Saddle Fitting

Baby Bravo and I had our first professional saddle fitting last week and here’s how it went down. There are not a ton of saddle fitters/tack repair places near me so I was so happy to learn of one woman who is a rep for a specific saddle brand but is willing to work on all saddle brands. She came out to my barn earlier this year and fitted several other riders. Everyone has seemed pleased with their fittings and she will come back and make adjustments as needed which is a HUGE benefit when you’ve got a still developing youngster.

I have purchased three used saddles on eBay and have thankfully had decent success despite fully knowing that it can be a risky endeavor. There was only one time where I felt like I didn’t get a very good deal and that was the very first saddle I bought back in 2016 for my lease horse, Harley. After doing some research on saddles with trees that were less curvy front to back,  I found a Black Country Eloquence for Bravo on eBay that was older but seemed to be in excellent condition- barely even broken in was the phrase the seller used.

 

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The beautiful English lady herself!

 

I did some amateur measurements on Bravo’s back and decided to take a flyer on that Black Country. When it came in, I was so excited and super pleased with the condition. I lovingly cleaned and conditioned the saddle and brought it to the barn to try it on Bravo. 

 

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My untrained eye immediately thought it fit him MUCH better than Harley’s hand-me-down so I took the Albion home and started exclusively using the BC. I have spent a lot of time and money futzing with different half pads and shims over the past few years and maybe even harboring some guilt over never getting a saddle fitted to my horse. Now that I finally have my own horse, it was definitely time. I believe whole-heartedly that saddle fit is VITAL. While Bravo is young, I am not going to go through the expense and effort to buy him a custom saddle but I wanted to make every effort to get as close as I could to a good fit for him. I told the saddle fitter that I was bringing out two saddles for her to look at but that I only wanted one of them fitted to Bravo. I asked her to move forward with fitting the saddle that would require the least amount of dramatic change to fit him. She asked if I preferred riding in one over the other- I don’t. I also told her that I wanted her to be honest if neither saddle fit him very well.

She evaluated both saddles on Bravo’s back starting with the Albion. She told me she could make flocking adjustments to the Albion to make it work: build it up significantly in the front, remove some from the middle of the panels to help reduce the rocking, and even out the slight indentations and clumped wool overall. Then she evaluated the Black Country. Almost immediately she told me she preferred the BC over the Albion for him. She commented on what great shape it was in and also confirmed that I was on the right track when I bought it because it already fit his flat back much better and the drop panels were also a good fit for his current conformation.

She watched me ride (very briefly) and then set to work adjusting the flocking. She said this saddle had never been worked on before, only having the original flocking ports. While she was working, I asked about half-pads for additional shock absorption- would she recommend something like a thinline pad. She is not a fan of thinline products, she feels like they trap heat. I really like the thinline products and don’t share her concern with them. She continued though, and said that the panels on my saddle were soft and supple enough that with the adjustments she was making there would be no need to use a half-pad at all. She said that if we had moved ahead with the Albion, whose panels are quite a bit stiffer, she would be recommending a wool/sheepskin product to assist. I am looking forward to NOT having to use a half-pad but, admittedly, I’m very used to using one so I’m sure I will have to repeat her words to myself the next few times I saddle up sans half-pad.

 

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No half-pad!?!? looks naked

 

After a few times back and forth from her truck to Bravo’s back she felt like everything was a nice fit. She told me that there was one area of knotted up wool in the right panel that she was able to remove and depending on how sensitive he is that might make a big difference in his comfort level.

 

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Less of this…please.

 

I rode in my newly fitted saddle last night for the first time and it was great! Bravo seemed less grumpy about saddling in general. He was still a little shit for the mounting block, but that will take some time and training to resolve. Once I finally did get on, he seemed a lot less uncomfortable and was much more willing to transition into trot without throwing his head around. We still have literally no steering, but it feels good to be checking things off one-by-one on the list of things I need to do. A well-fitting saddle takes that excuse off the table for him and makes me much more confident in pushing him past his balky behavior so we can get to work on something else on our list!

 

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Bravo in his newly fitted Black Country!

 

One Size Fits…None.

I may be jinxing myself by saying this out loud, but I have made several high-priced used tack purchases on Ebay and I have yet to be truly burned. That being said, I have overpaid for items and I have been frustrated by what I felt like were some sizable disclosures that were omitted from descriptions.

You see, Harley and I just recently passed our two-year lease-a-versary which makes this easily my longest term relationship (both human or equine, but that’s a different story). Harley was not my first lease horse but he was my first FULL lease. I never had a reason to own tack and had never even thought about “fit” for several tack items. I understood that bridles and saddles had to fit the horse but learned quickly that very few items are one-size-fits-all if they end up on the horse. A saddle pad is a saddle pad, I thought, you can just buy any style or color you like! Nope. What’s the spine length? What’s the drop? Does it fit your saddle? Does your giant horse make it look like a postage stamp? Is it contoured enough for his shark fin? How did I learn to consider all of these variables? Oh, the hard way… by buying incorrectly sized things.

Harley came to me with a bridle, a sheet, a blanket, and a cooler. Which, was pretty freaking awesome! The only thing I had to get right away was a saddle. It was a tall order. I have posted about it previously. At the time, I thought I had found a good deal but new information and new market situations have since changed my mind. I searched for several weeks to find that ONE used saddle and then I was pretty much stuck buying it. I felt like it fit Harley reasonably well but I never felt like the saddle fit me. I battled for an entire year and half to resolve the issue with various “bandaids” like half pads, riser pads, offset girths, etc and still never felt comfortable.

 

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Doesn’t look too terrible…does it? 

 

A few months ago, Harley once again, spooked and bolted me off during one of our rides in the arena. It has been an issue for us in the past but he hadn’t done that in over a year. It is always some kind of noise that triggers the spook but then it’s as if he feels like the monster is on his back and as soon as he gets it off- he stops and just stands there. No longer afraid of the noise, or spooky corner that triggered the bolt in the first place. He had some moments of mild soreness or lameness that I couldn’t attribute to anything in particular and he also slowly started to become resistant to standing at the mounting block. I tried some things: gave him some time off; upped his calming supplement; worked with him on the ground; had the trainer ride him. Of course, I also did the thing, where I was like, “this wouldn’t happen to a better, skinnier rider so I should probably end my lease and let him retire”.

I became increasingly frustrated that despite the number of lessons I took or rides I gave him, I had so much trouble with my seat. Every ride felt like a battle. It seems fairly obvious to me now, but you know how these things work- it’s never so simple when you’re in the middle of it. It finally hit me that maybe saddle fit was playing a bigger role in all of this than I was willing to admit.

Around this same time I started to see a huge number of used Albion saddles go on the market. Suddenly they were everywhere! Facebook, eBay, used tack sites. These things must trend kind of cyclically, I haven’t heard of people trying to “unload” Albion saddles for any particular reason, but maybe I’m missing something. All I know, is that two years ago when I bought my repaired, base model, MW Albion SLK HH, I had exactly 2 purchase options- the one I bought or a new demo model for around double the price. Now there were choices! Several high head models, different price ranges, different saddle configurations. On Ebay I stumbled across a beautiful used Albion SLK Ultima HH in a wide with 3″ rear gussets- newer, upgraded leather, better condition, and $500 CHEAPER than my old saddle and I started to get ideas…

I took off all of the gadgets and gizmos I had been using to try to force the saddle to fit and I put it on him sans pad. Looking at my saddle perched slightly-crooked on his frame, pommel high, lacking even panel contact- I was sold. I bought the new saddle.

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not horrific

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until you look from the other side

 

The price was so unbelievably good on this new saddle that I thought I could likely even flip it if it didn’t fit Harley. When it arrived it needed a little love- it must have been sitting uncleaned in the sellers tack room for awhile. But once I finished cleaning and conditioning, I knew I had found a hell of a deal. Now, would Harley and I like it?

 

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The new saddle! straight girth, no rear riser

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Long story, short… we LOVE it. 

 

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Harley immediately moved freer and started to offer his back and carry himself during our WARM UP. I was floored. The upgrade Ultima leather is nice and tacky. The larger blocks and deeper seat fit me SO much better and though, I am by no means a great rider, I finally felt comfortable and aligned while riding. I nearly cried. So many emotions. I had no idea that the same model of a saddle could fit a rider so poorly – I thought I had bought the same saddle my trainer had and that I was set. I was completely naive to these tiny details about fit that make such a huge difference. I felt awful that Harley was uncomfortable in it, though I have no way of knowing for how long it has felt this bad to him. My confidence even got a little boost thinking about how many times I have thought- it’s just me- I can’t ride this horse- I can’t even sit normally- we’re never connected. I’m not saying a saddle swap is about to make me ride like a pro, but I am hopeful that I can make even more improvements to my riding now that I am not fighting my own equipment so much. I am so so so happy Harley is more comfortable, too!

 

 

 

Shark Saddling

Harley has been a rockstar lately. I told my trainer that while it did take me a solid year to figure him out- we have really been clicking lately and I feel like our rides have actually started to be productive instead of slightly out of control and mostly mediocre.

I think a few equipment changes have made a big difference lately. I bought a used MW Albion SLK High Head dressage saddle when I first started leasing Harley. I never blogged about it here because my mother reads my blog and already thinks that maybe shoveling my money, by the pile, into a fire might actually be a cheaper hobby than riding horses…

I bought it used on eBay so it was a huge and pricey gamble. The model is the same saddle my trainer owns and tends to fit a variety of horses. I had ridden Harley in her saddle before I started leasing him and we decided it should work. The high head model can be somewhat more difficult to find used, especially in the states. I was also in a time crunch since I really wanted to wait until I had Harley before I bought one so I could try it on him, but obviously didn’t want to be stuck for long without a saddle at all.

I think I made out fairly well on the deal. The price was good and upon arrival the saddle was in good shape. The flocking appeared to be in good condition and it looked exactly like the photos. The one thing that wasn’t explained in the ad was that this saddle had, at some point, been at least partially remade. It’s clear that the repairs were well-done, by a reputable place, but I would have maybe liked to have known that before I bought it. Still, it is a very nice saddle. At the time, I had two choices: this one at a very reasonable price; or a new demo model for a great price that was still about a $1000 more than the used saddle. This being a lease horse, I opted to take the gamble and save a grand up front. I don’t regret it. I think it fits Harley about as well as it could without investing some serious coin into fitting this nearly 20 year old orca for his retirement gig!

 

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TWINSIES!!!

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All jokes aside, go look at that Harley photo again and tell me how in the world you’d go about saddling that horse!!

 

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I did the best I could and hoped I could half-pad the rest. Here is how the saddle fits with just a simple saddle pad:

 

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I like the steep rise of the pommel to fit those massive withers but look at where the balance of this saddle is even with sizable rear gussets- it’s too far back for me. He’s so uphill I would end up in a chair seat leaning forward to try and keep up with him. So I needed a rear riser pad. I have a shimmable ThinLine Trifecta half pad that I like very much except that you really aren’t able to fit very many shims in the pad- at least not enough for me to comfortably sit on Harley. I have been riding with this half-pad on Louie for every lesson and I love it on him. For Harley, I recently bought an ECP shimmable half pad and chuckled as I ripped out and threw away the laughable, completely useless foam shims that it comes with and stuffed in several ThinLine rear shims. This thing is a god-send and is working so well for us. Would I love him to have a completely custom saddle that fits without the use of these pads- sure- but he hasn’t been back sore since I’ve had him and he is moving so well with this configuration.

 

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Here you can see the saddle balance already much improved. I added a TSF girth and Harley is moving the best he has since I’ve leased him. With me in a better spot mechanically as well, I have been much more comfortable and it has even reduced some of the strain on my knees while I ride him. Clearly I still have some latent muscle memory of riding in the “backseat” for so long- either that, or I am part bridge troll…but once I start to realize I don’t have to lean so much, this will be a much nicer picture!!

 

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