What would you do if a saddle did supposedly not fit a horse but made him super happy? I do not know very much about saddle fit, but everyone (including the saddle fitter) dislikes how this saddle fits him - it is a bit too big, does not lay very nicely against his sides, and is generally the wrong shape for him. But when I put it on him he transforms. He is instantly relaxed, his usual stickiness in the warm-up (which has been quite severe this past winter, to the point here I have almost cried out of frustration at times) disappears, his back lifts up right away, he swings, he is light and happy in the bridle, etc. I have tried many saddles on him and never seen anything like this - I definitely was not expecting such a reaction. It is so dramatic that my trainer asked if something had happened to him the first few times I rode in it.
He has had vet checks and massage therapy and his back looks fine so the previous extreme stickiness does not appear to be a medical issue of any kind. He has always eventually connected and relaxed but it would take a lot of stretching and work.
I feel like I want to stick with this saddle because he must know what his body feels like better than we do, but there is such an emphasis on perfect saddle fit these days that I am doubting myself. I am also hesitant to alter the saddle for a more ideal fit because maybe he will not like it as much. Do you have any advice?
If you have only been using the saddle for a very short time and had been using a saddle he prior that your horse hated, his happiness may be because the old saddle is gone and isn't causing him pain. The new saddle may just be providing relief on those areas where the old saddle hurt; however, in time because the new saddle supposedly doesn't fit, it may cause new soreness issues. If you have been using this new saddle for a while and horse is happy then maybe keep riding it. Perhaps your pads/padding offset the fit issue or the fit issue really isn't as bad as people thing. Do you own the saddle or just have it on trial? My biggest concern would be how the horse will feel with lots of riding in the saddle but if you already own it, use it for now and see how he continues to work in it. That's my unprofessional opinion, I'm not a saddle fitter, I just play one after years of fitting my own horses.
js brings up some very good points - if you've only been using the saddle a short time, you may still be in the "honeymoon" period. That said, I've also seen some saddles that I considered to be less than optimal in the fit department make horses really happy. As long as there are no rub marks or ruffled hair, I tend to listen to the horse and let him/her make the final decision. Do, however, monitor carefully for signs of soreness and/or changes in fit.
^^ yep, what Kitt says. Monitor the situation carefully, have your massage person show you how to palpate the back and shoulder muscles to pick up any early warning signs of pain, and go with it. Saddle-fit is ALL about the horse's opinion. And on a related note ... if you ever have a saddle fit done and it's all about the static fit, and no test ride ... Don't Have That "Saddle Fitter" Back !!!
Yes, it may not last if it is just providing relief from the sore spot of the old saddle. In time, it will develop its own new sore spots. However, I'd probably take the horse's word for it and keep my fingers crossed that it doesn't cause any new problems.
I've got the opposite issue. Custom made saddle that everyone agrees looks like a beautiful fit (trainer, farrier, saddle fitter, etc.). Horse hates it. In the trot he feels like he is running onto his forehand, and he either bucks, crow hops, or canters in place, in slow motion, when asked to canter. Take the saddle off and ride him bareback and he's happy as a clam. I'm hunting for that magic saddle that he likes, but its hard to guess what you need when you already know perfect doesn't work.
The horse has the final word in my books. In your guys case he may change enough through his back that he's an entirely different shape when working vs standing in the barn.
I've put enough saddles on that appeared to be a beautiful, custom fit and had the horse reject them that I listen to what my horse says, not the saddler. When I had my dressage saddle fitted I rode in it and told the fitter that my horse felt like he wanted it wider. She was very doubtful, but did widen it slightly (adjustable tree) and when I rode in it again even she said "Oh yes, I see what you mean now" because my horse was so much happier.
There is some system that uses a saddle pad with a clay substance as "padding" that you stick under your saddle and ride for a short period. The clay will shift away from the pressure points and you can see if there's even contact over the horse's back. Port Lewis is the name that comes to mind, but I'm not 100% on that. But if there is someone in your area that has it, it might be worth using it to check your saddle.
At a minimum I would try to arrange to do several long, hard, active rides on consecutive days. If the saddle is putting pressure on a different spot that may cause issues later, this could be enough to make him show it.
Those are really good ideas I hadn't thought of.
I have the saddle on trial right now for a week but I'm going to ask to extend it. Before this one I had been riding in several different saddles for the past few months to test different styles so I'm not sure if there's a specific culprit. In the time I've had him he's gone in Prestiges, Hennigs, Stubbens, Barnsbys and probably some others and there's never been any marked difference between saddles, which is why it didn't even occur to me that saddle fit could be the issue.
joiedevie99, that sounds so incredibly frustrating! I hope you find something that works for you guys.
RedHorses that clay pad sounds interesting - I'll definitely have to look for it. We'll do two big training rides this weekend to see if anything changes.
RedHorses, the impression pad you mentioned can cause some issues and false readings on its own - those puppies are thick, and that thickness can interfere with the way the saddle fits and make it look as though there are issues when there are none. Think of it this way: your dress shoes may fit beautifully when you wear them with stockings, but would they be as good a fit if you wore them with wool socks? Same principal here.
Some horses backs dramatically change shape when they lift them. So a saddle that doesn't fit a resting back, may perfectly fit them when they are working - and you are very lucky!
Did your saddle fitter do the finger under the belly to ask your horse to lift his back when she evaluated the fit of the saddle?