Thursday, May 5, 2011

Malaprops, Misnomers and Misinformation

I spend a lot of time in front of the computer.  In addition to blogging, answering e-mails, playing with PhotoShop and monitoring our web presence, I spend a lot of time writing about and researching saddles and saddle fitting.  There's a ton of info about saddles and fitting on the Internet, and in a way, that's a great thing.  All you have to do is type a query into Google and chances are you'll get thousands of results.  I Googled "saddle fitting" and got 157,000 results.  Then I Googled "English saddle fitting" and got 43,800 results. But here's the rub:  the Internet is quite eglitarian and, unless someone's writing something that is defamatory or downright libelous, pretty much anyone can put pretty much anything out there for public consumption ... veracity be damned.

So how is one to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak?  It can be tough.  Lies, big lies, and damned big lies can go viral as quickly as the truth does (and sometimes, if it's a particularly juicy lie, a lot more quickly), so just because everyone's seen it or is sharing it doesn't mean much when it comes to the quality and accuracy of the information.  Therefore, because I'm a nitpicking control freak (just ask any of my friends and family and they'll be happy to confirm this fact), I'm taking it upon myself to offer up a random sampling of some of the most glaring examples of butchered terminology, grammar and spelling offenses and misinformation that I've found on the Internet.


First, I'll address the spelling and grammar thing.  I'm known (fondly, I choose to think) as the Language Nazi, and that's one fact that I will happily confirm.  A person's use of grammar, spelling and punctuation immediately colors my opinion of the information they're offering.  Yes, I know lots of knowledgeable, highly intelligent people who do not write or spell well, and I do understand that an occasional malaprop or typo will get by even the most anal editor (I edit like a maniac, but as you all know, stuff gets by me - and when it does, my friends and family are unmerciful).  But I really feel that if you're concerned with your professional image - or with your information being taken seriously - you have to exhibit at least basic literacy.  I've seen sites for perfessional independant fitter's who understands the importince of a good-fitting saddle and, knows that comfort  ,for both horse and rider, has got to be taken into consideraton.  They've done alot of saddle fitting and make house calls to your barn and cover the area from east backache to s muckboot, vermont. 

Frankly, if your site is peppered with those sorts of errors, I won't take what you're offering very seriously, nor will I read very far ... mostly because I'll have given myself a headache by grinding my teeth because I can't edit the errors.


  • One site recommended that the best way to test for back soreness caused by saddle fit is to locate the "under saddle" muscles (I'm assuming this means the longissimus - the long muscle that runs on either side of the spine) and "probe these muscles firmly with the ends of three fingers or your thumb held stiff from your fist ... one must probe as firm as necessary to get a reaction to see if the horse is sore."  Now, in my mind, you check carefully at first for swelling, bumps or thickening, and then probe a bit more firmly.  If a reasonably firm pressure with the heel or palm of your hand doesn't elicit a response (and I just went and pushed on our shop's scale - I'm talking about roughly 15 lbs. of pressure), your horse probably doesn't have any major issues - at least not at the time you're palpating.  If you gouge and rake with great enthusiasm until you get a response, you'll never know if it was because you horse was sore, of if you just gouged and raked too enthusiastically.  And if you gouge and rake really enthusiastically, I don't know many horses that won't react, and if you take a hoof to the kneecap during such shenanegans,  it's your own bloody fault. 
  • "To judge if tree width is correct, the tree point should be parallel to the horse's shoulder."  Let's take a look at that:

There's quite a marked difference between the angle of this horse's back and the angle of the shoulder in both photos.  In the top photo, matching the shoulder angle would mean the tree would be too wide for the horse; in the second, the tree would be too narrow. The tree point should be parallel to the surface upon which it rests ... and that would be the back.

  • "If the tree width is correct, you'll have no fitting issues with the saddle."  Again, let's take a look. 
    Although you'll have to take my word for it because I don't have a photo to prove it, the tree width for this horse is correct.  So whyever is it sitting so pommel high?  Basically, because the horse's back looks like this:
    This shark-fin wither requires a deeper rear gusset to make the saddle sit balanced.  And since adding just a rear gusset would probably have brough the gullet into contact with the wither, a K panels and wither gussets were added for support.
  • "If the tree feels tight, try adding another pad to cushion it."  If you don't have sufficient width, adding bulk isn't going to improve the issue.  If your jacket is too snug, do you wear a bulky sweater under it?  If your shoes are too tight, do you add an extra pair of socks for cushion?  Of course not.  The same applies here. If the tree's a tad wide, a thicker/additional pad can be a helpful band-aid, but if the tree's too narrow, "there ain't no pad gonna fix that." 
  • "If the saddle's fitting correctly, you should be able to slip your hands under the panels beneath tree points when it's girthed and the rider's in it." Uh, no.  See "Scenario One" here.  No further comment.
  • "If your horse acts up every time he's saddled, or when he's being ridden, your saddle's not fitting properly."  While saddle fit may well be the cause of your horse's misbehavior and should definitely be checked, it's not the only thing that can cause bad behavior.  There are a LOT of other issues that can mimic or be mistaken for saddle fit issues.  Physical problems like lameness in the hock or stifle, problems with the SI joint, arthritis, Lyme disease, neurological issues, reproductive issues in mares, ulcers, dental problems and shoeing issues can be mistaken for saddle fit problems.  Your horse's training and your riding can come into play as well.  If the saddle's slipping to one side,  you may think it's a fitting issue when in reality it's an issue of an asymmetrical horse or a rider who sits hard to one side.  If the horse objects to being saddled, it could be that the horse has been ridden in an ill-fitting saddle in the past, and expects it will hurt every time he's saddled.  If the horse grinds her teeth when she's being girthed, are you doing up the girth gradually, or are you hauling away at the billets as though you're trying to raise a sail?  Time for a little detective work. 
  • "If your horse won't come through the back and work properly, try the Pessoa training system/draw reins/chambon/Vienna side reins/neck stretcher."  This is taking it to the other extreme and looking at everything except saddle fit - again, time for some detective work.  And gadgets are ... well, in the right hands, gadgets can be useful; in the wrong hands, not so much - the scalpel in the hands of a surgeon vs. the scalpel in the hands of a madman. 

My mom used to say, "Just when you think you have horses figured out, one will come along who'll prove you wrong."  I think it's pretty safe to apply that to saddle fitting as well.  While there are some basic guidelines that are pretty immutable - the pommel arch must clear the wither, for example - few things are written in stone ... contrary to some of the information out there.
  •  "If the saddle is sitting in the correct balance, the pommel will be 2" lower than the cantle."  While it's a pretty true rule of thumb that the cantle will be higher than the pommel, let's take a look at these photos:

These saddles are all sitting in pretty good balance (the top one may be just a smidge pommel-low), but there's quite a lot of variation in the pommel-to-cantle height.
  • "If the tree width is correct for you horse, you will have 3 to 4 fingers of clearance under the pommel."  Again, depends on the horse and depends on the saddle.  I prefer the term "adequate clearance" - which means that the saddle sits in correct balance and at no time comes in contact with the horse's wither/spine.  Sometimes "adequate" is 2 or 3 fingers, and sometimes - especially with hoop trees - it's less:

You also need to make sure that the clearance extends all the way through the channel of the saddle.  It's possible to have a saddle tree with too slow a rise - that is, too flat from seat to pommel - bang a horse's wither around the stirrup bars or a bit in front of them ... which you may not notice if you're just focusing on the area right under the pommel arch.


If you're going to screw up, do it with as much panache as you can muster.

As I mentioned earlier, things can slip by even the most vigilant editor, especially if you choose to believe spell check.  My most memorable one here on the blog was when I was talking about hunter/jumpers and referred to them as "hunter/humpers".  However, since no one is immune to mistakes, I have to share what is probably my most epic fail:

I once wrote a highly indignant letter to my high school alumni association for publishing my e-mail address in their newsletter without first clearing it with me.  I basically ripped them a new one for making me the recipient of a flood of communication from a bunch of people that, for the most part, I didn't much like and quite happily left behind when I graduated.  " ... and furthermore, you showed a blatant disregard for my privacy ..." (I tend to get polysyllabic when I'm pissed off) "... by publishing my e-mail address in the newsletter without first obtaining my persimmon."

(Ironically, at my high school graduation, I received an award for distinction in English.) 


Anne said...

Another great entry, interesting and entertaining as always... Thank you for educating all of us. I am French and married to a sweet Dude from the USA, and I followed him to Beijing China Where I live and ride. Needless to say there is barely a tack-shop worth mentioning and nobody is even remotely aware of saddle fitting around here... So fitting my little Arabian stallion has proven quite complicated... I Have a few so so fitting saddles for him and everything slides on top of his withers and almost up his neck. So I feel like I am on a never ending quest for a properly fitting saddle. Meanwhile I rotate the so so fitting saddles, make do with a non slip pad, and do lots of lunging and ground work...
That will be one of the nicest things the day I return to the US or Europe; the possibility of finding a saddle fitter and to try a saddle before buying it and finding out it is not so great....

Keep on the good work!

Crayonsmom said...

I love to see some of those "myths" put to rest!

So... when you wrote "SPEL" in one of those sub-titles, was that a purposeful typo to prove a point? ^_^

Crayonsmom said...

@Anne I'm in the same situation with my wide, downhill QH! Trying to fit an English saddle to her has been a nightmare. They always come forward. Were getting there, but will probably have to figure out a way to shim up whatever saddles we have, without making them too narrow, to sit level. :P

Longkaiduan said...

Would you share more about your tools and work area? Your blog about your tools was something awesome we'd love to see more, hear more, and see how you Take apart and put a saddle back together?

Kate said...

From one language nazi to another, I highly recommend Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris, Confessions of a Common Reader. It's a veritable paradise for the pedantic, which I hope you'll enjoy as much as I've enjoyed your blog.

Nikki - Black Country said...

Kitt, you know at Black Country we often refer to and use you as the Oracle and your editing skills!
What a great common sense plain talking article, especially like the shoulder v tree angle enlightenment and how many times have I had to explain "sufficient clearance" and "pommel v cantle balance" so I am sure this has saved me a few future email replies.
Many thanks - Nikki

saddlefitter said...

Thanks for the kind words, Nikki - I know as fitters, we all run into those sorts of situations, and the more we do to prevent them, the better!