There were lots of things I believed in my youth that have turned out to be fallacious: "Wait an hour after a meal to go swimming. If you don't, you'll get a cramp and drown." (I rarely go in over my head, and "You'll get a cramp while you're wading" just doesn't have the same impact.) "Eating raw potatoes will give you worms." (I love raw potatoes, and if I have worms, they're very quiet tenants.) And the biggest, courtesy of my French-Canadian Catholic grandmother: "At midnight on Christmas Eve, the animals in the barn bow down to honor the birth of the baby Jesus." (Ever the pragmatist, I snuck out to the barn one Christmas Eve when I was about 6, sat quietly, and watched. Midnight came and went, and while most of the cows and some of the horses were lying down, there was no bowing to be seen. This not only made me question the whole organized religion thing - it also blew some pretty big holes in Grandma's credibility.)
There are also a lot of old saws regarding saddles and saddle fitting that should be laid to rest. Some are based on outdated practices or technology, and some were never really true to begin with.
1) "If the saddle is the right size for you, you'll be able to fit your hand between the back of your butt and the edge of the cantle." Perhaps back in the day when English saddle design was pretty static, this might have been true. Now, however, it's pretty much gone the way of the dodo. If you look at the deep seat and high cantle on some dressage saddles, or the swept-back cantle on some cross-country saddles, you'll see what I mean. The length and set of the flaps, and the placement of the blocks are also important - if the seat's ok but the flap or blocks are wrong, the rider won't be comfy:
The seat on this saddle is sufficiently large - it would be too large for some people's taste - but unless the rider lengthens the leather considerably, her knee is going to be over the block and off the flap. A more forward-set flap would be needed if the rider is not comfortable with a longer leg.
Now here's an example of a saddle that's just too darn small - we're almost talking "thong with stirrups" here:
Probably another inch of seat length, and perhaps a more generous flap, would make the saddle a much better fit.
2) "Foam panels are no good because they break down so quickly." This was pretty true in the beginning. Anyone who's old enough to have had one of the first English saddles with foam in the padded flaps will tell you that it degraded in pretty short order and became this nasty, grainy sand-like stuff that would magically leach out and cling with great tenacity to the knee patches on your breeches. Unfortunately, the first foam panels behaved in pretty much the same manner. The good news is that today's foams are far more resilient. They don't conform to a horse's back the way wool does, which makes them a good choice for a "one saddle, multiple horse" situation (providing, of course, the fit is basically correct for all the horses it's being used on). And if something does happen that affects the integrity of the foam, the saddle can be sent back to the manufacturer and the foam can be replaced.
3) "You should have 3 fingers' clearance between your horse's wither and the gullet of the saddle." This has changed to a much less exacting "adequate clearance." With some horses and saddles, three fingers will be about right ... and on some, it may be 4 fingers, and on some, only one. Hoop trees, for example, are designed to sit lower on the horse than standard trees, in order to minimize lateral instability on the sausage bodies. Here's an example of a hoop tree that's fitting well (note the green lines showing angle of the back and angle of the tree points). There's not 3 fingers' clearance there, but the fit is correct:
4) "Buy a saddle with a wide tree and you can pad it to fit any horse." I'm going to go back to my favorite analogy here and compare that to buying a pair of size 14 shoes and thinking they'll fit everyone if they just wear enough pairs of socks. I know there are some big-name trainers out there who subscribe to that theory, but if a tree's way, way too wide for a horse, you can have it sitting up on 4 or 5 or 6 pads, and it still won't fit properly. And in addition, you'll run into lateral stability problems if your saddle is perched 3" off your horse's back on a drift of multiple pads. Just not a good idea.
5) "Women want saddles with wide twists, and men want saddles with narrow twists." I covered this in a blog post way back in March of '09 (http://saddlefitter.blogspot.com/2009/03/twist-and-shout.html), so I won't go into tons of detail - I'll just reiterate and say that I've never found much truth in that particular statement. I'm a woman, and I like a narrow twist; two women here in the shop like a wide twist. So go figure. If I ever get to the point where I can peg twist width preference and fit for the rider as easliy as I can assess fit for the horse, I'll retire in under five years.
6) "High withered horses need narrow trees for wither clearance." High withered horses rarely need narrow trees. I've been fitting saddles for a decade or so, and in that time I've run into two horses that really needed a narrow tree (and strangely enough, when their fitting needs were met, they both developed muscle and had to be re-fit with medium trees). Often, high withered horses need modified panels: a K or trapezius panel, a wither or full front gusset, or a deeper rear gusset. Putting a narrow tree on a horse just because of a big wither will actually cause more muscle atrophy under the tree points and actually exacerbate the fitting problems.
7) "Steeple-withered horses are built that way because they've never had a saddle that fits them properly." As I said in #6, trying to fit a big wither with a narrow tree can make a bad matter worse. But there are times when saddle fit isn't the culprit - genetics are. If you've been on the Trumbull Mtn. website at all, you might be familiar with this photo:
(Sorry it's so pixellated - I can't find the original and had to pull this one from the site.) This is a fairly young horse at the beginning of his under saddle career. That wither's a fitting challenge, and could be made worse by a bad fit, but it comes directly from Mom and / or Dad, not from a saddle.
8) "Getting a custom made saddle is the only way to get a really high-quality saddle, and if you have a hard-to-fit horse, it's the only way to fit them correctly." Any saddle company out there is going to make the best saddle it possibly can, whether it's a stock model or a custom job. And as for fitting hard-to-fit horses ... in all the time I've been fitting saddles, I've yet to see a horse that really, truly needed a fully custom saddle. Some need a bench-made saddle - that is, a stock model made with certain modifications - and some have needed one saddle built on another saddle's tree. But as far as honestly needing a custom tree and a custom saddle built on it? Nah. It's a nice way to spend your disposable income, and the snob appeal is undeniable, but I've yet to see it be an absolute necessity.