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SADDLE FITTING

HOW MANY DIFFERENT SADDLE PADS
DO YOU OWN?

 

   Do you have a horse with white hairs behind the withers (and your horse is not white)? Does your horse have dry spots behind the withers when you take the saddle off? Have you tried multiple saddles and multiple pads and multiple combinations of saddles and pads. Have you longed for or bought an Ortho-Flex saddle. Did it not work? Have you attended more than one saddle fit seminar, and still can’t get rid of the dry spots? Do you obsess about dry spots? Do you wish your friends at work were horse people so they would understand why you need to talk about dry spots and withers?


Well, if any and all of these situations apply to you, you might have the same problem horse as I.

   I fit all the statements in the 1st paragraph. I have read everything I can find about saddle fitting. Mostly magazine articles are your only source. I have found one complete book that goes over saddle fitting in detail. There are several good horse books that have a chapter about saddle fitting and are good guides. I have read one great magazine article that took two issues. I’ve attended one saddle-fitting lecture. I’ve two saddle fitters come and fit trees to my horse. I bought an ortho-flex saddle…three of them (one didn’t fit me; one was too big for the horse; and the 3rd was also to big and too darn heavy); and they all produced dry spots behind the withers.

   First of all why are we alarmed at dry spots behind the withers. I didn’t know enough to be alarmed when I started riding again as a beginning adult. I did worry a little about the dry spots, as I didn’t know what caused them or if it could be ignored or worried.

   Dry spots behind the withers exist when there is too much pressure from the saddle. The pressure is so intense that it turns off the sweat glands. The pressure on my horse was so intense that it also killed the underlying tissue. After the tissue is killed, the hair in those spots turn white. The white hair isn’t an alarm flag that you are damaging your horse’s tissues, it’s an "X" mark the spot of dead tissues. Those spots are little fingers of guilt telling the world that you hurt your own horse.

   How do you get rid of the dry spot so it doesn’t cause the killer pressure on your horse’s shoulders? 

  1. Get a new pad
  2. Get a new pad that has a gimmick
  3. Get a new pad that is guaranteed to eliminate dry spots and protect your horse’s back.
  4. Cut holes in your saddle pad right where the dry spot is.
  5. Go to a store and judge the front of the saddle to fit your horse better than the saddle you have at home.
  6.  Go to a store and tell the clerk that you need a wide saddle to fit your horse at home.
  7. Find a store where they let you take the saddle home and try it out for a week or so.
  8. Buy a custom saddle to fit your horse. Saddle fitters come to your home and "fit" your horse from a variety of trees. One saddle maker will send a variety of trees to your home and help with the fit over the phone. You order a saddle with the tree that best fits your horse. Some of these you can return, and some of them you cannot return. If the saddle doesn’t fit…try selling it through the Internet or local newspaper ads.
  9. Order a test saddle from a saddle company with the motto…our saddles fit everything…to see if that’s true. At least these can be readily returned
  10. Pad away from pressure
  11. Put a pad under the saddle bars. This will lift up the saddle…(padding away from pressure)
  12. Pad in front of the bars.

   Your horse has had the same dry spots (and white spots) for over a year. You are getting desperate. When you graduate to the pad to fit stage, you find that you can alter the shape and size of the dry spots…but not enough.

   Order a saddle from another company – ortho-flex has the right idea. You HAVE to see if it will work on your horse.

  1. Try the shims that come with the ortho-flex saddle. Experiment until you drop and weep.

   Find them at Large Equestrian Expositions, Equitana, Horse Fairs etc. Listen to them … they are saddle fitting Gods. Of course most of them also sell saddles.   OK! How many of you are in the same boat as I am? I made a pledge after the 2nd year of dry spots to find the solution-no matter how much money it cost. I've been searching for the solution now from 1995-1999.

   I have a little extra money that I can do all these things that I listed above. I have an extensive collection of saddle pads. I’ve lost more saddle pads than most people buy in their lifetime!

   My current saddle is the 6th saddle that I have purchased for this horse. I have kept three of the saddles that I purchased new for this horse. They fit my other horse and mule. The other ones, I traded in for the next saddle that would fit - or sold it outright…loosing a couple hundred dollars on each saddle.

   In 1999, I was excited by a saddle made by a really knowledgeable saddlemaker. A representative came to the barn to fit my horse and another horse. I took pictures of the saddle fitting. I took pictures of the bare trees sitting on my horse’s back. The tree looked OK to me, but I have a healthy skepticism built up now about buying yet another new saddle. The other woman did order a saddle with the tree deemed to fit my horse. After a month the saddle came and I got to borrow it. I rode, ripped the saddle off and discovered that my old friends, the dry spots were alive and well. I was crushed as I had built up a lot of hope.

   My farrier said, "Why don’t you try a custom tree! Get someone to make a tree that will fit your horse." "DUH" I said. "Who would do that?" The farrier said there used to be a local saddle maker that would do that, but he didn’t know anyone. That was the first I’ve heard of a custom tree.

   Now, I have a new agenda: Look for a company that can make a tree that will fit my horse…a unique tree just made for Sage’s back. WHAT A CONCEPT!

   I found a web site that talked about custom trees. I emailed the company and told them that I had an impossible to fit horses and I bet that they couldn’t fit her. The owner of the company called me and said, "Yes we can!"

   I choose to have a saddle made by the Australian Stock Saddle Company. Their catalog gives directions on how to measure the horse’s back so they can custom make the tree to fit. I resolved to do everything I could to give the tree maker/saddlemaker the true measurements of the horse.

   I had just discovered the undeveloped film of that earlier saddle fitting. I looked at the tree sitting on my horse’s back and was shocked and amazed to find that the tree was SLOPED DOWNHILL! Now, when the horse and tree were three-dimensional objects alive and in living color, no one noticed that the tree sloped down from the rump to the withers. It was only when I looked at this picture that it was instantly noticeable! The front of the saddle was wedged into those two places behind the withers that now have white spots. That’s where all my weight was going…digging into the dry spot/white hair area. That’s why these two places did not sweat…an intense amount of pressure.

   A year ago, when taking pictures of my horse for a custom saddle maker, my husband and I measured the rump and withers of the horse to determine if she was downhill or not. We made the same measurement three times. Once, the horse was "downhill" by ½". The other two measurements, she came out equal. A year later, I see that we were wrong. Perhaps the ground was uneven. Perhaps she wasn’t standing perfectly square when we took the measurement.

   I sent that picture and about 20 more. I sent a video of me and my friend taking the measurements of the horse’s back. We even took two different sets of measurements at different spots. The saddlemaker called and said he had a plethora of information about Sage…who obviously was a downhill horse. He told me that making a tree to fit Sage would not be difficult. What he did was to build up the front of the saddle to make it sit level on her back. He put tapered felt pads between the saddle and wool. I allowed myself just a tiny bit of hope.

   Two weeks later, I got the saddle. I put it on her. It looked very level. I rode just a bit, although she had lost a shoe and her foot was sore. I sat on her and watched another person take an hour lesson. I took the saddle off and I was thrilled to notice that the saddle didn’t want to come off…another wonderful sign. I was suddenly face to face with a huge dry spot! A bottle of wine was in the planning! The dry spot was almost the shape of the entire saddle. The dry spot started at the very front edge of the saddle and ran all the way back to the cantle which is where the tree ends.

   Now you might be puzzled over why big dry spots are worthy of a bottle of wine celebration. Just think….a small dry spot means much pressure is being received in a small area which should cause more pain. If you get larger dry spots, the pressure is being spread out over a larger area causing less pain.

   I rode Sage several times after that and did real arena work where she built up a nice sweat and her huge dry spot stayed exactly the same. I tried some different saddle pads and found no difference.

   Among my saddle pad collection is a cut back pad. It easily passes the pinch test, but it isn’t outlandishly thick. I rode her hard in that during lesson as we always practice flying lead changes. When I took the saddle off, her entire back was wet with sweat. I just stood there and stared! I stare really hard at the white spots to make certain what I am seeing is not an illusion. I touch the white spots to see if I can feel wet. I touch the white spots with my fingers, wrist, elbow and then stared some more. I decided that one seemingly wet spot was just damp. The next ride, I made certain to pull that side of the pad up, so it would be the same as the "good side". When I took the saddle off…I had a horse with a uniform complete wet back!

   I don’t think anyone but the one who has walked this path can tell you what this feels like. The continual guilt when you look at the extremely bright white spots of guilt; the knowledge that when you are riding, you are hurting or making your horse uncomfortable; years of spending money chasing the dream of a wet horse back. I still can’t believe that I’ve solved the problem. I’ve stopped staring at her former dry spots now when I take the saddle off…but I always look at them in passing. I’m starting to enjoy riding her again…it’s hard to get used to the fact that I’m not hurting her. I used to cry or get wet-eyed every time I thought of Sage’s white spots. Now, I don’t have to anymore!!

!

   I hope no one has to go through what I did to get a saddle to fit their horse. I hope this helps just one person. The solution for an impossible to fit horse is pad the front of the saddle…use a cut back saddle pad…as you:

              PROBABLY HAVE A DOWNHILL HORSE!!!

 




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