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Saddle fitting woes...

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  • Saddle fitting woes...

    Is it possible that my horse is really this difficult to fit?

    I've gone through so much trouble trying to get a dressage saddle for my horse that he and I are both happy with.

    I started out a while ago trying many different saddles including County, Black Country, Frank Baines, Prestige, Passier, and a few others. My horse is big bodied with a high wither and is built fairly uphill. I don't have a saddle fitter that will (eagerly) come to my area, but I have worked with a couple of reputable saddle fitters by e-mail with pictures and wither tracings.

    Over and over again I was having trouble finding a saddle that allows me to sit balanced on his back while giving him enough wither clearance to not get sore. A couple of times I've found saddles that I've been happy with that ultimately make him sore after riding in them for a couple of weeks.
    I've also ridden in saddles that he is clearly comfortable in but that pitch me to the back of the saddle making it difficult for me to ride effectively.

    I finally settled on a Frank Baines Elegance. It wasn't perfect, but seemed like the best thing out of many saddles I had looked at. It worked for a few months but quickly broke in too much up front and was sitting down too low in front and actually pitching me forward and him onto his forehand. OK, so I send the saddle in for reflocking twice to get it adjusted. Since then I haven't been able to ride in the saddle. I can't put my finger on what the issue is but I feel totally out of balance and my legs fall too far backward.

    In the meantime, I just happened to see an Amerigo Dressage saddle used in a local tack shop - my size and his size. I try it on him, it fits. I ride in it, I love it. So while I didn't really want to buy another saddle, I bought it and thought I'd just sell the Baines. That was 2 weeks ago, and the past 3 rides I think my horse hates this new saddle. It still appears to fit, but he's rushing and his back is hollowing and he's not travelling straight, and when I mount, he jerks his head up.
    I can push on his back and it doesn't seem to bother him and I recently had the chiro out so I don't think his back is sore. So as much as I don't want to admit it, I think it might be the saddle. Again. Though I'd love to be wrong..

    I seriously don't know what to do from here.
    The Amerigo was used and in fair condition but definately has some wear. Is it worth restuffing it to see if that makes a difference?
    Do some horses have overly sensitive backs?

    I'm embarrassed to even ask the saddle fitter that sold me the Baines as I keep thinking, this can't be this difficult...

  • #2
    Where are you located? We're having a saddle fitting clinic tonight at my farm in northern Virginia, 5 pm. It's going to be a GREAT event, if it's a possibility for you.
    spriesersporthorse.com | farm on Facebook | me on Facebook | blog


    • Original Poster

      Thanks - I wish I were closer. I'm in the northeast.


      • #4
        Over Christmas I had sent a load of pictures and I traced my horse's back and my saddle down to Equestrian Imports, an authorized Amerigo adjuster in Florida. We emailed and talked back and forth about my saddle and horse and what we needed to do. What the horses reactions were in the current saddle, different saddles etc..

        What ended up happening was, we widened the head a full cm and soften the panels. Anne was wonderful to deal with. I would highly recommend her and she was recommended to me from people on this board.

        My horse is a happy camper again.


        • #5
          I'm in a nearly identical boat. I've quite literally taken a crash course in saddles and saddle fitting over the last year, and have amassed, well, a collection of more saddles and therapeutic pads and girths than I care to mention.

          My horse, when I took him on, had a history of flipping over with his rider, constant bucking (riders doing aerial acrobatics and landing often on his neck, as a 3yr old), and having taken down part of a barn as he did not stand tied. Though re-training, patience and compassion got me a good way past these issues, I discovered my horse to be unusually sensitive about saddle fit. Most horses, if you're ballpark, will suck it up and go on... some even if you're not ballpark. But not mine. Its a prince and the pea story here.

          I had a chiro, did acupuncture, I do massage, stretching, muscle fluffing, etc. I've only actually found soreness twice. If the saddle is a non-perfect fit, he'll work, but sulk. If the saddle is a poor fit, he'll work for 20 min till he can't take it anymore and then stand in once place and buck. If the saddle really doesn't fit, he'll act coldbacked, even when tacking up. I too, get the head flung in the air, but its on dismount, not mounting (unless the saddle fit really stinks, then he'll fling his head even when tightening the girth).

          A chiro, vet and acupuncturist could not find anything wrong with my horse either.

          Because my horse goes willingly sometimes, but not others, or willingly for a time and then no longer, and saddle switching changes things, and he does go better bareback generally, I am still forced to believe there is some element of pain. I personally think that is coupled with extreme emotional baggage from his previous life too... meaning, his first years under saddle were so unbelievably rotten, that any little twang of possible pain sets him into sulking mode, having learned from a miserable life that the pain only gets worse once it starts. We just haven't had enough good moments to banish the bad yet... just need more time on that front.

          Often too, I wonder how much of this is me... am I pandering too much? Am misinterpreting what is really lack of training? Am I contributing to the situation with bad riding skills? Am I listening "too hard" and making excuses for us? I think there are times I am guilty of all, especially being quick to "oh, he doesn't like it, ok lets stop working". I think its very important to do a frequent reality check.

          Finally, because I am convinced there is some sort of pain someplace, and due to recent new baffling symptoms on a different front, I'll be testing my horse for Cushings and Lyme soon, and I'm looking around for a vet that can xray for kissing spines. These are the final frontiers of pain, I can't think of anything else.

          It is true, my horse's back shape is rather odd, he's like a miniature fresian, and he is a challenge to fit well. What I decided to do, last year when this odyssey began, was to instead of going the custom route (which I'm very glad I didn't) spend the same $$$$ and buy up tons of used good saddles and fit and experiment. Its been a great learning lesson, getting to know all kinds of different tree shapes, seat types, etc, and has become a mild obsession now too.

          Well, just wanted to chime in so you don't feel like you're going at it alone. BTw, what does your horse do if ridden bareback? have to tried a treeless?

          I have a remarkable invention, a suber pad, its quite amazing IF your saddle is wide enough to accommodate it. If you were close to me (Phili), I'd invite you to come over and play with my saddles & pads. Good luck!
          Being terrible at something is the first step to being truly great at it. Struggle is the evidence of progress.


          • #6
            Originally posted by Hoofpick View Post
            I seriously don't know what to do from here.
            The Amerigo was used and in fair condition but definately has some wear. Is it worth restuffing it to see if that makes a difference?
            Do some horses have overly sensitive backs?

            I'm embarrassed to even ask the saddle fitter that sold me the Baines as I keep thinking, this can't be this difficult...
            to some of your issues, I would not restuff the amerigo if the reaction was very bad. I'd go back to teh saddle that did work.

            and yes I would contact the Baines people.... its their job to help you

            finally, I'd find the saddle that works best for YOU and find the one that works best for YOUR HORSE (as apparently they're two different things) and then study them quite closely, with a saddle fitter, and try to learn from there. I'm of the understanding that its possible that the tree required to make your horse comfortable is something you may not find comfortable. A good saddle fitter can help you find compromises I would imagine.

            I love reading through here:
            Being terrible at something is the first step to being truly great at it. Struggle is the evidence of progress.


            • Original Poster

              Thanks, buck. It sounds like you've been through the same experience I have. I also feel like I've had a mini-crash course in saddle fitting, and I've learned a lot through this process.

              I go through the same thought processes as you - I start 2nd guessing whether he's really uncomfortable - maybe I'm just hypersensitive to the issue now, is it a training issue, etc. But I can't look past the head flipping when I mount - that's not something that he normally does. He did the head flipping on mounting once before when I rode him in a wintec isabelle that definately made him sore and that was the first sign.

              My horse is very sensitive in general, so I do think he objects to any discomfort and that might be part of what I'm seeing.

              It's such a bummer, though because he's super talented and I'm becoming a better rider - we could probably show 2nd level this year if I could get this straightened out, but I feel like this is a major obstacle to our progress.


              • #8
                I don't know where you are in the northeast, but you are lucky enough to live in a region that is saturated with very good fitters! You've got the crew at Trumbull Mtn, Janie at Pelham Saddlery, and Kate at Dutchess Bridle and Saddle, just to name a few.

                Don't ever feel "embarrassed" to talk to your fitter. They can't fix the problem if they don't know about it.

                Heck, email Frank Baines! He's a fantastic man and he's always willing to help. He's one of the few saddlers around that is very passionate about what he does and approaches things in a "what can I do to help?" frame of mind rather than a "what are you doing wrong?" frame of mind. He's actually in the States this weekend for a trade show, but he's very good about getting in touch with people and getting them help.


                • Original Poster

                  Thanks - I will get in touch with the folks who sold me the Frank Baines. I was just starting to feel like a PIA client . I have worked with a couple of the fitters you mentioned - I have no complaints - they've all been more than willing to help.

                  I'm unfortunately out of driving distance for any of the fitters I know of, so having someone come to actually look at my horse has been a challenge. One of my new instructors has a Schleese fitter come 2x a year, but I just missed the last fitting, and they won't be back until this summer.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Hoofpick View Post
                    Thanks, buck. It sounds like you've been through the same experience I have. I also feel like I've had a mini-crash course in saddle fitting, and I've learned a lot through this process.
                    Custom fit saddles are your friend

                    I only went through 3 saddles in 6 months before I got my Schleese. I took my horse and my saddle to a fitting clinic with Jochen Schleese and he fixed us all up.


                    • #11
                      I'll never work with anyone except a top master saddle maker ever again. Actually, I don't know if I will ever work with anyone except Mike Corcoran ever again.

                      Sometimes you just have to go to a true expert.
                      On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog


                      • #12
                        Don't discount therapeutic padding if things are close-but-not perfect.

                        I went through 8 saddles in three years. (11 in five! ) If His Princeness & the Pea approved, I couldn't ride in it. If it felt good to me, he hated it and was borderline lame. Of the three that worked, he outgrew the trees within months due to muscling up. We finally ended up with treeless (a Fhoenix) and in two years progressed further than we had in his entire time under saddle, which resulted in him gaining close to 200lbs, mostly in topline--and it becoming too painful for me to ride in the treeless.

                        We ended up with a compromise that is perfect. I had a mare who would go in a too-wide-saddle with a nice fluffy pad and a gel pad. Put a saddle that 'fit' on her and she was miserable. But too-wide-gel-and-fluff and she was very, very happy. This is a (too) basic version of the Balance saddle theory. It gives their back room to come up and lift and round. A saddle that fits well standing still many times doesn't fit at all in movement.

                        So, I tried the same theory with His Princeness & the Pea. Stupid Wide Ancient Passier (short points, cutback, shallow tree, banana shaped panels for his short-wide back) which with no padding sits on his withers. Sue Schurer stuffed it so the panels are amazingly springy and cushy. Then a sheepskin pad and thinline shims. I use the thinline 'inserts' which are a full length panel shaped piece, then a shim. I use double sided carpet tape to attach them to each other and to the sheepskin pad. Sheepskin against the horse. Shims. Light pad to keep saddle clean, saddle.

                        If I had the $$$ I'd get the Thinline Comfort pad. I don't, so I compromise. It works. He's happy, I'm happy.

                        For your horse, you may need a saddle wide enough in front for the shoulders, but then shimmed just behind the shoulders to keep it up off the withers. Mattes and Thinline both make correction pads if you're not into messing with things. I like the thinline better, just because the material is more forgiving, and the reaction from the horse is *dramatic.*

                        If you get a saddle that fits the horse but isn't quite right for you, you can shim it for YOUR balance. Those shims (again, I use thinline) slip right under the panels of the saddle, between panels and tree. They don't change the fit for the horse, just lift a little for you.

                        Stirrup bar position may be the final thing you're dealing with, from your description of feeling not right but not knowing why. You may need a more set back stirrup bar, or, conversely, the set back ones may be making your legs feel out behind you. You have to start with knowing which they are, then trying others (or even trying *carefully* putting a piece of tubing on the stirrup bar to push the leather back 1/2 to 1" to see if that helps or feels awful.)

                        Some models with set back bars, in order of how far back they are: The Heather Moffett lines, the Isabelle, Passier GT, and a few other models (it can be ordered) the Bates Caprilli in the new version w/ adjustible gullet (the old ones aren't set back). Some other brands can be ordered with it set back. Some even have adjustible bars.

                        Finally, if the twist is an issue you and the horse can't agree on, some saddles have a built up waist to make the feeling narrower for the rider even though the twist is wide for the horse. Laser makes this, as do some others. Sue Schurer's proprietary saddle can be built up. Some saddles advertised as for 'women' feel this way. Some OLD Passiers have very, very narrow waists despite wide trees and twists, without being built up at all--I wish you could still get them made this way...

                        Hope some or any of that helps.
                        InnisFailte Pinto Sporthorses & Coloured Cobs

                        Bits are like cats, what's one more? (Petstorejunkie)


                        • Original Poster

                          Originally posted by pintopiaffe View Post
                          If His Princeness & the Pea approved, I couldn't ride in it.
                          Bwahahaha - His Princeness & the Pea - that is my horse! I love that he is sensitive, but with this, it is difficult.

                          I have a thinline pad with shims and actually used that for a while with my Frank Baines to lift up the front a little and it helped for a while...

                          It is somewhat comforting to know others have had the same struggles.


                          • #14
                            To be honest, something I also pretty much swear by is not using the same saddle day-in-and-day-out. I will go to a western or endurance or jumping saddle for hacks or hillwork so we're not using the stressaghe saddle every day.

                            I haven't lately, as I had to sell everything sale-able last year when my Mum was ill. But then I'm not riding as intensely as I was. I hope to get a good AP or Endurance saddle with my tax refund so I have an option, I do swap to the Alta Escuela for trail rides/conditioning now...

                            I do think it helps though, to change things up when you can. You *might* find you can swap between the two saddles with various pads... is it ideal? No. But just like I don't wear the same pair of shoes every day... When I went on a 14 day trip where I knew I'd be doing tons of walking, I brought two pairs of shoes that were 1/2 size apart and swapped off which I wore. No blisters, no problems. Had I just worn the one pair, I would've been in trouble. Both 'fit.' Just differently.

                            Just an odd, random thought. I know some people think I'm nuts for thinking this. The horse approves though, and that's what counts.
                            InnisFailte Pinto Sporthorses & Coloured Cobs

                            Bits are like cats, what's one more? (Petstorejunkie)


                            • #15
                              Oh I feel your woes. I've just ordered my 3rd saddle in 6 years hoping this one will be *the one*.

                              But one thing to note, while the saddle is certainly a HUGE portion of the issue, also have your horse's back checked if you haven't already done so. When I first got my horse I blamed a *lot* of things on the saddle that really were back problems, and now that we're slowly (knock on wood) are on a consistent path to soundness, the saddle issues seems to be falling into place as well. I'm riding in a borrowed Custom Saddlery one while my Wow Saddle is being made.
                              "Reite dein Pferd vorwärts und richte es gerade.” Gustav Steinbrecht