Thursday, January 11, 2018

Saddle Fitting!

Two of the ladies at the barn recently had a saddle fitter out- one bought a new saddle, and the other had her County completely reflocked. They both gave glowing reviews, especially the one who had the saddle reflocked. I called the company up, gave them some details, and scheduled the fitter for 1/6/18. This fitter is not associated with any brand in particular, just British made saddles in general. She is a fan of brands that have scientific testing behind their product (like Fairfax and Prolite), and so it was super neat talking to her.

All of the pictures in this post are from days AFTER the fitting.
I was a bad blogger and didn't take any pics that day!

I had been putting off looking too closely at Penn's saddle. I knew it wasn't fitting him like it used to... and it shouldn't. I got it for him in late summer 2016 when he was a solid First Level horse. It's been a year and a half and he's a somewhat competent Third Level horse. I didn't want to get him a new saddle- I think he has more growing to do (muscularly, I don't think he'll grow in height anymore). He's been especially grouchy- he bites at the cross ties when I put his half pad on, then again with the regular pad, and even more with the saddle. Obviously that continues as I get the saddle and pads in place and put on the girth. I've evaluated him for ulcers, body pain, everything. The only thing I had left was saddle fit. It didn't appear his saddle fit him too badly.

Still growing muscularly was a key thought in picking a saddle fitter. I didn't want someone to write off my saddle and sell me a new saddle (of their brand). I wanted someone to fix my existing saddle to the best of their ability (within reason of course- if there's no fixing it, let's shop!). I was super pumped when I realized my saddle (18" 31cm Stubben 1894) could be reflocked. I don't think I've ever had a saddle that could be, and I've gone back and forth on the flocking vs air vs foam vs adjustable tree etc. I was just happy this time around we could see about reflocking!

Of course the day the fitter came out, we were in the middle of a "cold snap" and the high that day was a balmy 9F. We were worried she would cancel (there were 4 of us on the list to see her), but luckily she didn't, and luckily we have a heated barn so it was a wonderful 45 degrees inside. #spoiled #nevergivinguptheheatedbarn

High reaching front panels.

The first thing the saddle fitter (we'll call her SF) did was groan when she saw I had a Stubben. I forget exactly how she phrased it, but apparently she doesn't see many horses that fit Stubbens well. She's not the first person I've met that doesn't like them- Event Trainer hated the old Stubbens because their panels usually didn't sit properly, but was happy with how the more modern ones are being designed. SF was pleasantly surprised that the fit wasn't horrible, but it wasn't ideal either.

She didn't like how the front panels came so far up Penn's whithers (it's basically a full shoulder squeeze I guess?) She also didn't like the clearance over the whithers and spine. She asked if I used a half pad with it, I said yes, every ride. She liked the fit much more with the half pad, but thought we could do better. She thought all of the panels looked very flat and probably needed reflocked about a year ago. The balance on the saddle was ok, albeit the pommel was a bit low. The flat front panels were allowing the saddle to sit too low up front and the back panels weren't meeting Penn's back anymore.

The fuzzed hair of a saddle that isn't sitting on the horse's back.
(this pic is from a few days before Christmas)

She took tracings of Penn's back and then evaluated his R-L shape. He's very evenly muscled from right to left. His right hip is a hair lower, there's slightly more hollow behind his right scapula, and his left scapula is a bit bigger than the right (but there's nothing to be done about that, it's bone shape). She said it's been a long time since she's seen a horse as even R-L as Penn. The last one was a meticulously kept 3* eventer, and his shape didn't last more than 6 months. I'm hoping Penn's will last!

We chatted about the two possible solutions:
  1. Reflock my current saddle. No promises on making it a perfect fit, and it may not make enough difference that Penn would be happy. She thought since at one point he was comfortable in this saddle, and the fit wasn't terrible, we could make him comfortable again. She warned me I might pay the reflocking fee and then have to buy a new saddle.
  2. Fit a new saddle. This would solve all the fit problems for sure. She had some ideas about brands based on the science behind the brand (Ideal, Fairfax, etc).
I picked option 1 with the understanding it might be a waste of money. A better fit is out there, but she agreed that he hasn't settled in his "final shape" yet, and understood that I wasn't ready to commit to a new saddle. We did agree he would need a new saddle eventually, but maybe just not yet. Before he does PSG he'll get a new saddle for sure. I'm thinking sometime next year- Penn will be 10 in March 2019 and hopefully we'll be schooling PSG. I think he'll be physically mature enough for me to dump a bunch more money into a saddle that he should have for longer than a year or two!

Not my saddle, but it is Penn's first saddle.
Its panels are flat like Penn's current saddle used to be.
It's a 29cm, and looks drastically narrower than Penn's 31!

SF had to cut a second hole in the underside of my saddle to reflock it. It had just the one hole towards the back of the panels, which wouldn't give SF the right access to the front panels that needed the most restuffing. She wished the front panels were gusseted- I guess there's more she could have done with them if they were? There was a lot of information going around and I missed some of it, I'm sorry to say.

Watching the saddle get reflocked was so interesting, and I wish I had thought to get pictures because you could really see how flat and deflated the panels were. When she scolded me that it should have been reflocked a year ago, I just nodded and thought, "I'm pretty sure it's never been that puffed, but I'm just going to play along that I'm just bad about having it flocked."

Penn's saddle with newly stuffed panels.

She put the saddle back on Penn and was like, "This turned out better than I expected!" We popped the half pad on under it and she was happy with the end result. She said I shouldn't ride in it without the half pad because of how far the front panels come up the whithers, but overall, everyone was happy with the final fit. She said to keep an eye on it because the new flocking will squish and he might need additional flocking in 3-6 months.

But was Penn happy with the fit?

Better balance.

Yes! I think he's more comfortable in it than he's ever been (even new). I rode him directly after (with the NS Transform weymouth she brought, more on that in another post- SF also did a double bridle consultation with me), and he was wonderfully through his back. He had some other issues, but the energy stop I've been feeling under the saddle was gone.

I rode more thoroughly the next day with the snaffle bridle to eliminate any double bridle issues and it was wonderful. Penn was up, through, connected, light, and HAPPY. I'd ask him to sit in all 3 gaits, and he sat right away without pinning his ears or tail swishing too much. I could push the canter between working canter and pirouette canter, and he happily sat and then moved out and sat again. I was able to sit him down in the canter for a proper canter-walk transition. He lifted his shoulder much more in the walk-canter transitions too, but without getting stuck in the transition.

I decided to end the ride with an attempt at a flying change. I haven't done them in a long time because it was so difficult for Penn, and the last one I did he almost bucked me off (true story- I was on his neck in an ass over teacups mess and if he was a dirty horse, he could have ducked out from under me). I approached it the way Jenj told me Charlotte Dujardin does (she audited the clinic Charlotte did near her): 10m circles that make a figure 8, with the change of direction happening towards a solid wall (so the horse can't run off).

I picked up the left canter, sat him down, put him on the 10m circle (and he was like, do you want more sit?), asked for the change and had to do a double check that he actually changed. He never got out of his sitting position, but magically ended up on the other lead, smooth as can be. I have no clue if it was clean or not, but I really don't care. He sat and was exceedingly polite through it.

Post-pulse treatment of Penn's neck Wednesday night. Green bars means resistance was within tolerance, yellow bars that it was elevated beyond tolerance. Red bars mean there's a significant problem.
Penn's initial spinal test showed the tension in his back was almost completely resolved before pulse treatment, but he had neck and hindquarter tension. After those were worked out, his entire spine had very equal relaxation (all the bars were the same height), and then the same for his neck (shown above). The yellow lines are the pre-treatment evaluation.
Long story short: I have scientific evidence of the saddle fitting making Penn feel better.

Other pluses: Penn stopped being crabby when I take his saddle off. He used to pin his ears and bite the cross ties when I pulled the girth to fully unbuckle it and when I took the saddle off. He basically ignores me now when I pull his tack off. He's much less touchy about getting tacked up too- he still pins his ears when I put the saddle on and girth it up, but he doesn't pin his ears at the pads and has toned down the angry bitey face tenfold at the saddle and girth.

Penn is happy, so I am happy! And I would have this fitter back out, no question. She was easy to talk to and work with, and she's not pushing a particular brand. Her company is very flexible- they'll help you find the right saddle so you can used saddle shop for your final saddle (ie, pay for a fitting to find the right saddle, then you don't actually buy it from them). They'll evaluate saddles that aren't from their stock, and work on non-British saddles. A++!


  1. Sounds like an excellent experience, and yay for Penn being happier! 🙂

    1. It was! I'd like to shadow her for a day and keep on learning.

  2. That’s awesome! I’m dealing with saddle fit crabbiness as well and look forward to having my saddle back and a less crabby pony :)

    1. I have to make sure I keep up with this saddle, and don't push off a new one until it's too late! But now I know that if he's getting crabby again, call the fitter.

  3. saddle fit makes such a huge difference. my previous dressage saddle didn't fit annie and resulted in some crabbiness. glad penn is feeling better

    1. It definitely makes a big difference... and I have to remember that when we have our next set of troubles (because that will happen!).

  4. I"m so glad it turned out better than expected and that Penn is happy! It sounds like you're moving in the perfect direction re: new saddle and I love your thought-process about it all.

    1. My wallet is super excited that this visit went according to the plan in my head! I honestly don't know how I would have funded a completely new saddle. I'm glad I have time to save up properly.

  5. Replies
    1. Absolutely! I look forward to working with her again for Penn's "final" saddle.