Monday, March 30, 2015

Clever with Leather Figure 8 Belt

Remember how Ralphie in a Christmas Story could make the words “I want an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle!” roll right off the tongue without even blinking when asked what he wanted for Christmas? Well I had that moment October of 2014. In my case it was a wedding anniversary that united me with my beautiful Clever with Leather belt.

I had been on for months obsessing over their beautiful designs and had told myself that I would make sure there was no question how much I wanted one if anyone asked. It was a bit tough to justify spending more than the price of a lesson on a belt but I was so drawn to them that I put it on my wish list. Let me show you why.

Surcingle Belt
Double Cinch

Martingale Belt

Snaffle Bit Belt
They're all such lovely pieces and they have the horsey charm that's so familiar to us. The hardware, stitching, padding, elastic, and customizable colors make for a classically beautiful accessory. These belts are the type of piece you wear out in public and people will tap you on the shoulder and ask where you ride. Yes, true story, happened to me at Starbucks.

The belt I coveted was the Figure 8. I just thought the crossed straps, center disk with the CL logo, the bright brass buckles, and the contrast padding were so pretty. I chose the medium brown with hunter green padding. Let me just say that I've never had a belt this soft, every single stitch is perfectly spaced, the dye is vibrant, evenly distributed, and has never come off on my clothes.  This is top quality bridle leather. What else would you expect to get from a master saddler that trained in England and Scotland and now makes these belts in Versailles, Kentucky? I love supporting items that are made in the USA from mom and pop operations and I really love telling everyone about them.
My Custom Figure 8 belt
Taking it for a spin at a horse trial.
Phoenix and I being matchy matchy with our figure 8s.

If you're going to be at Rolex this year keep an eye out for their booth where you can see these awesome belts for yourself. They also make custom dog collars with matching leashes and those super cute padded leather name plate bracelets.

Things are finally starting to warm up around here so check back on Monday and I'll give you my review of the Riding Sport Cool Blast shirt by Dover Saddlery. Until next week, happy riding!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Kensington Roustabout All Purpose Saddle Bag

Hi again friends!
As you know from my earlier posts, I got a pretty awesome saddle a few weeks ago and while it came with a fleece lined cover I wanted something that would give it a bit of extra protection on trips in the back of my car to and from the barn. I also have an affinity for green and was gifted with a helmet boot bag combo and matching halter made by Kensington a little over five years ago. They both held up so well that I started to add to the collection. 
Kensington Boot Carry All
Kensington Roustabout Halter
Next came the grooming tote.  You've seen these around I'm sure. Super tough with a slightly open weave that allows your sponges and rags to dry without the bag getting all gross and moldy. If you do get hoof oil, fly spray, or other assorted horsey schmutz on it, just hose it off and you're all set. 

Kensington Grooming Tote

I couldn't stop there because it is my favorite shade of green. I'm also a mad for plaid dork and it didn't hurt that the quality of these items made them last much longer than I possibly could have expected. The garment bag and duffle bag hit my Dover Saddlery Christmas wish list and when I opened them up I was rediculously excited because I was so close to having all matching gear.  I'm not typically a matchy matchy type person but for some reason these pieces were like Pokemon to me and I had to catch them all.
Roustabout Large Gear Bag
Kensington Roustabout Garment Bag
The garment bag is really fantastic.  It has a smooth, silky, quilted lining with a very robust, heavy duty zipper.  The gear bag has tons of zipper compartments and a strong, padded, highly adjustable shoulder strap.  What really got my attention was how tough the outer materials were.  This fabric is a bit more substantial than your typical nylon and i'm happy to say I've never had it snag or run. The zippers have plenty of clearance from the seams and I've never had one get stuck either. These are the types of details I look for that instantly reflect a higher quality product.

Enter, this awesome, cavernous, will hold everything saddle bag that I just received from my husband for my birthday. (He did really good!)

All Purpose Saddle Bag

The Kensington Roustabout All Purpose Saddle Bag actually has room for two all purpose saddles. I was also able to get a fitted hunter pad in there too (photo below). I've seen a few comments from product reviews that liken this saddle carrier to a sleeping bag and I find that to be pretty accurate. The same padding and silky lining used in the garment bag will protect against scratches on your saddle. There's a large zipper flap on top of the bag that is great for square saddle pads and half pads.  The plaid zipper compartments on the bottom of each flap also have the woven mesh and have turned out to be great for packing up sweaty gloves, hair nets, or other items that could benefit from airing out after a day's ride. This bag features a large adjustable shoulder strap with padding that clips on to rings at the pommel and cantle.  There's also a hefty nylon grab strap that clips the two flaps together using the rings under the the flap pockets. The outer shell is 600 Denier and waterproof so everything inside will stay protected from the elements and can withstand a dash from the car to the barn in the rain.

Two saddles, one 17" flat and one 17.5 with knee rolls & blocks.
Bag with both saddles zipped up. It still has plenty of room to expand in the top compartment.

Side view of full bag.

 The only negative I can find with this saddle bag is that it can hold much more than I can lift so I'll need to be a bit mindful when packing up my tack. I'm very glad that Kensington has kept this particular color plaid in production for as long as they have and I'm hoping to pick up the final piece I need, the bridle bag, before summer is over.  If green plaid isn't your thing take a look at all of the great color options Kensington offers.
Mor Kensington color options
Kensington also makes the SmartBlue and SmartPink items for SmartPak so if you're considering one of those bags you'll be getting the same great quality I mentioned above.

SmartPink saddle bag from SmartPak

Next week I'll be reviewing a total splurge item, my custom Clever with Leather Figure 8 belt. If you're looking for a great gift I can't recommend their items highly enough, but more about that next week. Until then, happy riding!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Kerrits Tech Turnout Jacket

Today it got up to 55 degrees in New Jersey. The snow has turned into sticky, goopy mud, and the winds are strong enough to make your car a little wiggly on the freeway.  We are now in that transition from winter to summer and it's time to put away the parkas.  Finally! This week I'm going to show you a jacket that's on clearance all over the place and is perfect for warmer, rainy and windy days.

The Kerrits Tech Turnout Jacket is a light weight, waterproof and windproof outer layer that is loaded with brilliant details and flirty, girly styling.  I was lucky enough to unwrap this jacket at Christmas and have been getting quite a bit of wear out of it the past few weeks. In fact, this was my jacket of choice to run around New York City in yesterday.  I went from Central Park to Time Square and anyone who spends time in NYC knows that those tall buildings block the wind one minute and then concentrate it your direction when you turn the corner. The sealed seams and magnetic placket over the full length zipper did a great job of keeping the wind out without being a heavy, cumbersome coat.

The lining of this jacket is a soft polyester ventilated mesh and the outer is a polyester and rayon blend that has been waterproofed called Hydrotek. For being a treated fabric, the jacket is quite soft for its sturdy construction. The cut of this jacket is very figure flattering offering black piped princess seams, a gently tapered waist, and a rear double vent that is adjustable by two zippers to cover the cantle of your saddle in the rain. There are also two large zipper front pockets and a hidden breast pocket accessible by a smaller zipper that's large enough for your smart phone.  The hood of this jacket is large enough to cover your helmet or can be zipped into the collar when not in use.  The cuffs on this jacket feature adjustable velcro closures to further keep out the wind and rain. So far my jacket has been surprisingly stain resistant but if I do manage to get it dirty it's fully machine washable and can be tumbled dry on low.

This coat comes in quite a few colors and has some super cute plaids. I have the Twilight plaid which is a nice royal blue, charcoal and white combination.  This coat also comes in Otter plaid, a solid Shale grey, and a solid bright purple called Berry.

Since this jacket is on clearance you should be able to pick it up for less than $150.00 from Kerrits directly, Horseloverz, State Line Tack, and Mary's Tack

Next week I'll be talking about my Kensington Roustabout Saddle bag that has been entrusted to protect my saddle en route from home, to the barn, and back again. Until next week, happy riding!

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Ups and Downs of Saddle Shopping

This was a very exciting week for me as my saddle hunt finally came to an end.  You may have noticed I didn't mention what was coming next when I wrapped my tech fabric show coat series and the reason was I didn't know if this story would be ready to tell yet. Thankfully it is and I can't wait to share with you my saddle shopping journey.

There's a few things you should know up front, I don't own or lease a horse, I'm only riding once a week, and I haven't purchased a saddle since 1996. My riding experience is all over the place too. I grew up in the desert southwest and did everything from hunter / jumpers to barrels, western pleasure, and multi day trail rides in the mountains. I'm the absolute definition of a re-rider. I stopped during college, picked it back up again after settling down, and am now working on the next part of the path to horse ownership.

When going through the re-rider stages at lesson barns you find that you do your best to fit yourself to the saddle that fits the school horse.  Rightfully so, as that horse wears the saddle multiple times a day and you're only in it for 30 mins to an hour. When I learned to ride you basically had 2 options for a jump saddle, the most common and trendy saddles were the plain flap styles like the Crosby Prix Des Nations or the Colligate Graduate. There were also the big knee rolls with suede padded flaps like the Stubben Siegfried that I recall the adults enjoyed riding in.
Collegiate Graduate
Crosby Prix Des Nations
Stubben Siegfried

Me at a show way back when with my plain flap saddle.
When I started taking lessons with the eventers I noticed all of the beautiful monoflaps and dressage saddles they were using and realized I'd missed quite a bit in the evolution of saddlery. I also began to notice that in some of the school saddles my legs shot way out in front of me, in others the pommel was quite painful at the sitting trot or canter, and then some of the others were just too big. During the spring of 2014 I'd started asking if I could bring my old plain flap out and that worked for a bit but it just wasn't enough saddle for me to be comfortable and confident over fences when the heights started going over two feet. There was no way I would entertain my first cross country schooling in that flat as a pancake postage stamp.  Luckily, the lesson program picked up an older HDR Advantage that was quite comfortable for me and I really enjoyed using it for lessons.  I wasn't the only one that liked it though so lucky me if nobody else already claimed it for their lesson. In the late summer of 2014 I started asking my trainer about a saddle just for me and got the green light to start looking.

The first thing I noticed was my $1,000 budget was a reasonable starting point for a used saddle. I could pick up a used Stubben, Pessoa, Toulouse, Bates or HDR in that range no problem.  I thought I was in a great spot but then I realized I could buy any used saddle off eBay or from a tack shop but I wouldn't actually know how it fit me until I rode in it. If it didn't work out I was on the hook for shipping both ways to a tack shop or in the case of eBay have to re-list the saddle, hope I'd get all of my money back, and try again.  Shipping a saddle runs about $50 each way so each trial would cost me $100 and chip further away at my budget. This was about that time where I noticed that while I'm only 5'3" tall I have a 19" femur so I was going to need a saddle with a forward flap. There was also no guarantee that I'd receive the saddle as described and my suspicions were only fueled by the bad experiences on the Facebook tack group feedback pages. That's another thing I should have told you, I do way too much online research especially when making large purchases.

I decided that there were just too many variables to consider so I drove down to Dover Saddlery and spent two hours sitting in everything in the store. I learned that the leather on Ovation saddles is super nice for the price, that the cair panels on the Bates saddles make a hollow "thunk" sound when you tap them, and that new saddles in my price range would be pretty tough to break in on a once a week lesson schedule. I also saw that doubled and calf covered leathers were quite popular options and so many saddles had adjustable gullets. Everything had a padded flap, with all kinds of velcro blocks and knee rolls.  There was no pigskin or plain flaps anywhere in sight so there was quite a bit to take in.  I gave a pretty serious pause when I sat in Dover's house brand of saddles because of how soft and comfortable they were.  You actually get quite a bit of saddle for what they're charging so with that, I picked up a few little things and headed home to do more reading.
Ovation San Diego
Bates Elevation
Taking the trip down to Dover was a real eyeopener. If I could stash away a few hundred dollars more I could walk out with a brand new saddle, a free bridle if I brought along the sale catalog, and have the confidence in a no penalty return if it didn't work out. And hey, with my tax return coming in February it gave me plenty of time to watch sales and read reviews.  

The saddle in particular that I had my eye on was the Circuit Premier Victory RTF. It had substantial velcro blocks, a medium deep seat, narrow twist, and a hinge in the tree that would allow me to make minor adjustments for the school horses. I must have called Dover a zillion times asking about the lifetime warranty, how does the RTF work, what's the best way to care for the leather, etc. and they were nothing but gracious and helpful. 

Now, it's the dead of winter, probably just a few weeks before Christmas and I end up taking a lesson on a boarder's horse in the most comfortable saddle I've ever sat in. I still can't quite describe why it was so great but my legs fell exactly where they needed to and everything just seemed so easy.  When I took a closer look I saw that it was a Devoucoux Oldara. I filed that information in to the "it sure would be nice but there's no way I can afford one of those.  Maybe one of these days." section of my mind where the lottery dreams live and moved forward with my plans to purchase the Dover saddle. 

My tax return came in early February and a week later I walked out of the Branchburg Dover with my brand new saddle and was on cloud nine. I also got the free bridle, and of course had to have a new saddle pad to go with it.  Not to mention new tack sponges and pony treats to round out the trip.
My Dover Haul
I swear I must have bounced with excitement the entire hour drive to the barn the next day.  I took 45 minutes to tack up trying to get everything just right and of course showing everyone who asked. But then when I started my ride a few things came to light very quickly. First was the slight front to back rocking. The tree is more curvy than flat and that made for a not quite perfect fit even with a bit of adjustment. The next issue was the flap rotation.  Riding on the flat with a dressage length stirrup had my knee very close to going over the edge and when I shortened up one hole for jumping I was completely over it. Talk about crushed! I had read every single review, saved the sale catalogs, did countless comparisons and yet, it all came down to angles and fit. I sadly packed up and headed home and tried to come up with a plan B. Take another look at the Ovations? Keep an eye out for an exact copy of the HDR that I've lessoned in? I sadly took one more drive down to Branchburg to return the saddle.  There was absolutely no problems returning it for credit and Dover was absolutely wonderful to work with. 

My trainer signed on with Devoucoux days before I bought my saddle and I mentioned how much I loved the Oldara and if one came up please let me know but my budget is firm.  (Because who gets one of those in my price range right?) 

Well, I did. Apparently they had a used one and worked with my trainer to get it pretty close to my budget. It's got a small cosmetic flaw and I had to break out my credit card, but it is a totally sound and lovely piece of equipment. I took a day off work, headed up to the barn, tried it out and haven't let it out of my sight since.  I ended up doubling my original budget to get it but at the end of the day I have something that fits me wonderfully and is practically the opposite of what I thought I wanted.  It's a pretty flat seat with small fixed blocks and a wider twist than the Circuit.  The seat is also a touch wider than what I was riding in before and the balance is just right for me.  I'm truly grateful to my trainer for working out a deal for me and am so excited that my saddle search is over. I hope to keep this saddle for many years to come and if not I know it will carry a reasonable resale value.

My Devoucoux Oldara

So now, I've got the saddle, a bridle, tons of pads and oodles of assorted equipment.  I guess all I need now is the horse. One step at a time, right?

For next week we'll take a look at the Kerrits Tech Turnout Jacket which is on clearance at many of the online shops and is an awesome spring / summer weight rain coat. Until next week, happy riding!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Steal of a Deal - Technical Fabric Show Coats - Part 3 - Dressage

#3 - Dressage

When dressing for the sandbox it all comes down to the military look.  It's not just a look, it's the root of the sport. Dressage Queens get a bad rap for their affinity to be polished, precise, and able to perform under pressure but they're emulating the cavalry's dedication to the horse. With all of that history, you bet you'll want to get it right!

The Romfh Feather-Lite coat
For the lower levels the coats we already talked about are acceptable in the dressage ring but I wanted to feature a traditionally styled coat. If Romfh isn’t on your radar when you’re shopping for riding apparel you need to add them to your list. I love how playful, colorful, and imaginative their shirts and breeches are but when it comes to affordable show attire they nail it. Their Feather-Lite dressage coat is a micropoly cotton blend that’s soft, stretchy and really light weight. This coat has a mesh lining that contributes to its fantastic breathability while following all of the style rules. You have the four metal button front, long length, single rear vent with accent buttons and a lovely black color with a slight sheen to the fabric.  The seams on this coat taper very nicely at the waist to give riders a flattering, feminine silhouette.  You can usually grab this one for $170.00 and I recommend purchasing it from Riding Warehouse because they offer you an entire year to return it.

This next coat is a bit more pricy but is so amazingly innovative and unique that no matter the price it's still a steal.  This is the FITS Zephyr Show Coat and it typically runs for about $300.00. This coat is all mesh and when you put it on, you'd have no idea.  I truly wish I had video of my reaction when I tried this coat on at my local Dover store.  I was able to see right through portions of the coat on the rack and actually scoffed at it with a "WTF, who would buy this? It's practically made of fish net." attitude but I put it on anyway. It was so light, it was completely solid black except for the piping, and it felt like I wasn't wearing another layer.  It floated, it breathed, it flexed and was just absolutely amazing. Dear FITS, I was a jerk and got it wrong, this is an absolutely amazing piece of apparel.  I also recommend picking this one up from Riding Warehouse because of their amazing return policy.
FITS Zephyr Show Coat

Zephyr coat lit from the inside to show mesh panels
To truly appreciate this show coat, watch the video that FITS created explaining the material and construction. 

Until next week, happy riding!