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!