One of the things I knew before getting Ashke was that I could not ride in a.western saddle. The angle of the fenders and the weight of holding the stirrups in place put a great deal of pressure on the inside of my knees and after about 30 minutes I’m in incredible pain. However, I wanted something a little more substantial than the leather postage stamp that is an English saddle. Add to that my absolute love of “The Man From Snowy River” and you have the perfect storm of desire for an Aussie saddle. So soon after I was given Ashke, I went out to look at Aussie saddles. There is an Australian saddlery shop here in Denver, son one day we ended up there.
I talked to the woman who was in the shop that day, told her I was getting a SE Arabian, and that he was very skinny, and she directed me to the Master Campdraft saddle. I asked her about the saddle fit, since he had no muscle at the moment and she told me that the saddle fit depended on the bone structure and not the muscle of the horse. Now, mind you, I only had a saddle for a couple of years when I was young. I got it at 16 and it was stolen when I was 18, so I really didn’t know a whole lot about saddles to begin with. I took her at her word and took the Campdraft saddle home. Then a couple of weeks later, I brought Ashke home and began our long process of rehab.
I love Aussie saddles. I love how they look and how deep the seat is, but not a fan of how they fit. By December, it was obvious that the Campdraft didn’t fit Ashke’s back. There was too much rock in the shape of the saddle and it was impacting the soft tissue over his kidneys. I took it back and we tried the Legend, which was too narrow in the withers. That gave way to the Longreach Endurance Saddle, then the Queensland, the Trailmaster and ended up with the Kimberley. I tried every saddle pad they carried including the gel/memory foam pad they suggested. Nothing worked. During this process I educated myself on saddles and saddle fitting. I learned to map my horses back and realized that his left wither was super underdeveloped in comparison to his right. I began to understand that the things I was seeing in his back were being caused by the other issues we were identifying via bodywork and chiropractic care. At the end of the process, I returned all of the Aussie saddles for a full refund and called a local saddle fitter to come out and make suggestions.
We ended up in a Trekkerland by Prestige in April of 2013, exactly one year after I had brought Ashke home. I had also ridden in the Keith Bryan Pathfinder and a Selleria Equipe Emporio Endurance saddle. The Selleria was super tiny and gave no help to the rider at all. I really wanted something with a deep seat and support, where I didn’t feel like there was nothing there to ride in. The Keith Bryan did not feel stable on his back when we tried it and neither of us liked it as well as we did the Trekkerland. The Trekker was modeled on the European cavalry saddle, however, the seat was suspended over the frame of the saddle and it was hard to feel Ashke’s back. It did fit both of us and I was satisfied at the time.
Then I began doing a lot of riding. We did 160+ miles on trail that year in that saddle, and started taking dressage lessons. The muscle in Ashke’s back developed and he gained weight in the right places. By February of 2014, Ashke was back sore again. This time, when I mapped his back and then looked at the underside of the saddle, I recognized the issue. He has a high wither, flat back and sprung ribs. He had gained enough weight that his ribs were pushing the panels on the Trekkerland out (which the saddle is designed to accommodate), however, it was pushing the panels far enough out that the bars of the saddle next to his spine were pushing downward on either side of his backbone. It must have been excruciating to have that happen with me in the saddle.
I began looking again. I tried an Isabelle Bates dressage saddle, an Adam Ellis (fit Ashke - did horrible, painful things to my lower back), four different Wintec saddles, including one with the CAIR system which Ashke bucked under and then refused to move AT ALL, and a specialized, that didn’t fit. That’s seventeen saddles of all makes and models that I tried and could not ride in.
That’s when I decided to try the Alta Escuela. Saiph, from Wait for the Jump had one and raved about it. I mapped Ashke’s back and sent the mapping to Lisa at El Sueno Espanol, who said the medium wide tree would work very well for Ashke. I placed my order and waited for it to arrive.
It has been amazing. I have done 20+ miles of the Colorado Trail with elevation gains and losses of 1800 feet. I’ve ridden in it for 8 hours without being crippled with pain the next day. Mine is wool flocked and I found a wonderful saddle fitter who loves both my horse and my saddle and keeps the two of them happy together. It is close contact in the saddle flaps, with a deep seat, no horn, English stirrup leathers and Ashke and I communicate very well through it. I can’t say enough good things about it. Ashke can’t say enough good things about it. I have since been exposed to many other Portuguese and Spanish saddles and I have to admit that I think the Alta is the best option for what I want: I can ride trail all day, I can do dressage with great results, and we can run a WE EOH or Speed course and I don’t feel like I’m about to fall off.
Also, I think I have fixed the escape artist thing, at least for now (and yes, he has let himself out of his stall or turn out at least eight times in the past week) with a locking carabiner:
Although Amanda thinks he will figure out how to undo the locking mechanism on the carabiner and let himself out by the end of February.