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How to pick a good saddle?
 Moderated by: DrDeb  
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Bryna
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Joined: Mon Mar 8th, 2010
Location: Cedar Crest, New Mexico USA
Posts: 6
Status:  Offline
 Posted: Tue Feb 22nd, 2022 07:56 pm
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My young quarter horse mare Lily, now coming 7, is finally filling out. I do think she still has a ways to go, but as I'm starting to work her more and especially do more and longer trail rides, with the possibility of an LD endurance ride later this summer, I think I need to invest in a more activity appropriate saddle. I'd love to get a custom one from About the Horse! But this year my budget won't stretch that far. I'm also not sure one would work for her, I think she is a little downhill. Looking at saddles and everyone I talk to has an opinion and plenty of manufacturers make their saddles sound great. (Of course!) I feel like I don't even know where to start. In the past I've just tried whatever I could find at a good price and if my horse seemed comfortable called it good. But obviously that's not an optimizing process. Any pointers on where to look for information or specific features to look for or avoid would be helpful, especially if accompanied by explanations. :)

My current saddle seems to fit her very well (when she breaks a sweat, sweat marks are even, she acts comfortable, no soreness after riding, the body worker has never found any sore spots, saddle appears to sit level, it feels right to me when I sit in it).I have ridden her (just for a few minutes to test) in two saddles that clearly did not fit and it was very obvious to me, both because I felt dumped forward and because she was hesitant to move and especially to back up. I also LOVE this saddle, but feel like I need a different one for regular riding and especially distance riding for a few reasons: 1) it is a cutter and a challenge to post in -hard to stay in position and I tend to catch my shirt on the saddle horn which is uncomfortable, sometimes embarrassing, and obviously unsafe. 2) is has no strings or d's at all except for attaching a breastcollar so if I can't attach an item to my horn bag it's not coming with me. 3) It has really fancy tooling which is hard to clean and also I hate to expose it to damage from riding through heavy brush. 4) maybe most importantly it is heavier than a dead preacher and I have tendonitis in both shoulders and every time I ride I heft that saddle up and then lean on my horse's neck and whimper for a few minutes.

I have one specific question about trees. One saddle brand that has been highly recommended to me uses a "moderately flexible" tree per their sales info. They make it sound amazing, but some other seemingly well reasoned articles I've read have suggested that flexible trees are a poor choice for distance riding. Should I avoid flexible trees, even "moderately flexible"? (I tried on one of their saddles and it obviously didn't fit -possibly just too wide but it really dumped me forward so maybe a downhill orientation that I should avoid anyway, regardless of tree flex?)

Attachment: Lilyleftsaddlewinter2022crop.jpg (Downloaded 22 times)

Bryna
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Joined: Mon Mar 8th, 2010
Location: Cedar Crest, New Mexico USA
Posts: 6
Status:  Offline
 Posted: Tue Feb 22nd, 2022 08:07 pm
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Pic without saddle.

Attachment: Lilyrightaway2-19-22croprs.jpg (Downloaded 21 times)

DrDeb
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Joined: Fri Mar 30th, 2007
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Posts: 3316
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 Posted: Wed Feb 23rd, 2022 10:11 pm
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Dear Bryna: Here are several suggestions that I believe will help.

1. Take the very good photo you have posted here and run a copy of it up into your computer (if you have Photoshop); or else make a print-out. Size the image to be as wide as your printer will print on an ordinary sheet of paper, i.e. about 7.9 inches wide at 300 dpi. Then I want you to either (if you're in Photoshop) drag a vertical gridline out to the center of the stirrup, and then drag a second one out to the lowest part of the seat. If you're on paper, then use a ruler and pencil to make these same lines. The point is to see how far apart the lines are. This is why you love sitting in this saddle.

2. If the saddle is fitting the horse, that's more important than that it fits you; especially with a young horse. So, what you'll want to do is turn the current saddle over and look very closely at the shape that the underside of it presents. The whole object in fitting a saddle is to get the shape of the undersurface of the saddle to APPROPRIATELY match the shape of the animal's back. The data indicates that this is the case with the current saddle. So now, if you go shopping for another saddle, what you'll want to do is find one that has the exact same contours underneath that your current saddle does. Take photographs and take some measurements; they will assist, although measurements on curving surfaces are difficult to take accurately.

3. Of course you do not have to get a new saddle. Any saddlemaker can remove the horn (cut it off with a hacksaw and then either replace it with a lower horn, or else have no horn like an enduro saddle and just cover it over with a piece of leather.

4. The fact that the saddle is heavy for you to lift can easily be fixed too. Remember the famous story about Tom Dorrance's brother Bill, who had grown old and had rotator cuff or arthritis in his shoulders; Bill rode until the day he died at age 94 I think it was. But Bill and Tom both used their brains; very flexible-minded they were. So Bill had a barn, with the usual rafters up there, and so he had a man come and install a block and tackle up high, over a good safe place where the floor was clear of clutter. And then he made a sort of harness out of leather straps that would fit over the saddle. The straps had loops at the top and there was a bullsnap at the top, the kind that has a ring at the top and the bullsnap at the bottom. The bullsnap went through the loops, and the pulley-rope coming down from above also had a bullsnap. So when he wanted to saddle up, he would fix the saddle in the harness and clip it to the pulley rope and haul the thing up ten feet in the air. Then of course he had worked to train his horse so that things coming down on them from the sky did not bother them; this is an excellent way for you also to be spending your time. You do one aspect of this at a time, and in the end bring it all together and you not only have a saddled horse, you also have a horse that's broke to a few hundred other things.

Of course there will also be times when you're not at home and want to saddle up, or unsaddle. So what you do there is have somebody build you a boom off the side of your horse trailer. Design it so it folds up flat when not in use. The boom will need to be able to extend up at least ten feet, and the swing arm will need to be long enough (and strong enough) to hold the saddle out a good ways from the side of the trailer.

5. I would suggest you also go over to the Eclectic Horseman mercantile and see if you can get my series of three articles (done with input from Dave Genadek) that ran in that magazine. You want issues no. 103, 104, and 105; especially no. 105. If Emily is out of them and they cannot be had, and please would you be good enough to check with them first, then write to me off list at office@equinestudies.org and I will send you no. 105. That goes for anybody else too. The article is on "The Anatomy of Saddle Fit" and it will perhaps clarify a number of things which you clearly have not understood by going to Dave's website -- such as, for example, why you love riding in the present saddle and why some other saddles made you feel 'pitched forward'.

After thinking about this, let me know what else you need. Cheers -- Dr. Deb



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