Nineteen into seventeen just won't go!
Saddle fitting 'problems' and remedial fittings are a particularly interesting part of my job, often fascinating and always important in welfare terms. I rarely admit defeat, although there are a few occasions when it is virtually impossible to solve the problem in real terms. One such occurred recently.
I was contacted by another saddle fitter. Qualified and registered with the Society of Master Saddlers, it was someone whose work I knew by repute and whom I knew had experience spanning several years. He wanted, he said, a second opinion, asked for more information he refused to give details saying, in effect, that all would be clear on the day. We arranged a mutually convenient date and where we would meet and I gave the matter further thought although I was intrigued by the enquiry.
We drove into the small, private yard concerned and were met by a devastatingly charming girl, a very good start, I thought. She produced an absolutely immaculately turned out Arabian of, apparently, impeccable bloodlines. He was quite incredibly attractive, something of which he was obviously aware as demonstrated by his enormous presence. I was in the process of considering what a delightful partnership charming girl and delightful horse must make when round the corner came the very largest lady rider I think I have ever seen.
I was introduced to the lady and it transpired that the lady owned the Arabian and the girl was her groom. It was then explained that the lady didn't like the saddle that my colleague had suggested for her horse, it just wasn't, in her words, 'comfortable in the seat'. My mind was filled with an instant picture of this very heavy rider (probably about sixteen stones) on the relatively diminutive Arabian. My heart sank!
Apparently the Arabian was destined for the show ring. He was home-bred, both his dam and sire being owned by the client. He was particularly precious because his dam had been diagnosed as unable to produce further foals and the lady intended showing him herself.
At this point, fortunately, our client went off to organise coffee. My colleague commented that I could, no doubt, see the dilemma, and I certainly could. The rider needed a very large saddle (minimum of 18 inches) the close-coupled horse could carry one a maximum of 16 inches. Therein lay the dilemma, one to which there was no answer. Didn't, I asked my colleague, the client realise she was miles too big for the horse, correctly bred Arabians are immensely strong and capable of carrying larger than would be expected riders, but this situation?
'I asked for a second opinion because I hoped you would find a way of explaining the problem in the kindest possible way' said my colleague. Thanks a lot! The lady came back with some wonderfully fragrant coffee and home-made shortbread, to which she helped us and then took an incredibly large portion herself. Patently she did have an inkling that she and the horse weren't quite an ideal pair because she mentioned that she would have given the ride to her groom, an excellent and very experienced rider, but she was totally committed to eventing. 'And he is so precious to me (referring to the horse) that I couldn't let him go to another yard to be shown by someone else'.
'. . . you would find a way of explaining the problem in the kindest possible way'.
Thinking quickly, inspiration struck. By this time my colleague had disappeared further down the yard to check the fittings of the groom's event horses. I took the opportunity to tell the heart warming story of the single mother with the very talented daughter, so successful on show ponies but whose riding career appeared to be coming to an untimely end. 'Just by co-incidence', I said, 'they only live about three miles away'.
I didn't need to say more. 'How amazing', said the client, 'why don't I meet them? Perhaps we could come to an arrangement. My horse should go to the absolute top and to do that he ideally needs an experienced show rider'.
My colleague returned just after the client and I had made preliminary arrangements for the introduction. 'That show saddle you fitted is perfect' I said, enjoying his discomfiture. Not having heard any of my conversation with the client. He obviously thought I had chickened out of the situation!
The client met and approved the young rider and her mother and the Arabian begins his career under saddle (the one supplied by my client!) this year. A further positive point: apparently the young rider's mother runs some keep fit and slimming classes which the Arabian's owner has joined, currently with considerable enthusiasm!
Adapted from articles recently published in The Essex Rider magazine