I just wanted to write a small piece about David Stackhouse, his assistant Lesley, and the amazing experience I am having because of them.
As most of you know, I have been in limbo for about a year and a half with my horse, Augustus. During that time I tried twice, unsucessfully, to make him into a solid preliminary horse. I’ve always known that he has had the athletic ability and heart to make it past the preliminary level, but something kept stopping us. At first I was having trouble with him rolling under in his bridles. It caused a great deal of trouble in both the dressage arena and on the cross country course. After I put him in 3 piece bits it got dramatically better, but I still was having problems keeping Gus out to the bridle while jumping. He would “scoot” out from underneath me going around turns in the stadium, and would disappear from the bridle as soon as I would get into my jumping position. I attributed the problems to him being a rusher or being overly excited about jumping.
I know that most of you are thinking about the saddle already. I just want to tell you up front that I already knew that my horse had a sensitive back after the first year of owning him. I went to great lengths to find a dressage saddle and a jumping saddle that would fit both of us correctly. I have my saddles checked several times a year for fit, and have them adjusted accordingly. I spent many thousands of dollars on 2 very nice saddles, so I felt very secure in eliminating the “poorly fitting saddle” as the cause of my problems.
On my move up to Preliminary, as the trial and errors continued, his back started to get sore. I had trouble with the sitting trot making him so sore that he would pull fences in stadium and cause me to withdraw. I put him on a supplement that was supposed to help with chronic back soreness. We tried accupuncture and chiropractic work. I used a “thin line” pad under my saddles. It was May of 2010 when I gave up for good. We had just finished a prelim dressage test with a 60 percent, and then Gus was so sore he refused a fence in the stadium. He NEVER refuses fences. I pulled him out of the competition and cried my way home from Lexington. All I kept thinking was that I had always thought that this horse would be the one that went somewhere. I thought he would be buried on my farm. He seemed so perfect for me, yet I couldn’t get all of the pieces to fit into place.
It was a horrible decision to have to make, but I put Gus up for sale in June. No one serious ever called about him.
The summer was filled with soccer, swimming, ICP requirements, and family activities. It was a great break for me mentally and physically. For Gus too. I rode him a few times here and there, and kept him in good enough shape to get him sold. In October I passed my ICP assessment, and after having watched a great deal of horses and riders throughout the process, I began to have my doubts about selling Gus. He was so much nicer than so many of the horses I had been seeing throughout the summer, that I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t give him just one more chance.
It was in mid November that I hauled Gus down to Dorothy Crowell’s place in Frankfort, Kentucky for the final evaluation. I asked her to be completely honest in telling me whether or not I should sell him or if she thought he could make it to Intermediate. In the back of my mind I thought I already knew the answer. Based on his inconsistency with the jumping, I figured she would tell me to get rid of him. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Not only did she tell me to keep him, but she absolutely loved him. She had had all of the same problems with Gus jumping as I did—–when she rode him in my saddle. In her David Stackhouse saddle, however, my horse became someone else. His intense hatred for being out of balance (and for me being out of balance in the saddle) caused all of his issues while jumping. The imbalance made him do crazy things and destroyed the rhythm of his canter on the approach. All of these things I had attributed to my lack of ability or his lack of submission. The first day I jumped Gus in her saddle was the same day I made a call to David Stackhouse. I told him what my problems had been, and the dramatic difference the saddle had made in the way my horse moved and behaved while jumping. The horse became so quiet, rhythmic, and rideable that I had trouble at first knowing how to adapt. It was fantastic!
Thus began my phone calls back and forth between Dorothy, David, and Lesley (David’s assistant). Within a week or so, David and Lesley had arranged to meet me in West Virginia for a saddle fitting. My family hopped into the truck and hauled Gus to a show grounds for the fitting. David and Lesley fitted us for a new saddle, and then drove back to North Carolina to start the process of making the saddle. Due to the timing of the USEA convention, they were able to get my saddle made in time to use it as a sample at the convention. And just as they promised, I had my saddle just a few days after the convention ended.
The saddle arrived in the mail on Friday, and I was riding in it Saturday morning. Not only was it beautiful, but my horse was soooooo happy in it. He was relaxed and soft through his back, and his jumping was phenominal. I felt in perfect balance over the fence, and my leg was able to stay just where it was supposed to. His back was not sore afterward either.
Gus and I have started this whole new adventure together. Just when it seemed like the journey was ending for our partnership, it was just getting started. Gus and I are headed to Ocala in just a few weeks to begin our 2011 show season. I will be training with Dorothy and working toward getting Gus to the intermediate level.
None of this would be possible without the guidance of Dorothy, who was able to see and diagnose the problem, and David Stackhouse (and Lesley!) for creating a saddle for me and my horse that will completely change our riding. Their customer service, before and after the delivery of the saddle, has been outstanding. They were a pleasure to work with, and I hope that Augustus and I will make them proud in Ocala this winter!