One of the most constant pieces of advice I seem to give people is, "Find a reputable fitter in your area, and have them come out and take a look/do the adjustment/give you some input." Hands-on fitting is the optimal way to go - you can do a fitting assessment or see many adjustments that need to be made via photos, and bumping a saddle back up to factory spec is pretty simple - but particularly for more complex fitting issues, having a knowledgeable fitter there in person is the best way to insure correct fit.
I have dispensed this advice for as long as I've been fitting saddles, and I think it's pretty darn sound advice ... but someone recently threw me a curve. "What I want to know, " this person asked, "is how to find someone who knows their stuff? And how do I know that they know their stuff?"
And that, dear readers, is a damn good question.
First, merely finding a fitter can be a fairly daunting task. We're really pretty thin on the ground. There are lists of fitters on the Society of Master Saddlers' website here, and on the Master Saddlers Association website here; some saddle companies list their fitters on their web sites, or their reps / retailers are fitters. And I'm after Mike Scott to put a list of his fitting course's graduates on his web site, too. But as I've written before (in "For the First-Time Horse Owner" wa-a-a-a-a-y back in Jan.), not all certified fitters are good, and not all good fitters are certified. Certification is only as good as the organization offering it - some courses are outstanding, and some are little more than "how to sell our saddle" tutorials aimed at a company's reps. Of course, so much depends on how the individual fitter uses the education offered - you can put forth the best, most comprehensive information available, but how and if someone assimilates and applies the knowledge is key.
So, if certification isn't really a reliable measure, how do you find a good fitter? In my experience, word of mouth is a pretty good indicator. Check with veterinarians, with chiropractors, massage therapists, tack shop and barn owners, and other riders. Most people are more than happy to share their opinions. If the overwhelming majority of people like or dislike someone, there's usually a pretty good reason. I know some outstanding saddlers/fitters whose only certification comes from years of successful business and glowing recommendations from their customers, and I know some fitters who have multiple certifications and not much in the way of street cred. The reverse is true, too.
Another thing to consider is your gut reaction. No matter how highly recommended a fitter is, if there's something about him/her that you just don't like (even if it's something as basic as the attitude with which they walk into the barn), it may not be a good mix. Personality does come into the mix with fitters, as it does with your trainer, vet or farrier. I'm not saying you'll always agree with everything a fitter says, and s/he may make some suggestions that seem a little unusual (I've had times when clients have looked at me as though I'd grown another head), but if the overall feeling isn't a good one, you might want to consider it a learning experience and just move on to someone else.
In addition to reputation and personality, here's a list of things that I think are important to consider when you're choosing a fitter:
1) Does the fitter listen to my input? Does s/he take time to get a history of the saddles I've tried, and the fitting issues my horse and I have encountered?
2) Does the fitter ask if my horse is or has been experiencing any soundness issues?
3) Does the fitter pay attention to my horse's reaction?
4) Is the fitter willing to see if my existing saddle can be made to work, or is s/he immediately telling me I need a new one?
5) If I do need (or want) a new saddle, what options is the fitter offering? Am I being pushed toward only one brand, or am I being given a choice?
6) If I'm trying a new saddle but don't feel comfortable in it, or feel it's not fitting my horse well, does the fitter take that into consideration?
7) (And this is my biggest peeve.) Is the fitter telling me that the XYZ saddle company makes a saddle that will suit every horse and rider in the world?
As I said before, you won't get on with every fitter out there, and you may have to go through a bit of trial-and-error. But if you can find someone who'll listen to you and take the time to make sure that you and your horse are comfortable and happy, it will be worth the search.