Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Getting a Good Saddle Fit

Getting a Good Saddle Fit

As most of you may already know, getting a saddle that fits your horse is extremely important. Without a properly fitting saddle your horse can develop physical problems like a sore back, tight muscles, etc, but they can also be in pain so they do negative things like swishing their tail, reluctance to go forward or jump, or even buck.

Yesterday I had Jim Ward (705-786-2226), a saddle fitter that I met at the Everything Equine Trade Show in Uxbridge, come out to the farm to fit my horses. Finding an unbiased saddle fitter is difficult, and I decided to try Jim because he said he would look at any saddle and he wouldn't be bringing any saddles to try to sell me.

The horse that I know needed the saddle fitting the most is my demo/show horse, Thetis. She is a Thoroughbred mare, and was fitted by Allan from Foxhunter Tack Shop last year with a brand new adjustable Collegiate. However, horses change over time, and in the last couple months I noticed she was no longer comfortable in the saddle because of the tail swishing and pinning of the ears - she even did some bucks. When I ride her in the Western saddle, she is just fine.

I did have Dr. Elena Silverman (647-829-8929) come out to adjust Thetis - she is a really good chiropractor that does an excellent job and will massage the tight muscle knots too. She did a couple adjustments on Thetis, as I continued to only ride her Western, avoiding the English saddles all together.

I did go to the Pleasant Ridge Tent Sale and bought Thetis a new saddle, based on her medium-wide measurement and a few other things I knew to keep in mind... but when I tried it at home she still didn't seem 100% comfortable.

This actually interfered with my demo at the Everything Equine trade show last weekend. I wanted to do some big jumps and do something more for the crowd, but I knew the saddle wasn't quite right - so instead I fitted the saddle the best I could by changing the gullet, and using a memory foam/thinline pad to help her be more comfortable, and I kept the jumps low for the demo. Even still she wasn't super comfortable and she did have her ears pinned, so for the other demos I stayed Western because I didn't want to damage my horse.

I was excited to find a new saddle fitter, Jim, and booked him right away to come out to my farm - luckily he lives only up the road in Lindsay so it was much more convenient than previous saddle fitters I have used. He started with Thetis and did a full assessment and noted her right shoulder is more developed from her left (likely because she pulled a bum muscle during our endurance race and was lame in her right hind for a few weeks.... so she likely was working her right shoulder extra hard). He then took a bunch of my saddles and tried them on.

Because I have so many school horses - I also have a lot of saddles. He looked at my brand new Collegiate and pointed out that it's actually slightly too long for Thetis's back. He said it goes beyond the weight bearing ribs in her back - or what Jim calls the 'bucking line'. It was also too tight around the withers.

I always knew to check for wither clearance in the saddle (making sure the saddle doesn't touch the wither bone), but I didn't know that you also need 2 fingers of clearance on the sides of the withers. Jim explained that the saddle shouldn't touch the horse until where the panels start.

Thetis proved to be a bit of a challenging horse to fit... we tried my Collegiate, Wintec's, Avante, Degrada, Santa Cruz, Griffith, and finally landed on my Bates. The Bates is a CAIR system (has air in the panels instead of wool or foam), and it is an all purpose model, so its not ideal for jumping, but workable.

I was asking Jim about my different saddle brands and asked what he recommended. He said that unless you get something fully adjustable like a Schlesse, which are about $4000, or something like the Santa Cruz with the new Genesis system that can fine tune the gullet within a millimeter, its probably best that I have a variety of different saddles.

Jim said its not that a Wintec, Collegiate, etc are a bad saddle and thats why it didn't fit Thetis - its just that they didn't fit Thetis and couldn't be adjusted enough to be comfortable for her. This doesn't make them 'bad', but not useable on her. He did say that certain saddles tend to fit more horses because of their balance, etc. My Collegiate actually proved challenging to find a school horse that it would fit.... and luckily we found a match with Riddler after changing it to extra wide (thank goodness it has an exchangeable gullet!).

The Bates has good balance on Thetis's back, and sits nicely on her. I rode her with no saddle pad so Jim could see the dust pattern after a ride. She didn't buck at all. We didn't need to change the saddle at all, but Jim recommended I ride with a half pad to help bring the saddle off her back a bit more to let the saddle sit higher and give her wither clearance. He said ideally you wouldn't need a half pad, but since I wasn't looking to purchase a new saddle, that this one would be comfortable for my horse with a half pad.

We then went through all of my school horses and fitted them all to their own English Saddle. Luckily I was able to find my brand new Collegiate could fit my school horse Riddler, and my other brand new Degrada saddle fit my school horse Dream, or that would have been a waste!

In the end I have a saddle from my original stock of saddles that fits all of my horses comfortably. A couple need a riser pad or half pad to help with wither clearance, but most of them don't.

Jim also explained that some of my horses would need to use the front two billet straps for the girth to help make sure the saddle stays in the right position and doesn't slip forward - this is different than what we are used to, so we'll give it a try.

Some tips I learnt from Jim:
- Always check that you have 2 fingers of space between your wither and saddle at the top and sides of wither
- Check to make sure your saddle sits behind the shoulder, but in front of the last weight bearing rib (Alan showed me this too)
- Check to make sure your saddle has good balance (that it doesn't tip or rock from back to front of side to side... that it sits level on the horse)
- It is best not use half pads or gel pads because they can make the space smaller and tighter around the wither, however, a half pad might help with wither clearance or balance depending on the shape of the horse, but you still need to make sure there is room for the shoulder to move easily. It's best to ask for the saddle fitter's advice first... don't just use a half pad or gel pad because you think it might be more comfortable.

All in all it was a great learning experience and I am so happy that all my horses now have something fitted to them.

Key tip this week:
Make sure your horse is comfortable with your saddle - it can help save you time, money, and aggravation in the long run. Having a saddle fitter can help you make sure you have something that will work for your horse.

After all of the saddle swapping, I have decided to sell 2 of my English saddles that weren't assigned to any of my horses.... and then perhaps I can get Thetis a jumping saddle instead of an all purpose!

1) 17.5" Medium close contact, Santa Cruz, pictures at
This saddle actually fits Spice, and has good balance for a lot of horses - but in the end we decided to go with other options. New this saddle goes for around $800-1000. It is approx 6-10yrs old (I don't remember - but originally I bought it from Foxhunter Tack shop)... Reduced price to $300 for a quick sale so I can get a new one for Thetis.
2) 17" Medium Avante close contact saddle with exchangeable gullet. Pictures at:
This saddle I bought last year from Pleasant Ridge to use in my summer camp... thats all I've used it for. It is a cheaper saddle (new it was about $300 with tax), so the leather is a little stiffer than a higher quality saddle. The panels are nice and wide, and you can buy new gullets for it. I don't have any extra gullets for it - so I decided to stick with my Collegiate, Bates, and Wintec which can all use the same gullets that I already have.... Avante is a different brand and doesn't use the same ones. It also sits a little downhill, so to have good balance it is best for a horse that is built 'uphill', or used with a riser pad/half pad. $100 for a quick sale so I can get a new one for Thetis.
3) I also have some child saddles... I haven't measured them, one is a small child English saddle - good gullet size, medium/wide, fits a lot of my horses but is very small (I'm guessing around 12" but I can measure)... it is meant for a small or medium pony... or little kids under 10 yrs. I also have a little Western saddle... super cute, light brown leather/suede seat, also meant for little kids... these saddles would work great for small ponies and pony rides - I don't have a use for them. Priced $75 each, or $100 for both for a quick sale. I don't have pictures up yet, but let me know if interested and I can get some.

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