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".