Sunday, December 19, 2010

Saddle Fitting

Yesterday, Leslie's barn had a saddle fitter out to work on one of their client's horses. I think this is something like the third time she's come out - it has been a very long process for them, but I guess when you're working with six-figure horses and aiming for the top levels of dressage, that saddle better be darn perfect!

Me? I just wanted my jumping saddle reflocked to fit McKinna a little better. It's great, it works, obviously from my last post she is happily jumping in it. But she's always much less willing to round into a steady contact when I'm riding in the jumping saddle. And sweat marks on the saddle pad always had a dry spot (of no contact, because there's no dirt there when she's dirty) towards the front-middle as well as too much pressure at the very front.

Since the saddle fitter they were using is an Albion rep and my jumping saddle is an Albion, I hauled McKinna over for a fitting session. They watched me ride a little bit at the walk and trot, checked the saddle with their hand at the halt and walk, and then took it away to mess with it. Interestingly, the excess pressure at the very front was actually because it was a little too wide through the whole front part. This brought it down too low in front, leading to the excess pressure on the very front as well as the lack of contact through the center.

They added more flocking in the middle and front of the saddle in order to even out the contact and raise the front up. Then they had me saddle up again. At first, Mckinna didn't seem much different than usual - moving around quite a bit in the contact, generally just not as obliging as she usually is in the dressage saddle. After a few minutes, though, she started to really lift her back and reach into the contact. I worked her at the trot and canter in both directions, then popped her over a fence I had set up that was maybe 3'. She jumped with a really nice bascule over the fence. Not that she doesn't normally jump stylishly, just that she felt very round over her back.

So, a definite success. I could definitely feel more saddle up front, but it wasn't such a huge change that it bothered me. The saddle fitter wanted me to try a sheepskin half pad, too, basically explaining that in a jumping saddle sometimes horses are happiest when you can get the points of the tree as far away from their shoulder as possible. Basically, she said, you're dealing with a much more concentrated distribution of weight than in a dressage saddle and you have a much more forward flap too.

I don't know if I am sold on that logic. For so long I have heard that it's best to be closer to the horse, adding more bulk is bad, etc. I will say that I rode with the fleece pad and McKinna seemed very pleased, very round and very solid in my hands, but I'm not convinced that this wasn't just a continuation of her happiness with the new flocking. I've decided that I will test that matter on my own time. I think I will borrow a fleece half pad from someone and ride with and without it - if I see a noticeable difference when I use it, then the horse's opinion wins and I will ride with one. If not, there's no reason to ride with one!

Of course I did not take pictures. When am I going to figure out the whole picture-taking thing? Bah. Maybe next time I get out to the barn we will go for a long ride in the jumping saddle, and I can show you the differences in sweat marks between that saddle pad and one I used pre-flocking.

All told the experience cost me $200. If McKinna's response continues to be so positive, I definitely think it will be worth it. Any change that produces such an instant willingness to use herself more properly is a good change in my book, and my hope is that over time it will just allow our jumping to get even better.

3 comments:

SprinklerBandit said...

Har har har. You must go buy a custom colored mattes pad ASAP.

I've always heard the same thing you have, as far as adding extra padding under the saddle. Glad you're trying it out before you just blindly go with their advice. I <3 independent thought.

Stacey said...

Camera! Camera! Camera!

Wow, a 6 figure horse, I can't even really imagine that.

manymisadventures said...

I'm pretty sure a custom Mattes would run me about as much as the saddle fitting, if not more ;)

Stacey - me too, me too. My lessons often end up at the tail end of theirs, and I will say she is one GORGEOUS mare, though. Absolutely beautiful.

....but I still can't really imagine paying that much for a horse. It's just such a different world from the one I'm in!

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