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Wide vs. narrow--channel UPDATE post 32: horse is still sore!

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  • Wide vs. narrow--channel UPDATE post 32: horse is still sore!

    I just bought an older used saddle, and am not sure right now if I want to keep it or not.

    The gal who rides my horse said that she thought the channel was too narrow. (My horse is a narrow TB.)

    I have heard this also from a saddle fitter who worked on my previous saddle, a Passier made in 2000. (The current saddle is about the same vintage.) He was in the business of making and selling custom saddles, so I took it with a grain of salt.

    With this new saddle, I am holding on to that grain of salt: are all of these older saddles with the narrow channels really so bad? How did all the horses of yesteryear manage to survive without their backs caving in? Are all the wise COTHers who proudly describe their 20+ year old Stubbens and Passiers wrong???

    I am just skeptical of this issue. On my budget, I would rather have an older good saddle than a newer crap saddle. But is a wider channel really necessary?
    Last edited by Bristol Bay; Jan. 19, 2013, 10:41 AM.
    A helmet saved my life.

    2017 goal: learn to ride like TheHorseProblem, er, a barn rat!

  • #2
    No, it rarely is necessary, it's a fad. For a tb type, make sure it is a cutback, and that the saddle is placed correctly (a hand's width behind the shoulder blade). And 10 years is young for a well taken care of saddle. It's the extended knee rolls/etc that make all those things necessary. An older saddle fits itself to the horse much more easily.
    I.D.E.A. yoda

    Comment


    • #3
      I don't know if I agree its a fad, and in some cases a wide channel can indeed bring a lot of relief to a horse... but I do agree its not mandatory and it is very de rigueur. Imhe, channel width is a preference decided by the horse, like most everything else.

      I have a horse that has a wide flat back, and I swore up and down that he required a wide channel for spinal comfort, when in fact it turned out he preferred a more narrow channel. Having such a wide flat back, he had the muscle to protect his spine already. A wide channel ended up putting pressure on the outsides of his back muscles, a more narrow channel sat more comfortably ... *for him* ... every horse is an individual.

      As far saddles of yesteryear, I'll wager its several things...

      one, life wasn't quite as cush for the equine way back when as it is now. people didn't stay up late at night wondering if their saddle fit just right. I remember even just 18 years ago when I started riding it was far more common to see horses with wither sores and white patches at lesson stables than you would now. Back then if the lesson horse was developing white hairs, you just put another pad on. Nowadays, if a horse had a saddle sore or mark at any of the barns I know, it would headline news and people would be trying to get to the bottom of it asap. I think there is vastly more awareness these days.

      Two, you have to remember, these awesome 30yr old saddles you speak of were brand spanking new 30 years ago, the panels were likely fuller, softer, springier than what you likely have now, even compared to a modern reflock in many cases.

      And, 30 years ago things were built better and there were more craftsmen, less machines and virtually no computers. Trees were still made and built by horsepeople, not by computers and in factories where most of the tradespeople might not have ever seen a horse. The tree is the heart and soul of a saddle. A well made and well fitting tree can make even the most apologetically paneled saddle comfortable enough. (I personally suspect the trend for therapeutic padding and high tech panel design and materials is driven by the decline of the saddle tree craftsman... but I digress).

      Remember too, fitting was likely a simpler affair way back when, there wasn't such the enormous range of breed x's with different body styles presenting fitting challenges. And finally, I'd wager that aside from the odd cropout breed crossing disciplines, there was a lot less intermingling of breeds across disciplines, meaning QHs basically did QH stuff, TBs did their thing, Drafts had their niche, etc. So jumping style saddles were built to fit jumping style horses, and dressage saddles for dressage horses, etc, etc. All the square pegs went in the square holes, and the round ones went where they were meant too, life was much simpler.

      just imho.
      Being terrible at something is the first step to being truly great at it. Struggle is the evidence of progress.

      Comment


      • #4
        I don't think the wide channels are a "fad". I agree with much of what buck22 said.

        Years and years ago, I had a Passier saddle, medium width tree, and expected it to fit everything I put it on. And mostly, it did. And mostly, horses did fine in it.

        Wish I'd kept that old Passier!

        Comment

        • Original Poster

          #5
          Ideayoda, that is really interesting, because this saddle has no thigh blocks and pencil knee rolls. It's the main reason I decided to try it.

          Buck22, excellent, excellent post, especially the historical perspective on breeds doing what they were bred to do. Lots to think about there.

          This saddle, like so many of that era, has a channel that tapers from wide to narrow in the back. Where the weight of the rider rests it's plenty wide.

          The rider (i am lucky to have a really talented horseless college student in the neighborhood!) says the narrow channel affects how she is able to sit the trot. I am such a philistine I don't even know what she's talking about.

          Sometimes my ignorance masquerades as skepticism.
          A helmet saved my life.

          2017 goal: learn to ride like TheHorseProblem, er, a barn rat!

          Comment


          • #6
            My little (15.2) but roundish Andalusian cross does NOT take kindly to a narrow channel. I tried a saddle that fit me well. They let me keep it extra time to be sure. I was leery about the channel but since I finally found a saddle that was comfortable for me, I did keep it for an extra week. In that week, Ms. Opinionated started balking and generally acting pissy. She was sore along the spine so that was the end of that. They said they could alter the channel some but it was quite narrow (as about 3 fingers) and I didn't want to take a $2500 chance. As soon as I quit riding her in that saddle, she went back to her agreeable self. This was an older "style" saddle..no big thigh blocks or padding.

            Way back then (when I started riding English) there were about
            3 dressage saddle makers (Stuebben, Passier and Kieffer). Each of them had 2 or 3 models. Now days . The selection is endless and you just have to try...and try...and try.

            Susan

            Susan

            Comment


            • #7
              For some horses it's a necessity. It depends on the width of the horse's spine & spinal processes, and their tolerance level.

              OP - put the saddle on your horse's back without a pad or girth. Get up on a step-stool and try to feel for spinal clearance around the stirrup bars - as far back as you can. The saddle shouldn't be right up against your horse's spine. Also, once the saddle is girthed up & you have ridden for a while, try to stick your hand in there and feel around. It will obviously be tight but again, it shouldn't be up against his spine. And lastly, take a rough measurement of your horse's spine width and compare that to the channel. None of it is super scientific but it will all help with your assessment.

              Also realize that any pads you use (sheepskin half-pads, thinline, etc.) will suck up channel space. If your saddle is pinch-y, you might be better off removing any extra padding.
              "You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed." - The Little Prince

              Comment


              • #8
                To know whether or not your saddle's channel is too narrow, you need to figure our how much clearance your horse's spine and spinal tissues need. Some horses need 3 inches of channel clearance, others need 4+ inches. A saddle with too narrow of a channel will press onto the sensitive spinal tissues and ligaments. On the other hand, if the channel of the saddle is too generous, the panels of the saddle may not be sitting correctly on the "weight bearing" area of your horse's back causing muscle wastage and atrophy. (In extreme cases, if the saddle is too large through the gullet and channel the saddle can actually sit on your horse's spine, ouch!)

                Here's an informative video on how to determine how much spinal clearance your horse needs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cv6cKLjwpt0
                And this video discusses the "weight bearing" area of a horse's back: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TC8sMS1qX-8

                Comment

                • Original Poster

                  #9
                  This is the EXACT saddle that I have.

                  http://orangecounty.craigslist.org/spo/3443989569.html

                  Please weigh in on the issue, because to me, it only gets narrow at the back. This weekend I will be using the methods you all have recommended to check spinal clearance, but in the meantime, see for yourself.
                  A helmet saved my life.

                  2017 goal: learn to ride like TheHorseProblem, er, a barn rat!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Buck22 -- wonderful perspective! We're always talking at the barn about how it used to be. People, and perhaps horses, were more tolerant of fitting issues.

                    My BO has about 5 saddles for her (small, mostly basic up-down and beginning jumping) lesson program and the horses are expected to "deal with" at least 2 or 3 without making a fuss.

                    As for the channel question, I know my mare is happier in a fairly wide channel. She has a broad flat back and good withers. More important for her is the panel shape. Anything upswept just won't work, and big fat gusseted panels work best. I use a Frank Baines Capriole. Just love all the saddle brands made in Walsall, UK... almost every company has a tree that's right for her, and the variety and price range are almost endless.
                    You have to have experiences to gain experience.

                    1998 Morgan mare Mythic Feronia "More Valley Girl Than Girl Scout!"

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Part of horse's learning "to deal" is that they often lose nerve sensation after 15 min or so, they are also very good (as prey animals) at blocking/distancing pain - if you look at horses that have dealt with poor saddle fit, they often have muscle atrophy, nerve damage etc that may/does become permanent.

                      It's much cheaper/faster to have a saddle fitter out than deal with back soreness issues - the fact that a more advanced rider felt the horse move differently when she sat the trot would be enough for me to call in a fitter to assess & adjust the saddle: this is a Kiefer so likely has an adjustable tree & flocked panels, so alot can be done to optimize fit for the horse.

                      Comment

                      • Original Poster

                        #12
                        So I decided to stick with the Kieffer. I'm shipping to off to the Kieffer dealer tomorrow to have the tree adjusted, then I'll have the fitter out.

                        This is after having someone put a fancy fluffy modern saddle on my horse to try him, and then discovering his back is sore today from the ill-fitting saddle. It had a really wide channel, though.
                        A helmet saved my life.

                        2017 goal: learn to ride like TheHorseProblem, er, a barn rat!

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          If it causes problems later, you can have the panels sewn down at the back of the saddle so the channel stays the same width all the way down. I had that done on a saddle that otherwise fit my mare great, but the narrowing caused problems.
                          Halt Near X | Horse Bloggers - Blog Directory

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Personally I want a narrower channel and to sit closer to the horse (no gussets), helps with rider balance and horse's backs. Look at a skeleton and ask why there are wide gullets....has to do with the extensions to hold the massive thigh blocks imho. (And havent had sore backs).
                            I.D.E.A. yoda

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Bristol Bay View Post
                              So I decided to stick with the Kieffer. I'm shipping to off to the Kieffer dealer tomorrow to have the tree adjusted, then I'll have the fitter out.

                              This is after having someone put a fancy fluffy modern saddle on my horse to try him, and then discovering his back is sore today from the ill-fitting saddle. It had a really wide channel, though.
                              Congrats on the Kieffer

                              BUT I don't see the correlation between the fluffy modern saddle's wide channel & back sore - this saddle may've been a poor fit for a number of reasons ...

                              It's unusual for a horse to be back sore after a single ride in a given saddle - for this to happen, saddle must've been very inappropriate to the horse.

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by ideayoda View Post
                                Personally I want a narrower channel and to sit closer to the horse (no gussets), helps with rider balance and horse's backs. Look at a skeleton and ask why there are wide gullets....has to do with the extensions to hold the massive thigh blocks imho. (And havent had sore backs).
                                What you want and what the horse needs is two different things.

                                Wide gullets as an extension to hold the massive thight blocks?!? Ridiculous.
                                So a wide Stubben Genesis Special is wide because?!? Oh yeah, because Catherine haddad's horse must be a fashion addict.

                                Don't just look at the skeleton, look at the muscles as well.
                                ~ Enjoying some guac and boxed wine at the Blue Saddle inn. ~

                                Originally posted by LauraKY
                                I'm sorry, but this has "eau de hoarder" smell all over it.
                                HORSING mobile training app

                                Comment

                                • Original Poster

                                  #17
                                  Originally posted by alto View Post
                                  Congrats on the Kieffer

                                  BUT I don't see the correlation between the fluffy modern saddle's wide channel & back sore - this saddle may've been a poor fit for a number of reasons ...

                                  It's unusual for a horse to be back sore after a single ride in a given saddle - for this to happen, saddle must've been very inappropriate to the horse.
                                  I didn't mean to imply that it was the channel itself. And the saddle was really inappropriate. It was three against one, and I really wanted the person trying my horse to like him. I wanted the trainer to as well because she may have other students interested in him.

                                  For all the sophistication of the rider who thought the narrower channel of the Kieffer would interfere with her sitting his trot, it was revealing that she thought this more expensive super thigh blocky saddle was adequate. It was too wide and sat too low, and the tree was too curvy for my horse's flat back. I know my horse, and he's really a saddle diva. I should have put my foot down.

                                  But this the reason I want to have a decent saddle that I know fits him. Then there are no excuses. People used to riding big WBs just don't get the narrow thoroughbred back.
                                  Last edited by Bristol Bay; Jan. 20, 2013, 04:15 PM.
                                  A helmet saved my life.

                                  2017 goal: learn to ride like TheHorseProblem, er, a barn rat!

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by Bristol Bay View Post
                                    It was too wide and sat too low, and the tree was too curvy for my horse's flat back.
                                    Ouch! nice guy to work at all in this saddle.


                                    For all the sophistication of the rider who thought the narrower channel of the Kieffer would interfere with her sitting his trot, it was revealing that she thought this more expensive super thigh blocky saddle was adequate.
                                    So perhaps she meant that she can sit the trot easier in not a Kieffer (which can be a bit too pommel friendly if you don't hve the Kieffer "build" )

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by ideayoda View Post
                                      Personally I want a narrower channel and to sit closer to the horse (no gussets), helps with rider balance and horse's backs. Look at a skeleton and ask why there are wide gullets....has to do with the extensions to hold the massive thigh blocks imho. (And havent had sore backs).
                                      Sorry, but this is just wrong. The channel has NOTHING to do with thigh rolls - I ride in a saddle with external rolls - they are simply attached to the outside flap of the saddle - and I ride in a more open, flat seat. As already mentioned, Haddad's saddles have NO rolls, and there are plenty of others with small rolls (such as Neidersuiss' original Symphony model). But all modern saddles, and even the older Neidersuiss have wide channels. Why? For the comfort of the HORSE! You need to give the horse's spine and connective tissues some clearance - all research as shown that a horse is much more comfortable and goes much more freely when there is clearance. Those old, narrow saddles cause discomfort and restrict movement and cause the horse to tighten its back in defence. Why do that to the horse?

                                      I personally am not a fan of gussets - but that is because I ride shorter backed horses, so the gussets (and longer panels) put too much pressure onto the loin of a short backed horse. But for a longer backed horse, they distribute the weight over a greater area - again, for the comfort of the longer-backed horse.

                                      Modern research is not destroying riding - it makes for better saddles for both horse and rider.
                                      www.MysticOakRanch.com Friesian/Warmblood Crosses, the Ultimate Sporthorse
                                      Director, WTF Registry

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by FriesianX View Post

                                        Modern research is not destroying riding - it makes for better saddles for both horse and rider.


                                        Favoring wide panels has zero to do with fads or thigh blocks.

                                        I ride a short-backed, very round horse. I asked one tack shop owner why it was so hard to find saddles to fit this kind of horse (this was almost 10 years ago now), she thought perhaps it was because riders traditionally tended to favor thoroughbreds as sporthorses. And saddlemakers were simply slow to adapt to horses that weren't TB-ish.

                                        So the "good old days" when every saddle fit nearly every horse was partly because the horses were more of one body type than they are now.

                                        Just a thought ...

                                        ETA -- My all-purpose saddle has pencil knee rolls and the panels are WIDE, the better not to slip around on the "whisky barrel on legs" as one saddlemaker pronounced my horse.

                                        EATA -- Just in the last few years, it seems it's easier to find saddles that fit this type of horse. It took me 6 months to find anything close to fitting 10 years ago. Two years ago, it only took about a month to find a used dressage saddle. Either that, or I'm a better shopper now.
                                        __________________________
                                        "... if you think i'm MAD, today, of all days,
                                        the best day in ten years,
                                        you are SORELY MISTAKEN, MY LITTLE ANCHOVY."

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