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Nose to the Ground Issue 009: Synthetic Saddles and Blue Bicycles
May 02, 2005

Happy First of May!

We're having some warm days and some colder days but spring is definitely here. Green grass is appearing (the horses appreciate that) and the swallows have been fighting over the bird houses.

Riding season is upon us.

The Nose to the Ground monthly articles admittedly tend to go all over the map, from Rope Halters to Ralph Waldo Emerson, and from Saddle Fit to Eadweard Muybridge/Leland Stanford. Call it an "eclectic" selection.

Still, the focus remains on the horse. This month I offer two articles - a "bonus issue" if you will, of Nose to the Ground. The first article discusses vacations on horseback - some ideas to get the creative juices flowing in case you were thinking of where to go or what to do.

The second article discusses an approach to saddle fitting measurements I tried several weeks back.

Great Links

When you visit our Great Links pages you'll see that we have something to say about each and every link, so you'll know before you click where you're headed. We recommend you visit some of these sites even though we're never anxious to see you leave ours.

  • We're always delighted to locate another fine painter of horses and provide yet another resource to you for fine horse art. In April we added Canadian artist Debbie Lund to our small but growing list of contemporary artists. Debbie offers a beautiful selection of pet portraits, equestrian art, horse gifts, horse art, western art and western gifts and animal lover gifts for horse lovers everywhere.

  • We also have added a link to the Sierra Oaks Ranch in East Texas. They breed and sell horses and have a number of great links of there own to other ranches doing the same. A good resource if you're in the market for a horse, especailly if you're from that area.

    Horse Art

    I've been wanting to write an article on the Great Frieze in the Parthenon in Athens but so far other tasks have had greater priority. From the perspective of equine art in history the Great Frieze of the Parthenon should be a "must see" place. Having viewed plates of sections of the Frieze and given an understanding of what is being portrayed, it would be a thrill to view this great work of art in person.

    Well guess what. While the frieze runs along the inner wall of the Parthenon - making it a very long work of art - but, it averages only about 18 inches in height and is 30 feet above the floor. So without binoculars you won't see much and could be in for a disappointment.

    Maybe the tour guides supply ladders.

    Your Own Biz

    While this page has little to do with horses you'll find it invaluable if (a)you're interested in building a home-based small business of your own or (b) you're contemplating putting your current small business on the Internet.

    Without going into a great amount of detail let me just say this. In one year, since starting out, Your-Guide-to... has joined the elite ranks of the top one-half of one percent of all web sites in terms of traffic! The majority of small business owners using Site Build It! as their business building tool rank in the top 3%. This is powerful stuff. It still takes much effort on your part to build a business but if you have the passion and desire to succeed, SBI! is the tool that will take you there.

    ARTICLE I - Horse Vacations The mention of a horse vacation brings to mind day trips on horseback along a bridle trail, the seashore, in the wilderness, or, in the case of our artist friend Leena Pekkalainen - across the Egyptian desert. If you're thinking about a horse vacation lines as a gift idea for someone special (maybe including yourself!) it might be worthwhile to think "outside the box" a bit and see if you can come up with one of those once in a lifetime vacations.

    You can do a search for horse vacations and find one that is particularly appealing, or - approach it from the other direction. First settle on where you'd like to visit and what you'd like to see and then search for the possibilities of horseback riding, trail riding, camping etc., in that area.

    A Few Ideas -

    • A Favorite Place Already Visited -

      One of our favorite destinations is the Bob Marshall Wilderness in north central Montana, going in roughly 60 miles to the "Chinese Wall". When we first saw some photos of the Wall (very dramatic) it became a "must visit" destination.

    • Places Visited, but not yet on horseback -

      • Some years back we travelled through lovely northern Virginia, from Alexandria down to Jefferson's Monticello. We drove by towns and battlefields familiar to any Civil War buff. Only later it occurred to me what an adventure it would be to travel parts of that route on horseback.

      • A totally different area, again seen from behind the steering wheel, is in the Black Hills of South Dakota - Deadwood, Rapid City, Mt. Rushmore and surroundings. Some tremendous trips on horseback are to be had in that beautiful region.

      You can probably recall a favorite place you've visited on a road trip and would like to swap the car for a horse and try it again. would like to visit or have visited before, check out the horse situation. It might make for an even more wonderful experience.

    • Looking For Some Action?

      • Got to checking out possibilities for cattle drives. No problem there. A search of the Internet, e.g., Google, will turn up lots of possibilities.

      • Then while looking through the latest Western Horseman an article featuring the town of Three Forks caught my attention. Three Forks is located on I-90 in south-central Montana and is so named as it's a couple of miles from the confluence of the Jefferson, Gallatin, and Madison rivers - the Headwaters of the Missouri. The lead photgraph shows the Sacajawea Hotel ( a neat place, we've stayed there on several occasions) and a bunch of horses. The article was about a Horse Drive in which approximately 500 horses were driven from one location to another (including over I-90 - would like to have witnessed that!).

        As a result I've done some searching to see what's available in the way of horse drives. If you check with Google Search, for example, you'll find there are a number of drives offered in various locations at various times of the year.

        I suspect a horse drive might be a bit more interesting than a cattle drive. It would certainly be a faster pace. Horses generally prefer to trot (or canter) rather than walk. In fact the term "horse drive" is a misnomer. Trying to drive horses (we're not talking about horse and buggy driving here) is a bit like trying to herd cats. Push them and they'll go every which way. You have to hold horses back rather than trying to make them move forward. Sounds like work - and fun. Might make for an interesting horse vacation.

    • Combine Horseback Riding With Something Else

      • A bit east of here, in the Great Bear Wilderness adjoining Glacier Nation Park to the South, is an area called Spotted Bear. With an outfitter you can travel several days up the Spotted Bear River or the South Fork of the Flathead River, deep into the wilderness and then take a float trip and fly fish all the way back (or come back on horseback if you prefer).

      • Further East - quite a bit further east but still in Montana is Miles City, site of the Annual Bucking Horse Sale every May. Not too late to join in the fun. You can find out all about it at This would be a horse vacation with a definite twist and Miles City still has a definite cow town flavor to it - especially during the days of the Sale.

      Article II - Measuring For Saddle Fit - Got an Electrician in the Family?

      In our pages on saddles, several options for measuring saddle fit are offerred. We favor using a flexible wire to get a cross-section of the horse's shape at the withers and at one or two other locations along the horse's back where the saddle rests.

      Because of it's flexibility, copper is ideal. For that reason we don't recommend the coat hanger approach though it and other approaches will work fine if you're careful in what you're doing.

      Two things need to happen. You need to get the wire to follow the shape of the horse and then retain that shape until you're able to trace it onto paper.

      Copper wire is easier to work with than steel (not flexible enough) or aluminum ( too flexible). 14 gage or larger (e.g. 12 gage or 10 gage) works just fine. Even better is wire that is insulated. The insulation adds a touch of stiffness which makes the work a little easier and holds the shape better.

      Better yet is Romex.

      Having recently started a home wiring project I discovered that Romex cable (2 wires plus a ground wire) works very well. The three wires in the cable give just the right amount of stiffness to hold the shape for tracing yet remain flexible enough to make a measurement easy to obtain.

      I find a length of about 24" works best. You might even want a few more inches for larger horses but 24" generally covers the critical areas. 12 gage Romex ( like you would use on a 20 amp circuit ) works a bit better than the lighter 14 gage.

      As far as gage is concerned the horses don't seem to care much. One of our horses was a bit nervous with the 14 gage as the sheath is white, as opposed to yellow for the 12 gage. Sometimes horses are spooked by white objects. Maybe I just surprised her waving that strange piece of cable around.

      If you have a wiring project or have a friend who is an electrician, you might get a length of Romex and try some measurements.

      Have a great month of May and be seeing you again in June.

      Bill Savage

      Goose Bay Ranch

      Rollins, Montana


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