Real life adventures in saddle fitting at Panther Run Saddlery
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
From the Tree Up - Panel Modifications
Finally, we return to the "From the Tree Up" series. This time, we're going to look at two of the basic panel modifications: the dropped or trapezius panel, and the K panel (you can find photos of both of these panels in this blog entry). Both are used for horses with similar conformations (again, covered in that blog post), but I wanted to show things in a little more detail.
Here's our horse, Dee. Dee was a Grand Prix jumper who'd been shown by a fairly big-name rider; he's 16 and retired from the show circuit, re-homed with a teenage girl who wants to start showing in the jumper division.
Dee is a BIG boy - 17+ hands - and more substantial than you might think from the photo. Unfortunately, his back shows the signs of being ridden in an ill-fitting saddle:
This photo shows some serious issues. The longissimus dorsii - the long muscle that runs on either side of the spine and is the primary supporting muscle for the saddle - is so atrophied that it's almost totally absent. This photo shows it even more clearly:
This shot from the rear also shows some white hairs on the wither, and some fairly dramatic asymmetry throughout the back (and he was not perfectly square behind when the photo was taken, so the asymmetry in his hindquarters looks more severe than it really was).
This sort of damage doesn't occur overnight. Dee had been ridden in an ill-fitting saddle for a long time. I knew that his back would muscle up considerably, but I also knew that his young owner would be more focused on her jumping than her flat work, so I wasn't thinking the changes would be so radical they'd rate a different saddle than the one I had in mind.
Here's a shot of Dee showing the way a standard panel would fit:
The red arrows show the area where the saddle would make no contact and be unsupported. The standard panel wouldn't be deep enough to make contact with everything it should to support the saddle and rider.
This next shot shows how a trapezius panel would fit:
The orange area shows where the trapezius panel would make contact. It's a definite improvement over the standard panel, but the red arrows again show where the saddle would be unsupported.
This next shot shows how a K panel would fit:
Of the three panel configurations, the K is definitely the best. It would "fill in the gaps" left by the muscle atrophy and would offer the greatest are of support.
Unfortunately, the rider didn't have the budget for a bench-made saddle, so we had to strike the best compromise we could between the horse's needs and the rider's economic reality. Fortunately, we had a used close contact saddle with a trapezius panel, and we were able to use a shim pad to correct the spots that weren't quite perfect. I'm happy to say that Dee's owner put in some good, consistent work, and his back is looking much healthier now. He still has a good wither with dips below them, but the longissimus has re-developed nicely and he no longer needs the shim pad. The trapezius panel works beautifully for him now. I don't have any current photos of his back, but if I can get some, I'll post them.