My Pegasus Butterfly Saddle

First of all, my condolences to Ronnie, who sold me my Pegasus Butterfly saddle, his mother-in-law died and he was at her funeral the day I first used my new saddle.  I chose not to interrupt him during that difficult day, so my challenges with my new saddle are not his fault, or the fault of the saddle.  At least he went ahead and sent me the saddle when he said he would, so I got to ride in it this week.  He also told me last week that to “break in” the hinges of the saddle I needed to ride for an hour at a walk on loose reins so I could do that properly.

I tried my saddle on Cider first.  Now Cider has a clear case of mutton withers, and when she gains weight her withers tend to disappear completely.  Shannon had put a grazing muzzle on Cider, but Cider figured out how to get that darn, pesky muzzle off and Cider gained weight, thus changing the shape of the front of her back.  Since Cider’s back is so wide and flattish on the top I decided to use the Pegasus pad without any of the shims.  Shannon agreed, and when Cider was finally saddled and girthed my girth was a little bit too long but Shannon got it tight enough to ride, or so we thought.  We decided that an hour ride, at the walk and on loose reins was doable, so I set off to limber up the hinges of my new saddle.

Now Cider is not an ideal horse to ride off contact, Cider LOVES contact, she insists on contact, and she does this even in a bitless bridle.  Cider loves contact so much that she insists that BEGINNERS keep contact with her mouth (bit) or nose (bitless).  In fact Cider insists on contact enough so that when she refuses to keep contact with my hands when she has a bit in her mouth I know that it is time for me to ride bitless, that the heat of the summer has messed up the conductivity of my nerves enough that I cannot keep my hands steady enough not to irritate the horses’ mouths.  Shannon once told me she thinks that Cider wants to keep contact because she, Cider, wants to know what her rider is doing every second of the ride, and that Cider just feels more secure with constant contact.

But over the years Cider has learned the language of my lower legs, upper thigh and my seat so I can satisfactorily control her without keeping contact with the bit, though it takes effort on my part.  We have been practicing riding off contact most every ride for minutes at a time so I was not terribly worried about keeping control.  We started off as usual, riding around the ring at the fence, and I had no problems until Cider decided she would try and dive towards Shannon and the center of the ring.  Then I had to use my lower legs, seat, and upper thighs to keep her at the rail, and, as usual Cider relaxed enough so her girth was loose, and the saddle started shifting under me to the left.  Shannon tightened the girth for me, but the girth was just long enough so Shannon could not tighten it up enough to keep the saddle still. 

Then Cider got into her “pretzel” mode, moving her spine and working her back muscles to move me out of an effective position on her back.  That was when I had to add well timed and brief hand aids to keep Cider at the rail.  All this time Cider was asking me to let her pick up contact, and when I refused she became a little irate and she “pretzeled” even more.  Shannon had to correct me a lot to keep me centered on Cider’s back, and when I succeeded Cider gave me a WONDERFUL free striding walk when I asked her to extend her stride, instead of her usual cramped, rapid walk.

Through all our problems, I got my hour ride in.  I like this saddle, when I got it in the right place on Cider’s back I was in the right place in the saddle.  For once I was not riding correctly in spite of the saddle, my position was correct because my new saddle did not put me into a bad position.  It was wonderful not to have to work around the pommel arch, I could get up into two-point and back down into the saddle smoothly, without any extra effort or movement.

On Monday I called Ronnie, and in spite of him being in a difficult time he took the time to explain to me how to use the shims in the Pegasus pad so my next ride would be much better.  The shims go into pockets on the underside of the pad, and if I understood Ronnie well enough, the goal is to put enough shims in the pockets so that the top of the pockets are at an even altitude above the horse’s back muscles.  The idea is that I want to get a reasonably level plane (in relation to the horse’s back muscles, not the dips in the vertebrae,) so that the saddle stays even on the horse’s back.  If I don’t do this the saddle will “torque”, and one of the results will be making the girth even looser than it already is.  When Shannon and I discussed my ride we came up with:  using a shorter girth, using a string girth, and maybe using a “non-slip” saddle pad.  Ronnie agreed with using a shorter string girth, but he said that a non-slip pad would irritate the horses’ back if the pad was not shimmed correctly.  He said that if we shimmed the pad correctly and used the shorter string girth that we would probably not have to use anything else to correct my problem, and if that was not enough to add a 5-point breastplate and to add an additional strap at each of the top rings of the breastplate to use with the D-rings on the front of the Pegasus pad, thus anchoring the pad as well as the saddle.

After I described Bingo’s back Ronnie gave me suggestions on how to shim the pad so it would work with Bingo’s back.  I put the shims in before I went out to Debbie’s stable so I could start my ride before it got too hot and muggy.  Debbie was very interested in my Pegasus Butterfly saddle since at the pommel area it looks very different from a normal jumping saddle.  We tacked Bingo up after I added a shim to the 2nd pocket to make the top of the pad more level, and we walked to the riding ring.

Bingo was still misbehaving for his other riders during lessons the previous week, but he was not showing the classic head nodding of a lame horse.  As she was using her new HandsOn grooming gloves, she noticed that one muscle of Bingo’s right haunch felt a lot harder than the same muscle on his left haunch.  Since my BOT hind exercise boots had arrived, she put them on his hind legs so we could see if they helped his right hind wind puff.  Warning me to take it easier during our warm-up, she finished grooming and tacking up Bingo and we went out to the ring. 

Instead of our usual weaving around the jumps doing lots of turns I kept Bingo on the rail while he got used to my new saddle.  He strode forth quite well, and I had to use less leg to keep him moving though I could feel that his hind end was not operating as well as normal.  When he trotted Debbie said it looked like he was trying to gait instead of doing a true trot, and from her description it sounded like Bingo was doing a fox trot.  Bingo’s inversion came back, so I told him to walk since he felt like he was a lot more comfortable at the walk.  He was marginally more reluctant to turn, but he was not any worse than when I started riding him months ago.  The saddle stayed mostly centered on his back and I felt secure in the saddle.  I did one turn on the hindquarters, and Bingo did that just like he did it every previous ride.  I even backed him up two strides without any problems though he did invert a little bit.  I got off after 20 minutes since I wanted Debbie to try out my new saddle and give me her opinion.  Debbie found my saddle to be very comfortable and easy to ride in, and she had no problems of the saddle shifting to the side even though we had not tightened the girth further.

When we got back to the stable and Debbie took off the BOT hind exercise boots, we found that Bingo’s right hind wind puff was a lot smaller!  Bingo really enjoyed it when I used my HandsOn grooming gloves on his back after we took the saddle off, so it seems that the saddle did not irritate his back.  Debbie put liniment on his hard muscle in his right haunch, and added MSM to his feed schedule, so hopefully Bingo will improve.  Debbie does not know if Bingo hit his haunch against something or if another horse had kicked him there while playing, but at least she has a good idea of why Bingo was not behaving with his other riders last week.

When I saw Mia on Wednesday I looked at her back, and between the front of her withers up to the highest part of her croup her back looks a lot like Bingo’s back does.  This is in spite of Mia having a flattish croup as compared to Bingo’s goose rump.  So I did not change the shims in my Pegasus pad for Mia for my ride on Friday.  Since I had recently changed her to a shorter girth I had no problems with the girth being too long, and my new saddle remained nicely centered on her back.  Since it has been quite dry and dusty at Debbie’s farm Mia’s cough was back, but she only had “surface” coughs, not the deep wracking coughs she had before Debbie put her on cough medicine.  Mia strode forth confidently at the walk, and her trot was simply transformed, full of impulse, free striding,  and I had to ask her to slow down a little rather than having to use leg, leg, leg to keep her going at a dispirited shuffle.  I was quite pleased with our ride in spite of Mia’s cough.  I had no trouble riding her the full thirty minutes since I did not have to waste my energy fighting to keep a good position in spite of the saddle. 

I like my new saddle.  When I get the shims right I think this saddle will help me ride better.  When I went up into two-point my pubic bone was not running into the pommel arch since this saddle does not have a pommel arch.  I had no problems keeping my front-to-back balance.  Tomorrow I will let Shannon shim the saddle pad for Cider since Shannon is much better than I am at visualizing in three dimensions.  As for Bingo and Mia I will be taking a shim or two out of the front pocket since the muscles on the sides of their withers are well developed.  I have one string girth, fortunately it is probably the right size for Cider and I will be using it tomorrow.  I ordered four different sized string girths at my “local” Dover saddlery to use at Debbie’s stable; hopefully they will get here before I ride Bingo next week.

If you decide to get a Pegasus Butterfly saddle, get the pad and shims also if any of the horses you ride have a “non-normal” back.  By changing the shims in the Pegasus pad I can achieve what restuffing a saddle does when the horses’ back muscles change.  Since the hinged front of the saddle accommodates itself automatically to the width of the horse’s shoulders and withers I hopefully will never have to change saddles again to fit that part of the horses’ backs.  I think I may have finally found the saddle I dreamed of for the past 20 years, one that I can use on the vast majority of horses.  All I have to do is learn how to shim the pad up properly, and I will be good to go!

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran    











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