Ken's diary

Size isnt always what it seems and poetic appreciation

A short time ago I wrote about the difficulties the saddle fitter experiences when a shared horse is ridden by riders of differing physiques. I explained that such situations always demand compromises but these must never involve the horse itself. The following story illustrates the degree to which things can get out of hand!

I was asked to fit a saddle for a cob ridden by a mother and son. The mother was the heavier rider although her teenage son was the taller. I took to the appointment, a selection of saddles, likely to be suitable for the horse and yet sufficiently large to accommodate the bigger rider. When I arrived I realised that her physique demanded rather more space in the saddle than I had visualised but, fortunately, the strong little cob was up to accommodating a saddle which the rider was likely to find comfortable. It was disappointing that the son couldn't be present. I always prefer to see both/all riders when a horse is shared but the larger/heavier rider will always be the first priority. (A smaller rider can be accommodated in a saddle adequate for the larger rider whereas a larger rider cannot be accommodated in a saddle that is too small.)

The fitting proceeded and the client concerned rode in several saddles. We agreed that one particular saddle provided an excellent fitting for the horse and was particularly comfortable for the rider. The transaction was finalised, the records completed and I left a satisfied client.

Much to my amazement, that very evening I received a telephone call from the client's very irate husband. He informed me that his sister, who is a Pony Club DC, was very critical of the way in which the saddle fitted. 'What' I asked, 'is wrong with the saddle?' (At this point I forbore mentioning that I hadn't personally come across any Pony Club DCs who were professionally qualified saddle fitters!) Apparently the DC considered the saddle was too large. 'And what else is wrong with it?' I asked. I was amazed to be told that the DC hadn't actually seen the saddle but had formed this opinion purely on being told its size!

You may imagine I was fairly irritated but, always believing the client must be satisfied, I returned with several other saddles. I learned that the DC had decided that the saddle was too large simply because she was told it was an 18" size. I pointed out to the client that the measurement of saddles is as arbitrary as that of bridles. To prove a point I measured the particular saddle in front of her and we found that it was just 17.5 inches. We tacked the cob up with the offending saddle and I pointed out that it did not extend beyond the eighteenth rib (fundamental to a correctly fitting saddle, as beyond this point, the saddle's bearing surfaces will be extended to the horse's weak loin regions).

I subsequently fitted the same model saddle, this time marked 17.5". The client thought this looked rather short on the horse! Although the fitting was adequate from the horse's perspectives I considered it less suitable than the original saddle and I am certain it is not as comfortable for the rider! A little knowledge - et cetera!

It is strange that so many people believe themselves competent to comment about and criticise saddle fitting. The professional saddle fitter will equip the horse with the saddle that allows the best possible fitting incorporating the greatest degree of comfort.

Undertaking saddle fitting demands very considerable knowledge extending to:

An understanding of the horse's structure, musculature, evaluation of asymmetric development, recognition of back sensitivity or soreness, ability to recognise gait malfunctions, un-levelness and other problems associated with the horse's way of going (many of which will be likely to directly effect the efficacy of the saddle fitting), the particular needs of the young horse, the special needs of the ageing horse and an awful lot more besides. All this before the rider and the demands of their main discipline receive attention!

The Society of Master Saddlers has put considerable time and resources into structuring, developing, administering and controlling its saddle fitting assessment. It is the only qualification available world wide. The value and benefits derived from it in terms of equine welfare are recognised by the veterinary, physiotherapy and associated professions. I urge all horse owners to avail themselves of a society qualified saddle fitter and to be prepared to listen to their advice!

A while ago I was asked to undertake the saddle fitting of a small pony that was napping. The vet concerned thought the behaviour problems might relate to the saddle causing the pony discomfort and asked for my help. In fact, the saddle fitted well but the tree was broken! The vet and I discussed the problem and recommended that the pony was turned away (on sparse grazing so that he didn't get fat) for a month, so giving his back time to recover. It was agreed that I would then return and fit a new saddle. A few days ago I received from the pony's rider, a small girl of nine, a touching little poem:

My pony Nero
Thinks Ken's a hero.
His saddle fits well
And doesn't need gel
We're enjoying gymkhana
Now Nero's calmer
His back doesn't hurt
And he's always alert
Ken's a hero - says Nero

Thank you very much Pandora. It's lovely to be appreciated.

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

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