Tuesday, October 27, 2009

From The Tree Up - Panels (the Basics)

After you've looked at tree width, scoop and type, the next consideration would be the panels.  In this entry, I'm going to cover the basics, and explain panel modifications (and the conformations that need them) in a later post.

Basically, there are two main types of panels:  gusseted (which are almost always wool-flocked):

and plain panels (which are often but not always foam flocked):

The function of the gusset is to flatten and broaden the weight bearing surface in the rear of the panel.  This is a good thing for a broad-backed horse, but often not such a great thing for a roof-backed horse.  To illustrate, here's a photo of a broad-backed horse and non-gusseted panels:

The angle of the back is marked in green, and the angle of the panels is in red.  You'll notice that when the saddle is placed on the horse's back, the outer edge of the panel will make contact, while the inner edge will bear little to no weight.  Yes, it will squish down some when the rider's up, but not much, and the rider's weight will be concentrated in a fairly small area on the outer edge of the panel rather than being distributed over the whole surface.

Now, here' the same horse with a gusseted, flatter panel:

As you can see, the angles are much more agreeable with the gusseted panel, and there will be contact all along the weight bearing surface.

Now, to the other side of the fence.  Here's a roof-shaped back with a flat, gusseted panel:

In this case, the bulk of the weight will be borne on the inside of the panels, along the channel close to the spine, while the outer edges of the panels bear little to no weight.

Here's that same back with that more angled panel:

Again, the angles are far better, and you'd have panel contact over the entire surface.

Final word about panel basics:  adequate clearance in the channel.  The saddles shown above offer generous clearance for the spine, which will keep the rider's weight from resting on the spinous process.  And while you don't want to get too much clearance (too wide a channel will result in lateral instability), you certainly don't want to go to the other extreme, either:

This saddle wouldn't even offer clearance for the skinny end of a 2"x4" ... NOT something I'd recommend using on a horse.

Next up:  panel modifications, and the horses who need 'em.

Friday, October 23, 2009

From the Tree Up - Hoop Vs. Standard

The previous "From the Tree Up" entry discussed tree scoop, or the longitudinal curve (also called "sweep").  Now we're going to limit the discussion to the front of the tree - the gullet and pommel arch - and discuss the importance of finding the correct type of tree.  The standard tree is shaped sort of like an inverted "V", or a peak/gabled roof:

The shape of the gullet is like so:


This shape works many horses with "average" conformation (if such a term can be applied).  Even if you have a really wide "average" horse, a standard tree could work:

The hoop tree is more like an inverted "U", or a gambrel roof (and in some extreme cases, think Quonset hut):

With a hoop tree, the gullet is shaped so:
If you have what I refer to as a "table backed" horse, you might need a hoop tree:

Heh.  Fun with PhotoShop.  I sent it to Edie as a joke, and she thought it was pretty darn amusing, and had our web mistress put it on the web site ...

Here's what I really mean:

Now, THAT is a table-back.  Here it is with a standard w-i-d-e tree:

The shape isn't quite right.  The orange arrows show where there would be areas of concentrated pressure, which would wind up making the horse sore.

Here's the same back with a hoop tree. Note that it follows the shape of the horse's back much better.

Now, let's take it to the other end of the spectrum.  Here's a more "roof" shaped back:

If you try to put a hoop tree on this horse, note how low the saddle would sit, and how all the pressure would be concentrated on the ends of the tree points (provided it didn't bang into the wither first):

Same horse, standard gullet shape.  The weight is distributed the entire length of the tree points:

Next up:  Panel Configuration.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Sometimes, There's No Answer

When I was going through my photo files, searching for different equine body types, I ran into this photo.  While it certainly illustrates an extreme of conformation, it wasn't particularly helpful, since this is one horse who has defied all my efforts to find a saddle that fits.  I e-mailed this photo to about every saddler / saddle fitter I know, and while they said, "You can try this tree and this panel," it was universally followed by, "... but even that probably wouldn't be optimal."  One suggested a good course of conditioning, dressage and abdominal lifts. (This horse's owner wanted to trail ride.  At the walk.  Once a week.  I knew that wasn't going to happen.)  One suggested a treeless saddle (that had been in the back of my mind), and a couple said, "Harness."  (That had also been in the back of my mind, to be perfectly frank.)

So here's my bête noir, my nemesis, my downfall, The One I Couldn't Fit (and incidentally, one of the kindest, sweetest horses I've ever met):

From the Tree Up: The Tree

Recently, my posts have wandered a bit from the real nuts and bolts of saddle fitting, and I'd like to get back to that sort of thing.  To that end, I'm going to do a series of posts about each component of the saddle, and how it affects fit.  And since the basis of how a saddle fits is the tree, I'll begin there.

First, we need a horse to fit - so, meet "Excitable Boy", aka "EB".

EB is an off-the-track Thoroughbred, 9 years old, who's spent the last 4 months in a steady program of dressage.  He's a bit rump-high, with a decent wither and a somewhat dropped back.  So, in addition to a tree that's the correct width, we need a tree that has some curve or "scoop" front-to-back.  I'm going to show two trees below, and then show how they'd fit on EB.

Here's the Black Country Eden tree:

And here's the Black Country Eloquence tree:

I PhotoShopped the two trees so they're one solid color, and removed the background on EB's photo - makes things easier to see - and put the trees on EB.  Here's the Eden tree:

And here's the Eloquence tree:

If you look closely, you'll see that the Eloquence tree, which is quite flat, bridges slightly.  While a panel modification could make up for some of that, it wouldn't be ideal.  The Eden tree, which has more scoop, is a much better fit.

Now, let's take it to the other extreme.  Here's Remmy, who's pretty flat front-to-back:

Now here's Remmie with the Eden.  I had one heck of a time getting the tree to sit correctly - even in PhotoShop!  If I made it sit level, the cantle popped up:

And if I made the tree have proper cantle contact, it sat pommel-high:

So the tree of the Eden is too curved, and would make the saddle rock back-to-front.

Now here's the Eloquence:

The flatter tree sits with good contact along its entire length, making it a far better choice for this flat-backed boy.

In my next entry, I'll be covering the next component of the saddle:  the panels.