I ride in an Alta Escuela made by Ludomar of Spain. This saddle was handmade to my specs and is the most comfortable thing I have ever ridden in.
My Alta sitting in my office at work the day I got her.
The saddle fits Ashke's back very well and we've put a ton of miles (800+) on it since I got it the first part of May, 2014. I have developed the habit of checking Ashke's back after our ride for soreness and have only found him tender a couple of times in this saddle. Those times have always coincided with strenuous exercise like mountain riding two days in a row. The last time I visited Dr D, she noted that Ashke was sore on the left side, in the area over his kidney. We pulled out the saddle and she checked it. Sure enough, the saddle was a bit tight just behind the wither and again at the loin. It bridged just a bit in the space between. It was subtle (not like feeling the tightness in a Tucker, for instance) but it was definitely there.
Ashke is not a symmetrical horse. We've known since our first visit to Dr D and our first saddle fitting that his left side is not as developed as his right. I suspect it has to do with the injury to his right hind, since his left hind and right front were more developed at our first visit to Dr D. His left wither has filled in and strengthened, but it still isn't the same as the right side. The saddle fits amazing on the right side of his back, with an amazingly even pressure from wither to hip. The left however, still needs help.
After my visit with Dr D, I scheduled an appointment with a saddle fitter. There are two in our area and I have now worked with both. The saddle fitter I worked with two years ago would not return my call, but the new saddle fitter agreed to come out for a $50 travel fee. K needed to have her saddle looked at too, so we scheduled the fitter to come out on my birthday. K discovered the Tucker was tight in the loins (all Tuckers seem to have this issue - buyer beware) but her Abetta fit, which was excellent news for her.
My fitting however, was very strange.
The saddle fitter turned my saddle over and immediately told me I had a manufacturing defect. The panels were not set on correctly, one being a little closer to the back than the other, and the panels were not the same shape or size. When she put it on his back, she agreed that the tree was well fitted to him, but the saddle was just made wrong. I had hoped she would flock it and we would be good, but she refused to do anything with it until I contacted Ludomar for a replacement saddle.
I was freaking out a bit. This saddle was, IMO, perfect for Ashke's back. We just needed to adjust the flocking in the panel to compensate for the strange structure of his back, but now we were talking about poor saddle construction and needing to pursue a claim with Ludomar. I paid the saddle fitter for the visit and then K and I went for a ride. I put the thought and the issue into a box in my mind to deal with when I returned from my work trip to the East.
Well, as you know, I met Saiph when I was in Maryland. She has an Alta Escuela. One of the first things I did when we went to saddle Gracie was flip her saddle over and take a look at the underside. Funny, her saddle looked just like mine. There was a slight uneveness to where the panels were attached, the shape of the panels matched the shape of my panels; all of the things my saddle fitter had been having kittens over was exactly the same as the saddle Saiph has been using. The funny thing is when she had her saddle reflocked the saddle fitter was over the moon about the Escuela. She said it was one of the best saddles she had ever seen.
Funny how perspective changes between people.
My opinion is if the tree fits the rest can be worked with. And the Alta has a flex tree so it moves well with Ashke. And I know my horse. The saddle may have what I considered a fairly minor adjustment issue, but for the most part it fit him really well. I talked to L at El Sueno Espanol about making adjustments to the saddle and I could either do a saddle reflocking or I could try shims in a saddle pad. Shims in the saddle pad seemed like the easiest way to go since I am pretty non-confrontational and didn't want to drop another $75 (min) on having the saddle fitter come out again. So I took to the interwebs, located what I thought would work and ordered it.
Two days and $200 later this arrived.
It is super thick and super soft.
I picked this half-pad because it allowed me to adjust the one part that Ashke needs adjusting. There is a pocket in the middle part of the pad that the memory foam insert fits into, filling the one spot that needs help. The other pads I looked at adjusted at the withers or the loins or the entire side, but not that one spot.
Memory foam inserts
It is soft and squishy. I opted for the wither relief pad, since I most likely will use it on top of my BOT pad.
With the saddle on top.
It fixed the slight gap between the wither and the loin and alleviated the pressure point over his kidney. In running my hand under the saddle the pressure feels much more even than before. I definitely plan on using the BOT pad underneath, in part so all of the saddle rests on top of the pad and in part because I am completely sold on BOT to help keep the back loose and relaxed.
The saddle fits perfectly inside of the sheepskin roll.
The right side of the saddle did not change how it fit on Ashke's back.
With his asymmetry, it might be the best option I could have chosen, at least until I can find a saddle fitter who will actually flock the saddle. Even once the flocking is done, I plan on continuing to use this pad - it's pretty cool.
The next thing to try is riding in it. That probably won't happen until November 21st, at the archery clinic. At least that will let me know if the pad is the right step, since he will be cantering, galloping, turning and stopping during that event. Keep your fingers crossed.