Sit Tight! In Praise of the Sticky Stuff

September 11, 2011
by Annie Penfield

"Where is the sticky stuff?!" I asked, my voice pitching higher. Not so much a question as a panicked cry. By the sticky stuff I meant the spray that would adhere me to my horse; the 17.2 hand Irish Sport Horse I have been competing Novice for two years. I knew it was not possible that the spray was going to keep me stuck to the horse for cross-country nor do the work for me, I just wanted a little something to believe in. In my fear at that moment I did not believe in myself. Standing next to my quiet and gentle horse, pinny affixed over my Charles Owen Ultra-Lite Protective Vest, in the trailer parking area of the Carolina Horse Park in March, I was out of my comfort zone, far from my home in Strafford, Vermont.

So I sprayed my boots and crawled up on my horse. My leg stuck behind the girth and with a deep breath, I felt secure in the saddle, tight with my leg on my horse, and I headed off to warm-up.

"What are you doing here?" called my Vermont neighbor, Denny Emerson, as I galloped around the log fences. What am I doing here? Last week I was riding around the snow-encased indoor and commuting to my tack shop. I had gone from 0-60 in a few days—from rail exercises in the indoor to schooling ditches and water jumps—to now readying to head out on course in a new venue. My first outing of the season would be against the regular residents of Area II. I was clearly out of my Area.

I was so nervous I thought I might lift off my horse: so praise for the sticky stuff. I hoped that if I could not place myself in this scene, I could at least stick myself on my horse.

I did have other aids on this ride: a stirrup leather around the neck to hold for the awkward jump and to stay off my horse's mouth. He is super sensitive in his mouth, his balance, and his back. I ride in a soft rubber bit and in the Bates saddle with CAIR panels and wide composite stirrups. All measures I believe make my horse more comfortable and support my riding and give me confidence.

I started competing in the 80's before protective vests and in a caliente that looked like a cardboard baseball cap and in a time when falling off did not mean immediate elimination and could do no harm if it occurred outside the penalty box. My first experience with any kind of riding adhesive was in the Vet Box at the Ledyard Three-Day when my groom smeared my legs with Murphy's Oil Soap, the gloppy concentrate in a jar, and covered my horse's front legs with vasoline. Today, the stakes seem higher not only to stay on but also to ride well.

In the intervening years, tack has become less crude. There are now several variations of sit tight adhesives. In my eight years as owner of Strafford Saddlery, I have delved into the remarkable innovations. Studying each with an eye to the ride: how does this make our horses more comfortable and how does this make us better riders? Does this enhance horsemanship or is it a shortcut to training: bits with copper rollers, breastplates with five-points, nosebands with cranks, saddles with air, half-pads with inserts. Pads that shock absorb, gloves that stick, irons that hinge, reins with stops: So many developments and each a reminder of the riders we need to be.

They are developments, but they are also merely aids: a rider support system. Obviously it is my fitness, skill, training, and practice that insures my leg stays on the horse. The spray is some kind of reassurance. It's not the magic bullet to solve my training but to salve my mind. Like all training aids, it is something to assist, not a replacement.

So last month when I moved my horse up to Training, out came the sticky stuff. A customer told a story of spraying the seat of her breeches and the result was that as she rose to trot there was a terrible suctioning noise as her breeches insisted on sticking to the seat as she wrested herself to post. With an eye to breech longevity, I used the Effol stick that washes off and does not spook my horse with the aerosol.

But the spray has the better adhesive, and I only use it on my boots so my breeches are not a concern. I know it's a bow to my fear. And I used it just for the one horse and not for my other that I have been riding Training for a few years.

But next month—I am moving that horse up to P-T. I will be sure to have it in the trailer.

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