It's fair to say that not all horses come as a standard size or shape and when it comes to fitting saddles, Senior Saddle Technician for Childéric Saddles UK, Tricia Bracegirdle would certainly agree with that!
In this feature Tricia looks at a horse whose conformation does not make saddle fitting easy!!
This is an ex event horse who now competes only at dressage, as you can see from his shape he is high withered and short in the back with a 'dipped' back
When we spoke to his owner she was having more than one problem with her saddle, as her list below shows!
- Everything was slipping back and bridging
- The horse wouldn't drop his head and neck
- Found it very difficult to get him to work over his back and lift up through his rib cage
- Lateral work/ flying changes were weak
- Both rider and horse found it difficult to do medium trot – rider was doing medium trot in rising
- Sitting trot was more or less impossible
There are two objectives when fitting saddles: Firstly to fit the horse, secondly the riders preference of seat and flaps etc.
While we are in the process of fitting the horse, we are always asking the rider how the horse feels and how the rider feels and this saddle fitting challenge was no different.
We tried several seats for the rider and discussed her preference for blocks, before moving on to fit the horse and as it the case with most difficult to fit horses, we didn't have any demo saddles in the car that would fit!
We work with a demo saddle, which has a basic medium wide fit and then shape the panels to fit the horse.
You can see here the saddle is too low on the horse, but what you cannot see is that there is bridging underneath.
Usually we use pre-sized pads to judge how much extra we need to put in to allow the rider to have a good feel of what the finished saddle will feel like. With this horse however, we certainly had to raid the tack room!
This mass of different pads might look like we have just simply thrown them all on the horse, but in fact we have placed them carefully to allow more in the middle than at the front and the back.
We then tried this concoction and the rider was able to now sit in good balance and understand how we are going to make the saddle good for her horse. You can see here the difference between the demo saddle's panels (on the right) and the saddle that was made for the horse (on the left). The difference is 20mm thickness of panel at the thickest point!
In this last photo, you can see how the new saddle sits on the horse. We paid particular attention to the rider's balance, horse's freedom and especially focused on the back of the saddle to keep it as short as possible to ensure the horse does not get sore behind the saddle especially considering how long he had been ridden in a bridging/moving saddle.
After the new saddle had been made, we ensured the fit was correct once again and then left the saddle with the rider for a couple of weeks before we returned for a follow up check as standard. We then had the opportunity to ask the rider what had changed since getting the new saddle:
- The rider now likes to ride in sitting trot all the time
- The saddle was still and so the rider felt as though the horse was softer
- The horse now likes to work over his back and he can now lift through his rib cage
- He has since improved a considerable amount with his lateral work, extended trot and flying changes, completing his first advanced medium.
- The rider feels as though she can sit stiller and is more effective
- The horse naturally travels forward now
This goes to show just how important it is to get a good fitting saddle on your horse's back and as the saying goes 'nobody's perfect' and the same could be said of our equine friends!
Special thanks to Mrs V Irlam for letting us use her horse as a case example for this feature.