Ken's diary

The arabian horse, why it's 'difficult' and why the exception proves the rule

A lot is said and written about horses for which it is difficult to find a correctly fitting saddle. In actuality only a very few horses pose a real problem for the experienced saddle fitter. (That is also assuming the fitter has a large and comprehensive stock of saddles from which to make his choices).

The exception, so we are told, proves the rule. Certainly the Arabian horse and those with a considerable percentage of Arabian blood can pose saddle fitting problems that demand very careful consideration and attention

Owners of Arabians, Anglos and Crossbred horses and ponies will not like to hear that the saddle fitter's heart is likely to lurch, even sink, when he receives any enquiry to fit a saddle. A friend of mine who has schooled horses up to any including international level admits to the same reaction. Why?

Very few knowledgeable riders will deny that the Arabian is 'different'. It is some of these differences that can be the causal factor of problems for the saddle fitter. The elegance and beauty of the Arabian horse is admired and appreciated by riders as well as many, many people who don't know one end of a horse from another but who can enjoy something that is almost ethereal.  Unfortunately the Arabian tends to combine beauty and intelligence in more-or-less equal proportions and his thinking processes can be considerably quicker than those of the more novice rider. Certainly, the Arabian's ability to weigh up a situation and to consider his options are far more developed than in other breeds. This may well be the reason why horses with Arabian blood are often deemed 'nappy' or 'difficult' or 'puzzling'. It probably accounts, too, for their relative dislike of cross country jumping, something in which they rarely excel at reasonable levels because they are all too aware of the dangers involved!

Maggie Raynor
As far as fitting a saddle is concerned, much will depend on the type of Arabian, Anglo or Crossbred concerned. The Barb has conformation comparable with that of the Thoroughbred and rarely poses a problem. Among other Arabians there are many types with 'dippy' (sometimes severely so) backs.  There again, many animals have flat and shapeless backs. Lack of wither is a common problem. Extremely large shoulders can present problems - especially when it is quite common for them to be asymmetrical.

I travel the world fitting saddles and undertaking remedial work in consultation with vets, physiotherapists and other professionals concerned with the horse's back. Without any doubt I see more horses with Arabian blood suffering from sore backs than with all the other breeds put together, the 'soreness' may vary from slight sensitivity to considerable damage - sadly sometimes even involving open wounds. Almost every case demands a period of recuperation during which the horse's exercise must be limited to lunging and/or loose schooling.

One of the reasons that many horses with Arabian blood are asymmetrical relates to the riders' inability to keep them straight. Absolutely no horse is totally straight and thus totally symmetrical - the same for their riders - but many Arabian horses have a tendency to 'curl' in one direction. The less experienced rider finds it difficult to ride them forward to a consistent and level contact and so help to straighten them out.

Occasionally, dare I say it, riders will deliberately spend more time schooling on the horse's 'favourite rein' thus exacerbating the condition.

Much time and considerable resources have been spent in researching, designing and developing saddles for horses of Arabian blood. Some very good saddles have evolved; others are not very good at all. Some of these 'specialist' saddles are rather more expensive than their counterparts but the additional layout can sometimes prove worthwhile in terms of horse/rider comfort. Differences in shape of the tree, panel and flap can provide a better fitting saddle to the benefit of many Arabian horses.

I would not wish to be viewed as a prophet of doom as far as horses of Arabian blood are concerned! I would, however, like to emphasise the need to have a saddle for an Arabian horse very, very carefully fitted. I would also strongly recommend the horse owner elects to use the services of a saddle fitter who is qualified and registered with the Society of Master Saddlers.


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

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