Monday, February 23, 2009

Fitting Horse and Rider

"I'm not concerned about how the saddle feels for me - my horse is really hard to fit, so if a saddle works for him, I'll learn to love it."

If I had a quarter for every time I've heard this, I could retire. In style.

Saddle fitting is sort of like marriage: if one partner is unhappy, it won't be long before the other partner is unhappy, too. The saddle must work for both the horse and the rider - end of story. Here's why.

If the saddle fits the rider well, but not the horse, we know what the outcome will be: miserable horse, who will eventually make riding a most unpleasant experience, which will, in turn, make the rider miserable. But what if the saddle's a great fit for the horse, but not so much for the rider?

First, if you're not comfortable in the saddle, you won't be able to ride affectively. Your balance will be off, which will effect your seat and legs, your timing, and your feel, which will make it hard to communicate well, which will make it hard for your horse to perform properly - and those are just the short term issues.

Let's say the saddle fits your horse well, but the twist is too narrow for your comfort, and you're constantly falling forward. This will concentrate all of your weight under the front of the saddle, creating a lot of pressure in a fairly small area. This will not only make it tough for your horse to get off the forehand, it will cause the flocking in the front of the panels to compress; eventually, the rear of the saddle may cease to make proper contact with your horse's back and the cantle may "pop" at the rising trot. Meanwhile, you're becoming increasingly sore and miserable from being constantly unbalanced ... and so is your horse.

Given the number of saddles out there and the number of fitting options available, there's no reason for horse OR rider to be uncomfortable. Most better-quality saddles can be ordered with fitting options for both: specific panel configuration and tree width/shape for the horse, and flap length/set, seat size and thigh/knee block for the rider. Some compaines charge for these options, and some don't, but there's no reason that both beings in the equation can't be comfortable and happy.


Galadriel said...

I absolutely agree that comfort of the rider is just as important as that of the horse, for all the reasons you mentioned. If the saddle doesn't fit the rider, it WON'T fit the horse, even if it is shaped correctly and would fit with a different rider.

Sadly, though, the majority of my clients are not able to buy a new saddle. The fact that saddles can be ordered with many options doesn't matter, unless they're able to find precisely the right options in a used saddle of the right seat and tree size.

Further, too many saddles are poorly put together (all along the spectrum, from the very cheap to the most expensive), with serious symmetry flaws, so ordering a brand new saddle can be a frustrating experience too. When you order new, you see a stock photo in a catalog or brochure; when you buy used, you can typically see the EXACT saddle you are considering, and get an idea of its potential flaws.

Saddle fitting then becomes a balancing act: is this saddle tolerable enough for the rider or horse, if we can get it close to right for the horse or the rider? We may not be able to get the perfect ensemble, but a lot of the time we can get an "okay" fit to both.

It's always delightful when a client is ready and willing to go ahead and lay out the money to buy, not just a new saddle, but the RIGHT saddle for both client and mount. Rare, but pleasant when it happens.

saddlefitter said...

Galadriel, thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I have your saddle fitting e-book and recommend it regularly - it's clear, concise and very helpful.

I'm lucky enough to work at Trumbull Mtn. Tack Shop, where we have a very comprehensive inventory of new and used saddles, so our customers have a lot of saddles to choose from. We also have a one-week trial ride policy, so no one gets stuck with a saddle that doesn't suit. It can indeed be a balancing act, and sometimes we wind up recommending saddles that we don't sell - better to point someone in the right direction than sell them an unsuitable saddle.

To all my readers: check out Galadriel's web site at She has some very interesting information and "case studies".