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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A saddle fitting

Do I finally get to blog about my horse?????

It looks like I do!

Which is a good thing, because I didn’t end up being able to RIDE today - among getting a 3 day evict notice (a *mistake* was made….and not by me), having my dremmel tool die in the middle of a trimming (OSH exchanged it without a receipt – I LOVE OSH), staying up until midnight last night to finish a work project (hello caffeine!), and running out of toilet paper (never a good thing) - I’m not getting to ride much and my lack of saddle time is making me grumpy.

(Pictured: Susan breaking up a hard ball)

When was the last time you had the flocking in your saddle adjusted? Replaced? Had your saddle fit by a professional? Before Tuesday, my answer would have been never.

I have a pretty good eye. I can roughly gauge angles fit a saddle “adequately”. My Solstice fit well a year ago, but by this spring I was getting uneasy. After 10 months of dressage her "shape" has signficantly changed. White hairs started to appear in the middle of her back, near her spine. Wither clearance seemed to be less, and the saddle seemed to have more rock in it. Additionally I felt like the flocking was getting compressed. I didn’t notice any increase in back sensitivity, but I just had a feeling that a fit issue was brewing. The fit wasn’t bad enough that I felt like I had to run out and buy another saddle, but something needed to be done. Not to mention, the saddle is 10 years old….it was time to give it some attention.

I was sure about one thing – time to bring in a professional! The more I do with my horse, the less I feel qualified to judge ANYTHING about my horse whether that’s my riding, hoof trimming, saddle fit, etc. I WANT advice and CRAVE opinions….

(Pictured: The orginal flocking from my saddle, probably a mix of synthetic and wool fibers)

When Ines (a commenter here on the blog) mentioned getting her saddle fit, my ears perked up and I got a personal recommendation for the fitters at “Saddles that Fit”.

I don’t even know where to begin. The fitter (Susan) arrived on time, spent 3 hours educating and explaining and demonstrating and watching me ride and adjusting my saddle…..her and her husband were a JOY to talk to for 3 hours and it was absolutely wonderful. When I got the bill at the end of the session I almost fainted on the spot from sheer amazement at….how affordable it was. It was less than any vet bill I’ve EVER had, including routine care, and the difference in my horse was absolutely amazing (more on this later). I can’t recommend Saddles that Fit highly enough.

Let’s get to some specifics shall we?

1. Farley decided to not be as obedient as usual. Susan suggested that I just plan on my horse being an ass when showing her off and then be pleasantly surprised when she’s awesome. She’s probably right….anyways, it was actually a good thing because it made it that more obvious after the saddle fitting how much more comfortable she was. Farley was fairly sway backed when I first got her and it’s only been since we’ve been doing dressage (10 months) that her back as gotten more level…..and now my saddle has too much rock in it. Susan corrected some of the rock, broke up a hard spot, put more flocking in areas that was compressed AND flocked the front more so the angle was narrower and to give me more wither clearance.

The result? A super soft horse that no longer fussed when I asked her to go long and low and gave me some of the best canter and transition work I have gotten to date. I asked and she gave. It was that simple. I was balanced throughout the transition and didn’t struggle to keep my position. No longer did I lose a seat bone and it became equally easy to do tight turns in both directions. All this with just some poking and prodding and adding of flocking. I went from a horse that was doing training level work, but with resistance (scoring 6’s with some 5’s and 7’s at a show), to a solid training level horse that could probably score 7’s and 8’s at a recognized show.

It’s really an effort for me to stop talking about this and move on because I’m in shock at how GOOD and how DIFFERENT she is….but I’m going to physically tear myself away so we can get on with the topic….

2. I was shocked at how affordable the service was. Even with paying travel. I learned how to check and monitor my horse’s back. She answered EVERY question with patience, even when – in my excitement – I interrupted (I’m working on that – I swear!). She gave me recommendations and then let me make a desicion about what was reasonable based on my finances and competion schedule. Yes, my saddle needs a full reflock and panel adjustment, but considering Tevis is in 4 weeks.....not the best option for now. She didn't try to scare me into anything and was very positive of what COULD be done. I did get her assurance that if I needed a new saddle for fit reasons, she would have told me, so since she said she could make my saddle work, I believed her.

She watched me ride and then adjusted the saddle and rechecked several times, both with the saddle on the horse and with me riding. She put stirrup spacers on my stirrup bars to improve the angle of the stirrup hang. As a result, I was able to drop my stirrups one hole and voila! A draping, effective leg that isn’t tense and can clearly communicate without gripping! My leg stays in place without any effort on my part. All this for less than the price of any vet bill I’ve ever had. At the end of the season when she can have the saddle for a couple of weeks, I’ll give it to her and she’ll do a full reflock and fitting, with perhaps a panel adjustment to help with the rock.

3. The saddle fit might not be perfect, but flocking adjustments can work miracles. Although the saddle tree isn’t what my saddler would have recommended as her first choice for Farley, a lot can be done with flocking and at this point, there’s no reason to buy another saddle. And really, who knows what Farley’s back will look like in another year or two? There’s no guarantee that the saddle tree that fits today will fit next month or next year. Get close and then readjust the flocking until the back changes enough that flocking adjustments are no longer sufficient, THEN buy another saddle. Seeing the difference that a little readjustment made, made me wonder how much of the great “saddle search” epics could be shortened by working with a knowledgeable saddle fitter who can recommend what’s close enough and “fixable”. Sure it would be nice to have the “perfect” shape to the saddle at all times, but really, (assuming English style saddle) the flocking is going to change over time anyways, so that perfect fit won’t be for long!

4. Saddle care questions. I asked them specifically about saddle care and was pleased to hear I’m doing it right – saddle soap when needed, once a week oiling with neatsfoot oil (pure).
Saddle pad questions…..I see English riders (dressage world) ride with just that thin cotton pad all the time….is that really ok? I was told that it is….but that your flocking will stay in better condition and not need to be readjusted as often if a pad is used between the saddle and thin pad. They recommend the thinline half pads for this situation. I ordered one from dover today, since I can’t always use my haf pad for my ring work. For other work (ie – not traditional English ring work) Susan really likes wool felt. I’m going to experiment with my worn out haf pad of putting wool felt inserts in place of the foam ones and see how I like it. I like the underside of the haf pad, but I’m not crazy about the soft foam and think the wool felt would perform better….or maybe I’ll end up switching to a pad like the equipedic that uses a wool felt underneath. BTW – anyone want to trade a 5 star wool felt pad that I can cut up for inserts for a skito? I’ve decided I’m really not a fan of the skito and I’m putting it up for sale.
Farley’s biggest saddle fit issue is her ginormous withers. *sigh * Let’s look at the positives – I can ride with a loose girth and my saddle NEVER slips. And I don’t need a crupper. And I don’t have problems riding bareback surprisingly. I never buy new pads, but if I do, I’m going to make a point of getting ones with wither contours to help keep the pressure off the withers.

Last Thoughts
I was SHOCKED at the difference some saddle adjustments made for a horse that while it wasn’t a perfect fit, wasn’t terrible either. No permanent white hairs, good back scores at rides, and no extreme sensitivity in the back area, and doing “OK” arena work. And yet…..with a few tweaks to adjust fit I immediately go from “OK” arena work to “fabulous-I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening” arena work!

Just imagine the difference for a horse that’s showing more obvious signs of discomfort……..

I’m not going to tell my trainer what I did and see if she can guess what the difference is…..this will be fun – we’ll see if she can guess all the changes:

  • Flocking adjustment
  • Stirrup bar adjustment
  • Lengthen stirrup one hole (because of the stirrup bar adjustment)
  • Thinline pad (If I have it by then)

Seriously – I can tell this is one of those topics I could go on and on and on about – similar to the dressage-will-make-your-endurance-horse-better topic. I need to stop now because I highly doubt anyone is still reading.

Must. Stop. Typing.

Which would be easy if I allow myself to daydream about how wonderfully soft and responsive Farley was during our ride last night……..mmmmmm…….


  1. Many english saddle riders go years and years without ever considering the saddle may need reflocked.

    I have been happy with my Specialized, and the ability to change fit as Hanks body changes through the year. And, comfy enough for me. Good weight distrubution area for his chubby rider. lol

  2. I'm glad you had such a good experience! I used Saddles that Fit as well. I tried out about 15 saddles, riding in all, getting help from Susan on my position (getting the same stirrup bar adjustment!). They are great people with a great service. After I finally had a saddle that fit, my horse took a perfect canter lead both directions. I hope you see improved dressage scores, and I am sure it'll help trail work too.

  3. Hey, that's totally awesome! I've been planning on calling those people - as soon as I get a trailer and then save up enough money to make a saddle fitter worthwhile. So maybe not right away. I'm glad to hear a friend's review of them.

  4. Yeah! So glad it worked out. We are so lucky Susan lives in the area... What a professional she is!

  5. I'v got to get my english saddle re-stitched and restuffed, and wow if it makes that much diffence....


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