Saddle Fit and Common Misperceptions

Facts_Myths_shutterstock_280010108I have to comment on a couple of articles which recently appeared in various other equine media and gave cause for reflection. The first one was about weekend warriors and trying to avoid battles during your horse time. According to the dictionary, this phrase came into being in 1981 to reflect the average person’s increasingly hectic lifestyle. Free time has felt increasingly compressed, with the result that on the weekend you hit the ground running to get the most of your horse time. Often you pay the price on Monday morning with a litany of physical complaints – but horses pay the price as well. Unfortunately, if they have been standing in their stalls for most of the week, they will be either:

a) Stiff and needing a long warm-up time; or

images (15)b) So eager to run that they will be difficult to handle. (Of course, hopefully, they will have had turnout during the days you haven’t been able to ride!) However, I would just like to make the point that sometimes (unfortunately more often than I’d like to see!) we have clients who have a saddle fitting appointment (at least they recognize that perhaps something is off here) who do only ride their poor horse once or twice a week, and simply cannot get him to piaffe or passage as beautifully as they’d like. (Okay, I’m being a bit facetious here). The problem is not only is the horse ‘out of shape’ (perhaps the rider as well), but the expectations are way too high, the tack is not fitting properly because it is the least of the rider’s worries, and the whole thing ends up being more of exercise in frustration than fun. It doesn’t have to be that way. The inability to bend and ‘be supple’ is not necessarily only due to the inactivity of the prior week; it could also be that the saddle simply will not allow it, and to ensure that this is not part of the problem, it is suggested that you do the simple diagnostics of our “9 points of saddle fit” which were recently discussed in some details in past blogs. Without going into the specific details of this, you can quickly determine if the saddle is too long, sits on the shoulders, sits on the spine, impinges the withers, etc. Don’t you owe your horse and yourself at least that much to get this remedied?

images (2)In a second discussion about wolf’s teeth, the question was: Do you have a horse who refuses to turn one way or the other? Does your horse consistently fall off the lead behind after a reluctant lead change? Do you know a horse who carries his head too high or too low?  While all of these symptoms may actually be characteristic of wolf teeth, they are also indications of poor saddle fit. Again, this possibility is easily diagnosed one way or the other (check his teeth, obviously), but often are seen as being the result of poor saddle fit and thankfully nothing more! These specific symptoms are especially easy to diagnose: the saddle pinches the shoulder (usually the left), twists to the right, and is too long. All of these issues will result in a horse who hollows his back (and thus carries his head higher) because of the saddle either being too long and/or pinching at the withers (the vice grip of the saddle – and where the stallion bites the mare in the trapezius to ‘immobilize’ her during mating – again the back hollows and the head comes up).

I_had_an_opinion_shutterstock_172796309Another article written by a well-known dressage rider (not saddle fitter!) on a much-visited internet site (and I don’t want to mention any names here to avoid unpleasant repercussions – not libel because I’m not saying anything untrue here, but still…) went to great lengths to portray her opinions on saddle fit issues. Many of the points made were not generally accepted even by the ‘lay’ riding audience and could be considered somewhat controversial when it comes to saddle fit – nay let’s go further and say counter-logical and counter-intuitive to presently accepted norms of saddle fit. Yet, because she has a ‘name’ and a reputation in the higher levels of dressage, she is allowed to write seemingly whatever she wants without anyone doing the due diligence to assume it is correct information.

images1H7G9IQ2Anyway, all I’m saying is that there are many of these kinds of articles written by various equine professionals who make a definitive statement about a probable cause, when often the issue can be easily attributed to something as seemingly simple as poor saddle fit and the solution is much more easily remedied than through invasive or medical procedures. This has been my experience and I have many clients who have said to me things along the line of  “I have spent so many thousands of dollars on vet bills, or chiro bills, or whatever – when the solution could have been as simple as buying one saddle that actually fit and could be refit.” Sorry but that’s the truth of the matter.


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