Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Importance of Accuracy

After re-reading my last entry, I got to thinking about how important accuracy is when taking a template for long-distance fitting. We use the misnomer "wither tracing" when we're actually talking about a more involved process, and sometimes people to send just that - a tracing of their horse's withers. This is only helpful for determining a small part of the overall picture, and only helpful for that small part if the tracing is taken in the correct spot.

So here's the bottom line: your template must be accurate for a fitter to make the correct recommendations. And while it's really not hard to take an accurate template, it is easy enough to make mistakes. If you're taking the tracings in the wrong spot, if your horse is standing with his/her head in an unnaturally high or low position, if your horse is resting a hind leg or isn't square, the template will not be accurate. And if your template isn't accurate, you're going to be spending beaucoup bucks shipping ill-fitting saddles back and forth!

Here are the ground rules:

#1) Your horse must be standing squarely on a level surface with his/her head in a relaxed position. Timing is important here: don't try to take a template when your horse is fretting about being fed or turned out with the herd - you want your horse calm and relaxed.

#2) Be absolutely sure you are taking the tracings in the correct places. If you're having problems locating the rear of the scapula for the first tracing, place your hand on the side of your horse's wither and have a helper pull the foreleg forward; you'll feel the scapula rotate under your hand, and be able to follow the rear edge of it as it moves. (You may also be amazed at how far back the scapula rotates when the foreleg extends, and will understand why you need to place your saddle on the horse's back rather that up on the wither.) Have your helper put the horse's leg back down, and again, make sure your horse is standing squarely on all four legs. Your first measurement will be taken three fingers' width (about 2" or 5 cm) behind the rear edge of the scapula.

To find the lowest point on your horse's back, roll a pill bottle, thick marker or piece of chalk down the wither to the back; it will stop at the lowest point.

To take a topline tracing, place one of the flexible curve on the horse's spine about 2" in front of the rear edge of the scapula, and conform it to the shape of your horse's topline. Remember to mark where it intersects with the first 2 measurements.

#3) Be sure BOTH legs of the flexible curve are pointing straight down toward the ground. If they're angled forward or back, it will distort the measurement.

Accuracy also applies to your photos. #1 above is a very good guideline for photos as well as the template. I'll add that being sure your photos are in focus and well-lit is necessary - I'm not talking professional quality here, I'm just saying that the fitter needs to see the horse clearly. Daylight is always preferred if possible; if not, a well-lit barn aisle or indoor arena will do nicely.

All these directives may sound a bit nit-picky, but this is one situation where "neatness counts" - the more accurate your template and photos are, the less time it will take to find the right saddle for you and your horse.

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