Ken's diary

Pinching and bruising - very uncomfortable

Recently I have been asked to undertake three investigations and remedial fittings that have a common factor, saddles that are too narrow for the horses concerned, hence the title of this month's contribution,

Let me reassure readers that a diatribe about other saddle fitter's inadequacies is definitely not about to follow! The circumstances varied but, in essence, the problems all related to misunderstandings by the horse owners themselves and I tell these stories in the hopes that they might cause other horse owners to pause and reflect and so not commit similar 'misdemeanours'!

The first case concerned a young 7/8 bred gelding as a potential event horse. I had personally fitted the original saddle at a time when he was being lunged preparatory to backing. That was eighteen months ago when the horse was three-and-a-half, a very nice type but with a lot of growing still to do, the idea then was to back him, get him used to traffic, introduce him to one or two sights and then turn him completely away to mature. He was brought up in February this year, lunged, hacked about and re-introduced to road work. The intention was to school him on ready to enter some minor dressage and jumping competitions before being registered to event next year.

The owner, a rider of considerable experience, rang to say that after she had started regular schooling he had become very sensitive in the trapezius area and could I possibly check the saddle in case there was a problem? (Note that the client was knowledgeable to the extent of giving a clear indication of the possible location of the soreness!).

I refrained from pointing out that the saddle had been fitted to a three-and-a half year old eighteen months ago! Cutting short a longish story, the horse had changed dramatically since the saddle had been fitted. Because I take careful measurement when I fit a saddle and provide the client with a copy of the record as well as retaining one myself I was able to demonstrate just how much the horse had altered. When the saddle was fitted he stood at just 16 hands. Now he was closer to 17 hands. He was also two inches wider across the wither. Patently the original saddle was too narrow and it was no surprise that the horse was sore!

The client admitted to being very embarrassed and said she should have been more aware. She was extremely honest and recalled my saying I thought this particular horse would have an enormous growth spurt. I fitted a new saddle that was wider and slightly longer than the original saddle. The latter had been excellently looked after and I took it in part exchange.

The second story has similarities. I was asked to undertake a remedial fitting for a mare that had recently come back into work after a very long period off following a tendon injury. Apparently she had no sooner started gentle exercise than she had become what she rider described as 'saddle shy'

When I first saw the mare I was astounded. She was gross! She waddled rather than walked out of her stable, so fat that there was very little clearance through the doorway. Into my mind came the thought that carrying so much excess weight wouldn't be particularly good for the tendon injury! It took me only seconds to show the rider that her saddle was far, far too narrow for the mare in her current condition. I went as far as to suggest she put the mare onto a strict diet and then begin very, very slow exercise. I contacted the original saddle fitter. He asked for my opinion because he was finding the client 'difficult'. He assured me that the saddle was 'excellent' when the mare had been in regular work and I could appreciate that her back profile was enormously changed since the saddle had been fitted. Unfortunately the saddle fitter did not take measurements and retain records, possibly the main reason he was having so much trouble explaining the problem to his client. I discussed this in full with the horse owner and left her feeling much happier and agreeing that the original saddle fitter would sort out the fitting problem

I would like to emphasise at this point that all Society of Master Saddler qualified saddle fitters are required to record measurements on the day of the fitting and obtain the client's signature certifying the date and information. The client must be provided with a copy of the details for his or her own records. This protects the interests of the horse, the owner and, in the misunderstandings or complaints, the saddle fitter himself.

Saddle fitting shortcuts involve guesswork!

Maggie Raynor
The third incident was potentially the most serious because it might have gone undetected for a very long time. It concerned a horse in the USA (I undertake some remedial work in the States). The horse owner had purchased her saddle via mail order (sadly, still relatively common in the States where truly vast distances to the nearest saddlery sometimes render saddle fitting prohibitively expensive and so impractical). She assured me that she had make a wither pattern and sent it off with the order for the saddle. Cutting a fairly lengthy story short, the saddle was narrow in the extreme and certainly totally unsuitable for the horse concerned. Wondering how the error had occurred, I asked her to show me how she took a wither pattern and therein lay the problem! She had retained a copy and was proud of her handiwork until I pointed out that she had taken the measurement almost at the base of the wither! The horse was given three months off to allow his back to recover and the very narrow saddle was exchanged for one that was two sizes larger!

Saddle fitting requires considerable knowledge of the horse's anatomy, musculature and movement and is best left to professionally qualified people (Society of Master Saddlers trained and assessed). Even so, the onus is on the horse owners themselves to recognise that horses do change shape sometimes rapidly and drastically. Asking a horse to perform with a far too narrow saddle is similar to a horse owner being required to wear shoes that are much too narrow for his feet and to go on wearing them without complaint until someone realises why he is in so much pain and discomfort!

Concluding on a lighter note! Some few months ago I included a short poem from a small fan called Pandora whose pony I had fitted with a saddle. I have just received another of her delightful efforts.

Nero doesn't buck
Now his saddle fits.
Last week we were in luck
And my dad's thrilled to bits
Cause we won the jumping
At our first try this year.
I wasn't flapping and thumping
And my friends didn't jeer.
Ken's a real hero
Says my pony Nero.

Sometimes the nicest surprises come in the smallest packages!  Thank you Pandora.

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

Back to Ken's diary