When someone sends me a saddle to sell on consignment, I often hear the following comments:
"The rep said it fit my horse, but within a week, he was so back sore that he was biting when I came near with the saddle."
"It looked fine on my horse in the crossties, so I bought it."
"I could only ride in it for 5 minutes, and couldn't girth it up."
"I bought it on-line."
"A wide tree Albion SLK fits my mare beautifully, and this is a wide tree, too - but it doesn't fit!"
What it comes down to is that many people will buy a saddle without trying it first - which can be a huge mistake. Let's look at each scenario, and find the fatal flaws.
1) "The rep said it fit my horse, but within a week, he was so back sore that he was biting when I came near with the saddle."
I touched on this in an earlier post ("For The First Time Horse Owner", posted on 1/30). Many reps are "certified" by the company they sell for, but that doesn't mean that they are truly well-versed in fitting all saddles; usually the company teaches them to sell and fit their saddles (sometimes, sadly, with more emphasis on "sell" than "fit"). Reps may receive as little as an afternoon of instruction to gain their "certification". This is not true of every rep, of course - there are some damn fine fitters out there repping for various companies, but reputation rather than certification is usually the surest measure of a fitter.
2) "It looked fine on my horse in the crossties, so I bought it."
Static fit can be very different from active fit. You must remember that a horse's back can and often does change quite dramatically when s/he moves, so what looks fine in the ties can be a whole different story when the rider's up and the horse starts moving. Also, a saddle that feels fine sitting on the buck in the shop may not feel the same on a moving horse, even if it fits your horse well.
3) "I could only ride in it for 5 minutes, and couldn't girth it up."
I don't know about you, dear readers, but if I were riding in a saddle that I couldn't girth up, I probably would not attempt anything other than a nice collected walk. My balance is fairly decent, but I don't think it's anywhere near good enough to ride an ungirthed saddle at the trot or canter, and - this could be my middle-aged comprehension of my mortality - for damn sure I wouldn't be trying any hills or jumps. (Not that I do jump ... but if I did. Just sayin'.) Anyway, it's impossible to tell how a saddle will really ride based on a sedate five minute toddle on the flat.
4) "I bought it on line."
Now, if you've ridden your horse in a wide tree XYZ saddle that was manufactured in 2005, and it's worked well for both of you, AND you're lucky enough to find another 2005 wide-tree XYZ on line, then it has a reasonable chance of working for you and your horse. But keep in mind that each saddle is unique, and the 2005 wide-tree XYZ that Frank made will ride a tad differently than the one Rob made. Also, each flocked saddle will be flocked uniquely; and if the saddle's used, it will have likely taken on the shape of the last horse it was ridden on, and may need flocking adjustments to fit your horse properly.
5) "A wide tree Albion SLK fits my mare beautifully, and this is a wide tree, too - but it doesn't fit!"
Comparing tree widths, whether you're talking about saddles marked narrow, medium and wide or saddles measured in centimeters, is pretty useless. There's no standardization, so saying your horse needs a wide tree is open to a lot of interpretation. For example, a wide Frank Baines is wider than a wide (32 cm) Stubben; Passier's wide tree measures 28.5 cm., and Prestige's wide tree measures 35 cm.
Tree type and shape need to be considered, as well. A wide hoop tree will fit much differently than a wide standard tree; a 34 cm. Duett Largo, which has a pretty flat tree, fits very differently than a 34 cm. Duett Fidelio, which has much more scoop to the tree. Remember that panel configuration plays a large part as well.
So I'm going to ask you all to make me a promise: Never, ever - even if the rep (or your trainer, or your animal communicator, or your vet, or your mom) says the saddle's a good fit, even if it looks good in the cross ties, even if if felt good during the Five Minute No-Girth ride, even if you got such a deal on-line that it was nearly criminal, and even if it's the same tree width as another saddle that fit well - never, ever buy a saddle without trying it first.
Dispensing this advice may cut down on the number of consignment saddles I get in the shop, but it will also make me feel better knowing that it may have saved someone (and their horse) some pain and inconvenience.