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The Saddlefitter

Posted by Avishay04, 19 March 2012 · 147 views

Last summer I bought a dressage saddle off a friend. I did all sorts of measurements, wither and back tracings, etc. I thought that I was using the best info available. I considered a saddlefitter, but all of the ones in my area only represented a particular brand, and I didn't want to be sold on a brand, I wanted to buy a saddle that fit my horse and my budget. So I did a trial, and happily forked over $450 to my friend, naively thinking that surely THIS, the 5th saddle I'd bought since I started him in his 4 year old year (he had just turned 7), would fit my big draft x tb, and myself, at the same time.

For almost a year I went on happily convinced that I was doing good by my horse. The seat was large enough and the flaps long enough to accommodate my 6'1" frame, 35" inseam, and not insubstantial backside. My horse, who is a big baby, never complained about the fit, and the sweat marks were even.

But then in late November, I began training with a very good FEI level dressage rider. As she started helping me get Shay to a new level of fitness and asking him to get rounder and more engaged, he started having problems with his pelvis alignment. I had him adjusted and he was fine. Six weeks later, he needed to be adjusted again. I had thought that it was a combination of his...exuberance in the pasture coupled with the increase in the level of work. He wasn't lame, but I had noticed his back being stiff and a heaviness on the left rein. A month later, he needed to be adjusted again. His overall fitness was greatly improved by this time, and he was working beautifully, but he was still not evenly muscled behind and remained heavy on the left rein. It was about that time I began to notice that my saddle was sitting a bit low to the left. I checked it, and a light bulb went off - aha! I needed the panels reflocked. And as luck would have it, my trainer's independent, certified master saddle fitter was due to come for her twice yearly visit in two weeks. So I rode Shay in my western saddle for a couple weeks, and patiently waited.

So when the saddlefitter arrived, I handed her my saddle and showed her the packed down left panel - "I need a reflock done, please," I told her with confidence. She poked, prodded, and ran her hands over the panels and checked the tree. Then she studied, poked, and prodded, and ran her hands over my horse. She put the saddle on him without a pad, and rubbed his belly. When she did, my heart sank. As his back rounded, the saddle rocked forward, the cantle lifting off his back and pointing at me like a finger of shame.

Sure enough, the saddle that I'd loved so much didn't just need the simple reflocking I had hoped for. It didn't fit. AT ALL. All my tracings and careful measuring, all my research and experience in fitting saddles has failed me,I guiltily admitted to the saddle fitter.

She gave me a sympathetic look in return. "It may well have fit 9 months ago," she said. "You may well have done everything right in tracing him, and sweat patterns aren't always a clear indication of fit. But you said that your problems started when you started working with your trainer and gearing up to hit the show ring. He's got a much stronger topline overall, and that's your undoing. Now that he wants to be rounder and he's really using his back and hind end, he's basically hitting a wall. His physiology has changed. You need a new saddle - there's no way for me to make this one fit."

I felt like crying.

"It's too bad you don't have a Thorowgood handy. One of those in a wide tree would be a great fit for him," she said in an off hand way.

I couldn't believe my ears! I had one sitting in my tack room. I'd been using it for my mare temporarily, while I had it on consignment for a friend (I'd had it for sale on ebay for months, but it hadn't sold yet). We tried it on, and she got him to raise his belly again. It stayed softly in contact with his back. So we girthed him up with a Saddle Rite pad underneath and she evaluated the fit with me on, and the fit for me. It was a bit short in the flaps for me, and with the thigh blocks removed (thanks to the wonder of velcro!) I had enough room in the seat as well. She corrected a couple of my bad habits, and noted that the other dressage saddles I'd ridden in didn't fit me well - even when the seat was big enough and the flaps long enough, she hypothesized that because of my personal conformation, a straight flap put me in a bad position. The Thorowgood's more forward flaps were just right for my body shape. Ideally I needed another .5" to 1" in seat size, but Throwgood only makes saddles up to an 18" seat, and so an 18" was close enough to suffice. And sure enough, I had a much easier time sitting in the correct position - a problem which had always plagued me in a dressage saddle, even though I'd never had a problem with my seat in a western saddle or bareback.

I didn't know whether to woop in joy! (A saddle that fit!) or return to my earlier desire to cry - because this meant I was going to have to sell my other saddle, AND shell out another couple hundred dollars for the Saddle Rite pad (which the saddlefitter convinced me would help my horse's back recover from the bad saddle fit faster and prevent problems down the road (I must say so far she's been totally right, but that's the topic of a different blog)), and to buy the Throwgood. Ironically, the Throwgood belonged to the same friend I had bought my previous saddle from. >_<

Now, 8 weeks after the saddlefitter's visit, things are looking up. I haven't had to have the chiropractor back out *knock on wood*, my old saddle has been sold, and the new one is almost paid off (good friend that she is was willing to take payments).

The moral of the story? Even with all the great saddle fitting advice out there, saddle fitting is dynamic. Horses change (even mature ones), and a horse in motion is very different from a horse standing square while you take measurements. So like with feet trimming/shoeing and vet work - you'll save time, money, and your hair if you consult a qualified pro sooner rather than later.




The moral of the story? Even with all the great saddle fitting advice out there, saddle fitting is dynamic. Horses change (even mature ones), and a horse in motion is very different from a horse standing square while you take measurements. So like with feet trimming/shoeing and vet work - you'll save time, money, and your hair if you consult a qualified pro sooner rather than later.


Amen to that.. If only more people realized that.
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