There's sharing - and sharing!
I have written previously about shared horses and the problems this can occasionally pose for the saddle fitter when the horse is equipped with a single saddle to accommodate both ('sharing' usually involves two people) riders. I was recently called to fit a saddle for a 16.3 Warmblood. The owner explained that the horse was shared by herself and a friend but, in addition, her own daughter rode the horse in dressage classes, her friend's son did the occasional cross country event or sponsored ride, both husbands rode more-or-less recreationally but did like to hunt once or twice a season and then there was their part time groom to consider!
It transpired that the purchase of only one saddle was being considered. 'Tell me about the largest and tallest riders', I said. 'My husband is 6' 2" but is slim. My friend's husband is under 6' 0" but weighs about 14 stone. My daughter is the smallest rider, about 5' 3" and very slight. I am short but rather plump.
Into my mind came two thoughts. What a fantastic horse to cope with such a variety of riders and their differing demands and how on earth was I going to find one saddle that would accommodate all the riders and be reasonably suitable for the differing equestrian interests! Whilst the horse must always be the saddle fitter's first consideration, the rider's comfort is important!
I arrived to fit the saddle and was greeted by the entire group of riders. When a horse is shared the larger rider's needs are always the saddle fitter's primary consideration. I had previously fitted saddles for horses shared by three riders but never before by a group whose physiques varied so much!
Fortunately the horse's conformation didn't pose any saddle fitting problems and he was well muscled and nicely turned out. Cutting a rather lengthy story short, it has never, ever, taken me so long to fit a single saddle because the entire group wanted to ride. I suggested an 18.5 general purpose saddle that was rather straighter cut than many GP saddles. It wouldn't disgrace the daughter when she competed in her unaffiliated dressage classes, would be reasonably comfortable for both fathers when they had the odd day's hunting and pleased both lady riders because it was made by a highly respected English saddler. The only fly in the ointment came from the son who said he ' rather fancied a saddle with some tooling like Western saddles'! Fortunately everyone groaned and shouted him down!
'. . . rather fancied a saddle with some tooling like Western saddles'.
I arrived at a classically beautiful Georgian house set in charming grounds. The paddocks were all in superb order and enclosed with white-painted post and rail fencing. The yard was immaculate, the brick built stables were enormous and beautifully appointed with genuine Victorian stable fittings. The occupants' names were displayed on gleaming brass plaques under which details of their breeding were displayed. An equally immaculate and very attractive groom showed me the mare and telephoned the house to tell the client that I had arrived.
The mare was led out of her box for me to make a back examination and see her run up. She had the sort of presence that only Arabians seem to possess and was quite stunningly beautiful, something of which she was undoubtedly aware. I was watching her run up in hand when the owner arrived in the yard and I was surprised to note that she wasn't dressed for riding. After the introductions were over I explained that it was essential for me to see her ride in the saddle, it was a very important part of the fitting procedure. Imagine my amazement when the lady responded 'Please don't worry about that. We only show the mare in hand, she's hardly ever ridden because she's far too precious to me to risk her having an injury. I just thought it was about time she had a new saddle. 'The horse always takes precedence when a saddle is fitted but I have never previously fitted a saddle for one that is rarely, if ever, ridden!
My final story concerns a girls' school where riding is an important part of the curriculum. Quite a lot of girls take BHS and other examinations and the majority compete in at least one equestrian discipline. I went to the school in response to a request to check several saddle fittings and thought how very lucky the girls are to be at a school where horses and riding are given serious consideration. One of the girls agreed but said 'It does mean I get up at half past five every morning to muck out, groom and ride before breakfast at eight o'clock. It's the only way I can find the time to keep my horse fit to event, do all my school work and still be involved in lots of other things we do here'. Real dedication, but I have no doubt it's a situation that large numbers of teenagers will envy.
Adapted from articles recently published in The Essex Rider magazine