Progress at a Snail’s Pace

Two steps forward… one step back. Why does that always seem to be the way progress goes? Lately, this seems to especially apply to Remy.  On the one hand, he has proven to be the sweetest, sanest young ottb I could have hoped for. He just turned 5 the end of February, he’s a full 17 hands now, and, thankfully, looks to me like he is starting to fill out. He still has that gangly teenager look though.

He finished his month of stall rest for a minor bowed tendon, and was cleared to go back to turnout and work on Valentine’s day.  I wanted to work him lightly before turning him out, hoping he would be a little quieter when he got his freedom back, so I took a deep breath and tacked him up. I didn’t even want to lunge him first because I really wanted him to work just lightly his first day back from all that time standing in a stall. It took a huge leap of faith, but I remembered how much I trusted this horse, and with a small whispered, “Take care of me, Remy,” I climbed aboard.

He couldn’t have been more perfect. I kept waiting for him to do something stupid, but I finally relaxed as I realized he really must be among the sanest horses known to man. He remembered all his previous lessons, and as we walked around I made circles and figure 8’s and did some walk-halt-walk transitions.  He moved off my leg to give me a few little leg-yield steps. He easily softened into my reins in both directions.  He felt alert yet relaxed under me, the ultimate balance of focused and looking only to please, without trying too hard. With another deep breath, I asked him to trot.  The trot felt weird. He wasn’t lame, for which I was greatly relieved (I know, the vet said his little bow was not a big deal, but I’m paranoid about my horses!), but he felt stiff and off-balance. I guess that is to be expected after standing in a stall for a month. We only trotted short stretches and then I gave him a walk break, and after just a few little trots each day, I got off him, convinced the brains were still working.

Well, he did fine turned out, and future rides required less breath-holding on my part, but progress has been slow due to that gangly teenage body I mentioned earlier.  I can’t get my saddle to fit him!! I have a Wintec Isabell (which I think is super comfortable and puts me in a great position on any horse but Remy) and I have the narrow gullet installed.  He still had gaps beside his withers, so I tried a sheepskin half pad, a riser pad, a memory foam pad, and doubling up the riser and sheepskin pad. Still, he ends up back-sore the day after a ride, and I know the saddle isn’t balanced because the whole time I’m riding him, I feel like I’m falling on his neck, I just can’t find my balance in the saddle!

I have talked to two saddle fitters, and one told me that what I am experiencing is normal. The saddle appears to sit balanced when he is standing still, but those hollows beside his withers allow the saddle to rock forwards and back once we are in motion. When the saddle rocks forward, it dumps me forward, and also causes the saddle to pinch the sides of his withers, creating painful pressure points.

Unfortunately, there are minimal options for tb’s in dressage, as most dressage saddles do not come in a narrow tree size.  Going through racks of consignment saddles also confirmed that there are not very many people fitting narrow horses. My options were limited to padding up the saddle (which I had unsuccessfully tried), trying another type of adjustable saddle (the one that was suggested was the Toulouse Aachen, which is lovely but $1500 and felt pretty comfortable to me, but not amazing comfortable), or, of course, having a saddle custom made.  Ug.

Well, there’s no way I am having a custom saddle done for an unfit horse that just turned 5. I also am not quite sold on the Aachen. So I tried yet again with the pads. This time I went all out and got the Fleeceworks correction pad. It’s a half pad that has pockets in the front and back that memory foam inserts fit into. I fit the thick foam inserts into the front pockets, and took Remy for yet another easy ride, hoping this would finally work.

Saturday, we had an awesome ride! He moved out more comfortably than he has recently, and seemed to want to trot, which I took as a good sign he was comfortable. The saddle was still tipping me forward, but he didn’t seem to care, so I tried to ignore it too.

Sunday, his back seemed ok so I got on him again, thrilled that maybe I had finally figured out what he needed. We mostly walked, while he stared wide-eyed at another horse jumping, something I think he’d never seen before.  We trotted a lap or so each time they stopped to make changes to the jump. Then at the end of the ride, I couldn’t help myself… I got into a little bit of a two point and asked him to canter, which he did and he again reminded me yet another reason I like him so much. He has the most wonderful canter, even though he is still green and unfit, he just floats over the ground and rolls along in such a rhythmic, balanced way. I can’t even imagine how heavenly it will feel when we’ve done a little more work with it! The canter was very short, just a little taste for me, and I got off of him, satisfied and proud.  He’s such a good boy!

Well, today his back is sore again. I’m so frustrated!! I know the saddle was still tipping me forward, so I guess it’s still not balanced right on him, even though the pad made him feel ok at the time. So tomorrow I’m back to the tack shops, searching desperately for the narrowest saddle I can find, at this point beyond even caring if it’s a dressage saddle or not. I just want to ride my horse, and I want him to be comfortable working!! I figure whatever fits him now won’t fit him in another couple of months if I can get him working regularly, so I’m going with an open mind and hoping I can find something that will work at least short term.

So it continues… two steps forward, one (giant) step back. Somehow I still feel like we are making progress, but at a snail’s pace…


16 thoughts on “Progress at a Snail’s Pace

  1. You might want to try a Mattes pad – they’re not cheap but you can adjust the amount of padding in the front or the back packets easily. I’m using one with my 4yo who is still growing – we had a rocking saddle issue with him too – and it also helps with my TB who is (unusually for a TB) fairly downhill. I had a mare with the hollow-behind-withers issue and the Pessoa Roderigo saddle worked for her – the only one that did.

    • I was looking at the Mattes pad when I got the Fleeceworks pad. The two pads are very very similar in style, with the same pockets and everything, but the Mattes pad had felt pieces for shims and the Fleeceworks had a thicker memory foam shims. I guess what I could try though is putting some felt shims in the pad I have, maybe even in addition to the foam shims, that might do the trick. I will see if I can find the Pessoa saddle around anywhere to try. Thanks for the tips!

  2. Would you like to try my saddle? I know it’s a cheap-o saddle that I bought when I was broke in college, but my vet has told me not to change it because it fits Cloud so well….you can see if it fits Remy too and try to find the same saddle? Let me know!

  3. I feel you pain and my horse is feeling Remy’s too! I am having the same exact frustrating issue right now. High withered, hallow above the shoulder, low muscule tone after the bad winter and no indoor and NO saddle that will fit my horse. I am soooo frustrated and I cannot find an answer to our problem. If you find a saddle that works I would be curious to know what it is. If I find one I will let you know too.

  4. I have a saddle that fit my very narrow TB mare. She had shark-fin withers, and I lucked into this inexpensive saddle (that has since been discontinued). It is a Crump dressage saddle size 17 or 17 1/2. My mare recently died and I have been staring at this saddle, trying to decide what to do with it, in these days of wide horses. If you want to try it I can send you pictures.

    • Karin, that would be great! My email address is So far, the saddle that has looked the best on Remy, but still just a touch wide, was just a hair wider than my fist in the gullet. It was custom done for another TB, so I don’t know the actual measurement, but I’m using my hand to try out the saddles at the store! haha The things we do for our horses…. 🙂

  5. I had the same problem with my ottb and a saddle that appeared to fit but wasn’t stable and didn’t stay put while riding.

    On the suggestion of Grey Horse Matters, I got a different girth, a Le Tixerant. All the difference in the world. It’s pricey but very well made and so comfortable for Val. No saddle rocking or migrating for us.

    Good luck with Remy – he’s a special guy 🙂

  6. I second the Crump saddle, as I had to go with a pancake jump saddle for my boy who had the same problem… Another thing we did that was not an ideal situation in any means, but seemed to work was to take quilted leg wraps and fold them a couple times and slide them up into the hollows of my boys shoulder… It felt weird under my leg, and it is NOT a long term situation, but it really helped us at least be able to RIDE without the saddle squishing down on his wither and tipping…

    Now I have this pad:

    It seems to work well and you can layer it above a fleece for even more padding, although at a certain point you can’t even tell you’re riding anymore…

  7. Well, I think you’re making great progress from where I sit:)

    I had a heckuva time fitting my last TB mare too. I ended up going with custom saddlery ( and was able to buy one of their discontinued all purpose/close contact saddles for a song. You might see if they are running any specials or have any used models available.

    They are not cheap, no. But, they will fit you and your horse perfectly, AND they will come out to readjust as needed as your horse grows and gains (or looses) muscle. They are real professionals and I love them. Just something to think about for the future:)

  8. If you are willing to consider it, you’re welcome to try my saddle, which is semi-treeless… I have ridden everything from Pal (narrow QH) to my boy (monster wide) to full drafts in this, and every horse has loved it.
    If it’s tipping you forward, it’s not a good fit…want to try something different this weekend?

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