Thursday, August 13, 2015

FITS in Aiken

Acclaimed Equestrian Brand Relocates
by Pam Gleason

FITS Riding Ltd, the internationally acclaimed riding clothes company, has moved to Aiken. Established in 2005 in Portland, Oregon, FITS creates and sells technical riding gear with a traditional look. Best known for its patented-design full seat breeches, FITS also has show shirts, belts and stock ties. The company has an enthusiastic following that includes top riders in many disciplines, especially eventing and dressage. Now it has new owners and new headquarters right in the center of downtown Aiken.

The new owners, Lida Bard and Brian Allenby, are both 2013 graduates of Elon University in North Carolina. Lida is a lifelong horsewoman who competes in eventing. Brought up in New Jersey, she came to Aiken after her parents relocated to the city while she was in college. Brian, also from New Jersey, followed Lida south, and got his introduction to horsemanship at her parents’ farm. The couple have been engaged since 2013 and will be married this October. They formally purchased FITS Riding Ltd in May.

“It has been my dream my whole life to have some sort of equestrian career,” says Lida, whose four horses live on her family’s farm. “I knew I couldn’t ride or teach for a living, so I put that idea on the back burner.”

After graduating with a degree in creative writing, Lida found a job working for the Aiken Downtown Development Association, where she was in charge of marketing, social media and writing a bi-weekly newsletter. Meanwhile, Brian, whose degree is in environmental science with minors in business, geography and GIS systems, had a job in New Jersey as a technical support technician for a proprietary software company. When he moved to Aiken, the company asked him to stay on and work remotely, which allowed him to make the move without having to worry right away about finding work. Both Lida and Brian joined Aiken Young Professionals Association.

“We were looking for some kind of equestrian business to buy,” says Lida. In January of this year, her father, who has always had his own businesses, was searching online, where he found a listing for a riding apparel company that was for sale.

“The listing was with a broker, and it didn’t say what the company was – you would have to sign a nondisclosure agreement to find out,” continues Lida. “But my father is really good at fact finding, so he discovered within about five minutes that it was FITS. He called me and asked if I had heard of them. I said, of course! They are my favorite.”

Lida and Brian were excited about the prospect of owning such a successful company, especially one that made clothing that Lida already loved. But there was a lot more work to do before buying the company. The couple, accompanied by Lida’s father, flew out to Portland to meet the company’s founder, Sheryl Rudolph and learn more about what FITS does. They spent time examining the company’s structure and finances, and went through an extensive due diligence process before deciding to go ahead with the closing. They finalized their purchase in mid-May after spending three weeks in Portland getting to know how all facets of the company work. Soon afterwards, they moved into the new FITS headquarters on Arbor Terrace, just off Laurens Street in downtown Aiken.

“We aren’t retailers,” explains Lida. “This is the company headquarters. We do have samples of our product line here to show to reps, but we don’t sell any clothing.” Currently, the FITS brand is carried in Aiken at Oak Manor Saddlery.

What makes the FITS brand different? According to Lida and Brian, both of whom wear riding breeches at work, the difference starts with fabric and extends to design and craftsmanship. FITS full seat breeches, the signature product, are made from compression material that is similar to what is used in apparel made for NFL players. It has more lycra than typical riding pants, and provides more stretch and support for the muscles. The breech is accented with Powermesh on the lower leg to make the pant thinner and more breathable under a boot. The deerskin leather panels are segmented and perforated, providing more stretch, flexibility and breathability than traditional leather panels. The design incorporates a patented gusseted crotch and a Powerstretch ab panel for support and a flattering fit.

“The breeches are great to ride in, and they are so comfortable,” says Lida. “You can do anything in them. You could do gymnastics, they move so well.”

FITS tops and show shirts are also designed to be comfortable, practical and attractive. They are breathable, with strategically placed mesh panels, and they provide protection from the sun with an SPF of 50. The material incorporates unique natural, odor and bacteria controlling fibers that last throughout the lifetime of the garment. The show coats are made of a mesh material that is opaque when worn, but if you hold them up to the light, you can see right through them. They are cool and breathable enough to be comfortable even on days where show coats are waived, and they are even washable. Although the look of FITS is traditional, the designs and the fabrics are distinctly 21st century, representing a modern understanding of how apparel can help improve athletic performance. All the clothing is manufactured in the U.S. from U.S. sourced materials.

Lida and Brian are excited about their new venture and happy to be part of Aiken’s vibrant horse culture. Lida will be working on new product lines and promoting the brand, while Brian is looking forward to doing more marketing and sales. FITS is already sold in 12 countries including the U.S. and Canada. Lida and Brian have plans to go to a trade fair in Germany later in the summer to expand the brand’s European presence.

“To be able to do something that is a passion of ours is really exciting,” says Brian. “I can really see growing it to the next level. I’ve had some sales experience, where I have done very well, so I kind of have the sales bug. The company fits us perfectly.”

FITS is also a natural for Aiken, where horse culture is an accepted part of life. “You can go to the grocery store dressed in riding clothes and it’s totally normal,” says Lida. “I feel like, in a town that is so horse centric, whether you want to ride in the clothes or just wear them for fashion, everyone likes the equestrian look. You can’t really go wrong.”

For more information on FITS, visit

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Balance in the Canter

By Lisa Pierson

Lisa Pierson explains how to balance your horse in the canter with exercises to improve engagement.

How Can I Balance My Horse in the Canter?

A few weeks ago my horse fell down with me when cantering through a corner. Ever since then, I’m afraid of cantering through corners. My horse, a 13-year-old Hanoverian, didn’t bolt, he just lost traction with his hind legs in the canter. He is 18 hands and has a huge stride. I’m a First Level rider, but he is trained to the FEI levels. How can I avoid this problem in the future? How can I get my horse sure-footed in the canter? Our indoor arena measures 20 by 60 meters.
Sam Cochran 
Petaluma, California

Lisa Pierson

It is a very scary and dangerous situation when a horse falls down. The first thing to consider is whether your horse is sound and strong enough to do his job, pain-free and without neurological problems. Neurological problems can affect your horse’s coordination, and pain and stiffness can make him reluctant to use his joints to bend and balance or load a sore limb. Back pain, neck pain as well as vision problems are all important to rule out. A veterinarian should evaluate your horse.

Most of our schoolmasters are older and may need extra care for their older bodies. They may also need extra time for loosening up. Fatigue also can make a horse struggle to balance himself. It is also important to consider the footing you work your horse on; slippery, wet, shifting or uneven footing can be very risky.

If your horse is able to longe, observe him on the longe line without tack. Watch him in the canter. Does he lose his balance? Does he have difficulty maintaining the canter? Is one direction worse than the other? Is he different with tack on when longeing? Ill-fitting tack can make a horse stiff or sore in his topline, inhibiting his ability or willingness to balance through his core.

Occasionally horses do lose their balance—tripping or misstepping, even falling down. The bigger, more powerful movers can be more difficult to keep in balance. The rider needs to be able to manage the amount of pushing power these horses have through the strength of their own position (core) and by using half halts to engage and collect the horse from behind. When the push from the horse’s hind legs is stiff and the hocks are out behind, this pushes the horse more on the forehand, downhill. You can usually feel this in your contact—very strong and heavy on your hands.

In the canter it can be even more difficult to keep a horse in balance because it is hard to keep the hindquarters level and not tilting (due to the inside hind leading ahead of the outside hind), twisting the hips up and out behind and causing loss of traction. Overflexing the neck can also cause the horse to lose traction much like turning the steering wheel of a car too sharply can cause the car to fishtail.

It’s best to use the Training Scale to problem-solve:

Rhythm: Does your horse lose rhythm or tempo in corners and on smaller circles by scrambling, stalling or rushing?

Suppleness and Relaxation: Does your horse stiffen or brace through his body or have tension through corners and circles?

Contact: Is your horse heavy on the forehand, leaning on your hands for balance instead of carrying himself?

Impulsion: The release (thrust) of energy should be stored by the engagement of the hind legs, not downhill speed.

Straightness: Is your horse able to bend through a corner or circle and stay level, with his hind legs on the same track as his shoulders (in alignment even while bending) or is he crooked, jackknifing and falling out through his shoulder or hind end?

Collection: Is your horse able to bring his hindquarters under his center of gravity to balance for a corner in the canter?

To properly ride your horse through corners, you need to half halt as you approach the corner, roughly 6 meters, or 20 feet, before the approaching arena wall, and you need to establish true bending that engages your horse’s inside hind leg to balance him for your turns, circles and corners.

Before turning, weight your inside seat bone by pushing your inside hip forward and lowering your inside knee, not collapsing your inside hip. This begins bending your horse’s body for the corner, with the inside leg at the girth to bring his inside hind leg farther forward.

The horse should be flexed slightly to the inside with the inside rein (you should be able to see his inside eye, but he should not be flexed past his inside shoulder). The outside rein prevents the horse’s outside shoulder from falling out but still allows him to flex to the inside. The rider’s outside leg, slightly behind the girth, keeps the hindquarters from swinging out. Remember that the horse’s hind feet must track in the path of the front feet, so the amount of bend you ask for cannot disturb this alignment.

Think of your corners as a quarter of a circle, however small you can accurately ride without losing the proper bend and alignment—20 meters, 15, 10 or 6. A shallower corner is safer until you can reliably ride smaller circles while maintaining steady bend, alignment and balance.

To build your confidence, you need to be able to engage your horse’s hind end to control his balance. Your position must be strong enough so that you hold your horse together through your leg and seat, not from your hands. The bigger the movement of your horse, the harder this can be to do.

The following exercises will improve engagement:

  • Ride transitions before your corners, teaching the horse to listen to your aids for coming back, then engage to go forward through the corner. 
  • Try riding a step or two of turn on the forehand at the walk before each corner to engage your horse’s inside hind leg for bending into corners.
  • Add an extra step or two in each corner in your canter to collect your horse. 
  • Maintain the tempo and rhythm in your canter while adding extra steps between letters or markers.
  • Ride transitions in shoulder-in. They are a great exercise for engaging your horse and maintaining the bend while collecting him.

Keep track of the tempo and rhythm when you are preparing your horse for a corner; slowing down becomes leaning, speeding up becomes downhill running. Neither of these accomplish better balance, although slowing down is safer.

Lisa Pierson is a USDF Certified Instructor through Fourth Level, a USDF “L” Education Program graduate and a USDF bronze and silver medalist. An FEI-level trainer and competitor, she is based in New York State.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in an article of  Dressage TodayIt is reprinted here by permission.