Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Saddle Recommendation for Arabee and Nicole

Next in the series of saddle recommendations are Nicole and her horse Arabee (you can follow their adventures on Nicole's blog: Nicole is doing endurance and wants to find a saddle that will fit better than the one she has now:
As you can see, the saddle's sitting pommel-high; some of that is due to the fact that the saddle's too far forward (I'd like to see it about 3 fingers' width further back, but given Arabee's conformation, I'd bet most saddles tend to slide forward). Another reason it's pommel-high is that the tree is too narrow. In the next photo, I've outlined the angle of the tree in green, and the angle of Arabee's back in red. You can see they don't match up.

The saddle's not a bad fit otherwise, but the tree points can't be comfy for Arabee, and Nicole likely feels thrown into the back seat due to the pommel sitting so high.
So let's take a look at Arabee "nekkid":

She's a nicely compact little mare with a moderate wither and some curve to her back. She's a tad rump-high and has a well-sprung rib cage - both will contribute to a saddle wanting to move forward. She also has a broad back:
Ideally, I'd like to see Arabee in a saddle with an shallow gusseted, upswept - the upsweep will keep the panels from extending past T18, and the gusset will give a broader bearing surface to the bottom of the panel, and a shallow gusset will keep it from sitting too high in back. A full front gusset might help keep the saddle back, as well.
I would definitely not recommend an extended panel, such as you find on the Wintec endurance saddle - unless Nicole rides in a really tiny seat (like 15"), I'd be afraid an extended panel would A) extend past T18, and B) I'd be afraid it would poke and / or rub, since Arabee's a bit butt-high.
I'd like to see a hoop tree on this mare, too. In the photo below, both "gullets" are the correct width, but notice how differently they compare to her back. The standard tree gullet is in turquoise, and the hoop tree gullet in pink.

Here's the catch: Nicole (like mostly everyone else out there today) is on a budget and needs to keep the price as far under $1000.00 as possible, and most saddles in this price range don't offer a ton of fitting options. So we're going to do the best we can to maximize comfort for everyone and still stay within budget. Nicole could try to find a used leather saddle - I'd recommend looking into a Duett Fidelio or perhaps a Duett Companion Trial, though I'd worry that the tree on the Companion Trail might be too flat for Arabee's back. A used Frank Baines Enduro or Enduro LDR would be worth considering as well. or perhaps an older County Competitor (I'm mentioning dressage saddles here because many of my endurance and competitive trail customers ride in dressage saddles - they either order them with dee rings, or have me retrofit them). Arabian Saddle Company also makes a trail saddle, and that would be another avenue to try.
However, given Nicole's budget, her chosen discipline, and Arabee's conformation, I'd recommend trying a Thorowgood Cob or Broadback, either the a/p or dressage models. Even brand new, they're in her price range, they offer a changeable gullet, and in my experience, they're a good, reliable saddle. They also have a more hoop-shaped gullet plate, which will work better for Arabee. (The reason I'm not recommending a Wintec Wide is because their gullet plates are just flattened-out versions of their standard gullet plates - the turquoise-colored gullet in the photo above is a PhotoShopped version of a plate from the Wintec Wide). And being synthetic, Nicole can kiss leather maintenance goodbye - the Thorowgoods I mentioned are synthetic, and wash up with soap and water. No more worries about being caught in the rain!
Next up: Finding a saddle for the first-time horse owner.


Nicole said...

Thank you for the evaluation! It is very helpful to hear your opinion, thank you so much!

I'm really looking into the Thorowgood, the other saddles you mentioned are far beyond my price range even used.

I have a question: What about Treeless saddles, specifically the Bob Marshall? I've heard great reviews about them, but have also heard some mixed opinions - what is your take on the treeless saddles?


saddlefitter said...

You're very welcome, Nicole - happy to do it.

Treeless saddles can work well for some horses and riders, but you MUST make sure that they have some sort of panels that create a channel and take pressure off the spinous process. I *think* the Bob Marshalls need a special pad to have them clear the spine (I could be wrong here, and if someone knows better, please tell me). The problem with adding pads on a round horse is that you lose a lot of lateral stability, and sometimes they squish down and wind up offering no clearance. I've seen a lot of horses made very back sore by treeless saddles, the same as I have by treed saddles. Whichever you choose, it must fit correctly, distribute weight evenly, and put no pressure on the spine itself.

Helen said...

That is really interesting reading. Could I please ask you, if it's not too silly a question, whether it's possible to tell if a saddle has a hoop tree from looking at the outside of the saddle? Are they very widely in use?

I hope you recieved my photos as I messed up sending them the first time. I'm too old really for computers!!!

saddlefitter said...

Not a silly question at all, Helen. Sometimes it's really obvious if the saddle has a hoop tree, particularly if the tree's wide. The hoop tree is shaped more like an inverted "U", with the top of the gullet being quite broad. A standard tree is more like an inverted "V", or the roof of a house. I'll post photos on the blog. (And I got your photos, no problem!)

Melissa said...

Let me know if I'm seeing this correctly -It looks like the pommel of Arabee's saddle is very close to her withers even though the saddle is too narrow for her? Will the hoop shaped tree solve this problem? It seems like a wider V would set the saddle right on her wither. Did I understand right?

saddlefitter said...

Melissa, if you look at the photo in which I compare the hoop tree to the regular tree, you'll see that the hoop tree is much broader across the top - more of a "C" turned 90 degrees clockwise than an inverted "V". This will allow the saddle to accommodate Arabee's wide withers and still offer adequate clearance.

"Adequate clearance" simply means that the saddle is sitting in correct balance but at no time makes contact with the withers or spine. The old "so many fingers" rule does not apply - and particularly with the broad horses, too much clearance can create a lot of instability.

Kathy Grimshaw said...

My horse's shape is similar to Arabee, higher butt, low withers. I'm looking for a western saddle and having a hard time fitting. Mostly tried full quarter horse bars but they seem to fit lower on the withers. Do you have any suggestions for a western pleasure saddle?

saddlefitter said...

Hi Kathy -

Unfortunately, I don't have much experience fitting western saddles. You might see if you could contact Dr. Joyce Harman and ask her (, or contact the folks at I've asked them questions before, and have found them very helpful. Wish I could offer more insight. Good luck, and please let me know what you find.

lfabbro said...

This is very helpful information about the Thorowgood gullet plates. Have you seen the Kieffer Genf synthetic saddle? If so, could you comment on the gullet plates of this Keiffer saddle? Do you think the Kieffer is any better than a Thorowgood?

saddlefitter said...

lfabbro, I'm afraid I've never had the chance to see one of Keiffer's synthetic saddles, so I'm unable to comment - sorry. I will say that I think the quality on the Thorowgoods is wonderful, and they'll give you a lot more bang for your buck than any leather saddle of comparable price, and offer a lot more fitting options than the Wintecs.

Tara said...

I have a QH pony mare that is shaped very similar to the one above although possibly wider, and also has a bit of curve and a short back because of it so I'm really having a hard time finding something to fit. I have looked at the Thorowgood saddles and like that they are extremely flexible as far as fitting goes and at a good price for my older mares. However, while I know it's hard to tell from photos, do you think the Thorowgoods have a model with enough curve for those type backs? Wintecs (the new ones anyway) are too flat for my mares and they too at least one for sure is probably a hoop tree candidate as well.

saddlefitter said...

Tara, one of our biggest challenges is finding a hoop tree for the dippy-backed horses. The Thorowgood would be worth trying, but the Cob tree is pretty flat ... I think I should address this issue with an entry of its own ... Thanks for the idea!

Jenni said...

Bob Marshalls must be used with a pad that gives spinal clearance. Used saddles can be found on Ebay occasionally, otherwise a BM and pad will not be in your price range. Black Forest makes a saddle that has more of a support built in that will give the spinal clearance, and one of their models is around $600. You'd have to borrow or demo a treeless to see if it is for you. Contact Black Forest for info.

I just want to add that I love this blog!