In recent years, people are becoming much more concerned that the saddle actually fits, and to this end "master" saddle fitters are cropping up left, right, and centre to do consultations on-site. When I was invited to Canada in 1986 from Germany to be the Official Saddler for the World Dressage Championships (held for the first time outside of Europe), we did an informal market survey which revealed that at that time saddles were treated as commodity items - used, abused, broken, and thrown away if they didn't fit. There was no one around who did personal barn calls, or could even properly fit a saddle or repair a tree.
Taking a saddle apart is easy; putting it together again properly is a whole other story. It was this personalized one-on-one service upon which we began to build our business, and we are gratified to see that it is now becoming the rule rather than the exception to take the horse and rider’s conformational requirements into consideration and do saddle fitting on site.
One pervasive problem we do run into, however, is that a lot of what is being said and written is simply opinion, and not necessarily nor always based in fact. You (as the rider) have at your disposal a whole slew of professionals, who are obviously experts in one area within the “circle of influence to the horse”. Yet the buck ultimately stops with the rider himself – whatever is suggested has to work for the rider. You can listen to the “opinions” of veterinarians on saddle fit
, to the “opinions” of farriers with respect to lameness, (etc. etc.) yet when it comes down to it – whom do you actually want addressing the particular problem? Is the veterinarian actually capable of adjusting a saddle? Is the farrier actually capable of administering a shot to the stifle? No – generally you would leave that up to the professionals in their area of expertise, and you trust that they are going to do what is right – “in their professional opinion and to the best of their capability”. It is always a concern when, after the fact, another professional comes in and criticizes the work and solutions offered by another. (This is fairly often in our experience the trainer, who seems to have an inordinate amount of “say” in what is done, bought, or used without necessarily always having the benefit of the requisite information or experience to go along with the “opinion”). We are great proponents of the entire "circle of influence" theory behind maximizing performance - a cooperative effort of all equine professionals, working together, to determine what the proper mix is. (For example, a saddle can fit perfectly one day, everything works great, and the next day the farrier will come in and reshoe - presto, the saddle no longer fits as well!) Communication among all those involved in the maximization of performance and well-being goes a long way
That having been said, there is also one part of the whole equation which is often neglected - the importance of the saddle fit to the rider
. I have often heard clients say “I don’t care if I’m not that comfortable; main thing is it needs to fit my horse” (and I will come back to this whole issue in a future blog – the next series will delve into the ‘9 points of saddle fit’ in more detail). In actual fact, it is much easier to fit a saddle to a horse than to a rider; there are many more measurements and conformational relationships which come into play in ensuring that the rider is actually in a saddle which fits, which is comfortable, and which allows him/her to concentrate on riding, rather than fighting the saddle to get into the proper, comfortable position. It is a fact we have discovered, that no matter how well a saddle may fit a horse, if it doesn't fit the rider comfortably and correctly, the horse will soon not be working to its full potential either, because it will feel the rider fighting the saddle.
As the rider, do your due diligence in ensuring that the people you work with for the health and well-being of your horse are truly knowledgeable and compatible with you. As a saddle fitter, I see upwards of 1000 horses per year, as do all of our fitters. These kinds of numbers give us a wealth of experience and situations to bank on, some of which I will be sharing with you over the next months.