One of the unavoidable facts of life with horses is this: the saddle that fits your horse today probably won't fit your horse forever. Sad, but true. The saddle that fits your four year old isn't likely to fit when your horse is 8 or 10, and the saddle that fits your 8 or 10 year old horse very well may not fit when your horse is 22.
It seems that lately I've been running into a lot of people whose horses are in some sort of transition. Either they've recently bought the horse, or they're changing disciplines, or their horse is coming back from a long and debilitating lay-off -but whatever the case, they're going to be facing some pretty dramatic changes in their horse's backs.
And of course, they're all looking for saddles.
So what do I do? Do I fit the back I see right then? If I do, what happens when the musculature changes - what if the saddle no longer fits? On the other hand, if I don't fit the back I'm seeing right then, how will the rider be able to work the horse and effect the musculature?
Fortunately, this isn't really tough to solve. I just don't sell you a saddle - at least for a little while.
Before I sell a saddle for a horse "in transition", I recommend a course of good ground work. In my "other" life, I was a dressage trainer and instructor, so I know that correct ground work (longeing, long-lining and in-hand work) can be used to create incredible development in a horse's training - and in his/her back. Six to eight weeks of correct, consistent ground work should be sufficient to develop a "base line" back. I do recommend taking a template of your horse's back every couple weeks to see how the back is developing - it will be helpful in choosing a saddle, since you'll have a kind of graph of the muscle growth and can make educated guesses regarding future development. We might have to use a shim or other correction pad for a while, and we might have to do some flocking adjustments, but with luck, the saddle we choose for the "base line" back will fit much longer than if we'd fit the "right then" back.
Here's a good illustration of how radically a back can change. Both tracings are of the same Tb gelding. The first one was taken in Oct. of '08, when he was just coming back to work after a month's lay-off:
The second tracing was taken in March of '09. According to his owner, the horse wasn't in intense work, just a lot of "long and low":Here are the two, with the most recent tracing in blue, and the first tracing in red:
You can see very clearly how much change was accomplished in 4 month of gentle work - so you can imagine how much change you'll see in 6 or 8 weeks of intense work. You can also see why it's not usually a good idea to buy a saddle for a horse who's in transition - unless you have a very healthy discretionary income.