Ken's diary

A little knowledge . . . and . . . well done that pony!

I recently visited stables to fit saddles for four different horses. It was my first visit to this particular livery yard and my immediate impression was pleasing so I was glad to take up the offer of looking around. The yard itself was very clean and tidy, the stables themselves looked to be in good order and I noticed that things like guttering and windows were all intact. The paddocks were obviously carefully rotated and there were no signs of patches of dock and ragwort that, surprisingly, have continued to grow in some places during this particular winter. The gates swung easily on their hinges and the fences were in excellent condition. The horses all had enviable beds, they looked bright and healthy and their rugs were correctly adjusted. The muck heap was squared off in the traditional way, the feed room was quite incredibly tidy and the barn was immaculately presented. A glance into the tack room revealed the highest standard of care I have seen for some time.

I tell all this to reveal the background to the next part of my story

I met my first client and was introduced to her horse. The details she had given me over the telephone proved to be a pretty accurate description of the horse (wish it was always so) and I began my examination. When I got to the back I found the horse was very sensitive in several places. The owner expressed surprise and said, in effect, that she was amazed because she always protected the mare's back by using a very thick numnah. I asked if I might see the saddle that was in current use and it turned out to be a GP, I had been asked to fit a dressage saddle that provided a better than adequate fitting. The numnah was a well known make and quite well cut.

One problem: it was being used under a saddle that fitted well without its addition. Imagine putting very thick insoles into a pair of your shoes that provide a good fit! So it was with this horse/saddle/numnah combination, the client, undoubtedly a concerned and conscientious owner, was more than a little embarrassed when I described the problems that were being created!

The next client wanted me to check the fitting of the existing saddle of one of her horses and to fit a new saddle for another. The first horse was brought out fully tacked up. The saddle concerned was a very well known English make and had been excellently looked after but I was very perturbed to note that the balance of the saddle was completely destroyed by the addition of a substantial riser pad! I asked for this to be removed, pointed out how the balance was restored once the riser pad was taken away. It transpired that the original saddle fitter had not recommended using anything under the saddle, indeed had not known this was the rider's intention! The riser pad had been added simply because the rider (not a novice) was following the suggestion of her trainer (very well known and respected for his riding and training abilities but blatently oblivious to the principles of saddle fitting!)

Fortunately the second horse was a youngster due to go away to be backed, the rider remarked that she was very aware that it was important to ensure her young horse was equipped with a well designed, well-fitting saddle and I applauded her knowledge on this point

The last client was a thirteen year old boy with a very good jumping pony that had begun to stop. All sorts of reasons had been suggested for this uncharacteristic behaviour and the vet involved in attempting to find the answer referred the problem to me hoping I might be able to help.

Much to my amazement, under the pony's saddle was a collection of numnahs, pads and bits of foam! It probably comprised the most diverse accumulation of 'things under the saddle' on which I have ever set eyes! I asked the boy to explain the use of each gadget which he did articulately but with absolutely no understanding whatsoever of saddle fitting! The pressures created by the paraphernalia under the saddle must have been causing the pony not a little distress and it is only surprising that he continued to jump at all!

It isn't often that I go into a yard as well run as this particular livery stable.  Measure this against the degree of well-intentioned ignorance exhibited by those particular horse owners. None of them a novice rider, all of them concerned and caring and wanting to do the 'right thing'. It only goes to show how a little knowledge really can be a very, very dangerous thing!

My second anecdote this month reveals an encouraging development. I have long, long been at loggerheads with the Pony Club in general (and some other equestrian groups) regarding some of their saddle fitting guidance. I am particularly irritated by the 'three fingers clearance under the arch' advice. It is, and always has been, a nonsense! A close contact saddle, for example, affording such clearance certainly wouldn't be providing a correct fitting! The amount of clearance required can only be described as 'adequate', a subjective definition I know, but nevertheless accurate! The clearance must always be absolute and continue throughout the entire length of the gullet with absolutely no pressure being effected on the horse's spine. Of course, it goes without saying that the balance of the saddle must be correct.

Three fingers? Rubbish

Maggie Raynor
Recently I was asked to give a talk to members of a particular pony club branch. Thinking to enliven the occasion, I asked them to tell me about the sort of things they looked for when they were saddling up an unknown pony with an unknown saddle. I was very, very pleasantly surprised (and relieved) to find that none of these particular pony club members fell into the 'three finger' trap. I felt that their branch of the pony club had made enormous advances quite beyond the glib and inaccurate 'rules' usually recited in unison on such occasions!

Adapted from articles recently published in The Essex Rider magazine
(Alec Wynn editor tel: 01268 871603) November 2001.

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