Friday, January 2, 2009

It's A Flocking Thing (Wooly Thoughts) ...

I get calls like this: "Hi, this Joe Doe. I got a saddle from you a year ago, and it was great for a while, but it's not fitting now."

ME: "Is this a wool or foam-flocked saddle?"

JD: "Wool."

ME: "Have you had a fitter take a look at it and make adjustments?"

JD: "Um, no. Was I supposed to?"

My bad here. I dropped the ball and didn't pass necessary info on to my clients. I just assume that people know that wool-flocked saddles have to have the fit checked after about 10 hrs. of riding, and adjusted as necessary. Well, we all know what "assume" makes ... and in this case, it can also make a horse back-sore.

So I'm telling you all (and am reminding myself to tell my clients) that a wool-flocked saddle needs that kind of maintenance. It's sort of like changing the oil in your car - it needs to be done periodically to keep things running smoothly. After the initial adjustment, it should be checked again in a few months - it sometimes takes a couple of fitting adjustments to initially fine tune the fit. After that, the fit should be checked (and adjusted if necessary) every 6-12 months, depending on how often the horse is ridden and on the horse's level of training and development.

And at some point down the road, you'll need to have a total reflock - a "strip flock" - done. Wool compacts and loses its resilience, and - if subjected to enough constant pressure - will actually felt up. Here's what new wool looks like - I get this lovely stuff from Alan Powell at Saddler's Bench (they make our Killington close contact saddle):

It's soft and fluffy and free of knots and lumps, highly resilient and very cushy.

And here's what old wool looks like:

Admittedly, this is an extreme case. This wool came out of an ancient (think 30 yr. old) Stubben that had never had any work done on it. The wool used here is remnant wool from the garment and upholstery industries - hence the multiple colors. But even the lovely wool that I use will become matted and lumpy over time, and will need replacing.

How often? Again, it depends on how often (and in what conditions) you ride, and how often and how radically the flocking has been adjusted. Some saddles can go five to ten years before needing a strip flock, and some need it after only a few years. I think my record holder for needing a strip flock the soonest is Jenny Kimberly, a local endurance / competitive trail rider. Jenny literally rides thousands of miles a year in all kinds of weather, and her mare Lyric changes condition from the beginning to the end of the season, and her saddle needs flocking adjustments as a result. Her saddle needed a strip flock after only 3 years.

By the way, even if your saddle is foam flocked, the fit should be checked at least once a year - or more often if you notice changes in balance or in your horse's way of going. With foam, the tree width can be altered, but other fitting adjustment have to be made with shims and corrective pads. But whichever you have in your saddle, find a knowledgeable fitter to take a look periodically - your horse will thank you.


FjordWoman said...

What an awesome website. Thank you so much for putting in the hard work and effort that it takes to maintain it. The information that you so kindly and freely share is a blessing to those of us still wandering about in the dark, yet trying in earnest to do our best by our horses!

saddlefitter said...

Thanks for the kind words, FjordWoman. Saddle fitting isn't really rocket science or magic or alchemy. I'm happy to share what I know - the more education is available to the horse-centric public, the happier and more comfortable we and our horses will be.