Ken's diary

Don't waste money - and hands still rule!

I really would like to urge horse owners and riders to refrain from spending money unnecessarily. On several occasions I have written about the remedial fittings I am asked to undertake, many of which originate from vets and physiotherapists. Just recently there had been a further spate of such requests and on every occasion the horse owner concerned had already spent a great deal of money with various professionals before I arrived on the scene. In the last five cases I have found problems with the saddles and/or the fittings. Suffice to say that, dedicated to their horses the owners concerned might be but this did not prevent them making some very inappropriate decisions, all of which resulted in their horses suffering a variety of back problems!

I will reiterate:

All saddles should be fitted by a Society of Master Saddlers' qualified saddle fitter.
The saddle should be used exclusively for the horse for which it was fitted.
The horse should never be ridden in a borrowed saddle.
The saddle fitting should be checked, the regularity depending on the horse's age, management, schooling, et cetera. Following the above rules should prevent equine back problems associated with poor saddle fitting. If a problem is suspected it should be referred to the original saddle fitter before another saddle fitter is asked to give an opinion. (I will temper this last comment by advising that, if the saddle was fitted by an unqualified saddle fitter, consideration should be given to asking an SMS saddle fitter for an opinion.)

The equestrian industry survives on generally incredibly small margins, and many owners maintain their horses on very, very tight budgets. Generally speaking, there are few areas in which waste can be tolerated! This is an important consideration in relation to saddle fitting.

Now to rather happier matters. Just a short while ago the country was declared free from foot and mouth disease. Horse owners will be among those rejoicing and there are signs that the competition season is being particularly well supported and fully subscribed. A substantial proportion of horse owners are not actively involved in competition, preferring to spend their leisure time riding out in the countryside. Such riders will be delighted that recently restricted rural rides are open to them again and no doubt they will now be particularly careful not to stray from the designated bridle paths and areas in which riding is permitted. The foot and mouth crisis highlighted, for everyone, the importance of complying with the country code, something from which a very small number of riders previously regarded themselves as exempt!

Some riders prefer to ride out in the countryside.

Maggie Raynor
I am lucky to achieve a great deal of satisfaction from my work. The majority of horse owners with whom I come into contact are interesting and 'nice'. I almost never see a 'bad' horse (although I do meet some that would benefit from better manners!). I travel to - and through - some wonderfully scenic area of Britain. I enjoy the overseas working trips (especially if they afford me the opportunity to fly myself to the destination!). I especially enjoy working with most vets, physiotherapists, trainers and instructors (although I do have a problem with a small number of newly qualified BHS AIs whose confidence sometimes exceeds their knowledge!). I get pleasure from a lot of situations. (I was recently reviewing the numbers of riders for whom I have been fitting saddles for many years and it is especially pleasing that some I first met in their Pony Club days are now riding on the national - even international - scene). Above everything, there is satisfaction in knowing how much a well-fitting saddle can contribute to the welfare, safety, success - and by definition, success - of horse and rider.

By and large, we British don't embrace change - especially when we perceive its instrumentation as fairly meaningless. Although we may be forced to measure horses metrically for documentation purposes, I am not disappointed to report that the vast majority of my clients still describe the height of their horse in hands. I am personally attached to many of our traditional terms - and am interested to note that a lot of horse owners have some difficulty in converting 16.2 hands to centimetres!

I will conclude by recounting the advice I received from a very small client. She was about five, blonde hair and blue eyes, a stunner in the making. "You should always tack your pony up properly and remember to tie her up if you have to leave her. The she can't lie down with her saddle on and hurt her back and spoil the saddle" I was subsequently, very seriously, informed "When I grow up I am going to be a vet or a saddle fitter - I haven't decided which yet"  With this degree of common sense and awareness I can imagine her making a success of either!

Adapted from articles recently published in THE ESSEX RIDER magazine
(Alec Wynn editor tel: 01268 871603) May 2002.

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