Sunday, December 21, 2008

Saddle Trials, Week One

The process of choosing, fitting, and finally purchasing a new saddle is proving to be a great learning experience.

Fitting a saddle to the horse:
Place the saddle on the horse's clean back, two fingers width back from the shoulder, without a pad and without girthing the saddle.
*If the saddle is high in front, it is narrow
*If the saddle is low in front, it is wide
*If the saddle is level, it could be the right fit

Generally speaking, it is better to be slightly wide than slightly narrow. A narrow saddle can potentially hurt (or injure) the horse, while a slightly wide saddle can be used with extra padding (such as a sheepskin pad) to fit properly, and also allows for future widening due to growth or gaining muscle. Placing your hand under the saddle's pommel then "wiggling" the saddle (either from the ground or even more telling while mounted) allows you to feel any pressure points on the withers or spiny processes of the horse's back. The channel along the horse's back should be wide enough to allow a small fist between the rear gullet; this displaces the right amount of weight over the horse's back, rather than against the spine. Widening the gullet will cause the saddle to sit slightly lower on the horse's back, therefore the horse fills out your legs so you may want to lengthen your stirrup leathers a hole, and the same girth will fit a hole or two shorter.

The Wintec 500 Dressage saddle with Cair panels and interchangeable gullet, the saddle I currently own (size 18", wide tree):
Pros: As far as fit goes I like this saddle just fine, I recently exchanged the medium for the wide gullet to allow for Delphi's growth and muscle gain, and the Cair panels do a good job of distributing the weight over Delphi's back.
Cons: It's plastic! After three years of use the billets are cracking and need to be replaced.
Bottom line: while the saddle is functional and fits fine I prefer a quality, leather saddle.

The saddles I will be evaluating this week include
the Stubben Maestoso, size 17.5", wide tree:
Pros: Stubben's craftsmanship, quality vegetable tanned comfortable leather, smaller knee blocks for freedom of movement, traditional wool flocked panels, optional larger knee blocks and optional Biomex spine relieving seat.
Cons: Biomex seat is new and unproven, even the larger knee blocks aren't as large and therefore as secure as some other saddle models.
Bottom line: while the 32cm tree fit her withers properly, the too-narrow channel put pressure points along Delphi's spine therefor not fitting her.

The Bates Innova with Cair panels, interchangeable gullet, and extended blocks, size 2, wide tree:
Pros: largest available knee blocks seem to provide extra security and maintain correct rider position, interchangable gullet allows you to change tree size as your horse changes shape or if you ride multiple horses, Cair panel can also have traditional wool flocking added if desired, wide channel to distribute weight evenly over horse's back.
Cons: giant knee blocks look funny and seem like "cheating" on your seat since they hold you into the so-called "correct Dressage position," suede on knee blocks will eventually become smooth over time and will have to be managed when it gets wet, sizing is 0, 1, and 2, with 1 being 17" to 17.5" and 2 being 18" to 18.5" so 1 is a hair small and 2 is a hair too big for my body (a 5' 8" 125 lb pear shaped female).
Bottom line: even with the wide gullet it sat too high on her withers and put pressure where it doesn't belong, yet with the pommel still being a tad low.

Stay tuned to see what Delphi has to say concerning the trial saddles. Already she's happy that I've correctly fitted her ever-widening and muscle-gaining body with a wide tree from the medium that came with her current saddle; her withers and shoulders felt better immediately and she is less tense after only two rides with the wider gullet.