. No one could tell the difference
anymore. No one understood the difference anymore.
Liz saw that a few of the horses really wanted to do a running walk.
It was in them. They had the conformation for it. She worked with people
to "step off the gas" or change their riding technique to let this gait come
out. If the people couldn't "get it", she would hop on and show them.
Most of what I saw her do on these horses was simply back off and let the
horses relax. She gave them permission to dial down. When they relaxed,
they found their rhythm. When they found their rhythm, they found their
natural gait, or the beginnings of their natural gait.
It was sooo neat to
watch. In my mind, there is no comparison to a horse performing a relaxed,
easy gait than one overridden into a hard one. One is sooo cool to watch,
the other almost painful.
One thing that Liz said was that if the owners liked the way their horses
were performing -- if they were happy with the stepping pace -- then that
was fine. But -- BIG "But", the owners would have to be diligent in
maintaining such a horse.
The stepping pace is a harder gait on the horse
than the running walk, being it's a gait of ventroflexion. The owner
would have to really pay attention to their horse to keep him/her sound and
supple. Maintainence might entail chiropractic and massage treatments,
trotting and loose canters, and collection work to get that back a break.
(At least that's what I can remember!)
The second day of the clinic, I rode Eitill. Soley hollered now and then,
but seemed to be resigned that she was not going to get her way. Eitill,
happy to be out of that $%#^& stall was oblivious to her and ignored her
Besides saddle fit, one of the things Liz does is watch how a horse
responds to the bit the rider is using. Or rather, watch how the horse,
rider, bit combination is working (or not, as the case may be.) She
carries with her a small tack trunk of bits, sidepulls, bit keepers, chin
straps, reins, headstalls -- you name it. Sometimes she suggests that
a rider try another type of bit . Sometimes, she suggests no bit and has
the rider try a side pull. People were sometimes visibly leery of
giving up their bit, but it did seem to help relax their horses and get them
on their way to better gait. There's soooo much tension out there in the
world, both in riders and horses.
Eitill's bit was something I definitely wanted her to check. Eitill wears
a happy mouth, three piece bit with a center roller. It's plastic. (See
pic). He constantly chews his bit. I mean, he is chomping on that thing
from the time it hits his lips until I take it away from him. Big chews.
Noisy chews. Crunch, crunch, crunch. It drives me crazy!
been a very oral horse. I thought he'd eventually outgrow his chewing
habit, but no. He is still enthusiastically and vigorously chewing on
that bit four years later. (Strangely, it doesn't look that worse for
wear after four years of being mauled). Yes, it's annoying, but more than
that, I was really concerned as to WHY he might be doing that. Did
something hurt? Was he anxious, frustrated? Should I change to a metal
bit? Maybe it wasn't adjusted properly or his mouth was too shallow for
it? I just didn't know what to make of his noisy mouth!
I had already ruled out any teeth problems.
The curious thing is, when Eitill is presented with this bit, he
literally grabs it, and when you take his bridle off, he often hangs onto
it and won't let go until you tug or holler at him to release it.
Part of this is what he was taught by clicker training. But, even if I'm
not around and the bit/bridle is within reach -- he is after that bit.
if I'm not careful/attentive, he still sneaks the reins into his mouth and
on them as well if I am leading him in his bridle. He's very sneaky.
I finally got smart and no longer use leather reins with Eitill, but he
still LOVES the
plastic-coated web reins I got in Iceland.
I slipped his headstall off in the arena before we started and showed
Liz how he goes after that bit. She said, "Well, it appears he just
really likes it. Let's see if anything changes when you ride". She
watched us in tolt and trot and when we were done, she laughed, "Renee, you
have nothing to worry about. He LOVES that bit. It's his pacifier. It's
his security bit. He is very happy and forward, ears are pricked, he's
looking around at everything with interest, there's no resistance. It's
fine. He's chewing on it because he likes it. He's going well for you.
He's happy. I wouldn't change a thing."
Whew. At least I got the right bits for my horses. . . Glad I got one
piece of the puzzle taken care of.
But ofcourse, being paranoid me, I still asked Liz to palpate Eitill's
back for sore spots. And I asked her THE question that's been on my mind
ever since I realized Eitill was not going to be as big as Soley: Was I
too big for him? (Holding my breath)
Liz said no. She told me to consider his loin width,
which IS quite substantial. (I've always loved his big butt!)
She pointed out his large gaskin muscles, and the fact his legs, joints and
feet are just as,
if not larger than Soley's. (Yeah, I guess they are, aren't they.. .)
And when I squawked about his smaller barrel and narrower chest (than Soley)
she said Eitill was very much an average sized Icelandic and that he carried
me just fine.
During the back palpitation, she did find two small sore spots
(about nickel size) beside Eitill's spine on the left -- about
where I sit in the bareback pad. She said that was likely from my seat
bones and sitting harder on that side. Oops -- running for my centered
riding book! I found it quite amazing that my seat bones would dig in
considering all the padding that surrounds them. Ahem.
Liz said using the bareback pad was okay occasionally, but that I really
get Eitill a well-fitting, treed saddle. Unlike with Soley, Eitill's back
was not "unfittable" with today's
trees. Okay. That was good to hear even though both the CAIR panel
500 dressage and the Wintec Endurance Pro EW tree I had brought were not
good fits on
Eitill (which is why I was in the bareback pad again -- oh, twist my arm.
My bareback pad is MY pacifer / security blanket!) I like the feel/fit of
Endurance Pro for me, but the loved/hated Lewis pad did tell me I was having
points. I never tried the 500 out with the Lewis pad because I didn't
comfortable for me for some reason and was almost relieved when Liz told me
it wasn't a good fit. Wouldn't that have been ironic if THAT saddle had
fit and I
didn't like it! It flared too much at his shoulders and not enough over
withers. A different gullet size would not have mattered because going
over the withers would not decrease the flare below.
One VERY special, totally unexpected thing that happened when I was
Eitill in the clinic was that he did something I have been trying to get him
to do for some time. He started switching back and forth between tolt and
trot by voice and weight shifts. I could not believe he was doing this --
and in a strange arena no less!!
Normally, working in an arena is not
his forte. But there he was, acting like he did this everyday. I
almost forgot about the people sitting there and Liz. I was sooo excited
to have him doing this! At the end of our session, if my smile was any
wider, it was going to wrap completely around my head I think. So, that
was thrilling for me and I can't wait to see if I can repeat this
"breakthrough" here at home. Trot has been much harder to develop in
Eitill than tolt.
Liz said Eitill's most natural gait is true tolt, although not a hugely
animated one. I wasn't
surprised to hear this either as he has more speed in tolt than Soley and he
is more towards the
pace side of the gaiting scale, whereas Soley is in the middle or a tad
Liz asked to ride him and she just giggled. : )