Friday was a crazy day. After the vet and saddle fitting, J and I headed south to IKEA. I promised J if she would go with me to IKEA, I would take her to REI (anniversary sale) on our way home. The IKEA trip involved exchanging picture frames, buying hangers (wood), plates (so we have a complete matching set of white tempered glass dishware), placemats (in cork, squeeee!) and some serving utensils. Less than $50 and all very needed items. On our way back, we stopped at REI and J had fun finding some things for her. One of the big ones was a mount for her phone for the front of her bike. The only drawback to using the mount is that it is more difficult for her to remove one handed in order to video or take pics. She will practice. A pile of stuff, a gift card and $6 and we were on our way north to help K look at an Aussie saddle for her and Eddy.
Like me, K thinks the Aussie saddle is cool and has always wanted one. I saw a listing for an Aussie on FB, contacted the woman and got K in touch with her. The saddle was two tone and a size that I thought would fit K, which it did. We got there a bit late, but they were still trying to find a girth that would work with the saddle and Eddy, so I got to do a bit of saddle fitting. Using the knowledge I had gained from Megan, the first thing I did was flip the saddle over and evaluate the panels.
Aussie saddles are strange creatures: their panels are made from felt or wool, but still flocked with either wool or foam. This one had wool flocking and actually felt pretty smooth and even on both sides. There did not seem to be any lumps or dips of note and I could feel the slit under the panel that would allow access to manipulate the flocking (although I do remember from my bout with trying to fit an Aussie saddle that they use a large knitting needle to penetrate through the weave on the panel to manipulate the material.) We lifted it onto Eddy's back without a pad to assess the fit.
First I tested the balance front to back, as I had seen Megan do. This was the part I was most worried about with the saddle, since the amount of rock in the saddle was the biggest issue in trying to fit Ashke. There was no rock. So I checked the shoulder fit and slid my hand under the saddle looking for bridging or uneven pressure. It felt pretty good, although I wasn't real sure about the shoulder fit. I was worried it might be a touch too tight, but we wouldn't know until the saddle was cinched on. The woman selling it brought back a girth that we got to work and with the saddle in place, we walked over to the indoor arena.
I asked Eddy to move around me without K in the saddle to see how he would do. He looked a touch off to me - either the right hind or the left front. It was faint, but there. I wasn't sure if the faint hesitation was the saddle or the fact that it is wall to wall mud in his stall. K mounted and tried the saddle.
It's funny how things change. Four years ago I knew nothing about saddle fit, rider position or movement of the horse under saddle. Now, I was immensely unpleased with the position K was in. Her feet were out in front of her, and although the saddle fit her very well, she just didn't look right. And Eddy didn't move correctly. He looked stiff and uncomfortable. When K asked for a canter, Eddy complied but then threw in a couple of bucks crossing the arena on the diagonal. He definitely looked stiff at both the trot and canter.
After a couple of times around the arena, I called K over, trying to figure out what I was seeing in the horse's movement. I was methodically moving around him checking girth, the balance of the saddle and then I went to check his shoulder and discovered that the saddle had tightened across his shoulders with K's weight in the saddle and the rolled edge of the saddle was digging into the muscle that comes across the top of his shoulder blade. It was a very sharp, digging type of pinch and explained what I had been seeing in his movement.
I told K I didn't think the saddle was going to work. Even if she wanted to spend the money to have a real saddle fitter come out I didn't think adding flocking to the front of the saddle would help, since it would narrow the space in front, lift the saddle up and create new issues with bridging. It just wasn't going to fit and Eddy had let us know he didn't like the way it fit.
They pulled out the second Aussie saddle they had for sale, which I knew was out of K's price range, but I figured it never hurt to try saddles. I flipped it over to evaluate the panels and was horrified. The panels were felt and poorly created. I could see without even touching the panels, that they were totally uneven, lumpy and strangely shaped. The panel started out from the back like a normal English dressage panel, but then narrowed severely right over the loins, then widened again (think hour-glass shaped) and they did not look even. Sure enough, the left side panel had two huge lumps, with valleys on either side. The lumps were right where the rider's weight would be. Additionally, there was no padding on the front of the panel, over the withers, and it felt like my palms were sliding into big black holes. I checked for flocking slots, afraid from the feel that the saddle was flocked with foam pieces, and couldn't find any. The underside of the panel was canvas. I asked where they had gotten it and how old it was.
The story she was given was that a police department order 1600 of these saddles, and then sold the ones they didn't need. It was brand new and had only been ridden in six or so times. I showed the owner what I was seeing and had them feel for themselves. The guy asked me why I thought someone would make a saddle this way and I had no answer. There is something to be said for spending money for quality when it comes to saddles. I told them I wouldn't even put it on Eddy's back and wished them good luck in selling it.
Afterwards, K and I talked. I don't think she enjoyed the fit of the saddle as much as she thought. She didn't like the balance in the thing, which makes sense because you can't use your legs at all for balance. She did say that she really liked how much closer contact she felt the saddle gave her and I made a snarky comment about western fenders. I told her that she should look for saddles that have english saddle leathers and irons, since they will give the best contact and better leg aids to the horse.
I don't know which direction she will go from here. I guess we wait and see.