Friday, January 30, 2009
For the First Time Horse Owner
But before I do that, here's the very best advice I can offer the first time horse owner: buying a saddle is a lot like buying a horse - get help from a professional.
1) Find a saddle either with the help of an independent fitter (or through one who reps multiple saddles) or through a reputable shop with a good inventory and a good fitter. This will allow you access to saddles from a variety of saddle makers, which I believe is vital - there's no one company out there that makes a saddle that's perfect for every horse and rider combination, so limiting yourself to one company may not be the best idea. Working with a good fitter should also cut way down on the trial and error process, since the fitter can direct you to the tree shape, tree width, and panel configuration that would most likely work for your horse.
Now, I hear you all asking, "How do I find a reputable fitter?" Word of mouth is usually the best way - if someone's "street cred" is overwhelmingly good (or the reverse), there's usually a reason for it. And while there are companies, associations and schools that will certify people who pass their courses, I'm going to don my flame suit, brace myself, and make a bold statement: it's my belief that not all good fitters are certified, and not all certified fitters are good. Some certification programs, like the Society of Master Saddlers or Mike Scott's program, are very lengthy and detailed and require prior knowledge and experience, and some are not; many of the certification programs offered by saddle companies are geared toward teaching their reps to sell and fit their saddle rather than saddles at large. I'm not certified by any association, though I have learned from certified fitters, and regularly have certified fitters refer clients to me. My mentor (and hero) Patty Barnett - who does all the big scary repairs that I don't have the equipment or know-how to do - spent 5 years apprenticing with Gary "the Saddle Dr." Severson, and she's not certified, either. So my advice would be to put more store in reputation than in certification.
2) Make sure you can try the saddle before you commit to buying it. Some shops will offer you a one-week "ride it like you own it" trial. Panther Run Saddlery (that would be me) is one, and Equestrian Imports is another. We want you to put your fittings on the saddle and really ride in the saddle - take a lesson or two, go on a trail ride, whatever it is that you do. You simply can't tell if a saddle's going to fit just by plunking it on your horse while s/he stands in the cross ties. What looks fine there may be a whole 'nother story when you're up and your horse is going, so remember: try before you buy.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Saddle Recommendation for Arabee and Nicole
Ideally, I'd like to see Arabee in a saddle with an shallow gusseted, upswept - the upsweep will keep the panels from extending past T18, and the gusset will give a broader bearing surface to the bottom of the panel, and a shallow gusset will keep it from sitting too high in back. A full front gusset might help keep the saddle back, as well.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
So Many Topics
I will get to everyone's questions, topics and photos as soon as I can, though it may take a little time. In the meantime, please keep the input and photos coming!
Monday, January 12, 2009
Saddle Recommendation for Tipperary and Renn Goldberg
Tip is a little bigger on the left than the right (left shoulder more developed, left haunch higher), which isn't unusual. All horses (like all people) have a preferred side, and that side will be more muscular (and often less flexible - they'll bend to the left with no problem, but going to the right is tougher because they have to stretch that muscled side). From a saddle fitting standpoint, it's not a big deal unless this is a chronic issue that won't be changing, and then we'd most likely deal with it through flocking adjustments. However, I'm guessing that this is a stage he's at in his development, and it will change.
Though it's hard to tell for sure without a tracing (or without getting my hands on his back), I think Tip can be fit with a fairly generous standard tree - I don't think a hoop tree will be necessary; he doesn't appear to be that broad through the withers. Again, a panel with a fairly shallow gusset would offer a nice broad weight-bearing surface for his nice, broad back without making it sit too high in the cantle.
Now for Tip's sides:
This looks pretty straightforward - no major dips or divots (small one below the wither on the left side), so probably wouldn't need wither gussets or a trapezius panel (can't tell for sure without a tracing). So, based on the photos and Renn's description, my recommendation would be a Black Country Quantum. Since Renn's femur is about 14" and the Quantum has a flap that will accommodate a long thigh, a 16.5" seat might work, or perhaps a short flap option would be worth investigating.
Some other possibilities for Renn and Tip would be a Frank Baines Reflex cc, a County Stabilizer, or one of Albion's close contacts.
Renn, thank you so much for being the first. And if you'd care to send a tracing, I'll make further recommendations.
Friday, January 9, 2009
New Feature - Thanks to CotH BBers!
I think this will be a fun, informative feature - I'm looking forward to it.
Friday, January 2, 2009
It's A Flocking Thing (Wooly Thoughts) ...
ME: "Is this a wool or foam-flocked saddle?"
ME: "Have you had a fitter take a look at it and make adjustments?"
JD: "Um, no. Was I supposed to?"
My bad here. I dropped the ball and didn't pass necessary info on to my clients. I just assume that people know that wool-flocked saddles have to have the fit checked after about 10 hrs. of riding, and adjusted as necessary. Well, we all know what "assume" makes ... and in this case, it can also make a horse back-sore.
So I'm telling you all (and am reminding myself to tell my clients) that a wool-flocked saddle needs that kind of maintenance. It's sort of like changing the oil in your car - it needs to be done periodically to keep things running smoothly. After the initial adjustment, it should be checked again in a few months - it sometimes takes a couple of fitting adjustments to initially fine tune the fit. After that, the fit should be checked (and adjusted if necessary) every 6-12 months, depending on how often the horse is ridden and on the horse's level of training and development.
And at some point down the road, you'll need to have a total reflock - a "strip flock" - done. Wool compacts and loses its resilience, and - if subjected to enough constant pressure - will actually felt up. Here's what new wool looks like - I get this lovely stuff from Alan Powell at Saddler's Bench (they make our Killington close contact saddle):
It's soft and fluffy and free of knots and lumps, highly resilient and very cushy.
And here's what old wool looks like:
Admittedly, this is an extreme case. This wool came out of an ancient (think 30 yr. old) Stubben that had never had any work done on it. The wool used here is remnant wool from the garment and upholstery industries - hence the multiple colors. But even the lovely wool that I use will become matted and lumpy over time, and will need replacing.
How often? Again, it depends on how often (and in what conditions) you ride, and how often and how radically the flocking has been adjusted. Some saddles can go five to ten years before needing a strip flock, and some need it after only a few years. I think my record holder for needing a strip flock the soonest is Jenny Kimberly, a local endurance / competitive trail rider. Jenny literally rides thousands of miles a year in all kinds of weather, and her mare Lyric changes condition from the beginning to the end of the season, and her saddle needs flocking adjustments as a result. Her saddle needed a strip flock after only 3 years.
By the way, even if your saddle is foam flocked, the fit should be checked at least once a year - or more often if you notice changes in balance or in your horse's way of going. With foam, the tree width can be altered, but other fitting adjustment have to be made with shims and corrective pads. But whichever you have in your saddle, find a knowledgeable fitter to take a look periodically - your horse will thank you.