Monday, November 19, 2012

Panther Run Saddlery (Coming Soon)

It's a work in progress (the site isn't live yet, but I'll let you know as soon as it's up).  I'll be offering the same services as before: long distance fitting using templates and photos, barn calls, sales, consulting, and reflocks/repairs.  I'll have mostly new saddles at first, though I'll be doing consignments as well.  In the meantime, please feel free to "like" Panther Run Saddlery on FaceBook!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The More Things Change ...

The shop at the Pullman Family Farm, summer 2012

This year has brought some pretty dramatic changes to my life. This summer, we had to put our dear old Tanka dog down due to the infirmities of old age.  Then, Edie passed away on Sept. 20, and my brother-in-law Chris passed away 15 days later - oddly, from  the very same cancer Edie had.  And on Oct. 26th, I learned that as of November 30, my time with the shop will be over.

The owners have decided to move the physical location of the shop closer to their home - understandable, since their commute is about 60 miles one-way.  However, the new location they've chosen puts the shop 60 miles away from me. That would mean that my 40 mile round-trip commute would morph into a 120 mile round-trip commute ... and that ain't gonna happen.  Not for me, and sadly, not for my co-worker Nancy Okun, either - her commute would actually be 12 miles longer than mine.  So as of 5 pm on Nov. 30, after roughly 14 years with the shop, it's officially good-bye.

Change is unsettling, no question - but after the first terrifying, stomach-dropping shock, it often turns out the be just the kick in the ass that was needed.  Since Edie sold the shop in 2009, things have changed significantly; I've become increasingly restless, and have spent more and more time contemplating the possibility of "going independent" and running my own business ... and if this isn't the universe telling me that now's the time to do just that, I miss my guess.

In the years I worked with Edie, I learned about saddle fitting, repair and design ... and I also learned her particular business philosophies, practices and ideals, those specific ingredients that made a little tack shop up over the indoor arena 3 miles off the main road in a town of less than 4,000 people the go-to place for saddles and fitting.  So I'd say that I have a very successful business model to use.  I've also met some outstanding folks in the saddle business who've helped and taught me: Nikki Newcombe, Ann Forrest, Nancy Temple, Patty Barnett, Rob Cullen, John, Gemma and Cassie Hartley, Frank Baines, Victoria Coleman, Mike Scott,  Brita Rizzi and Louise Palmer, to name just a very few, and since they've heard the news, they've been even more kind and supportive.  And since the change has become public knowledge in the saddle world, Nancy and I have had three people very kindly approach us with offers to rep saddles, and we're going to take them all on.  I'll still be taking saddles to barns and traveling to do adjustments; I'll also be working long-distance with templates and photos, and I'll still be writing this blog, same as ever.  I'll also be setting up my own web site, which will have fitting info and - new feature - videos.  In deference to the fact that I need a regular income, I will have to find a "real" job, at least for a while, but my focus will be on getting back into saddles full-time as soon as possible.  I truly love doing this, and don't see any reason I should quit.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Crazy Little Thing Called "Sandy"

In case any of you have spent the last few days away from any sort of news or social media, the northeastern US is supposed to get hit with Hurricane / Tropical Storm Sandy.  The forecast says it will come in from the east, make landfall around New Jersey later today, and run into a winter storm coming in from the west, creating a "Frankenstorm" that could leave the entire northeastern US battered.  Although the main part of the storm isn't supposed to hit Vermont (or even come very close), this is a very big storm - by some accounts, more than 900 miles across - and we're supposed to get high winds, heavy rain and probable power outages.  The wind's beginning to pick up as I write this, and the sky was an eerily beautiful pink/purple at dawn:

While this storm isn't supposed to create anywhere near the havoc that Irene did last year (though we escaped that totally unscathed, except for an unexpected day off from work due to the roads being flooded), it's still best to be prepared, especially since there's a horse involved.

This entails things like stockpiling about 4 days' worth of water in the horse barn (we have ample water available from the brook below the house, but it's a serious undertaking to get jerry cans up 100' of very steep incline).  We also made sure we have enough hay and grain, and double-checked the fence line.  While flooding isn't a huge concern - we're at roughly 1500' here - the horse barn is at the foot of a hill, and has been known to have a little stream running through it during wet times.  I ditched the paddock and around the barn as best I could; we had plans to have someone come in with a bulldozer this summer and do the job right, but it never dried out enough - and there's so much clay in the soil here so that big machines will slide downhill under their own weight.  I did NOT want a bulldozer pushing my pole barn off the cement piers!

The real concern for us is wind.  We're in the woods, and while the local power company is pretty good about keeping the lines clear, trees do take them out on a fairly regular basis - so being prepared for outages is routine.  We have a wood stove in one end of the house and a fireplace in the other, and about 2 cords of wood at the ready (for those of you who aren't familiar with that measurement, a full cord of wood measures 4'x4'x8').  We have flashlights and lamps (both kerosene and battery), lots of non-perishable foods (for humans, dogs and cats) and plenty of warm clothes and blankets.  We park the cars in as open an area as we can - as you can tell from the photos, we have some very large locusts and maples on the property.  Falling / flying limbs can take out a windshield pretty easily, AND they can take out part of a fence quite effectively, too.  So the mare gets an ID tag braided into her mane just in case - it's a metal key fob; I used my Dremel tool to engrave it with my last name, location and phone number.

And now we wait ...

Friday, September 21, 2012


Reggie and Edie Tschorn
Yesterday, the world was diminished.  Edie Tschorn, my mentor, neighbor, former employer, friend and hero passed away, eleven months after being diagnosed with brain cancer.  She was one of the kindest, most giving and open people I've ever known, and while I will miss her more than I can ever convey, I was truly blessed to have had her in my life.  She's the reason I became a saddle fitter, and she had more influence on me than she probably knew; the good bits of me became better and brighter with her guidance. She encouraged me to start this blog, and encouraged me to keep going with it, suggested subject matter and often proofed the posts before I published them.  She helped me with pretty much every facet of my life, professional and personal, and did it with grace, tact and good humor, even when I was being my usual pushy, reactive, bull-headed Aries self.  (She once said to me, when we were working through a particularly difficult and potentially explosive issue with my difficult and potentially explosive mare, "I think I know you well enough to say that you and your mare are an awful lot alike."  Few people in this world could have said that to me at such a time without getting the rough and profane side of my tongue, but Edie did, and made me laugh about it, too.)

As often happens when my deepest heart is touched, it's hard for me to find the words that really express what I'm feeling.  Edie touched so many lives and mentored so many people, young and old; her hand and her heart were always open, she always had a moment for you - even when she didn't - and she never failed to find the right thing to say or do to make you feel good.  There are so many things I could say about her, so many things she did, so many examples of her wonderful nature, but I think the one thing that really sums Edie up is this:  At the end of every day in the shop, before we walked down the stairs and out the door, no matter if we'd had a herd of PITA customers and been gold-plated assholes that day (and there were times when I know I truly excelled at that), she'd say, "Thank you."

Monday, August 20, 2012

Where's the Horse?

I was reading through the Chronicle of the Horse's 75th Anniversary issue (yes, I'm a month behind on my magazine reading, as usual) and came across a saddle ad. This ad is for a saddle that we used to sell back in the long-ago; the quality of the leather is lovely, the saddles are very pretty, and they're quite haute couture as far as saddles go.  The ad  reads:  "Your horse can do amazing things when he is free to be himself."  It goes on to list all the amazing things your horse can do ... until you're in the saddle.  "You must be perfectly balanced so your horse is free to be his incredible, athletic horsey self."  Advertised saddle, of course, will accomplish that task.  "We start by finding the right seat for your center of balance.  Then, just like our bridles, we finish it off with full grain leather that feels like butter, and extraordinary attention to detail."

And not one sentence - hell, not one word - about the horse.  So I went to the web site, thinking I might find more info about fit for the horse there.  Hmm.  On the home page, it says, "Most saddle makers concern themselves with fitting the horse.  We believe that's not enough!"

That led me to believe I might find more about fitting the horse somewhere on the site,  Fitting the horse might not be "enough," but it's something ... right?  So I went to the "saddles" section.  And I found out that they offer different seat sizes/depths and flap lengths/sets ... and medium and wide trees.  So I clicked on their "Saddle Fitting" chart, thinking that might have some info on fitting the horse ... and again, found lots of info on flaps and seats, and medium or wide trees.  Finally, down at the bottom of that page, I found a link to "saddle purchase form".  That must have something about fitting the horse ... right?

Wrong.  It shows a silhouette of a person and where to take the measurements needed to fit the rider.  You enter your height and weight, and you choose the model of saddle you want to purchase ... but it doesn't say jack-all about fitting the horse.  Not even tree width.  There is a little space at the bottom of the form for "Additional Comments", so I guess you could put something there.

Now, as I said, these saddles are lovely pieces of work, and do fit some horses very well.  And yes, fit for the rider is of great importance ... but if tree width is all that's considered for the other half of the team, that's only part of the picture.  I'm straining my middle-aged memory regarding any horse-fitting options that may have been offered on these saddles back when we carried them, and I can't recall any.  They might have had some ... and they still might.  But if so, wouldn't you think they'd say something about it in their ads, or at least on their web site?  For all of their lovely leather and craftsmanship, these saddles are, to my mind, along the lines of the changeable-gullet and adjustable tree saddles:  they only address one of the horse's fitting needs, and that just isn't enough.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Great Expectations

Given the present state of the economy (can you tell that's been on my mind quite a bit?), a lot of folks are finding their "discretionary income" either severely minimized or almost non-existent.  So understandably, used saddles - always popular - have become even moreso in the last few years.

We check our used and consignment saddles very thoroughly when they come in (along the lines explained in this post) to make sure they're "serviceably sound for intended use" (as my vet used to say when doing a prepurchase on a horse); we note any cosmetic issues the saddles may have, and rate their condition anywhere from "fair" to "excellent/demo".  Lately, though, we've had a few people who didn't quite seem to know what to expect from a used saddle ... so I thought I'd clarify.

1)  IT WILL SHOW SIGNS OF USE.  Unless you're lucky enough to find a second-hand saddle that's only had a few rides (which does happen from time to time), you will see "used saddle" marks.  These can range from slight rub marks from the stirrup leathers and buckle marks on the billets (for the "excellent/demo" designation) to curled jockeys, faded dye, dings, nicks, wrinkles, tooth marks, scratches and scrapes (for the "fair" designation).

2)  IT MAY SHOW SIGNS OF FORMER OWNERSHIP.  These include things like a cantle plate (or holes in the cantle where one used to be) or a name or number engraved on the stirrup bar or stamped/burned into the sweat flap.  These things don't affect the fit, usefulness or condition of the saddle, but be aware that your saddle may be adorned with something like "Wind Hill Andalusians" or "Cindy Lou Smith 123-456-7890" somewhere.

3)  IT MAY SHOW SIGNS OF WORK OR REPAIR.  These signs are sometimes fairly subtle:  a well-used saddle may have spandy-new billets or shiny new falldown staples or saddle nails. Some saddles may have mismatched saddle nails, saddle plates or notations stamped into the sweat flap - both are common signs that the tree has been altered at some point (though just how it's been altered may be unearthed only by taking the saddle apart, since some saddlers will note their work on the tree).  It may have extra dee rings or a crupper bar, or the billet configuration may have been altered.

4)  THE FLOCKING WILL PROBABLY NEED TO BE ADJUSTED.  I don't touch the flocking on consignment saddles unless the consignor requests it, or unless it's so flat/hard/overflocked that it won't realistically fit anything (and then, I check with the consignor before I make adjustments).  I've had people say, "Well, the tree width and everything else looks good, but it's sitting so low ..." When I say that the issue can be corrected with flocking, I'm often told, "But this is a used saddle - that should already have been done!"  I explain to the customer that it probably has been done, but it will need to have the flocking adjusted to their horse ... just as a new saddle would.

5)  REPAIRS WILL NEED TO BE MADE AT SOME POINT.  "Used" saddle.  Think about that.  It's like "used" car ... sooner or later, some part is going to go and will need to be repaired or replaced.  With saddles, thankfully, there aren't as many parts to go blooey, and repair/replacement probably won't be quite as expensive ... but yes, you'll need to have the billets replaced at some point, and - as stated above - the flocking will need to be maintained.  Other minor issues may need attention:  a stirrup leather keeper may need to be repaired or replaced, a dee ring may need to be replaced or a line of stitching may need to be re-sewn.  If that's the case, you can price these repairs with your saddler / saddle fitter, and use that info if you'd like to negotiate on the price.

6)  IT WILL BE BROKEN IN.  IN SOME CASES, VERY BROKEN IN.  One of my best and favorite clients, who's Huntsman for a local hunt, brought in her rode-hard-but-never-put-away-wet saddle for consignment.  It showed that it had been used a lot:  the leather was soft and supple, there were dark marks on the flaps from the leathers, the jockeys had molded to the shape of the stirrup leather buckle, and there were dark marks from the breast plate straps by the front dees.  But was it clean?  Immaculate.  Was the flock in good condition?  Definitely.  Were there any dings?  A very few, but nothing glaring.  Was the saddle "serviceably sound for intended use?  Unquestionably.  The customer who bought it was thrilled to find this saddle, and realized that, in spite of the cosmetics, she'd gotten a saddle that will last for years and years to come.


If you're ok with a saddle that has Issues 1-6, you'll find that there are major upsides to used saddles as well.  First is price.  While high quality used saddles hole their value very well (remember, new saddle prices almost never go down), you'll usually save hundreds of dollars if you're willing to go with a used saddle. And many sellers/consignors are quite motivated to move their saddle and are willing to consider reasonable offers. (And note that I said "reasonable".  Making an offer that amounts to 40% or 50% of the asking price may shut the seller down entirely.  While getting a deal is always fun, stop and think of what you would reasonably take for the saddle if the tables were turned before you low-ball someone and perhaps lose your shot at a saddle you really want.)

Second good thing is availability.  There are tons of used saddles out there.  If you Google your specific requirements, you'll get a LOT of results - "used Black Country saddles" yielded 523,000 results; "used Albion jump saddles" offered 334,000 results, and "used Lovatt and Ricketts dressage saddles" coughed up 309,000 results.  Of course, you need to exercise due diligence if you're buying from someone other than a reputable tack shop, and hopefully you can either try the saddle before you buy it or at least return it if it proves unsuitable for some reason, but I've found that most people are quite reasonable to work with.  And if they're not, well ... take a look at those numbers again; chances are someone else has the same saddle that Mr./Ms. My-Way-or-the-Highway has ...  Even if you have a horse with some exacting fitting requirements, chances are pretty good you can find the right saddle if you put enough effort into the search.  Of course, if you need a saddle right this moment - and a very specific saddle at that - this option might not work for you; you might not find "the" saddle in a week or maybe even a month.  Or two months.  But if you can invest the time, trust me:  it's out there.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Interpreting the Template Revisited

Long-distance fitting requires a fitter to rely heavily on the use of the template.  How each fitter interprets the template, however, can vary.  Case in point:  we received this tracing a while back:

The fitter who sent it noted that the horse needed a narrow or medium-narrow tree.  To my eye - and according to the templates we use - the horse was on the wider side of medium.  I sat for a few moments and compared the different templates to the tracing, trying to see how the fitter had come up with medium-narrow to narrow when I was seeing a generous medium.  And after a little thought, I figured it out.

Here's the angle I measured to determine tree width:

Here's the angle the other fitter was using:

Here's the difference:

The original fitter was measuring the width too high - too close to the spine - and basing the tree width on the atrophied muscle.  Obviously, a saddle that fit based on that criteria would have been too narrow, and would have made the atrophy worse.  The assessment I made was based on the muscle that ought to be there (and that would be there with the help of a properly-fitting saddle), with an eye toward getting the frame of the saddle correct and "filling in the dips" with a modified panel - in this case, a wither gusset and a K panel to increase the bearing surface down the mare's quite prominent wither.  We ordered a saddle with a "medium +" width - wider than a medium but not quite a medium-wide - because the owner wanted to use a sheepskin half pad for a little extra cushion, and to make up some of the width.  The saddle fit the mare really well, and it came back to me about 8 weeks later for its first flocking adjustment.  At that point, the owner no longer needed to use the sheepskin half pad to make the saddle fit well.  And - happy ending - about 6 months after that, the mare had developed so much muscle that we had to send the saddle out to have the tree widened.  The mare's going great guns, and the owner is thrilled. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Look Inside at Frank Baines Saddlery

I found a fun blog post on Frank Baines Saddlery just recently.  Not written from a saddler's / saddle fitter's perspective, but worth a look anyway.  Enjoy!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Paddling Like Mad ...

... and barely keeping my head above water!  Apologies for the lack of saddle-fit-focus posts recently; I've been slammed with a flood tide of customers and saddle work and just haven't had time to do more than post notices on stuff others have been doing.  However, I have another post in the "adjustable tree/changeable gullet" line brewing.  We've recently gotten the Kent and Masters and Fairfax saddles in.  These are from the minds that brought us the Thorowgood T4, T6 (now defunct) and T8; their "conformation specific" models - the Broadback/Cob, the High Wither and the Standard fit - have proved to work pretty well for their intended type, so we're hopeful that the trend will continue with the K&M saddles.  I'm trying to schedule a time when my co-worker Nancy and I can get the saddles on some horses and evaluate them with a rider up ... hoping we'll be able to get in the saddles as well, to get some first-hand feedback.  We've heard from a couple different fitters who've had the opportunity to do just that, and are hoping to correlate what they've told us with our own experience.

Another post in the offing will be about treeless saddles and the proper fitting thereof.  This will be written by a fitter who actually FITS treeless saddles, rather than selling them left, right and center as the cure-all for every horse for every saddle fitting ill.  I've really enjoyed chatting with this fitter, and am looking forward to getting her post so I can share the real info on fitting treeless.

I'm also working on a post about a visit from Brita Rizzi of Dynamic Equine Saddle Fitting (which happened last summer, to further prove how freakin' far behind I am!).  She brought her pressure-sensing pad and demonstrated how the feedback can be used to assess saddle fit (and rider, and horse) issues.  It was absolutely fascinating, and is one of the better diagnostic tools I've encountered.

In other news: still working on the outline for the saddle fitting class.  That's almost done, and I'm tossing around dates for the first class.  Also nursing the mare through the last stages of a heel bulb abscess so I can get her out and get her somewhat fit so I can find another saddle for her.

As always, thanks for reading.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Behind the Scenes

I've featured info on what goes into the saddle making process, but did you ever wonder what goes on at the other end?  Here's a fun look at what goes into those glossy, slick saddle ads, courtesy of Bliss of London:

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Follow Your Bliss

Further developments from Bliss of London:  Lots of product info and some saddle history.  Note the serge panels in this post.  Definitely worth a look.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Tell Me More, Tell Me More

As so often happens, the germ of this post came from one of the bigger bulletin boards.  Someone had started a conversation about "My saddle fitting dream" (which was one of the last nudges that decided my announcing the saddle fitting course I'm planning).  One of the participants asked, "Can someone tell me more about being a saddle fitter?"

Sounded like a pretty innocuous question, so I started to answer it ... and immediately realized that there was a bit more to it than I'd first thought.  So I gave a brief outline and said that the question really warranted a blog post.

So ... tell you more about being a saddle fitter?  Here goes.

First and foremost, unless you're among the very few, you won't be making huge amounts of money - I don't know any independently wealthy saddle fitters. Sure, you can make a living if you have a good eye, good people skills (more on that in a sec) and are willing to work your ass off, but if you really want to be among the 1%, saddle fitting probably isn't your best career choice.  In order to make a decent living, you'll probably either need to live in an area with a high concentration of horses, or be willing to travel a LOT.

Now, about those people skills?  Essential.  You'll need:
  • Tact.  You cannot tell a customer that she'll never fit into a 16.5" seat unless she loses 30 lbs. or say that their precious, athletic and talented equine brings to mind one of the AT-AT Walkers from The Empire Strikes Back ... no matter how true either statement may be.
  • Diplomacy.  No matter how graphic the customer's account of the way her present saddle causes her underwear to fuse to her delicate parts, and the pain caused thereby, you cannot scream, run away, squinch up your eyes or stuff your fingers in your ears and go, "LA LA LA, not listening!"
  • Patience.  Some people will need to try the same saddle 3 or 4 times, or ask you to explain one point repeatedly.  Different people process information at different rates, and some need repeated exposure to grasp a concept.  You will need to accept and accommodate this.
  • Flexibility.  If you have a group of 8 or 10 people lined up for appointments, you need to schedule pretty carefully, and stick to the schedule as closely as possible.  However, what happens if your 10:00 appointment turns up 5 minutes before your 10:45 because their horse wouldn't load into the trailer, or if your 11:00 appointment turns up again at 5:00 with just one more question when you're ready to head home?  Be as accommodating as possible.  Tell Ms. 10:00 that you're happy to schedule for another day, or - if she can hang around - you'd be willing to work her in if the schedule permits.  Tell Mr. 11:00 that you have a few moments to help them out.  Doesn't mean you have to be a doormat, but it does mean that you give the customers as much of your time as is reasonably possible. 
  • Communication skills.  I know there are reps and fitters out there who won't agree with this, but I think one of my responsibilities is to explain to the customer as clearly as possible what I'm doing and how I hope to accomplish it.  As I've said repeatedly in this blog, saddle fitting isn't rocket science, it isn't smoke and mirrors and it isn't magic.  Educate the customer as much as possible.
You'll also need a good understanding of equine physiology, psychology and behavior.  You need to know the pieces and parts of the horse, good conformation vs. bad and what each means in terms of saddle fitting.  You need to be able to evaluate gaits and note any deviations.  You need to understand that a sensitive horse who's had an ill-fitting saddle may initially react badly to ANY saddle - and you need to know when the pinned ears and lifted hind leg are just window dressing, and when they may escalate into a dangerous situation.

You also need to choose just what services you'll offer.  Are you going to do straight fitting - evaluate the horse, take the tracings and make some recommendations - or are you going to carry saddles?  Will you do flocking?  How about repairs?  Do you want to set up a shop and a facility where people can come to you, or will you set up a mobile unit and come to them?  You need to have a clear idea of what you want to do - or at least how you want to start; you can always change the plan down the road, but you do need one to begin with.

You need to get an education.  I've covered the various options here (and more info is available at the various sources' web sites).  You have to decide how much time and money you can commit, and decide which course you're most qualified for and which will give you the most appropriate education for the path you've chosen.  None are easy and few are inexpensive, so you'll need a lot of drive and determination just to gain education.  You'll also need access to continuing education - new ideas and trends and saddle designs pop up regularly, and you need to stay current in your knowledge.

So those are the basic things you'll need.  What will you get in return?  Well, for me, saddle fitting is a challenge, and I never stop learning.  Just when I think I have a good handle on things, I'll encounter a horse or rider who takes me into completely new territory.  And while it's all great to spout on about this sort of thing, keep in mind that you'll also likely get stood up for appointments, nipped, kicked and stepped on (hopefully by the 4-legged clients, but having the 2-legs do it is a possibility, too); you'll spend a lot of time roasting or freezing in barn aisles and arenas and driving to and from appointments, you'll have trainers, instructors, parents, etc. morph into Self-Appointed Experts.  You'll encounter people who completely reject your advice, then come back to you a year later asking for help after they've worn holes in their horses' backs with ill-fitting saddles.  You'll have customers who call you on weekends, holidays and at 10:30 at night, and you'll have customers you'll work with for months on end without being able to find a saddle that suits them and their horse.  You'll have customers who'll badmouth you to anyone who'll listen, saying that you couldn't solve their saddle fitting problem when you knew damn well the issues stemmed from shoeing or ulcers or training or soundness or rider problems instead.

But - to come full circle - the good really does outweigh the bad.  I have a wonderful network of fitters both here and abroad whom I can turn to for advice or ideas or to just share a story.  And most of my customers are conscientious horse owners who are dedicated to doing the best they can for their horses and themselves, and I really like them.  So while I'll never be "living large" or retiring early, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I'm improving the life of quite a few horses and riders.  I'm good with that.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Saddle Fitting Course

Ok, folks, it's official:  I'm going to be teaching an introductory saddle fitting course starting this spring (aiming for sometime in May).

The Horse Gods and Goddesses have been tossing this up to me for quite a while now.  Seems like everywhere I go, both on the Internet and in the "real" world, I'm running into people who want to be educated about saddle fitting.  That's one of the reasons I started doing this blog, and one of the reasons I have videos in the works, but I'm hearing that people want a real, hands-on course.  Since there is a definite lack of such courses - especially here in the States, and especially courses that are open to the general public - I'm thinking my path is pretty clear.  I've discussed the idea with Mike Scott, who runs one of the only US fitting courses, and he's kindly offered input and support.  Edie is offering to let me run the course at the Pullman Family Farm in Shaftsbury, VT (formerly Trumbull Mtn. Stable).  So-o-o-o-o-o ... here goes!

This course will be modeled after the Society of Master Saddlers' Intro course; it will be comprehensive enough to give Jo(sephine) Q. Horsepublic a good handle on the basics of saddle fit and also provide a solid foundation for those who want to continue studying (with Mike, for example) and become a professional fitter. We'll cover the basics of fitting:  English saddle types and sub-types and fitting challenges particular to each, fitting options, a bit about saddle construction and foam vs. wool panels.  It will discuss equine anatomy, conformation types and fitting options for each; we'll cover taking a tracing, using the tracing as a guide to choosing a saddle, and assessing the "Heavy Seven" of saddle fitting.   We'll also cover fit for the rider and how saddle fit can affect rider position and comfort, and we'll cap things with a chance to fit some real live horses.   The course will run 2 days (weekends, most likely) and will include lunch and snacks and probably a rather large amount of take-home material.

Now, just to be perfectly clear, let me tell you what this course will NOT do:

  • It  will NOT cover flocking or saddle repair.
  • It will NOT make you qualified to fit saddles professionally.
  • It will NOT "certify" you as a fitter.
And believe me, my students will be signing an agreement stating that this is VERY clearly understood.  My plan is to offer a good foundation and basic understanding, NOT to loose minimally trained fitters on the unsuspecting horse world.  I will NOT offer professional references to people who've taken this course unless they've gone on to complete a comprehensive fitting course.  I do not want to find out that anyone has hung out a shingle based solely on what they get from this course.


That's the plan so far.  I'll post the whole course outline when it's done.  Costs TBA, but it will probably be in the $450-$500 range (and for those who have to travel to VT, there are reasonable accommodations and meals available within a 10 minute drive of the class location).  Class size will be 5 people max.

If you're interested, please e-mail me at and I'll put you on the list.  I'm hoping to offer the course more than once a year, but that will depend on demand.  And if there's anything you'd like to learn about that I haven't mentioned, please let me know!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"Very Bitey." Channeling the Inner Raptor

The latest wall decoration in my office.  Because we all have those days ...

Coming soon:  Did someone say, "saddle fitting course"?!?!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Let's Twist Again ...

Twist width is probably one of the most frequent "rider-fit" issues I run into.  As with so many facets of saddle fitting, it's a very subjective thing; Person A's perfect twist may make Person B feel as though they're sitting on the narrow side of a 2"x4", while Person B's perfect twist may make Person A feel as though his/her hips are being torqued out of joint.  I fall firmly into the "narrower twist" camp.  I love my Passier GG, I love the Black Country Eden, and I'll even cop to loving the ride of the old, hard German Stubben dressage saddles (the Tristan in particular).  However, my mare will turn 15 this spring, and has developed a bit of middle-age (read: hoop tree) spread ... No matter how much work I put into her, she'll never be the same shape as she was when she was 7 ...  And given that I'm 50 and will never again return to my pre-childbearing 26-year-old size 8 shape, I don't feel as though I ought to be pointing any fingers.

Anyway, this means Lyric will be moving into a hoop tree, which means that I will be riding a wider twist.  You see, twist width is determined by tree width AND by tree type.  The rails on a spring tree should be at the same angle as the tree point; that means the wider the tree, the flatter the rails and therefore the wider the twist. In the photo below, the tree on the left is an extra wide hoop tree, and the tree on the right is a medium-wide standard tree.  (Ideally, for comparison's sake,  the two types of trees would have been the same width, but I'm working with what's lying around my bench!)

Here's a shot comparing the rail and tree point angles (hoop tree on top, standard on bottom):

As you can see, the angle of the rails and tree points agree on each individual tree, but the angles on the hoop tree are much flatter (and this would still be true if the tree width were the same).

Here's the twist on the standard tree:

And here's the twist on the hoop tree:

It's not a huge difference - roughly an inch - and for some people it wouldn't be an issue.  But for some, their personal conformation would make it very hard to accommodate that extra inch.  Hopefully I'll be in the former camp, but we'll find out come spring ...

Lights ... Camera ...

One of the challenges of doing a blog is coming up with new and pertinent content.  Now that I'm starting on my fourth year of blogging (hard to believe it's been that long), I've been cogitating on what I could add that would make things a bit more interesting.  Some of this may stem from the fact that I'm also fairly frustrated, because my camera has been in the repair shop since the beginning of December.  It's finally on its way back as I write this, but I'm feeling as though things have been a bit stagnant without the visuals; hunting through my photo archives to find just the right photo requires too much time and patience when you're used to being able to "just SHOOT it".  So I'm primed for shaking things up a bit.

Here's the plan:  since my husband is a videographer and production facilitator at GNAT-TV, our local public access station - and since I have his hand prints all over my back from the pushing he's been doing! - I'm thinking of adding some videos.  Now, the question for all of YOU is:  what would you like to see?  I have some ideas (still rather vague and nebulous, to the hubby's chagrin) and I know what I find interesting, but I'd really like to get input from you folks.  Please let me know by posting your comments here; something you write may spark an idea for someone else.

"I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille ..."

Thursday, January 12, 2012


For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the message was lost. For want of a message the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

This is a great old proverb that Ma used to quote often, about the the way something seemingly small can have huge consequences in greater events.  (Ma may not have known about the Butterfly Effect or chaos theory, but she by-god knew about paying attention to detail, and was probably the biggest influence behind my growing up to be such a nit-picking pedant.)  In saddle fitting, you need to make sure the Holy Trine (tree width, tree shape and panel configuration) are correct ... but sometimes a tiny detail can derail an otherwise fine fit ... a tiny detail like billet placement or configuration.  

To figure out just why this little piece of the saddle fitting picture is so important, let's start by taking a look at the horse's "girth spot" or "girth groove".  To put it simply, it's the flat spot on the bottom of the barrel behind the forelegs.  On some horses, it's fairly generous, as on this horse (the approximate girth spot is highlighted in green):

On some horses, it's a bit less generous:

But on some horses, it's far forward and quite wee:

On my mare, it's not quite as tiny as in this shot - her foreleg is hiding a good inch of it, honestly - but ...

She really is shaped like this:

If your horse has a long girth spot, you can get away with a saddle that has the "standard" billet set (though frankly, these billets are set too far back for most horses, and you'd probably have to use the two front billets rather than the first and last):

However, I see a good number of horses that have the short, forward girth spots; they tend to be broader, with very well-sprung rib cages.  They often seem to have big, laid-back shoulders, too.  Saddle placement on beasts with this conformation can be a challenge, since very often the billets will fall behind the natural girth spot:

This means that when the saddle is girthed up, it gets yanked forward along that big round rib cage until the billets line up with the girth spot.  This means the shoulders are constricted; even if the tree points are short, having the saddle jammed right in behind the shoulders can inhibit the use of the forelegs and create sores on the elbows.  

This can also throw the saddle out of balance, making it sit pommel high, which will throw the rider in the back seat and cause all sorts of problems.

So what can you do?  Well, you can try a saddle with a point billet, which is attached to the point of the saddle tree.  Of course, there are point billets and there are point billets.  Some come out of the rear of the thigh block, which may not be quite far forward enough for some horses:

Notice the curve in the front billet?  That can make the saddle scoot forward.

Having the billet come out of the bottom of the block can be a better choice if the horse has an extremely forward girth spot:

The saddle in the photo above also has a swing rear billet, which allows the rear billet to move into the correct position for pretty much any girth spot.  It also offers greater stabilization, thanks to the two attachment points on the "V" of the webbing.

Some saddles offer a choice of billet positions, like this Thorowgood:

The billets loop through the rings under the flap, allowing the rider to choose either a point or regular billet position, while the swing rear billet will position itself as necessary.  The Black Country Summit also offers a LOT of billet choices:

The good news about billet placement is that it can often be changed.  If your saddle is a great fit except for the billet placement, a competent saddler can retrofit:  remove or install a point billet, move a standard billet forward or back, or install (or remove) a swing rear billet.  And if you're buying new, most good saddle companies will make your saddle with whatever billet configuration your fitter thinks will be most suitable for your horse.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Bliss of (and In) London!

Just got a heads-up from Nikki Newcombe at Bliss of London. If you're interested in going to the London premier of the movie War Horse, Bliss has some free tickets available.  And not just any free tickets - VIP tickets that will get you into the movie AND the pre-screening party.  Here are the details:

Would you like to join us on January 13th 2012 for the opening night of the film War Horse?  We are giving away 10 pairs of VIP tickets for you and a guest for this very special evening.  If you would like to attend, all we askk is for you to e-mail us at with the subject title "War Horse" and include your name and address and the name of your guest.  The first 10 emails received will be notified within the next 3 days and your tickets will be sent out by special delivery.

Hosted by Bliss of London at Odeon Cinema, Swiss Cottage, London, NW3 5EL. 
 Reception party starts at 7:30 pm.  Presentation at 8:30 pm.

So if you or someone you know is lucky enough to be in or around London, contact Bliss and get tickets.  I wish I could be there, but I WILL be seeing the movie here in the US that same day.  I'm arming myself with a full box of tissues (I can't make it through the trailer without tearing up!) and going with a bunch of fellow horsewomen.  I'm sure we'll all be bawling like babies by the end of the movie.

And if you'd like to get a preview of the truly stunning saddles that Bliss of London is creating, visit them on their FaceBook page and give them a "like".