Saturday, February 16, 2013

Baby Basic Saddle Fititng

**Warning: I am not a saddle fitter. Heck, I'm not even an expert, and what I know is simply from my own experience and from the saddle fitting instruction of my trainers.

With that out of the way, lets look at some photos from my last saddle purchase: I did several risky things, but it all turned out well. I was shocked.

I bought a dressage saddle off eBay. It was a Courbette, a "Baron Von Trenk" and was an 18" "medium" tree. I didn't have numbers, I had never seen or ridden in a Courbette dressage saddle and my current Courbette, the Magic, was  a flex tree.

First things first - examine the saddle out of the box: is the stitching sound? Are the billets firm and don't show cracking, other damage or unevenness? When you look at the underside, are the panels even, and the tree straight? Feel the panels - are there any spots that feel firmer or softer than others?

The panel on my Magic is foam, and thus is very firm. The panel on this saddle is wool, and thus it's softer and squishy.

This is how it arrived. Hopefully you are noticing that it's high in front, or low in back - or just looks "funny". That says that either the panel (the padding along each side of the spine) isn't shaped right, the tree is too small, or a combination of the two. In Foxie's case, the tree was a touch on the narrow side, but as the flex tree was generous and padded, I decided to keep it and work with what I had, hoping the panel wool would tramp down. 

This is a shot of the panel on Foxie's shoulder. I liked how the saddle sat without interfering with her shoulder, and all panels (the front of the saddle at the shoulder and the two on either side of the spine) were flush without pinching or gapping. When the back panels don't contact with the entirety of the back, it's called bridging - it forms a bridge over an area of the back, exposing parts of the back muscle to lots of weight while others don't get touched. Not a good thing - and I dealt with the problem for years with my wintec - and can be detected by sliding fingers up underneath the saddle flaps and feeling around.

This photo also shows off the basically non-existent knee roll - a rarity these days. I ride in different stirrup lengths based on what I have under me - a big mover caused me to hike them up several holes, while with Foxie I prefer to ride long and wrap my leg around the barrel and simply turn my spur up to accommodate the rider/horse size discrepancy. I have really, really long legs. Ok, not that long, but I have problems with big knee rolls in dressage saddles, as I generally haven't liked my position, the way I tend to grip with the knee when I have a roll there to grip, and the pain it causes me after. So this saddle is awesome for me - and luckily it was a close enough fix for the Wonderhorse to be workable

Another great shot: this is a shot down the spine. you should be able to see daylight down the spine. I like this saddle a lot because it has a cut back pommel to help accommodate big withers (not a problem with Foxie, but a nice feature!) and a very wide channel, or space between the panels, which offers a nice space for the horse to lift his back into and engage. 

Whoohoo! Good signs so far. 

So how do I fix a saddle that fits like this, Ashley?

Well here's your answer: 

This is my magical thinline pad. These photos are without the small shims I added later, but already you can see a big difference. With the shims, the saddle is in much better balance - by lifting the back of the saddle, I even out the pressure, and when I girthed the saddle up I was pleased to realize it sat down further due to the spring tree, and then further again with my weight, coming to rest as almost dead even across the seat. The top picture is closest - all saddles have a balance point where the rider's balance falls. 

I've added the line and rotated the photo slightly to show the saddle in true balance. Fitting the saddle both to you and your horse is important. Foxie is a MW tree, but as she got more and more fit the saddle actually fit better while her jumping saddle needed a little extra help. I've found ways to make do with what I have - padding up isn't the best, but many of us can't afford custom saddles for our weirdly shaped horses!

This that are not ok:
Saddle sitting on the withers
Saddle sitting on the spine
Balance problems over 1/2 inch in either direction
Saddle that "perches" on the back and is forcibly pulled down onto the back by the girth

Always, Always, ALWAYS investigate soreness. Look at your saddle pads - is the sweat on them evenly dispersed? Are there dry or especially wet spots? 

Ashley & Foxie

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