After selling Otis’s dressage saddle in the spring as it wasn’t quite right for Phoenix, I decided it was time to get a replacement. I decided not to get one immediately because of our other issues, but now that Phoenix is in such a good place, working well, and her shape has changed, it’s time to find us a new saddle!
What should you expect from a saddle fit? Or rather, how do you know that you’re getting a good service? After all, it’s so important to get the right saddle for both horse and rider.
Firstly, find a master saddler. You can access a list of qualified saddlers who are registered with the Society of Master Saddlers on their website. Do some research too, as some saddlers only sell stock certain brands of saddle, some don’t sell second hand, and some have more experience with certain types of horse or saddles. You want to find a saddler who can meet your requirements.
Speak to the saddler to book an appointment; tell them what you’re looking for (jump, GP, endurance saddle; new or second hand), describe your physique and that of your horse, as well as both of your current abilities and fitness. Some saddlers like to see a photo of the horse to help them assess what sort of saddle would fit.
Once you’ve booked your appointment you need to work out how best to prepare your horse. They need to be clean and dry, but bear in mind the saddler needs to see them working sensibly, so it might be worth lunging a horse who might be fresh. When Phoenix had her saddles checked in the spring, when she was being very tense in the arena, I took her for an hours hack before her saddle fit to thoroughly warm her up and relax her so the saddler could see her working properly, rather than seeing the first fifteen minutes of silliness. This time, I schooled her before, and he actually ended up observing it while I rode upon arrival, before he took a closer look at the fit.
So with a clean horse, either standing in their stable or on the yard if it’s dry, the saddler will have a look at their back, checking for any lumps, muscle soreness, muscle symmetry, and anything else which may affect the horse’s acceptance of the saddle.
Then the saddler should try the selection of saddles that they’ve brought with them on your horse. Some can be discarded straight away, others need a closer look, and sometimes they just fit snugly. They fit the saddle without any pads, stirrups or accessories, checking that the seat sits horizontally, the pommel is a hands width from the wither, the saddle doesn’t pass the last rib, and that the shoulders aren’t inhibited when the girth is done up.
Once happy, the stirrups and saddle cloth are put on and then the saddler wants to see the horse ridden. This is to check that the saddle doesn’t sink too low once the rider sits on, and that the saddle fits the rider, as well as the horse moving comfortably with the saddle. Ideally, you need to show walk, trot, canter, and jump if necessary. However, if for whatever reason you can’t or don’t want to then be honest with the saddler. My friend has just had a saddle fitted to her new horse, but she was worried about cantering him before he’d settled in and she’d gotten to know him, so she explained to the saddler, who was happy to assess the saddle in trot and then potentially return in a few weeks time to assess the saddle fit in canter, and make adjustments to accommodate her horse’s sure to be changing shape. If you are rehabbing your horse then you need to take this into account too as they’re likely to change shape rapidly, but may also not be up to cantering for the saddler.
The saddler shouldn’t rush you, after all you need to be confident in your decision as it’s not a cheap outgoing! When Mum bought a new saddle for Matt last year her saddler was very patient, letting her ride for over twenty minutes to see if she really did like the saddle.
An ideal saddle fits on top of a thin numnah, but sometimes saddlers recommend other pads. Perhaps a non-slip pad to help stabilise the saddle on a rotund horse, or a sheepskin numnah which can even out pressure and is said to be cooler than cotton, or a prolite pad to overcome any asymmetries or muscle atrophy until the horse muscles up.
The saddler’s job is to find a saddle which fits both horse and rider, and then help you perfect the fit, temporarily or permanently. This may be by using a different girth to best6 fit the horse’s girth groove, using a pad underneath, and using a different configuration of girth straps.
By the end of all that you should have a saddle which fits both you and your horse, which you are 100 percent happy with, and the saddler can review the saddle on another visit to ensure it is moulding nicely to your horse’s shape and doesn’t need adjusting.