Saddle Balance

After a summer of intense thought regarding the biomechanics of riding and some really important revelations regarding posture and balance, I have become increasingly aware of how saddle balance effects rider balance. Recently, I have been frequently changing the gullet in my Wintec Isabell and trying different combinations of pads including fleece half pads, memory foam pads, and riser pads in my search for “perfect” balance. Changing the way the saddle sits on the horse by raising the front or back by only a few degrees makes a world of difference in the ease or difficulty of riding. It also makes a huge difference in the way the horse performs, due either to the horse’s comfort with the saddle fit or to the way the rider sits. I began experimenting with different saddles and became convinced that not only is a well-fitted, well-balanced saddle essential (which of course I always believed in theory) but also that despite much effort on my part, I really could not settle on a pad/saddle combination which I was confident was not only correctly balanced for me, but also comfortable to my horses.  I became so convinced that I was finally willing to take the next step and have the saddle fitter out to do it right, whatever it might cost.

So I had a saddle fitter named Kate come out from our local tack shop, Barrington Saddlery. Kate brought with her a few different saddles that I had liked when I sat in them in the shop. She also took a look at the saddles I had. Since Liam is the wider of my two horses, she did a tracing of his back, but said that the two horses are similar enough that if a saddle is flocked to fit Liam it should fit Remy fine with one of my fleece half pads under it. That also seemed like the logical way to go since Liam is full grown and Remy is still filling out and putting on new muscles.

She told me that both of my horses are narrow, and to sell my Collegiate Levanto, which has a medium tree. That made me very sad since I find that saddle SO comfortable, but I’m trusting her judgement (I sorta had that feeling anyways) so if you’re in the market for a medium tree saddle let me know! She thought my Isabell with the narrow plate installed sat pretty well on Liam (which shocked me, I thought it looked way too narrow for him), but she said the balance is wrong on Remy, which is probably why I find him so hard to ride in that saddle. Temporarily she has me using a few layers of felt stacked under the back of the saddle to lift it up on Remy, and a fleece half pad on both horses.

She tried two different saddles on the horses and we decided that the Albion was the better fit for me, my horses, and my budget. I was able to spend some time riding in the Albion and it was so much easier to sit correctly in than what I had been using! My horses also both clearly approved, and I think Liam especially showed an almost immediate improvement in gait quality. Luckily Sarah has the same saddle for her horse, Derby, since Kate didn’t have a new one with the narrower tree in stock. Kate liked the way that Sarah’s saddle sat on my horses and is ordering one for me, which she will flock to Liam’s tracing. It will be 5-6 weeks before we have it, so I’m anxiously awaiting its arrival, but in the meantime I have found that the Isabell is actually quite comfortable with the saddle pad adjustments Kate suggested I use for each horse.  Both horses are also doing better with the saddle pad adjustments Kate recommended, even though previously I thought it just wasn’t a great fit for my horses. By correcting the fit and balance, the saddle feels totally different and I’m having much better rides with much less effort than before, which really amazes me. A little extra padding in the right place really makes a huge difference.

Long story short, having a saddle that sits correctly balanced on your horse makes a HUGE difference. I had done a ton of reading on saddle fitting, have looked at tons of saddles on different horses, and still had it wrong.  What looks too narrow to me is actually correct, and when I commented “I guess I’ve probably always ridden in too-wide saddles,” Kate responded, “Most people do”, which was eye opening to me, considering the far reaching implications.  No wonder a too-wide saddle looked correct but didn’t feel right.

Moral of the story: If you are stuck or struggling trying to sit correctly and effectively, my experience is that a saddle fitter just might have the answer you are looking for. Of course, you cannot buy a new saddle that will magically make you a better rider, but if you’ve spent the time doing strengthening exercises and are still struggling then saddle fit might be your missing piece. If you are in the Barrington area, I highly recommend Kate from Barrington Saddlery, she’s great!

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5 thoughts on “Saddle Balance

  1. Just had a saddle fitter out too. It is eye opening. She too went with a more narrow tree than I would have ever guess. And it is crazy how instantly different it feels to ride in different saddles. I have a medium narrow Albion 2K with shoulder gussets. Are you ordering a medium narrow or narrow? My only complaint is that my Albion has a deeper seat and for jumping makes it harder to get out of the saddle at the right moment to stay with the horse. Which is something I didn’t even realize until riding in other saddles. But since I don’t have the money for a jumping and a dressage saddle it actually is a happy medium to ride both disciplines in. Not perfect but functional. As far as the fit on my TB it is pretty good. I do have to use pads but even the saddle fitter said I would probably have to use pads on a custom saddle at least for a while.

  2. Great article! I too had a saddle fitter out last month – my mare is four and had been going in a medium tree. We had the opposite problem though – she needs a wide. I just ordered my new saddle – but mine will take 12 weeks. Fortunately, I have a generous friend lending me her saddle till mine arrives.

    It is amazing the difference a properly fitting saddle makes in the horse’s gaits, attitude, etc. I never would have believed it until I had the appointment.

  3. Yeah, I agree the saddle makes a big difference. I thought I was balanced when I rode in my Isabell, but since I’ve been riding in my Kieffer I feel so much more stable and staying in the proper position is effortless!

  4. I’m really glad I got to see your first ride on Liam in my saddle. The difference was apparent from the first couple steps he took – his walk was fantastic, so swingy and stretchy – it was a dramatic improvement from the gait I usually see. And the other gaits were also changed – for the better. Hearing you describe the difference between riding in a saddle you feel like you have to fight, and riding in one that supports both you and the horse, I have a new appreciation for how critical saddle fit – for both horse and rider – is. I can’t wait for your new saddle to arrive!

  5. I’m looking forward to a saddle fitting session this month at the big barn where I take lessons. The custom I had made 10 years ago or so never did fit me. Seat is too small and it pitches me forward. Can’t be flocked to work correctly without harming the horse. So, we start again. I’m not an expert in saddle fit or dressage “seating” but instinctively knew “something” was wrong with the saddle. Fitter got his money and didn’t care about making things right. I wasn’t important and didn’t ride with a trainer who mattered to him, either. He has had to change his saddle company’s name because I’m not the only person he has taken advantage of, but he still advertises and appears now and then as the “expert” in articles or Q&A pieces about saddles and fit. Albion seems to have a pretty good reputation, particularly the older models.

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