Author Archives: firstthoughtequine
Zigzag is a 14-year-old Lusitano gelding, bred by Sherene Rahmatallah of Sussex Lusitanos, a small group of breeders specialising in these sensitive and intelligent horses. Zigzag has enjoyed success in the show arena and currently works at Advanced Medium level at home.
Katie Gilmour first rode a Lusitano with Tina Layton BHSI at Contessa Riding Centre, Ware, Hertfordshire, and fell in love with the breed. On moving to Sussex and seeking a horse to ride, she contacted Sherene, who suggested she ride Zigzag.
Zigzag is a true schoolmaster for those who can already ride well, but seeks to develop a stronger, more consistent position with better feel and sensitivity. Katie’s aim is to improve her riding and training skills and to become a ‘Luso rider’ in advance of taking on a new partner – a Luso of course! – to compete in dressage and showing.
“Zigzag is fairly close coupled,” Katie says. “Sometimes he gets blocked in his back and finds it difficult to work over his topline, particularly if his rider doesn’t maintain their position in his point of balance.”
“He has a big heart; he wants to please his rider, but it felt as though he simply couldn’t go forwards and he would stop. Just before Christmas, he felt particularly uncomfortable and his willingness was affected.”
Sherene carried out the usual checks on Zigzag, including his teeth and his back and became concerned that his saddle was uncomfortable. Sherene contacted her local Wow fitter, Nicola Purdy, because of Wow’s reputation for allowing full freedom of movement in all shapes and sizes of horses.
Wow boast Baroque styles in their range that are modelled on the Relvas type saddle, designed for showing and competing Iberian horses. These can be used with any of Wow’s huge range of panels, headplates and seats, to combine a classic traditional look with up-to-date sadddle technology. Difficulties in fitting Iberians are consequently easily resolved.
With his new saddle made to order and fitted, Sherene and Katie both noticed an immediate difference in his work, and it became obvious that he had been hindered and constrained by the previous saddle’s fit.
Katie says: “Ziggy is definitely a lot happier in his Wow; he is so much more forward-thinking. He is a very sensitive horse, but now he is so comfortable, you can just enjoy riding him, and not feel like you are treading on eggshells all the time. There’s now no tension in movements like half-pass and counter-canter. I have never seen such a dramatic change when saddles have been changed on other horses I’ve ridden. It’s lovely to feel such a difference. Ziggy really is a special horse and it’s heartwarming to feel him feeling so well.”
Alicia Griffiths’ story is one of resilience, energy, excellent organisation and determination. She started losing her sight at the age of 19 and by 20 was registered as SSI, (severely sight impaired/legally blind, sport certification B2). She combines looking after her family, including children of 6 and 3, and 10 month old Noah, with part-time work caring for cancer patients, and competing at the highest level of Para Dressage Grade 4. All of this is only possible with an extremely supportive family around her. As well as his work, her husband is fully involved in the care of the children; her mother maintains the horse and does its fitness work, and looks after the children when it’s Alicia’s turn to ride, or she is away competing. Her father drives them to competitions and calls the markers for her. Her latest challenge is to compete in a Tough Mudder race, raising money for the Riding for the Disabled Association.
When she first lost her sight, Alicia was determined to ride again, but without vision struggled with her balance and had severe motion sickness. The RDA helped her through this, and she was lucky to have two well-bred dressage horses which she could compete both at Para – for team GB – and able-bodied – up to Advanced Medium. Sadly, within the space of a couple of years, she lost both horses, and the search was on for a replacement.
One owner who responded to Alicia’s advert had a Thoroughbred which had been a hunt and riding club horse, with very occasional forays into dressage. The lady now had insufficient time for her, and offered her to Alicia. Appropriately dubbed Risky, the chestnut mare Just Arisca has her moments, but has proven to have the potential Alicia sought. The first year they were together, they reached the able-bodied Regional Finals at Elementary.
Alicia decided to focus on Para dressage and did two excellent tests at her first International at Bishop Burton in 2016. The next goal was to qualify for the Para Winter Championships, which she did. Training was interrupted by illness in her support team but nonetheless Alicia made it to the Championships at Myerscough on a rather fresh Risky (Just Arisca). She got two good placings, with her best marks for Risky’s favourite movement, medium trot, where her Wow Saddle facilitates her natural swing while giving Alicia stability. To see a video inclduding some of her test, visit : https://youtu.be/ZiuJC9HwV7c
Her Wow has an Extra Deep Seat, and modified Giant High flaps. Previously, judges regularly commented “needs more jump in canter” but now the horse has all the engagement they want. In fact one recent judge’s comment about Risky was “Please deliver to my yard”!
Within four weeks of having the saddle, the fitter, Annie Lewis, had to change the headplate as even though the horse had been in regular work, the saddle was enabling correct muscle development for the first time. And for Alicia, the seat and flaps help support her and correct her tendency to lose her balance backwards because of the impact of lack of vision on proprioception.
Looking to the future, the goal is to represent England at the Para Home International, and compete at the Hartpury Festival of Dressage in the summer. Before that, she has the commitment to run in the Tough Mudder.
To support Alicia, visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/alicia-burchell
Sally Talbot-Smith is a very experienced Wow fitter and competes herself when time allows. She was delighted to see one of the saddles she fits being put to good use at Olympia before Christmas, when she was in the audience to watch Richard Davison on the lovely Bubbles (Bubblingh).
She is currently riding two of her own horses. Lexi was purchased two and a half years ago from John Biggs as a fun horse for her husband.
“When WOW freed up her movement she turned out to be rather too powerful and sharp for my novice husband, bucking him off for fun! I had fallen in love with her by then though so I took her on and wouldn’t part with her for the world now!
John helps me brilliantly with her. The muscle she has developed since working in the WOWs is incredible, she’s a totally different shape. Look past her colouring, she’s one of the most talented horses I’ve ever had! I can’t wait to work her up the levels, if her hot brain allows me to!
Sally’s other horse, purchased in June 2017, had been competing up to PSG, but appeared weak for that level of training and had failed the vet.
The ex-owner explained that he was finding canter pirouettes very difficult, despite monthly physio treatment on his back. Sally wondered whether saddle fit could be responsible and he certainly showed muscle wastage in the saddle area. He also napped and reared out hacking initially but after a quiet summer, teeth and back done, lots of hacking and of course a WOW and now we have a different horse!
“His ability to work over his back and use his back end has changed dramatically and, as such, so has the shape of him – and his attitude! I have tweaked his saddle set up many times as he’s changed and I don’t believe he could look and feel like he does without having had the WOW.
I train with Kate Cowell and John Biggs.
Kate has asked what we’re feeding him as he has developed so much since she first saw him in August. I told her about his very healthy, natural diet but pointed out how the Wow helps him too! Hopefully in the new year we’ll get out to do an Advanced Medium, exciting!
And here he is, stuffing his face the other evening just so you can see his lovely back now!”
Jenny Folman is well-known in the east of England as a classical dressage rider and trainer. Her blue-chip classical background includes training with exponents of the great European centres, including an ex-Cadre Noir member, and one of the Chief Riders of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna.
A couple of years ago she trained as a Wow fitter, and has been delighted with the results of using our saddles, especially on her own Lipizzaner.
Favory Gazdag was imported from Hungary by Jenny Folman as “an unbacked and exceedingly rude 4 year old” but now competes PSG and is ready for Inter 1 thanks to his new deep seat with semi curved tree.
Jenny told us: “I took the new seat straight out to a competition yesterday, as it arrived just in time to switch it over before we left. It felt quite a bit flatter than the curved tree I’ve been riding in, even though they’re both size 2 deep. My horse seemed to really like it though, he went really well and we got 2x 66% at Adv Med and completed our qualification for the winter regionals! I loved it too once I’d got used to the initial different feel, it sits so nicely on the back and I think spreads the weight better”.
In the images, Gazdag is competing at PSG, and looking very happy in his changes and canter pirouettes. The judge’s comment was “He is clearly a professor of the work involved.”!
Since then, Jenny has been working on Gazdag’s one-time changes, and his piaffe and passage, and is loving his softness and rideability. You can watch them working on this video.
Sam Prior’s horse Daisy is 24 years old. She is a 15.1hh TBxArab, and was given to Sam as a 10 year old with behavioural issues, especially when ridden.
Due to an old injury on her sacroiliac joint she has always suffered with pelvic and back issues, and now has some age-related arthritis in the hocks. Then in the late spring an incident in the field resulted in inflammation in a knee, and a reassessment by the physio who had treated previously, Charlene Baker.
Charlene found a series of tensions along Daisy’s back and in her hind leg. She agreed with Sam that in addition to regular therapy, the saddle fit should be addressed. David Kempsell, MD of Wow Saddles, invited Sam to attend one of Wow’s regular retailer training courses as a guinea pig. He supervised the fit himself, and provided Sam with Daisy’s new saddle.
On 5th August, Charlene returned to assess the horse ridden in both her old saddle, and the newly-fitted Wow. Daisy was given a full body treatment to pinpoint all areas of concern prior to starting work in the Wow.
In deference to her age her regular exercise routine is about four sessions a week (two hacks, one schooling session and a lunge over raised poles per week).
These photos demonstrate Daisy’s progress.
Even at 24, musculature can be improved with correct work in a well-fitting saddle.
The horizontal lines in the brickwork behind the side-on shots help gauge just how much her back and posture have improved in 6 weeks.
She also showed a significant improvement in her attitude to work, rideability and willingness to work. This was particularly evident in medium trot and lateral work, which she had been finding hard.
In July, Sam’s aim to compete at the Veteran Horse Society (VHS) National Championships in early October had seemed a distant dream, but became a dream come true. Over a very busy weekend, Sam and Daisy won Ridden Veteran and Condition and Turnout; were second in Riding Horse and another Condition and Turnout class, plus a number of other awards and getting through to the Supreme Veteran Ridden Final!
“WOW what a difference the WOW saddle has made to her way of going. She is very happy to work, her whole attitude to life is a more happy one. I am over the moon with the results.”
Justine Robinson had long aimed at a place of her own where she could keep her horses, but when she managed to find a property late last year, she knew she’d need a companion for her old horse Patrick when she went out hacking or competing her showjumper Enzo. With a moving date from her livery yard set for 16th March this year, in February she arranged a visit to World Horse Welfare. The day before the appointment, she got talking to a fellow livery. This owner was soon to emigrate with all her horses, except one. When this horse, Cosmos (a Danish Warmblood by Grand Prix sire Saint Cloud) had arrived in the UK in the summer of 2016, having been bought in Denmark on the basis of his excellent breeding, he had a huge cut on his head, was clearly tucked up and not quite sound. He was left alone to settle for a while, and then sent to various places for investigation over the winter. But he appeared to remain unhappy and he reared and bucked when ridden. He was often led out to the field in a bridle as he was difficult to manage in just a headcollar. But when there was no conclusion as to the underlying issue, the owner was understandably reluctant to ship him home to Norway.
Rather than see the handsome 8yo given away or put down, Justine, offered to take him as a companion, and promptly cancelled her visit to World Horse Welfare. She thought she’d give him time in the field, and see how he got on. After all, he was probably too small for her to ride, being only 16hh to her 5’11″. But that wasn’t a problem if he was only to be a companion.
When he arrived at her home in March, he was, like her other horses, given Bowen therapy, and several problems were uncovered, including speculation on a gut issue. Justine resolved to try to ride him, given his disposition had become willing and calm – after all, he was only 8 and sorely wasted if he was sound. His diet was changed and his teeth were rasped. A new bridle was fitted and the saddle was questioned. Justine rode him bareback to understand if there was any pressure from saddle that he came with, or from any of the three new saddles she tried. But it didn’t answer any questions and he was still essentially unrideable.
She had used a Wow on a previous horse, and as a last-ditch effort in June she contacted Louise Howson of Shere Saddles in Surrey.
Louise fitted a demo saddle to Cosmos; Justine was amazed when the horse immediately was willing to walk around the arena without a rear or buck. She bought the Wow that Louise then made for him, and, careful to take it slowly, she progressed over the next 10-12 weeks from walking, through trot and eventually canter on both reins – to the landmark of his first competition. He was third.
Although a little spooky, he was then placed every time in three unaffiliated tests, so Justine took a deep breath and a few days ago (October 2017) entered him in his first affiliated Prelim.
Justine says “I’m euphoric! Cosmos had such a difficult start to his career in the UK, being shipped around and clearly very unhappy when ridden. Louise fitting him with a Wow saddle has been a certain key to his transformation. From a horse who I never thought I would ride, to a real top dressage prospect. Cosmos’ attitude has really helped in his transformation – he is quirky and affectionate and responds very well to kindness – he never ever wanted to get me off – he was uncomfortable and that was his way of telling me. Now, instead of being condemned as unrideable, he has a bright future. Looking out at this lovely young dressage horse with his equine pals Enzo and Patrick, in my own fields, is, on so many levels, a dream come true.”
To see the video of his transformation, visit Cosmos’ story
Her Wow saddle has SJ flaps and a Continental seat, so not the classic Endurance set-up, but when a saddle is this comfortable for you and the horse, who cares?
Jenny says ” I rode in it last Saturday for 50 km over different types of terrain and love it. Vinnie loves it too – we gained our bronze thistle award at this ride.”
Jane Littlejohn used to combine eventing with her career as a qualified tap dance teacher. She bought Urban Knight (‘Herbie’), a 16.2hh bay KWPN as a 3yo in 2011 specifically for dressage. His short back proved hard to fit; the best efforts of 3 fitters still left him unwilling to work and bucking much of the time. Jane says “I hit the deck a lot, and if I did stay on, it was only by hanging on to a neck strap.” Physios confirmed the problem was with the saddle, not his back.
Happily for Herbie, at a BD camp at Keysoe, Jane met Wow Fitter Alison Braithwaite. Like all the fitters, she has a wide selection of headplates, panels, seats and flaps. Having fitted Herbie with a correctly fitting tree, headplate and panels, she let Jane try a number of seats and flaps over the two days. They also experimented with the many girthing options to ensure the saddle sat still. The transformation was immediate. Herbie relaxed, his movement became markedly bigger – and Jane’s husband commented “You’re sitting in the right place for the first time!”
From this point, Jane and Herbie have been regular finalists at every level: their first notable success being a third place in the Petplan Novice in 2013. Since then they have won and been placed consistently as they moved up through the levels to Advanced Medium. Their most recent success was to be placed second in the Petplan Advanced Medium Freestyle at this year’s Winters finals. Jane plans to consolidate at this level over the next season, but has already ridden a PSG test, gaining over 65%.
She says “I was so relieved to find a saddle that could be fitted to Herbie so well, and which we can adjust easily as he changes shape. He is a totally reformed character – easy to deal with in every way. Far from the bucking bronco we used to own, he now gives pony rides to my 18 month old toddler – he is so sweet with him. My friends have been so impressed by Herbie’s story that three of them to my knowledge have bought Wows for their own horses.”
We were delighted to hear that three of our Wow Ambassadors had ridden their way through to the BD Winter Championships. On the Saturday night Gala Evening, both Lesley Peyton-Gilbert and Daisy Coakley had been invited to ride in the Inter 1 Freestyle. Before then, Daisy contested the Petplan Inter 1 Silver, and Izzy Chaplin the Petplan Advanced Medium Silver.
Between classes, we took a few moments in the spring sunshine to catch up with Izzy and Daisy, both U25 riders, and get their answers to 10 questions:
- Your first pony?
Izzy: Kizzy was a 12.2hh Welsh pony, and delighted in playing mounted games, always flat out. She taught me how to ride, and especially how to stay on. We only ever stopped when she felt like it.
Daisy: Crackerjack, an even smaller Welsh pony, fluffy and cheeky. At the age of 31 he is still teaching children to ride – and nipping parents!
A very young Daisy starting her riding career on Crackerjack.
- Your first dressage test?
Izzy: I attempted the introductory Pony Club test on Kizzy. She was owned by June Long, who also gave me my first dressage lessons. In spite of that excellent tuition, Kizzy did the whole thing with her head in the air and behaved as if it was one long mounted game. But later I took her to the Pony Club Nationals to do a music test, which was a great experience.
Daisy: At Pony Club camp I rode a Prix Caprilli test on a tricky coloured mare. Christa was a terror on this occasion, utterly unco-operative. I reminded myself Prix Caprilli was judged only on the rider, not the horse. So I concentrated on ‘heels down, thumbs on top, big smile for the judge’ – and we won. I learnt the importance of tactical riding, which has stood me in good stead.
- Why dressage?
Izzy: Dressage seems to have chosen me! As a Junior, I was lucky to get the ride on Becki Vinter’s lovely Lys de Monsieur, known as Harry. He was an FEI pony from Denmark, and took me to the Premier League and the Pony National squad. And as you go up the levels, the sport gets more and more interesting – and challenging! But I’ve always enjoyed some pole work and jumping with my dressage ponies and horses.
Izzy on ‘Harry’ at Somerford Premier League
Daisy: Eventing was my first love, and I soon realised that a good test gave me a very helpful start. I thoroughly enjoyed the training involved to create a harmonious, obedient test, and I then had the opportunity to work and progress with young dressage horses.
- When did you first meet your Winter Championship horse?
Izzy: I got to know Henry Boswell when he taught clinics for BD Southern, and I’d seen him riding Vincent II (Vinnie). My home is in Kent but when I went to university in Nottingham, it made sense to move my horse Dora to Henry’s yard near Warwick. He introduced me to Coral Ingham, Vinnie’s owner, and it was a dream come true when she and Henry, who had been training and competing Vinnie, offered me the ride.
David Kempsell of Wow Saddleschecking the saddle fits perfectly for both Vinnie and Izzy. january 2016
Daisy: I must have seen Affinity Bay (Finn) years ago as he came to the yard across the road from me as a 4yo. But he was already 17hh, it was intended he would event, and I was just 12. He then went to a northern-based rider as part of his career change, and our paths didn’t cross again until 3 years ago his owner asked me to ride him. We drove 4 hours, I had a sit on him, and brought him home that day, then bought him. A few months ago our partnership moved up another step when we switched to a Wow saddle. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iq5dKN408No
- What is your favourite thing about him?
Izzy: He is just like an overgrown pony! I love that, and that he always tries for me. For a stallion, he is impeccably behaved in all circumstances – I ride in a quadrille with him, with mares, and he doesn’t put a foot wrong.
Daisy: He has a quirky personality, which I’ve had to get to know well to keep him onside. He is just as expressive in his body language as he is in his work, and it makes our relationship very special.
- What does he find easiest?
Izzy: Definitely passage! Not that we need it yet, at Advanced Medium, but it’s Vinnie’s default mode, and he loves to throw it in to liven up any trot work.
Izzy and Vinnie competing Advanced Medium at the Petplan Winter Championships 2017
Daisy: Finn used to use flying changes the same way in his canter work – much preferable to all the strides being on the same boring lead. Now he’s doing tests with tempi and plenty of other changes, he’s become more accommodating when I don’t want them.
- What are your future competition plans?
Izzy: I’m looking forward to riding Premier League PSGs, and working on progression to Inter 1. And I also fully intend to enjoy my competitions – otherwise why would you do them?
Daisy: Now we’re getting more established at Inter 1, I’m aiming at Premier League Inter 1s, while working at home on Grand Prix movements.
Daisy was third on Finn in the Petplan Inter 1 Silver at the Winter Nationals
- When you are not riding this horse you….?
Izzy: I’m in my third year of a 4 year accountancy degree at Nottingham University. That, and travelling over an hour each way to ride Vinnie four times a week, accounts for most of my time. I play netball socially, and I love skiing when I get the chance.
Daisy: When I’m not riding this horse….I’m usually riding another one! I have another Inter 1 horse, Aramis, belonging to Judy Firmston-Williams, plus a couple of young horses. And I teach local Riding and Pony Clubs, and some private clients. My relaxation is running – we have some lovely countryside around us, with challenging hills – and a real treat is to visit London art galleries, but it doesn’t happen very often.
- What is your horse’s favourite treat?
Izzy: Carrots! He’s always searching for them, I think he views humans as walking carrots. He knows he can’t have them before a test – all that orange slobber! – but he gets very grumpy if they are not immediately available afterwards.
Daisy: Extra strong mints for sure. Finn has rubber lips like an equine Mick Jagger and loves hoovering up as many mints as he can.
- And your favourite treat?
Izzy: Chocolate – Maltesers are my favourite
Daisy: Chocolate too, though I’ll go for the Dairy Milk.
A team effort
A young rider and experienced horse were brought together by a Pony Club instructor, with the idea that with 6 months’ work they might be part of an Inter-branch dressage team. Further aided by Wow saddle fitters (one had a pair of second hand dressage flaps and the local fitter checked the saddle over for the new rider) and trainer Louise Speight, the pair progressed from their first introduction to Dengie Open finalists in three months.
Kathy Williams competes affiliated showjumping, and is an active Pony Club member, working towards her A test. She currently has to juggle her riding alongside working hard for A levels as she plans to study politics at University.
Majestic Light (‘Flossie’) was retired from eventing a couple of years ago, and had been enjoying the life of a lady of leisure: hacking plus a few sponsored rides. but like many ladies, she loves everything about a party, from the primping to being the centre of attention at an event. So the chance to do Pony Club dressage was perfect!
The first meeting
At New Year, Kathy met Flossie for the first time. A very different ride from her own showjumper, Flossie is well schooled and responsive, but isn’t always off the leg. Having never ridden a horse at this dresssage level before, Kathy was tentative at first, but the two soon struck up a good working relationship. https://youtu.be/gB4lJ1ga_NE The Wow deep seat saddle here has VSD flaps and a Soft Straight girth. The horse is comfortable, but with her forward girth groove, the saddle is sitting slightly forward in spite of a point strap for the front girth billet.With her school commitments, Kathy could only ride once a week, but within half a dozen rides it was deemed that some competition practice would be useful before Kathy got down to serious revision. s
The first competitions
The Dengie Winter league qualifiers were still running, so off they went to their first competition, an Intermediate Dressage qualifier. Flossie proved to be an absolute saint at competitions, oblivious to what anyone else was doing in the warm-up, or flapping flags and lanyards at some very windy winter outdoor venues. Kathy’s riding, secure now in the same deep seat Wow but with moveable block dressage flaps and, on a (generally!) predictable horse, went from strength to strength. She qualified for the Intermediate Regionals first time out, and the Open one on her second outing.
Having got her mock A levels out of the way, Kathy managed to fit in one or two extra rides on Flossie to prepare for the Regionals. Wow fitter Sarah Richards reviewed the saddle fit. She changed the back girth billet attachment to a balance strap, and swapped the Soft Straight girth for a Soft H girth. The saddle now sits beautifully still in the middle of the horse, without any need for excessive girthing. https://youtu.be/J3h4wWP3cAQ Kathy rode a lovely test in the Intermediate to get 70%, and came third in the Open. The winner being unable to attend the Finals, Kathy and Flossie qualified as one of the two to go forward.
The finals were just two weeks later, and used the Championship test. Not only had Kathy never ridden this test before, with its shoulder-in and counter canter loops, she had never competed in a 20m x 60m arena, so new markers to learn too. Up against the best Pony Club dressage riders from across the UK, Kathy and Flossie, possibly the least experienced partnership, held their own, did a lovely, flowing, error-free test and were a credit to themselves and to everyone who had helped them on their way. https://youtu.be/w3cGYfQQQJo
With a long pause now to concentrate on and complete her A levels, Kathy is looking forward to being re-united with Flossie and her Wow for the Pony Club area competitions in the summer.