Sunday, November 30, 2008

Going Into Detail

As promised in my last entry, I'm going to go into more detail on the Heavy Seven, and the other issues that come into play.

First, tree width. Yes, the tree has to be the correct width; the points should lie parallel to the horse's back (as illustrated in the previous post). But in some cases, the tree can be the correct width and still not fit properly, because many other things come into play: tree shape, gullet shape, length of tree points and panel configuration all contribute to how well - or how poorly - a saddle fits. For example, let's say that you have a lean, high-withered Tb like this fellow here:

Here he is in a saddle with the correct tree width, but with the wrong panel configuration (too shallow):

As you can see, the saddle's sitting pommel-high; it will put the rider too far back in the seat and concentrate pressure on the rear half of the saddle rather than distributing weight evenly over the surface of the panels. And though you can't really tell it from the photo, there was also insufficient clearance over the wither, and the rider's weight would have caused the saddle to sit directly on the withers. (NOTE: This is one reason that so many horses with this conformation are labelled as "narrow", because without panel modifications, most saddles with the correct tree width will sit on the wither; hence the need to go to a narrower tree for clearance. This just causes more atrophy in the back and makes the horse even harder to fit properly.)

So what would have to be done to the saddle? The panel would obviouosly need to be thicker in the rear, but it would also need to be modified in front; in this case, a wither gusset:

and a dropped or trapezius panel:

The combination of these two panel options will "fill in the dips" below those big withers and lift the saddle up off the wither. The photo below roughly shows - in green - where the weight bearing surface will be on a "standard" panel; the red lines show the weight bearing area of a saddle with a trapezius panel and wither gusset:

UP NEXT: Channel width and panel contact. Stay tuned!

Monday, November 24, 2008

"The Heavy Seven"

When it comes to saddle fitting, everyone has an opinion, and it can sometimes be tough to get much of a consensus. Theories abound regarding tree shape, panel shape, foam panels vs. wool flock vs. synthetic flock, you name it - and most fitters will happily debate different viewpoints ad nauseum. But there are seven points regarding saddle fitting put forward by the Society of Master Saddlers that are generally accepted as truths. So here are "The Heavy Seven" (how many of you remember that George Carlin riff?) of saddle fitting.

1) The points of the tree must lie parallel (or within 10% of parallel) to the horse's back - not the shoulder, but the back. Points of the tree and angle of the back are highlighted in red:

This means the tree width is correct. Here is a tree that's too narrow (angles highlighted in green):
#2) There must be even pressure under the tree points from top to bottom. In the photo above, there will be more pressure toward the bottom of the points; if the tree's too wide, the pressure will be greater at the top of the points.

#3) The channel between the panels must clear the spinous process.

#4) There must be adequate clearance between the gullet and the withers. "Adequate" will vary from horse to horse - sometimes it will be 3 fingers, sometimes 1. "Adequate" just means that the saddle is sitting in correct balance and at no time makes contact with the withers.

#5) Balance of the saddle must be correct, with the deepest part of the seat being the lowest point. Here's a saddle with the balance point too far to the rear:

Here's a saddle with much better balance:

#6) The panels must make even contact with the horse's back, with no bridging or rocking.
#7) The tree of the saddle cannot extend past the 18th thoracic vertebrae, which is the location of the last rib and therefore the last part of the back capable of bearing weight.
So there you have the seven basic points. Next entry, I'll go into greater detail on each point.

Friday, November 21, 2008


"Numpty" definition: a raw beginner with no experience whatsoever. (Thank you, Kay Hastilow, for introducing me to this wonderfully descriptive word.)

Numpty ... that would be me in the blogosphere, and - honestly - with technology in general. I mean, I don't have a PDA, BlackBerry or iPhone; my computer monitor is one of those big honkin' dinosaurs that takes up three-fourths of my desk, my cell phone doesn't take photos (at least, I don't think it does) and my 12 yr. old son is my in-house IT guy. You get the picture. But in spite of being somewhat techno-phobic, I thought it might be nice to have a blog to record my saddle fitting experiences, not only to "think out loud", but also to share my experiences in the hope that someone may learn something from my journey.

Just to pad my profile a little, I'll let you know that my name is Kitt Hazelton, and I've been a saddle fitter at Trumbull Mtn. Tack Shop, Inc. for the last 8 years. I've been very lucky to have been taught by some wonderful and knowledgeable people, including Mike Scott, Nancy Shedrick and my present mentor and hero, Patty Barnett. I also attended the Society of Master Saddlers Intro course in Oct. of 2007. I do fitting, flocking and some repairs. I'm the shop's dressage specialist; I consult with customers in-house, and travel to barns for fitting adjustments and to take templates and photos for folks who are saddle shopping. I'm also lucky to work with a great bunch of women: Edie Tschorn, the shop's owner; Nancy Okun, our endurance and competitive trail specialist, and Sara Ineson, our hunter/jumper and eventing specialist. We all have our specialities, but we all pinch hit for each other on vacations and days off.

Saddle fitting is at best an inexact "science" - just when you think you finally have it all figured out, along comes a horse who breaks all the known laws of physics, gravity and saddle fitting. But that's one of the things that makes this job so interesting - it's never the same twice, and there's always something new to learn.

UPDATE:  Though I know that those of you who've been following my blog for a while are aware, I want to let any newcomers know that I left the shop in 2013 when its physical location moved, and am no longer affiliated or associated with it in any way.