Being a rider as well as a saddle fitter, I often face the same problems as many riders do – seeing the frustrated conversations in the warm up, listening to the reoccurring conversations of “Why can’t he just jump clear”, “Why does he always run through his right shoulder?”, “Why does he grab the left side of the bit?”, “Why can’t I control the straightness, the power?” and the question I’m always asked by clients over and over again is “Can the saddle affect the horse’s performance?” and my answer to this is always
“Yes of course.”
When we ask horses to compete at such a high level, when we expect perfection from a horse, accurate turns, corners and jumping through a combination, this requires such accuracy that if the saddle is not a help, but a hindrance, how can the horse consistently perform as we want them to.
I have been in the warm up and seen a horse that consistently jumps clear tap pole, after pole, after pole and it is only when a rider has been frustrated because they cannot possibly understand why the horse is not jumping the way it normally would. It can be such small things as tacking the horse up in a hurry and putting the saddle on not quite the right place, perhaps too far forward onto the back of the scapula, which of course means that when the horse is jumping it can’t get its front end up like it normally would that could be the difference between a clear round and two poles down.
I am constantly making minor adjustments to horses’ saddles throughout the season and even within one run your horse’s shape can change. We always recommend that your horse’s saddle is checked every 6 months and to be quite honest they probably need doing more regularly. Slight minor adjustments can make such a difference, a slight re-balance, allowing more room, making the saddle more secure and more stable.
I am passionate about saddle fitting as I have seen it all with my own eyes. I’ve seen a lot of problem horses, horses that nap, rear, don’t want to go forward, horses that are often called “piggy”, “stuffy” and much of this has been down to incorrectly fitting tack.
Horses have no way of telling us apart from to misbehave, sometimes all it takes is that change to trying something else that can make all the difference. Sometimes your horse isn’t “clumsy”, sometimes is stumbles regularly because the saddle is putting too much weight at the base of the wither, putting the rider’s weight on the forehand. There will always be many reasons why the horse does what it does. I do not believe that they are bad creatures by any means, only that there is something causing them to do what they do. It is our job to find out what it is.
After being a rider for many years, probably since before I could walk I would like to consider myself as a reasonable rider but actually from riding lots of different horses and getting horses to go better I believe my skill is actually in adapting the saddle to the horse that is underneath me, bettering the saddle fit itself, has meant that the horse has performed better for me.
I could go on and on about saddle fitting, I believe in it so much, but I don’t wish to bore you. However, I do believe in educating people is a key role in saddle fitting. It is my job to educate people as to what an important part the saddle plays in the performance of the horse.
I hope I have managed to inspire a few of you or even if it is just one of you to go out and have a look at your saddle or even to have a look at when your saddle was last checked. Perhaps, next time when you are in the warm-up and your horse is knocking fences or you can’t control the bend or the shoulder or perhaps you are losing the power, maybe you will question as to why – could it be that your saddle is playing a part in this?
Dip, FdSc Master Saddle Fitting Consultant