This is another in a series of rather infrequent guest blog posts by equine professionals who have another view of saddle fitting. This time, Edie Tschorn is my guest blogger. As many of you know, she owned Trumbull Mtn. Tack for over 30 years, and was my employer for about 10. I've known Edie since the late 1970s; she has been involved in training, breeding, showing, buying, selling, boarding, instructing, and retraining/rehabbing problem horses - and probably a few things I've neglected to mention. She's helped me resolve some issues with Lyric that had me beating my breast, banging my head and weeping. I have enormous respect for her experience, opinions and knowledge - and she can no longer claim that I'm saying that because she signs my pay checks. So here's something from her slant. Enjoy!
This is my first attempt at a blog entry, and Kitt assures me that it is OK to be a bit more opinionated than I could be on a daily basis. This is a topic that I am a bit passionate about, first because I love horses, and secondly because I have made my living as a trainer, a tack shop owner and the wife of a really good equine vet. I can assure you that hubby and I have had some lively discussions over dinner on the topic of lameness versus bad manners.
When I wore my trainer’s hat every day, I made it a policy to always look for discomfort as a source of poor performance before I assumed that my horse was being willfully disobedient, stupid or untalented. There were many, many times that the problem went away when the horse was offered better shoeing, dental care or a saddle that fit. Certainly, the saddle is one of the easiest variables to change, and if that truly is the source of the problem, you should see a pretty immediate improvement.
My interest in saddle fitting grew and I had the opportunity to be presented with hundreds of equestrians who were in search of the better mousetrap. Occasionally, I got the impression that some riders were not looking for a piece of athletic equipment, but instead were searching for a miracle. And, to be perfectly honest, I think there were some riders who were desperately hoping for an excuse NOT to ride. The quest for the magic saddle could take years, the assistance of a psychic, a chiropractor and many of their very closest friends and relatives.
I'll offer my opinion, which may be grossly over simplified:
If you are having training problems or problems that you think are related to your own comfort and position, please, go ahead and try some different saddles and/ or pads. If no improvement is noted, the next logical step is to go to your trainer or equine veterinarian.
If you solicit the services of the vet, you need to make sure that your practitioner is well-versed in performance issues and has a good eye for motion and lameness. Be prepared that he or she may need X-Rays, blood work or other diagnostic tools to help find the seat of the problem. Stifle and hock problems, even slight ones, can make a horse ungodly sore in the back. We have had riders and trainers trailer in horses that were just plain lame, and they were in denial that there could be any problem other than the saddle fit. I do not feel comfortable selling a saddle to someone with a horse that is head-bobbing lame. It is possible that the saddle can make a horse that lame … but not often.
If your veterinarian gives your horse a clean bill of health, then you may need to defer to a good trainer who can help you work through some behavior or training issues that may have become habitual. We all struggle with this. MY very wonderful horse can dive sideways and lean like a motorcycle in one direction. I have to take responsibility for being crooked myself, and not strong enough or correct enough with my aids to help him. Two dressage lessons helped me indentify and correct this problem.
And lastly, before I step off my soap box… It's always tough to predict the future. We have riders who swear that they are going to lose 50 pounds, so they don’t want to buy the saddle that really fits them. We have owners who think that their horse is going to grow and they want to buy a wide saddle that their horse can “grow into” … Age is a consideration, and fitness is a big factor as well. Please don’t try to buy a saddle for a horse that is out of condition. Even a month of groundwork, hill climbing, whatever you can do, can make a world of difference in your horse’s fitting needs, so developing a good “baseline” back before you get a saddle can cut down on the adjustments it might need.
But the bottom line is, horses change in unpredictable ways: they can get wider or narrower, pop a wither or gain so much muscle that the back levels out. It’s usually best to get a saddle that fits that baseline back right now, since, as Forrest Gump said, “You never know what you’re gonna get.”