Keeping the Faith
A minister, who helps troubled kids, seeks comfort on the trail.
Ken Morris, 43
Minister, Paron, Ark.
Ken lives in central Arkansas next to a forest with hundreds of miles of trails and logging roads. With such open spaces in his own backyard, he and his Appaloosa/Mustang mare spend a lot of time on the trail together. "There's a type of freedom you can only get while on horseback and a type of friendship that can only be had from a horse," he explained.
Ken wants his mare to be more comfortable when they are out on the trail. The problem is the saddle, which Ken picked up cheaply when his original saddle broke beyond repair. The fit is poor for both horse and rider so they go bareback at times. Ken, who has been riding for about four years, also wants to improve his riding skills and be better able to communicate with his horse.
In his spare time, Ken teaches kids how to handle life's troubles using the lessons they learn while on his horses. "We all have a blast and learn something every time. And best of all, the kids and their folks never need pay a dime (most of them can't afford to). The payoff comes to me in the form of what happens to kids and their grades in school after they've been on horseback a couple days a week. There's nothing like seeing a kid learn to ride for the first time," said Ken.
Western product expert and trainer Abigail South comments:
I would suggest Ken see if there is a natural horsemanship trainer in his area to help him learn some interesting ways to communicate with his horse. Natural horsemanship teaches how to be sensitive not only with your hands and legs, but also with your eyes. This will also, I think, pay off with the kids that he helps.
Saddle fit is one of the most important aspects of Ken's makeover as he doesn't want his mare relating riding to pain. It looks like his horse has a short wide back, so I would suggest looking for a saddle with a full Quarter Horse bar and minimal skirting, like a cowboy cut or round skirt. I can't suggest an exact saddle, as it's a matching game between saddle and horse, however, Cactus Saddlery saddles tend to be a generous fit and Tucker Saddlery has a wide range of fits to accommodate most horses.
Next I would recommend Ken use a good quality wool felt contoured pad. The thickness of the pad will depend on the saddle and its fit to the horse. For example, putting a thick 1- to 1 1/2-inch pad would worsen the fit if the saddle is too narrow. My favorite brands of wool felt pads are Todd Slone, Classic Equine and 5 Star Pads.
I see from the photos that Ken's own riding gear ranges from camouflage pants, to casual wear to work boots. Though he didn't ask about anything for himself, he will find that riding can be much more comfortable with a few simple changes. Nothing beats a good quality pair of jeans when riding Western. I find the slimmest cut you can stand has the least amount of rubbing or pinching in the saddle. Also a good pair of Roper-style riding boots is almost a must when riding in a Western saddle. Laces can be a safety concern as they can get caught up in the stirrup, resulting in the rider being dragged in the event of a fall. Roper boots will pull off and free the rider. Also having a smooth edge around the outside sole of the boot helps get the foot out of the stirrup in the event of an emergency.
If Ken goes down the natural horsemanship path in his training, the first piece of equipment he'll need is a good rope halter and 14' lead preferably without a snap.
Saddle Pad: Todd Slone Square Felt Saddle Pad. Made of wool for comfort and shock absorption, these pads are contoured to fit the horse's back and built in two pieces to relieve spinal pressure. No other pads are necessary, which improves saddle fit. $174.95
Classic Equine SensorFlex Saddle Pad. New Zealand wool blanket with heavy wool felt for shock absorption. Ultra soft, heavy fleece bottom for comfort and moisture wicking. $104.95