I work for a Master Saddler & Saddle fitter as his diary manager, organising the 2 fitters on the road who are usually at least 2 weeks booked in advance. It's a tricky job, dealing with clients over the phone, saddlers on the road, working permanently in the future & I have become very good at multi-tasking! However, I have grown to really like my job and have noticed several patterns occurring regarding the horses that we see.
I have to admit before working here, I never had my saddles correctly fitted. I did a bit of a DIY job, had enough horse sense to see what looked alright and what didn't seem to cause too much harm. When I first started my new job, one of the first things to be done was to get my own horse's saddles checked. Safe to say both of Cat's saddles were.....well, not good. Both saddles were far too narrow & totally the wrong shape for her back.
2 saddle replacements later, I can safely say Cat has never gone better. She is 18 1/2 years old now, but jumping and ‘dressaging’ like a spring chicken and finally feels like she is working over her back.
I get my saddles checked very regularly now; obviously this is much easier for me as I control the saddler’s diary! But I now get her seen every 3-6 months and pay close attention to her weight and shape changing & any minor issues of movement or hair being rubbed.
I have quite a good eye for horses changing shape; working with event horses most of my horsey life means I am used to see the difference. However, many horse owners don't keep an eye on fluctuations in weight and shape. Those fatty horses that balloon in summer on all that lovely green grass & longer spells in the field.....adding up to 75kg in weight means their profile changes and that lovely new saddle you bought in a medium fitting, is now squished on a horse that could really do with a wide! The reverse happens in winter......as the summer pounds shed off in the cold, horses coming out of a hard winter can look vastly different to the horse in autumn.
Buying yourself a weight tape is the easiest way to keep an eye on your horse. No need to get a bit weight obsessed, but a fortnightly measurement will ensure your horses weight stays regular and there are no major fluctuations through the year. A £7 weight tape can literally save you hundreds of pounds in Head Plate changes & new saddles! Any Society registered saddle fitter should weight tape your horse on your appointment, so you can always call & ask the horse’s last weight.
You need to remember that your saddler really has to fit what he or she sees on the day. Good saddlers will be able to predict or allow for shape change, especially with young horses but this is only a prediction. Width is slightly easier to predict when saddle fitting, but a horse changing shape through a side-on profile is almost impossible to predict!
One of the things I never really thought about with saddle fitting were the huge variation on the shape of the trees that are made. It's pretty much common sense, but some saddles come on very flat trees, for your low withered, flat back types, while others have a huge amount of curve in a tree - often to be fitted on horses with high withers and a rising top line. It's basically a case of not being able to put a square peg in a round hole! By putting a flat saddle on a 'curvy' horse, you end up with bridging, where the panel of the saddle is not in contact with the horses back evenly all the way along the back. Then huge amounts of pressure are found at the front & back of the saddle and exerted on to the horse.
Saddle fitting is one of the fundamentals in keeping your horse in tip top shape - this should be held in conjunction with all the other areas: farrier, dentist, vet, trainer, therapist and saddler. All these professionals need to work together to gain the maximum from the horse. Then of course, as the rider, you are responsible for ensuring your balance and control when riding cause minimal effect on the horse.
Asymmetry is a huge topic in the equine press at the moment. Both for the horse AND the rider! This can be quite minor - animals like humans will favour one side to another. Just like us being left or right handed. However, it can become more severe and result in a horse being quite 'wonky'. This leads to the rider and saddle tipping over to one side and the horses’ asymmetry getting worse as the rider & saddle inhibits any potential strengthening.
Of course, for many people finding a good reliable saddler is often a huge issue. Going off recommendations from people you know, is a great start. If they are Society Registered (SMS) - look out for both a Master saddler & registered Saddle fitter. This means they will be able to do the work to your saddle as well as fit it correctly.
Horses were not meant to have humans sitting on them in leather saddles, asking them to carry us for long periods of time - let alone jump, gallop, dressage, hack..... Ensuring that the saddle you use is the best possible fit will ensure that you can get the best work out of your horse. This is regardless of whether you want to compete at the highest level or just enjoy riding out across the countryside.
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