Saturday, December 31, 2011

Random End of Year Stuff

Writing is a very organic and uncertain activity.  You start out with a specific story in mind, but half-way through, you find that the story (or post, or article) has gone haring off on its own down a path that you never meant to walk.  Sometimes those bits of writing get shelved and pulled out later (I have quite a few of those), sometimes you hit the "delete" button, and sometimes you follow the path just to see where it will lead.  This blog has turned out to be one of those "follow the path" things.

When I started this blog, it was something of an experiment in using social media as "free advertising" for the tack shop.  It's worked pretty well - turns out that it's consistently one of the top portals to the shop's website.  It's also grown into something more, though.  I truly enjoy writing it, and it's been received far better than I'd ever expected.  It's given me a chance to get some education about saddle fitting to the general horse public, it's allowed me to give a leg-up to some friends and colleagues, and it's given me an outlet for the frustration and silliness I encounter on a regular basis.  It's also led me to being asked to write articles and do interviews ... which I find amazing.  Who'da thunk a cranky half-a-century-old saddlefitting broad living in the booniewhacks of VT would have input and info that the general horse public would find interesting?!  It's all very, very cool, and I thank each and every one of you from the heart.

Given that this is the last day of 2011, I thought it might be fun to throw out some random things.  Two are flat-out brags, and the rest are things that never seemed to quite fit into any specific post.  First, I'm going to get the brags over with.

Here's the cover of the TrailBlazer magazine that features my "To Shim or Not To Shim" article:

All glossy and shiny and makes me go "wooooooo ...."

The frontspiece of the article:

Byline and everything!!!

Second brag.  I have been invited to the London opening of the movie War Horse:

This is thanks to Nikki Newcombe, the former Sales Manager at Black Country Saddles.  She's started her own saddle company, Bliss of London (which will be featured here as soon as they're ready to launch), and very kindly invited me.  Don't I wish!!!

My work space at the shop is a bit on the cold side.  We're up on top of a barn, and the walls in my office are NOT well-insulated.  I do tend to like lower temps (when people remark on the chilliness, I tell them that old meat needs to be refrigerated) and dress in layers to help deal with the occasional hot flash ... so the outer layer in the winter months is almost always polar fleece.  It's warm, it's lightweight, it breathes ... and it's probably not the smartest choice for someone who plays with sheep fur (or at least navy blue polar fleece when the sheep fur is white):


Got a six year old saddle in last week for a strip flock.  Not only was it incredibly dirty (I mean, you really need to work to get dirt jockeys on the panels), it had never had the flocking touched, and it had been ridden in jeans.  Here's what happens to your saddle's seat when your ride in jeans:

Close-up view.  The hair-side finish has been worn completely away and you can see the skin side.  A year or so more of riding in jeans, and the saddle's owner will be looking at a $600 re-seat.


When you flock a saddle, you tend to work with small pieces of wool, maybe 6" or so long, but not much bigger.  Big chunks of wool don't lie in well; they wad up and leave gaps and divots.  I've pulled some pretty impressive pieces out, but these are the record holders - the longest is about 31" long.  I call them The Scalps of Mine Enemies.


So what's up for 2012?  Well, going to get the mare back in shape and under saddle (and it will have to be a new saddle; the middle-aged spread she's developed can't be encompassed by anything other than a hoop tree ... so I'll have to say goodbye to my Passier GG).  Also going to have shiai (test) in karate to get the second stripe on my brown belt.  And finally, I'm working on the syllabus for an Intro to Saddle Fitting course.  I want to gear it specifically to prep students for Mike Scott's saddle fitting course, and also make it comprehensive enough to offer a good basic education for an individual's personal use.  It'll be a 2-day weekend course ... more on that when I'm further along in the organizational process.

Anyway, here's wishing all of you a happy and safe New Year - and as always, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ho, Ho, Ho

To all of my readers and their families - two and four legged - best wishes for a wonderful holiday season full of merry and bright days.  And as always, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Just to Clarify

I'm afraid that my last blog post was a bit unclear regarding whose template info I was passing on, and may have given the wrong impression.  The "Hey Santa - Reindeer Got Fur" part linked to the Kieffer USA site.  While that site sells Kieffer saddles and bridles, it is NOT under the auspices of "the" Kieffer Saddle Company in Germany.  From the Kieffer USA site:

" is an independent company and is not in any way owned, or operated by Kieffer of Germany. serves the riding public of the USA only. is owned by a Master Saddle Designer who himself is an accomplished equestrian with more than 45 years of experience. He is an expert on the unique requirements of the North American rider."

Kieffer Saddlery's site is here.  Different kettle of fish.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Fallacies (More Misinformation)

Having been in this profession for more than a decade, you'd think I'd have heard the bulk of the available info - both good and bad - about saddles and fit.  However, humans are nothing if not innovative, so there's often something new stirring out there.  Sometimes it's a new fitting diagnostic or a new saddle design, sometimes it's a new fitting theory or a new dingwhacket guaranteed to cure every saddle fitting ill on the planet.  But the one "new" thing I find unceasingly amazing is the amount of (what I feel is) questionable theory that I seem to trip over every time I turn around ... and the people willing to believe it.


My saddle fitting training and philosophy states that the saddle should spread the rider's weight over the largest possible weight-bearing area (without extending past T18) and maintain contact with the horse's back throughout the panel when the horse is in motion.  So I was quite surprised when I read this post.  My first impression was that it runs very counter to what I've been taught, so I read it through a few times, trying to understand the author's point (and keeping in mind that, while he's quite fluent in English, it is not his mother tongue).  I think I get it:  the saddle can't press too heavily in the rear of the panels, it shouldn't put pressure on the loins and it must fit the active back ... and I couldn't agree more.  However, if the Holy Three (tree width, tree shape and panel configuration) are correct, there won't be tons of pressure or "visual indents under the panel wedge" (which in my experience often come from a too-narrow tree), so the saddle doesn't need to "rock slightly at the cantle".  I can understand using upswept panels to keep the weight-bearing surface on the safe side of T18, but the word "rock" is really throwing me here.  This could be a misunderstanding on my part, or it could be an example of the differences between the UK school of fitting and the "Continental" school ... but if the cantle lifts when the horse is in motion, there's a fulcrum point somewhere that's causing the rocking, and that's causing a pressure point, and that's not good.


This reminds me of the old saw, "Fighting for peace is like f******g for virginity ..."
Recently, someone sent me photos of their horse and saddle, hoping I could shed some light on an ongoing fitting problem.  Her chiropractor/saddle fitter had recommended using front shims to "create some room", since the front of the saddle seemed tight.  When I saw the photos, it turned out that the tree was substantially too narrow for the horse, and the shims just made things worse.  "But the fitter said there needed to be more room in the front of the saddle, and the shims would help create it."

I can follow the thinking here:  if you add shims to the front of the saddle, they take up space; if the saddle's a little too wide, they can make up the width and lift the front of the saddle, making it sit level instead of nose-diving. So if you add shims to a tree that's too narrow, yes, you'll lift the front of the saddle and create more room between the horse's wither and the pommel arch ... but you're creating even more pressure under the tree points.  Following that logic, if the waistband of your jeans isn't roomy enough, you should be able to add a couple pairs of granny panties and create more room.  And trust me, one will be just as uncomfortable as the other.  If the tree's too narrow, adding more bulk under the tree points is the last thing you should do.


Customer calls and is interested in trying a Frank Baines Capriole, says she rode in one and loved it to pieces, most comfortable saddle she's ever been in, and wants one for her horse.  When I ask if she's ever tried one on her horse, she says no; when I ask what sort of horse she has, she says she has an older Thoroughbred mare with big withers and a dippy back.  Problem here is that the Baines Capriole fits flat as a pancake, and putting one on a horse with the described conformation will probably make it bridge like a plank over a ditch. But I asked the customer to send tracings and photos, just in case the "big withers and dippy back" was less extreme than it had sounded.

When the info arrived, the mare indeed proved to be the opposite end of the spectrum from "flat".  I contacted the owner with some recommendations, which included a Black Country Eden, a Frank Baines Reflex, an Albion high-head and an older County Competitor (the kind that looks like a leather-covered banana with billets).  But the owner wouldn't let go of the idea of a Capriole.  "But won't her back come up with training?  When she's doing dressage, doesn't her back come up?"

I agreed that it would and it should, and asked just how old "older" was, and what level the mare was presently working.

"She's 18, and we're just starting to work at Training Level," was the reply.

Now, I have seen horse's backs change to an amazing degree with correct training, and it's not uncommon to see dramatic muscle development happen ... but in an 18 yr. old horse under an ammie owner and just getting into Training level?  Not so much, honestly. I told the customer all my reservations and doubts, but she insisted on trying a Capriole.  She sent photos to me, and the saddle was showing daylight under the panels - plank over a ditch, indeed.  Needless to say, her fitter nixed the saddle, her trainer nixed the saddle, and her vet nixed the saddle.  Finally she settled on a Frank Baines Reflex (which fit the horse like a glove and turned out to be fine for the rider, too) ... but she told me her next horse is going to be a LOT flatter in the back.


"My horse needs a wide tree."  "My horse needs a 34 cm. tree." "My horse needs an extra-wide tree."  I hear this day in and day out.  And given some of the fitting information available on some saddle companies' web sites, it's understandable - width is one of the most frequently-mentioned facets (and sometimes the only facet) of saddle fitting.  I've even had customers tell me that reps have told them, "As long as the tree width is correct, everything else will be, too."  And while it's a vital part of the saddle fitting equation, it's not the only part.


Take a look at this.  Get past the reindeer "fur" saddle pad and click on the "How To Fit Your Horse" link on the left.  Please do not send me tracings made to these specs.  Please ... just don't.  


One of the most diplomatically sensitive areas of saddle fitting is seat size.  To some people, large seat size means "your arse is huge," and they can get downright cranky if you infer that a 16.5" or 17" seat might be a tad ... snug.  While the size of your back yard does play a part in the seat size you'll need, remember that the length of your femur plays a part here, too.  So if you're 5'9" and long-legged, please don't be offended if your saddle fitter mentions an 18" seat (or an 18.5" or 19" seat in the snug-fitting brands like Duett and Lovatt and Ricketts).  That said, there are times when a larger seat size is NOT the answer; I've dealt with lots of tall, skinny riders who'd spent years trying to stabilize their leg when they couldn't reach the knee/thigh block and swimming in seats that were miles too big.  Sometimes the answer for the tall skinnies is a smaller seat size and a modified (longer and/or more forward) flap, so if you're 5'9" and weigh 130 lbs., that may be the better option.  (If you'd like some in-depth info on fitting the rider, check out my Saddle Fit for the Rider article on the shop's website.)

If you run into any info you wonder about, check it out with a reputable saddler/fitter.  And if you don't know one, you can always leave a comment here or send me an e-mail; I'm happy to offer whatever help I can.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

TaeKwando is for Babies

FYI:  this is totally unrelated to saddle fitting.

If any of you have ever read my profile, you'll know that in addition to my horse-related activities, I am a karateka - a student of karate. (And if you haven't read my profile, well, now you know anyway.)  I've been studying Koro Ken Karatedo for the last 6 years and have attained the rank of san-kyu (first degree brown belt); according to my Sensei (teacher - literally, "one who has gone before"), I'll soon be testing for second degree.  It's a long, tough, wonderful journey ... and obviously you have to start somewhere.

In our dojo, it's considered the duty of the higher belts to help teach the beginners, and I used to help teach the kids' classes.  I had to stop doing so when I started working full time, and it was probably for the best, since I'm not kid-centric and occasionally (though unintentionally) reduced a timid child to tears.  So when I saw this video, I laughed so hard I nearly peed myself.  It does look a bit like "Riverdance" with protective headgear, but at this age, they're doing well to be walking upright.  Love those back-kicks!