Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Society of Master Saddlers Qualified Saddle Fitters in the US

As promised, here's a current list of the SMS QSFs here in the States:

Tiger Adams - The Horse in Sport - Grand Junction, CO  http://www.thehorseinsport.com/

Kate Wilson - Dutches Bridle & Saddle, Port Jervis, NY  http://www.dutchessbridlesaddle.com/

Suzie Fletcher-Baker (Master Saddler)  Eaton, CO  970 454 3556  http://www.masterssaddlery.com

Lucy Batchelor (Master Saddler) - Bridgehampton, NY  http://www.brennansbitandbridle.com/?page_id=30

Judi Berninger - Saddlers Row, Palatine, IL  http://www.tack-repair.com/saddles/dressage%20saddles/Albion%20Platinum.htm

David Boot (Master Saddler) - Bridgehampton, NY  http://www.brennansbitandbridle.com/?page_id=30

Nancy Dotti - Contact Saddles, Santa Rosa, CA  http://www.contactsaddles.com/about.htm

Annette Gavin - Hastilow Competition Saddles, Warfordsburg, PA  http://www.hastilowusa.com/

Beverley Harrison - The Tack Collection, Lafayette, CO  http://www.tackcollection.com/

Kate Lamacki (Master Saddler) Palatine, IL katelamacki@sbcglobal.net

Colleen Meyer  Advanced Saddle Fit Marlborough, NH  http://www.advancedsaddlefit.com/index.html

Cordia Pearson  The Saddle Fitter Stacey, MN  http://www.saddlefitter.com/

Kyrena Robinson The Paddock, Inc.  Ledyard, CT  http://www.thepaddockinc.com/category_s/64.htm

Nancy Shedrick NH  603-764-5899

Heather Soones-Booher Saddle Fitting 101, Portersville, PA  http://www.saddles101.com/

Cary Wallace Custom Saddlery San Marcos, CA  http://www.mysaddle.com/MYSADD~3/DesignResearch.html

Janet Wells Tunbridge, VT  jwhorsepower@innevi.com

Deborah Witty  -  Performance Saddlery, Groton, NY  http://www.performancesaddlery.com/

Bill Wood (William Gates Wood) VA  http://www.thesaddlefitter.com/

Monday, April 19, 2010

There's a Rumor ...

Did you ever play the game "Rumor" when you were a kid?  You'd sit around in a circle and one person would whisper something into the first person's ear - say it was something like, "Donna's going to the movies with her best friend next Friday night."  The first person would whisper it to the next person, who'd whisper it to the next; it was passed on in that fashion until it reached the last person, who would announce it to the group at large.  Almost invariably, the message would have become something like, "Donna's going out with her best friend's boyfriend next Saturday."  And the more people it filtered through, the more distorted it was likely to become.

Now, we just heard a couple of rather nasty rumors here at the shop, and I'd like to do what I can to put them to rest before they spread and morph into something even uglier than they already are.  According to the first rumor, Black Country Saddlery has gone out of business.  Totally, absolutely, completely untrue.  What IS true is that Nikki Newcombe, BC's sales manager, has been stuck in the UK, unable to get to Rolex Kentucky because of the no-fly situation caused by the volcanic eruption in Iceland.  (If you're going to Rolex, however, do stop by the BC booth because it will be open!)  The company itself is still hale and hearty - in fact, they've recently hired a new saddler - and they're turning out our best-selling saddles with the usual attention to quality and fit.  So, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of their death have been greatly exaggerated.

The second rumor is that there is only one Society of Master Saddlers Qualified Saddle Fitter here in the US.  While I may not put a huge store on a fitter's certification or lack thereof, I am an incorrigible nit-picker and MUST set facts straight by saying that this rumor is also completely false.  There are well over a dozen SMS QSFs here in the States.  The SMS site has a list on their website, but - strangely - their site is down  as I'm writing this post; so Nikki is sending me a list of the US QSFs, which I will post here when I receive it. 

Well, I feel much better, having done my bit to set the record straight.  And to those who spread this sort of misinformation, I'd remind you to be wary of the Teeth of Karma, which are, in my experience, very long, very sharp, and unerringly aimed to take a large chunk out of the offender's butt.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

My New Favorite Leather Stuff

Here's my new favorite stuff:

And here's what it does.  This is an older, Argentine-made Collegiate that hasn't seen much in the way of TLC:

The leather's dry and the flaps have seen a lot of rubbing and abuse:

Now here's the same saddle (note that all photos were taken using the same lighting and exposure settings on my camera, and all the same adjustments in PhotoShop) after a single light application of the Black Country Balsam and a quick buff with a soft cloth:

Close-up of the flap:

Added bonus:  it wasn't so oily that I had to wash my hands after using it, and it has a light, pleasant lemon scent.  And if it can do that in less than 5 minutes to badly-damaged, inexpensive leather ... 'nuff said!

What's the Point?

There is very little standardization in the way saddles fit - particularly when it comes to width.  Tree construction varies from company to company, so one company's medium may be comparable to another company's medium-wide or wide.  Trees made in the UK to BETA (British Equestrian Trade Ass'n.) standards have to be within a certain angle measurement - a medium, for example, between 85° and 94.9°, and a wide between 95° and 104.9° - but that's almost 10° variation.  Even centimeter measurements, which you'd think would be a more exacting way of measuring width, aren't much help.  A 29 cm. Passier (that company's x-wide tree) will fit a wider horse than a 32 cm. Stubben. 

Why?  Tree point length.  Saddles measured in centimeters are measured between the tree points on the bare tree, before the saddle is built.  So if you have an 8" long point, 32 cm. will be considerably less generous than if the points are 5" long.  To illustrate, I've compared a 28.5 cm. "wide" Passier with an "xw" Stubben (which, according to Stubben's web site, is wider than a 32 cm., though no exact width measurement is listed).

Here's the Passier.  Edie's index finger is showing the location of the bottom of the tree point:

Measured from the saddle nail down to the end of the point, it's just about 5":

Now, here's the Stubben, with Edie's index finger again at the end of the tree point:

And here's the length of the point - about 8":

Here's a comparison of the same saddles (remember, Stubben xw, Passier wide, 28.5 cm.) from the front, with the ends of the tree points marked with tape.  First, the Passier:


Though it's hard to see, the measurement is just under 12".

Here's the Stubben:

Again, hard to see the numbers, but it's measuring about 12 1/2".

The longer points on the Stubben can be helpful when fitting a horse with a good wither - they distribute the weight all the way down the wither.  But on a horse with moderate to no wither, long points can make the saddle "perch" and cause lateral instability.

And when you add panel configuration and tree shape into the mix, it can be even more confusing.  A K panel or a wither (or full front) gusset will make a saddle fit less generously.  A hoop / freedom head tree or a panel that's attached lower down in the gullet (like Passier's Freedom panel) will make a saddle more generous in the width department.   Here's a photo with three saddles - all 34 cm. trees - so you can see the variation in width.  The top saddle is a Duett Largo, built on a hoop-type tree; the middle is a Prestige 2000D, and the bottom saddle is a Duett Fidelio.

And to get an idea of how panel configuration figures in, here are two Black Country saddles - an Eloquence X on top, and a Vinici X on bottom.  Both are 17.5" wides, built on the same tree ... but look at the difference.

So if you're in the market for a saddle, remember that describing your horse as needing a "wide" tree or a "33 cm. tree" can be open to a LOT of interpretation.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Mythbusters, Inc.

Here we are, more than four months into a new year and a new decade.  I remember being in my teens and doing the math to find out how old I'd be in the year 2000 ... and not being able to imagine being that old.  And now I'm 10 years older than that.  Little did I know ...

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.

 Also, personal preference plays a large part here.  Some people like to feel a little more cradled, while some prefer a bit more room to move.  If you feel balanced and comfortable, and can ride well and effectively, then the seat's the right size for you.

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.