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.
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.
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.
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.
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!