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When should you see a saddle fitter? When should you have your English saddle adjusted?

By: Galadriel Billington

11:44PM Jul 7, 2007

In an ideal world, I could be there to help with several steps in the saddle buying process. I would:

  1. Evaluate the horse and make up a set of back templates, which you could use for saddle shopping. These are measurements of your horse's back which essentially form a 3D model, yet they fit in a 9x14 envelope. You can carry them to tack stores, fax or mail them to saddle sellers, etc. (Charge: trip fee, $40 body evaluation, $20 templates)

    With a full set of templates, it's like having the horse's back right there while you're at the tack store. It's much more than a "wither tracing" or other method of guesstimating and much less cumbersome than trailering your horse around.

  2. Once you find a saddle which seems to fit the templates, I can evaluate it for you both "static" (standing still) and "dynamic" (ridden). We'll look at the saddle to make sure it is well-made: quality materials, quality design, no serious manufacturing flaws.

    If an English saddle, I can tweak it to fit the horse's back as closely as possible. If it's used or if you ride in it much before you call me, then it will be harder to make dramatic adjustments; once the stuffing starts to "bed in," it packs down and dramatic adjustments will leave it lumpy. Preferably I should see the saddle while it's still on trial and it's possible to send it back if it doesn't fit or is flawed. (Charge: $45/hr saddle adjustment or dynamic evaluation, usually one hour maximum is charged)

    It's discouraging to everyone involved when I come see a horse with a 6-month-old saddle. Usually the owner calls me because the horse has been acting up for a little while; it took about 6 months to get to a point where the horse just couldn't bear the saddle anymore. At that time it's too late to send the saddle back.

    Frequently the saddle simply doesn't fit, and the owner must replace it at a loss. Sometimes the saddle would have fit if it were adjusted immediately, but after 6 months of use, the flocking is too packed in its current shape and would have to be stripped and replaced in order to tweak it without making lumps. All too frequently, the saddle has a serious manufacturing defect, and should have been sent back immediately--but after 6 months, it is too late. If I can check the saddle while it's still in a trial period, we can avoid so many of those unhappy, costly mistakes.

  3. After you've been using the saddle for several months, I would return to check the fit again. The horse's back will tell me much about how well the saddle has been fitting; he may not have any obvious behaviors but the muscles will be affected. I can double check the tweaking of the flocking and make sure that it is settling well and evenly. A one-sided horse or rider can cause flocking to pack down more quickly on one side, and flocking is not always evenly packed to begin with. (Charge: if no adjustment is necessary, just a trip fee.)

  4. If your horse's back is going to change rapidly, I'd like to re-check the saddle at least within 6 months, possibly sooner. A horse with a lot of back damage is going to have some very rapid back changes, and it helps to have the saddle tweaked to keep up with the changes. A growing horse may change rapidly also. We'll talk about what to look for in terms of back change, and what changes make further tweaking necessary.

    Frequently, the first time I see a horse, he has muscle damage and is bracing his back in discomfort. Sometimes he is simply undermuscled, or is using his back all wrong and so has built up the wrong muscles. As his back heals, he relaxes his back, and he builds muscle, his back will change very very quickly.

    If I adjust the saddle to fit his back right away, then the saddle *must* be adjusted to match how the horse's back changes. If the horse's back changes but the saddle stays the same, the saddle will not fit any more!

  5. You can use the initial templates to compare to your horse's back regularly. If the templates no longer match your horse's back, or if the saddle seems to be causing problems, or if any of the "classic" signs of poor saddle fit come up (dry spots, rubbed spots, white hairs), then I can come re-evaluate the horse and saddle. It may be possible to tweak the saddle further, or it may be necessary to replace it.

    A horse's back changes with age (he broadens as he matures, then his back narrows and dips as he gets older), with work (he broadens as he muscles up), with diet (he broadens if he gains weight or narrows if he loses weight), and even with the time of year (horses often get broader on spring grass and narrower throughout the winter). Some changes are not dramatic and the saddle may accomodate those changes. However, some changes in the horse's back will require that the saddle change, too.

  6. If your horse has any sort of serious incident in his life, his back may also change. If he is injured and not ridden for months, his muscle development will change. If he limps (or otherwise compensates for an injury) for some time, he will get stronger on the other side of his body, and his muscle development will change. If his back changes enough, you may need to replace your saddle--or find a temporary saddle to use until his back returns to normal.

  7. Remember to expect the unexpected. Even if the saddle still seems to fit, sometimes behavior changes can be related to the saddle. If your tree cracks or becomes twisted, it may not be obvious to you, but the horse will certainly feel it. If you have any doubts, it is worth taking the time to have your saddle checked again.
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2007 Galadriel Billington. All rights reserved.