Saturday, February 20, 2016

Saddle Woes

Several months ago, I had a saddle fitter come out. I wanted her to fix the flocking on the left side of the saddle. As soon as she turned the saddle over, she freaked out, thinking the panels were different sizes and that the saddle had been put together incorrectly. She did agree with Dr D's assessment that the saddle fit Ashke very well and that there was a spot on the left side that needed a bit of flocking, but she didn't want to do that until I had pursued the misalignment of my saddle. I should have just had her fix the flocking, but I am intimidated by people I think have authority over me. I handed over money for nothing and went on my way.

BTW, my saddle is fine. There is no manufacture's defect and it fits Ashke very well. It does, however, still need a bit of flocking in the middle part of the left panel. I decided to take matters into my own hands and learn about saddles. I read some websites. I read some books. I brought home a saddle to take apart (which I still need to do) and figure out how the guts of the thing work. I ordered flocking wool from England, but I still haven't done anything with my saddle.

I decided that I didn't want to muck up my saddle, so I started trying to find a local saddle fitter. If I had gone back to the one I had used before, I would have been $100 out of pocket for the visit, to start. I was hoping to find someone more local who wouldn't charge as much for the visit. I have now talked to six different saddle fitters about coming out and doing something with this saddle. No one wants to work on an Alta Escuela. I finally found a woman who says she will work on any saddle and we made an appointment for Saturday morning.

I had misgivings. A lot. This fitter didn't rep for a particular company or saddle, but I wondered if her assessment would match with both Dr D and the first fitter. She was on time and started her assessment. First, she checked his back and he flinched away from her like she was poking him with hot irons. I know enough to know that she was hitting the accupuncture points pretty hard. Hard enough that Ashke kicked out at her. I think she was being especially deep at those spots, so she could tell me he was sore. When I went over the same points after she left, he didn't even flinch. Either he didn't want to be touched by her or she was being very firm in the amount of pressure she was applying. Now, I was expecting him to be sore. We are just moving back into work and I haven't been riding consistently enough to get him through the soreness and onto worked muscles. And I do know that the pressure from the saddle is not perfect yet.

The only really good thing that happened was she mapped his withers and the left wither matched the right. The last time I mapped his back the left wither was still underdeveloped. That was the only point she mapped, however. She didn't map his entire back nor did she even assess those areas.

And she hated the saddle. Hated the flex tree. Said before the saddle was on his back that she wouldn't expect the saddle to fit. We put the saddle on him. She checked it but did not run her hand under the panels to check how the felt. She only checked at the wither area. Then she had me ride. Then she took the saddle off again. Then on. This time she wedged a towel under the back panels and had me get on again. She liked my position better, but I'm not sure I had the saddle where it normally sits. I think it was a little high on his withers and once he is moving in it, it settles into the proper place. I'm also not convinced that I need to pad the saddle under the back panels.

Then, as we were standing there, she told me she didn't feel comfortable working on the saddle. She was afraid that if she took the saddle and took it apart she would have a hard time putting it back together. She said she could cut slits in the top of the panels to add and adjust the flocking, but what she really wanted  to do was take flocking out of the middle of the panel and then raise the back of the saddle. She suggested a mattes pad with all the shims on the very back to raise the back of the saddle. She then said that the saddle did fit him very well.

Confused much.

I thanked her for the evaluation, gave her a check for a lot of money, and told her I would call. I have no intention of letting her take my saddle and cut slits in it, or take it apart when she is not confident that she can get it back together. I don't think the fit issue is that significant, but do need to address the panel not distributing the weight evenly on the left.  I certainly don't want to spend a lot of money on a mattes pad with shims, when I think that will make matters worse. Especially, once she takes the flocking out of the middle of the saddle.

I have opted for option three. I am going to try to shim the saddle the way Kate at A Year with Horses does with her saddle on Dawn. I am going to use a piece of foam cut to fit the space where the panel needs to be flocked and place it between the saddle pad and the panel. J and I already got the foam and I will try it tomorrow. Hopefully that little bit of support will correct the slight issue I am seeing and the three dollars I spent on the very large piece of foam will more than pay for itself.

After the saddle fitting, I took Ashke out onto the piece of property behind the barn and we did some mad galloping. He was so up and full of energy. We galloped the quarter mile from where we were to the road and back three times. He was sweating lightly but still pulling and fighting my request to canter nicely, especially on our way back toward where J was standing. I think cantering this route in the evenings before or after the arena work will be a wonderful thing for him to do. It will certainly help with his canter and I will develop some stamina.

The sweat marks on his back were even and from front to back. The only place that looked a little off is the same area identified by Dr D as being uneven. Hopefully my foam piece will work, otherwise I may have to fly Saiph's saddle fitter out to work on my saddle.


  1. Your equine professionals out there make me want to scream, and I know they are better than those found in other parts of the West!

    Has that saddle fitter worked on English saddles at all? The Alta doesn't need to be completely taken apart to adjust a tiny bit of flocking on one side. All a fitter needs to do is remove the felt-covered screw at the front of the saddle, on the panel itself, and they can access the area of the panel that needs to be adjusted by sliding a tool into the panel via the saddle channel. You can see exactly what I mean in the first picture under "Balance point of the saddle" here: In that photo, they are adding quite a bit of flocking; my fitter used only a small amount to make the adjustment.

    And you are absolutely right: the Alta needs to sit behind the shoulder blades so it will free them up and allow them to swing back with each forward stride. My fitter adjusted the Alta on Lily so it would do precisely this.

    I'm so frustrated for you. Does the dressage trainer at your barn know of anyone reputable? My fitter has a dressage background which is part of what has made her so well-known in my part of MD: a lot of trainers recommend her. Just another thought. :/

    1. I have spoken to ALL of the saddle fitters in our region. I have no confidence in any of them at this point. I was expecting the same type of service you received when you had your saddle flocked, where the fitter would make what I consider a very small flocking adjustment in one specific spot (I can feel the gap in the flocking when I palpitate the panel) and was flabbergasted when she wanted to take the saddle with her. When she was examining his back I was reminded of the post Liz did where the person examining Q showed her how not to do it as that method always produced pain. And in the end she made the same recommendation to me that she did to LJ when she worked on Amaar - spend hundreds of dollars on a pad.

      I'm going to send her an email and thank her for coming out, but I'm going to try and find someone who has knowledge of my saddle. And in the meantime I will try Kate's method of adjustment, which is what I would have to do if the panels were foam. Or, I fly your fitter out for the weekend. If I could get an inexpensive flight it would be worth it. And thankfully this fitter was honest with me in her inability, although I had already determined to myself that I was going to listen to my gut this time.

  2. That's terrible. I don't understand how she can call herself a fitter if she doesn't actually do any of the steps to fit a saddle to a horse or rider? Where did you purchase your saddle from? Have you tried contacting them to see if they have any recommendations for places to take it? If you know exactly what you want done, you may not need to go through the entire fitting process and have the person out. You may be able to take the saddle in and have the flocking added where you want it.

    1. Because the saddle is an Alta Escuela and made in Spain, they don't service them here. I asked the rep and was told any decent saddle fitter should be able to adjust the flocking. I can't ship it back to Spain, because when we change the flocking I should be able to check the work by placing the saddle on his back to ensure that the adjustment is correct. Saiph has an identical saddle and her saddle fitter changed it on site, checking the fit to the horse before and after the adjustment.

      And the fitter who came out did watch Ashke move with the saddle on, then watched me ride in it. However, I have zero confidence in her assessment. She also did not map his back the way the other saddle fitter I've used did (and I did when I ordered the Alta), plus she had no idea how to loosen the screws at the front to make the adjustments on the panels.

      J thinks she came in with pre-conceived notions about what she would find and then looked for the information that would support her theory. Plus, she really didn't like the saddle. In the end her recommendation was identical to the recommendation she made a friend when she evaluated her horse, even though the horses are completely different and our saddles were completely different.

      I'm all out of faith . . .

    2. I didn't realize the saddle came from Spain. That definitely rules that out. Im surprised you have been able to find generic fitters in your area. When I was in WI and now here in SC, the only fitters around work for specific saddle companies and will only work with their brand. It is very limiting. How did Ashke like the foam you added?