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Saddle Fitting: Busting Myths



In my opinion, saddle fitting is currently a messy, subjective, and complicated topic.

Why?

Saddle fitting is a skill that can be affected by many variables, which raises many questions when your saddle isn’t sitting “straight.”

I’m not a saddle fitter, but I do work closely with the ones in my area. I have a lot of compassion for qualified saddle fitters, as they are doing their best to ensure the saddle is fitting correctly or optimally.


This is the grey area.....


A saddle can be straight and correctly fitting statically ✅

However, we ride our horses dynamically, therefore, saddle fitters have to mould and adjust the saddle to suit a horse's movement. This is where it gets complicated, and wires can be crossed. Not only does the saddle have to optimise the horse's performance, but it also has to fit and suit the demands of a rider. In 9 out of 10 cases, the rider has their own functional difficulties. When you start to unravel, speak, and think about all these variables, hopefully, we can appreciate and start to come together instead of finger-pointing at saddle fitters. I know I talk about this a lot, but I think the biggest and easiest way to solve this barrier is teamwork and communication.


I’ll give you a recent example:


I was called out to see a seven-year-old mare that is in light work and has been for over three years because her saddle kept slipping to the right.


Alarm bells started ringing straight away.


First of all, for three years! That is a chronic concern, and my brain immediately started to think about the compensation patterns that are now pretty well established after three years of the saddle slipping to the right.



Where do we start?


1️⃣ Always eliminate pain first.

We got involved to make sure there was no pain or underlying pathology.


2️⃣ We had a detailed teamwork assessment to remove variables and understand if it was the rider, saddle, or horse. In this case, it was the horse.


Note that this isn’t always the case, and there are situations when it is the rider or the saddle, hence the importance of teamwork in assessment and clinical reasoning.


In this mare's case, because there was no pain, we went straight back to basics. She did an intensive course of stable exercises and groundwork, including long lining with the saddle for a period of time before we progressed to adding the saddle.


Eight weeks on, the rider has been reintroduced, and guess what?


The saddle is not slipping.


A few points to consider:

  • The owner, as you can imagine, had to have a lot of faith and trust in going right back to basics.

  • Groundwork has its phases and has to be corrected and adapted to suit the horse, owner's skill level, and management style.

  • Going back to basics by walking will not hinder your horse’s performance. If anything, with time and patience, your horse will perform and move better in the long run.


3️⃣ The next step before progressing was altering the saddle to suit the horse's new way of moving.


This was an intricate step because many assume if the horse was the issue, then surely we can continue to ride with the same saddle. Remember that this horse was moving like this with the saddle and rider for three years. There was no way that saddle had not adapted, moulded, and changed shape to suit the horse. This is where progress happens: by ticking all the boxes and working as part of a team.


If you have spent six weeks doing corrective exercises to evolve and positively change your horse's movement, only to then put the old saddle back on, you could remind everybody of the way it used to move and be back to square one!


It is our responsibility to work as part of a team and communicate the importance of regular saddle checks. From the owner's perspective, I understand that saddle fitting can be costly. However, the cost of ignoring checkups will have a detrimental effect on your horse's posture and performance.


Are you facing similar challenges with your horse? Our "Heal Your Horse" course can help you understand and address these issues through targeted exercises and expert guidance. Join us today and take the first step towards a better, more harmonious partnership with your horse.



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