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What to Expect at Your Saddle Fitting

Introduction

I will be asking you a bunch of questions. This will sound like a lot of friendly chat, which is nice, and you should feel that I’m really interested in your horse. I am, but that’s because it directly affects the saddle fitting process. I’m interested in your horse’s age, breed, health, his workload, his progress, your competitive goals for him, any lameness history… but also, I’m very interested in you! I want to know what level you are at in each discipline, and often quite specifically. I want to know your age, if you’re a youngster, who you train with, and what your latest dressage score is. 

There’s a good reason for all of this nosiness on my part. I strongly believe that to get the best advice on a product, you should work with someone who uses that product. So I do. I event, I ride dressage, I foxhunt, I trail ride. None of this at a very high level, but enough to constantly push my boundaries, and to understand the demands of different saddles at different levels of each discipline. USEF, USDF and USEA competition results are a useful standard of reference for me. 

The Horse

I will feel the horse’s back for pain and tension and will be watching his reaction as I do so. This is useful information, but please be aware, any unscrupulous saddle fitter or body-worker can press hard on trigger points and claim your horse is sore. Don’t be fooled – this is only piece of the puzzle, and far more important is how happy your horse feels in a saddle. He’s your horse – you know him inside and out, and your feedback is very much more important than my initial impression. 

Your Current Saddle(s)

 Next we will usually look at your current saddle, or saddles. I carefully go through several stages, starting with correct placement, followed by 4 or more simple and precise checks that you can do for yourself. It’s very important to me to teach you as much as I can about these checks. You’re the eyes on the ground each day for this horse. The more you know, the more precisely I can keep your saddles working. Ideally, you’ll be calling me as soon as you have concerns and before it starts to affect your horse’s performance!

The Ridden Test

And then you ride! Static assessment is all well and good, but a saddle is the interface between horse and rider. Like a phone charger… it’s no use if it doesn’t work with your iPhone and it’s no use if it doesn’t fit into the wall socket! Same with the saddle: it’s all about how it works to connect you and your horse throughout his full range of motion. 

So you ride and I watch and we talk. From here what we do is all determined by what we’ve found so far. If we’re going to make adjustments to any saddle, I’ll almost always do a ‘dry run’ to check first, by using a specialized shim pad to approximate the changes before we commit to them with flocking or a tree adjustment. 

If we’re looking at new saddles, we can have quite a lot of test riding to do. For example with the jump saddles, I have 4 tree shapes, and 4 depths of seat to choose from, each in 7 width presets, with approximately 64 preset flap configurations, and 6 models in 4 different leather choices. That’s over 172,000 different saddles to choose from before we even start to think about colours. Fortunately, because we’ve done our homework, we can narrow this down considerably. I’ll have a reasonable idea of your seat size, and from your performance history, an idea of your preferred seat depth. So in actual fact, we might only need to ride in 4 or 5 models. Any more than that, and I typically want to spread it over a second visit. Fatigue sets in for both horse and rider, and saddle fitter, especially in August. 

During the trials phase, for new saddles, interestingly, I’ll often show more interest in the fit for the rider than for the horse. This is because the demo saddles have not been fine-tuned for your horse – they’re only approximating a good fit by using shims. The real saddle will be built to his very specific requirements, and even then, long-term adjustability is built in to every saddle. All the flocking can be changed and fine-tuned as he changes shape, and even the tree can be changed if he widens. At no point should you be locked into a saddle that no longer fits the horse. 

The fit for the rider, however, is something that can not be changed once the saddle is built. This is in large part why I’ve been so keen to know all about your performance, program and training. I’ve met little 10 year old girls barely able to maintain a posting trot, who with the right program, have been out there winning at Prelim by 14. These kids can progress fast, and that knowledge affects my recommendation – are they going to be able to use that upper level saddle right now, even though it’s technically too early, or should we put them in a lower level saddle knowing they’re going to grow out of it in a couple of years? Fortunately, there are some of the lower level saddles available used that are being passed along, so we can usually make a temporary saddle work without too much extra cost if we decide on that route. 

Costs

  • The appointment fee is $75 even if I’ve driven 8 hours to get to you
  • On-site flocking adjustment is $50 
  • Tree adjustments are $100+

New Saddle Pricing

New saddles are available from $1500 to $4650.