Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The one about saddles

This is a post that will be ongoing - there is still masses of footage from the RRR for me to work through (thanks for your patience everyone who was being filmed - I will get on to it when I have a moment, honestly!) and a lot of it was taken when we were with Kay Humphries learning a little about assessing saddles.
Of course, its no surprise that saddle fit very often causes problems for horses. I see it all the time with the rehab horses because even if they had a saddle which fitted before rehab, usually by the time they have worked on a few hills and increased their stride length it doesn't fit any longer. 

A flexi-curve tracing of the horse's back at the point where the saddle would sit is a useful way of checking whether the horse is wider than the saddle!
The commonest problem is the saddle being too narrow and tight across the shoulders, like this one. Over time, this causes muscle wastage (as you can see in the photo below) but right from the word go it pinches the muscles which are needed to extend and retract the front legs, especially when you add the weight of a rider.
A shortened stride is inevitable and the horse may well show discomfort by bracing through the back and going hollow or even bucking. 
As well as a saddle affecting stride length, there is another place to focus on, which we are often less aware of, and that's the girth. You can see in this photo that there is plenty of room for the elbow to move back without being restricted by the girth but that's not always the case. In fact its possible for shortened stride to be caused solely by girth restriction, even when the saddle fit is perfectly correct.
By contrast, when the elbow isn't going to be pinched, bang into buckles or be rubbed by some hard unsympathetic girth material the horse can fully extend and retract his front legs and take a full stride.
 The really good news is that once a saddle is comfortable the horse will immediately respond. This photo shows the same horse as had the muscle wastage and poorly fitting saddle but now he is in a saddle which allows him freedom of movement through his shoulders and back - what a difference! 

This is such a massive topic that I will be coming back to it very soon - most likely once I have put together the footage we took of different horses in action with different saddles.  
Interestingly, there are many similarities between hooves and saddles.  

Poor quality saddle fitting is sadly as common as poor quality hoof care so its not enough to just hand your horse over to a "professional" in either field and hope that they will do a good job. There are  an enormous number of professionals in both fields who are routinely leaving horses uncomfortable so as an owner you have a huge responsibility to your horse that you choose the right person.
Secondly, as with hooves, there is a massive amount the owner can do to educate him or herself about saddle fit, spot potential problem areas and help make the horse more comfortable. As with feet, its all about anatomy and biomechanics so while its not rocket science, its up to us to keep educating ourselves. 


dreams579 said...

a post so very close to my heart this week! I had a horrible suspicion that my (now ex-) saddler had fitted Mac's dressage considerably too narrow, so had a second opinion on Monday. His dressage was a narrow(maybe medium narrow at a push). Although he was going well, I was never getting the suppleneness through his body that I know he is capable of and he was starting to buck in canter when asked to engage properly.

so Monday I got a second opinion on my saddle, and lets just say, he now has a shiny new extra wide! he immediately was forward, swinging through his whole body, perfect canter transitions everytime and not a buck in sight! This is what my horse should feel like!!!

so now I'm starting the joyous process of trying to get some compensation off my old saddler for the amount of my time and money she has wasted (and just to add to the annoyance, my k2 jump that came off Nico was an extra wide but I sold that as she told me it didn't fit, so my current k2 now needs to be sent back to albion to be widened!!!)

Nic Barker said...

Never-ending, isn't it?! :-) Bless Mac - glad he feels better :-)

dreams579 said...

He is a saint is all I can say. the amount that saddle was pinching him around his withers, he would have been well within his rights to deck me, and we've had nothing but a few minor discussions!

Unknown said...

I have had great experience with my saddle from Balance International in the UK. Have you seen them? I am note rested in your opinion.

sadly the owners don't have good things to say about barefoot. I am afraid they have seen too many aggressive trims.


Unknown said...

Oops....I am interested in your opinion...

Bud said...

Would be very interesting to see opinions on treeless saddles. Although actual makes as opposed to just treeless as they can be very different. I got one just last year and am a total convert it is fab and the horses seem to agree!