Ken's diary

All for one and one for all just does'nt work!

This month I thought I would report a number of remedial visits that should never have been necessary.

The first concerns a horse that had developed a very sensitive area below the base of the wither. I was called in as a consultant by the owner's vet who was finding it difficult to fathom the cause of the problem.

The saddle had not been fitted by a Society of Master Saddlers qualified saddle fitter but I knew the individual concerned to be knowledgeable and professional and so I arrived doubting I would find a problem with the saddle. But there was but not of the saddle fitter's making!

The horse looked well and in good condition. He was pretty evenly muscled up absolutely no horse has totally symmetrical musculature and yet the left-hand saddle panel had adopted a very strange shape. I was mystified until I saw the owner's other horse! 'Do you, by any chance, use the saddle on this horse too?' I asked. 'Yes, he's retired from competition but my mother exercises him every day and it's the only saddle she finds comfortable'.

Problem solved. The aged horse was chronically one-sided as a result of an injury caused by a nasty fall across country that had put a premature end to his eventing career. I explained that a saddle quickly adopts eccentricities in a horse's shape and that this was one reason why saddles should never be shared. I pointed out how the contours of the saddle had adapted to the shape of the ex event horse and the resulting pressure points thus created when the saddle was used on the younger horse. I later discovered the saddle had been fitted eighteen months previously after which the owner had failed to arrange any saddle fitting checks. Far too long!

The owner would have saved herself a lot of money and time if she had restricted the use of the saddle to the horse for which it was fitted and organised subsequent fitting checks.

Incidentally: ideally the saddle should only be used by the rider whose physique and needs had been considered by the saddle fitter. This applies more and more as saddle design becomes increasingly innovative and individual (Hence all for one and one for all doesn't work!).

My next story has similarities and concerns a referral from another vet. The horse had been bought for a teenage girl as a potential eventer. The same vet had carried out the pre-purchase veterinary inspection and, and that time, had not detected any problems. Now the horse was tender in an area corresponding with the back of the saddle. The vet was fairly certain the saddle was at fault but wanted an opinion from a qualified saddle fitter.

Easy! The saddle just didn't fit. The tree was the wrong shape for the horse and was consequently not balanced. It was sitting substantially up-hill directly creating a great deal of highly undesirable pressure under the back of the saddle.

I discovered that the saddle had never been fitted for this particular horse but had been kept when the teenager's first horse was sold on. The parents (incidentally, both rode and were generally knowledgeable) thought the saddle would be perfectly OK because both horses were just about sixteen hands and had similar conformation!

Every saddle should be fitted to the individual horse. This is particularly important when the saddle has been used previously or bought second-hand. The saddle will have adapted to the shape of the original horse and, even when the basic fitting is acceptable, it is likely to need re flocking.

Finally a story that highlights the importance of providing the horse with a saddle giving the best possible fitting on the day it's fitted! Elementary, you may say!

The horse concerned was an aged Thoroughbred. She had been shown in lightweight hunter classes with considerable success. Later she was used as a brood mare and produce seven foals. Like quite a lot of mares that have had several foals, her back was slightly dippy. She was also dropping away around the withers, something that tends to happen to ageing thoroughbreds no matter how careful their management.

The mare had been fitted with a saddle that was far too wide. The resulting unwanted space had been filled up by inserting two layers of foam at the front of the saddle. The saddle fitter had said that these should be removed as the mare's shape improved. The mare was twenty-three years old and in very light work! (Just in case any queries arise in readers' minds, the particular saddle fitter was not a member of the Society of Master Saddlers!)

The saddle that is too wide can create just as many problems as one that is too narrow. Inserting pieces of foam may well exacerbate rather than cure this problem. This mare was being pinched every time she's took a step forward.

The saddle fitter must fit a saddle that best corresponds to the horse's shape on the day of the fitting. The experienced saddle fitter will endeavour to take into consideration likely future changes in the horse's shape. In this particular case two errors of judgment occurred. Firstly: the mare's shape was extremely unlikely to change so drastically. Secondly: it is very unwise to insert pieces of foam or similar padding under any parts of the saddle. Doing so will almost undoubtedly unbalance the saddle and so create pressure points - as in the case of this mare.

Adapted from articles recently published in The Essex Rider magazine
(Alec Wynn editor tel: 01268 871603) May 2002.

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