A recent blog entry by Cyndi Bird of www.opengaits.ca inspired me to write this post. Cyndi is an Equine Sports Massage Therapist and has been Prowler's massage therapist for the past 4 years. She's witnessed the challenges I've had finding saddle that work for both me and my horse.
Anyone else hate saddle fitting? I SURE DO! I've bought and sold 7 saddles in the 7 years I've had my old gelding Prowler.
My first purchase was a Aussie saddle that was terrible because I didn't know how to properly measure his withers. That one went back right away. I tried a couple of western saddles but they bridged or fell on his withers.
Then I bought a Parelli Theraflex Pad and Thorowgood Saddle (in above photo), made for thoroughbreds with high withers. I never really got used to the Theraflex pad. It made me feel al little 'swimmy' up there. Prowler seemed to like it though and moved out more. The saddle actually fit him fairly well but something still didn't feel quite right. I felt very far away from my horse, which seemed counter to learning to feel what his body was doing so I could refine my riding and influence him with my body and minimal aids.
I tried an extra wide Wintec but it slid too far back on him and caused him to pull his left loins (in front of his left hip) on a long ride one summer. I felt terrible. Our lack of knowledge about saddle fit really CAN hurt our horses. I followed Linda Parelli's saddle fitting guidelines for a while, sitting further back on my horse than I should. I didn't know better and because of Prow's high withers and long, big moving shoulders that most saddles blocked, it was easy to sit on/past his last rib (Cyndi describes this in her post, go read it, it's short and very informative!).
Prow's back is actually in pretty decent shape for his age (28 at the time I took these photos), but when I got him his muscles behind his shoulders were very atrophied. Even though his previous owner took great care and had a custom english saddle made for him, it fit him too well and didn't allow the shoulder to move freely. This can't feel good to the horse and can lead to all kinds of spinal issues, never mind behavioural and training issues.
The last saddle I bought was a Cheyenne Barefoot Saddle. I was trying to sit in the proper spot on his back (where you'd sit if you were bareback) so I bought a size 1. It actually didn't fit him too bad but was way too small for me as you can see lol. There wasn't enough weight distribution with this size though and Prow didn't want to move out much. I don't ride him that much so I don't think this experiment harmed him.
Finally I gave up. I bought a Barefoot Physio Bareback pad which is fantastic for both of us. This pad you'll see has an extra layer along the centre that you can shim with two different foam density pads. I'm still playing with that to find an arrangement that doesn't squeeze his withers or make my legs feel too far away from him.
The saddle I would LOVE to own if I had the means to purchase one would be a Sensation Ride treeless saddle. I think they would be able to help me fit something to Prow's very challenging back.
Good luck with your saddle fitting and listen to your horse. They deserve to be comfortable with us on their backs. Remember, if you have behavioural issues saddle fit is one of the top 3 things to check along with spinal, muscular or general health issues.
until next time,
My horse is my GURU.
I'm Jai Sequoia. I live in the spectacular mountains of the West Kootenays in beautiful British Columbia. Read more