Sunday, July 24, 2011

Dumbfounded by Saddle Fit

To me, one of the most confounding aspects of riding is saddle fit.  It’s possible I’m becoming one of those riders who constantly suspects that the saddle doesn’t fit. 

I have read everything I can get my grubby little paws on about saddle fit, and I had a saddle fitter come out to fit Hudson to a saddle, a while back, and we discussed fit at that time.  Unfortunately, the saddle fitter focused mainly on just one brand of saddle, and so that’s where her conclusions pointed.  Not that there is anything wrong with that, since I knew it in advance and knew that the saddles she sells are top quality; however, when I rode with her recommended saddle versus my old, cheap, and I mean REALLY cheap, Regent, Hudson moved as well, if not better, under the cheapie.   Even the saddle fitter acknowledged she moved as well under that one as any.  But, since that saddle had flocking as hard as bedrock, and since reflocking would have cost more than the saddle was worth, I decided to keep looking for a better saddle for Hudson.
Houston, we have a problem. (Photo borrowed from

One of the things about the saddle fitter’s visit that disappointed me was that she talked about everything I had already read.  

“What’s wrong with that?” you may ask.  

And I may answer, “Well, nothing is wrong with that, except I wanted her to be the magical saddle-fitting fairy who would flitter down with her sparkles and wand and give me the one solution that would fix all my saddle-fitting concerns now and for the rest of my life, for every horse I own.”

Which, on retrospect, was a rather silly and slightly insane expectation.

After the basic checks of balance, tightness and shape of saddle vs. shape of back, the main thing the saddle fitter looked at and asked me about was how the horse felt, or moved, under each of the saddles we tried.   This was educational to me, I’m embarrassed to admit, because it made me realize that I had not focused on the differences in a horse’s movement as it related to different saddles. 
OK, now, even I know that's just a mess. (Photo borrowed from

Song Pan, China Slideshow


My observation of saddle fit on Hudson was that she had started to bolt in certain circumstances and it was obvious to me that the unusual action (Hudson is no bolter) was caused by a quick, unexpected pain, and I guessed it must be the saddle.  Another time I brilliantly connected saddle fit to horse pain was when my never-buck quarter horse mare crow hopped under saddle, causing me to try a wider tree with success.  

 So, let’s say that I was fairly insensitive and obtuse about noticing subtleties of movement change caused by the saddle.  Fortunately, my horses were not at all obtuse, and realizing that I was a bit retarded, they communicated to me in a way I couldn't help but understand.

Now, however, I’m training these green mares, and there is so much going on in their movement, since they are still trying to get the basics of moving comfortably at a consistent pace under a rider, that it is hard to tease out saddle fit as a possible problem for them.  At least I’m alert, now, to signs of discomfort.  Dee, for instance, is antsy when I tighten the girth.  OK, a lot of horses are, but maybe it’s because she dislikes the saddle pinching down on her back?   And Starlight started fidgeting at the mounting block.  So I tried a wider saddle, and the fidgeting stopped, at least for our most recent ride, which occurred before the heat wave rolled in and I temporarily suspended riding.  Not a pattern yet, I realize, but maybe she likes the wider saddle?
One of my many saddles that doesn't fit.

But the saddle I switched to is most probably too wide for her (boo!).  But she moves well under it, taking bigger, more swinging strides (yay!).  But it isn’t well balanced, sitting too low in the pommel (boo!).  But my fingers fit comfortably under it at the shoulder, unlike some other I have tried on her (yay!)

Well, you can see I’m confused.  And since there is no saddle-fitting fairy about to twinkle down and tell me what to do, I guess I’ll just have to listen to the horse.

I just hope I don’t end up with 5000 saddles and not a one that fits. 

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