Since Kasane has been undersaddle, we’ve gradually discovered and corrected several problems. We did a saddle fitting and discovered that my Courbette Magic dressage saddle didn’t fit her at all. Got a new saddle which made a huge difference.
Over this past winter, I’ve noticed Kasane moving oddly on her back legs. For example, her stride when trotting looked uneven like the paces were not the same between one side and the other. Sometimes it looked like she favored one back leg (i.e., her stride was shorter with her back left verses her back right), and another time she appeared to favor the other leg. Never consistent. When she seemed to be off like that, we would work a little to see if she exercise helped her work out of it (nope). She would have a few days off just in case she had pulled something being stupid out in the fields. We would then resume work and see how she was.
My dressage instructor, Jennifer, asked if Kasane might be a little tender footed on her front feet. Jennifer had noticed during lessons that Kasane didn’t seem to push off as much on her hind legs as much. This made me start thinking about how she moves and when she moves best. Over the next few weeks, I made mental notes of her movement when the ring was soft after a rain or when the footing was harder. We have a nice riding ring: the footing is good, but it can get a little hard even though it is dragged regularly. There are some small stones, but nothing major. Nothing I would have considered.
So we did an experiment. Instead of trying to have the vet out and do a lameness exam ($$$), I decided to try front shoes ($) on her sparkly toes. What a difference!
This first video is of Kasane being ridden in her old saddle, the Courbette Magic dressage saddle. This saddle fit Isis beautifully, but was too long for Kasane. That’s why the saddle looks like it’s too far forward on her. She never tracked straight when being ridden in the Magic saddle. She would two track — and no wonder with pressure over her kidneys and pressure on her shoulder blades. My brave little girl never complained. I felt so bad when we found out how much the saddle didn’t fit her.
This second video shows Kasane being ridden in the Prestige Monoflap dressage saddle. She uses her shoulders a lot more than in the first video. See how she reaches more with her front legs? She is more animated and her stride is longer. This new saddle is amazing. I love it and she moves like a complete different horse in it. This video has my dressage instructor riding in it.
And finally, a video from this past week showing Kasane being ridden in the Prestige dressage saddle with her new front shoes on. The biggest change is how much she reaches up underneath herself with her back legs. If you watch her walk, you’ll notice that her back feet land in front of the hoofprints from her front feet. (This is very good.) She is now pushing off more with her hind legs. Her back sways more, she reachers more with all of her feet (instead of just her shoulders — which was the big change with the new saddle). With her shoes on, she is using herself more, which means she can be more athletic — and I can ask more of her doing our rides. It’s like suddenly having running shoes instead of trying to run in high heels.
Overall, pretty awesome. Now I just have to correct my own riding issues with keeping my balance and not dropping my shoulder (which causes her to drop her inside shoulder).
For comparison purposes, here is a picture of Kasane in the Courbette Magic Dressage. I took these pictures to show off the new saddle pad, but they turn out to be pretty good at showing the saddle fit. See how long the saddle panels are? You can tell by where the saddle comes over her back — it comes over her lumbar. When you look at the front of the saddle, see how the middle of the seat doesn’t look balanced? It looks tilted a little forward? That’s another problem. (These pictures were taken after riding.) The saddle would shift forward a little. I always felt tilted forward on her, but I thought it was just because she was in a growth spurt and had been butt-high for a while.
For comparison, here is the Courbette Magic on Isis. I purchased this saddle for her, and it fit her very well. Notice where the saddle length ends and how the center of the seat is balanced.
Here is the Prestige Venus K monoflap on Kasane. See how much shorter the panels are? The seat ends before her rib cage, so I’m not riding on her lumbar. The seat is also balanced and not tipping forward.
A friend of mine just bought her first Arabian mare. A fine bay Arabian mare with white socks and a star. She asked me to help her with choosing a saddle for her mare, Sarafina. Sarafina is currently ridden in an older Wintec dressage saddle (the type before the changeable gullet and CAIR system). Instead of writing my suggestions in a private email, I thought I would post most of the discussion here so other people can read the article and post suggestions.
The general steps for choosing a saddle include knowing what you want to ride, knowing your horses’ (and yours) shape, and then sitting in everything you can to figure out what feels good. Like shoes, some brands run narrow or wide. And then you get to take home the top candidates and see how they fit your horse.
A note about saddle costs
You can spend as much as you want on a saddle: from $100 to $5,000 or more. A used name-brand dressage saddle in good condition will run $1000 to $2000 — probably half off the original price. Just because a saddle is expensive in the tack shop, don’t be afraid to sit in it. If you find a saddle that feels great and is out of your price range, check around online. You may find a great bargain in a tack shop’s used / consignment section, on Craigslist, eBay, or in the used saddle lists of online tack shops.
Before you purchase a new saddle, the first question to ask is what do you want to do: show jumping, reining, dressage, trail riding, endurance…? Customized saddles are available for all of these disciplines. If you are interested in trying multiple disciplines, you should be able to purchase an all purpose Western or English saddle. (Any comfortable saddle can be used for basic trail riding.) If you know a particular saddle make and model fits your horse, that can be a great starting point for finding a saddle.
Shape changes and saddle fit
The saddle you choose has to fit both you and your horse. A horse’s shape change over time, some times from season to season as the horse gains and loses muscle mass and weight. When people lose or gain weight, their saddle size may also change.
Exchangeable gullet systems and fit
If you consider a saddle with an exchangeable gullet, it will offer additional flexibility. The gullet system will let you adjust the saddle’s tree width to accommodate changes in a horse’s shape.
The gullet system adjusts the front of the tree. The channel (the space between the panels on the underside of the saddle) has to be wide enough to accommodate the horse’s spine and the back pads have to lay with the horse’s shape. No gullet system will change the physical dimensions of the saddle. (See the videos included below for information on fit, conformation, and more.)
One of the first dressage saddles I bought was a Wintec. Over time, as Isis matured and muscled, the Wintec no longer fit. While the dressage saddle used to fit her whithers well, eventually she became too muscled (and fat). The saddle was too narrow at that point: when the saddle was placed on her, the pommel was up in the air — higher than the cantle (back of the seat).
I traded the Wintec in on an all purpose eventing saddle made by the Spanish saddler Zaldi in 2004. Comfortable saddle — like a big comfy chair with good contact. It fit her very well for her build at the time. Her body shape drastically changed shape after she recovered from colic surgery. I had to pad the Zaldi so it would fit her over the whithers and back. When we started taking dressage lessons, I had the Zaldi fit re-evaluated by my instructor. We discovered that the saddle no longer fit at all. I ended up buying both a dressage saddle and then the next year, an all purpose.
Saddle trees and expansion
I did a lot of research into trees, saddle fit, impact on human/horse conformation, and read way too many reviews. Some breeds are harder to fit than others, with Arabians being notorious for their dainty heads and broad backs. Most English saddles are built on a spring tree: the tree offers some flexibility to move with the horse. After doing a lot of reading, I liked the e-Motion tree used in the Courbette saddles. The e-Motion tree provides additional flexibility so it’s easier to fit a broad range of widths without being so flexible as to pinch the horse’s whithers.
I decided to try a Courbette Magic dressage saddle because of the e-Motion tree. These saddles are hard to find locally. When I did find used Courbette dressage saddles in the local shops, they were not the Magic saddle and inevitably they felt like sitting on plywood. I ended up ordering a used Courbette Magic dressage saddle used from Trumbull Mountain Tack Shop (excellent price, great trial program). I was very pleased to find that the saddle fit Isis well and was very comfy.
I’ve now had the saddle over two years. It has fit both Kasane and Isis very well. The saddle has even fit Isis as the shape of her whithers have changed with work, weight, and various medical issues over the last two years. Because the Courbette fit so well, when it came time to purchase an all purpose, I found a used saddle that was made with the same tree as the Magic, a Courbette Bernina. The Bernina seems to fit Prize and Isis very well but might be a little narrow on Kasane.
Examples of saddle fit
Several posts on this blog have pictures and descriptions of fitting the Courbette Magic and the Bernina:
I recently had to revisit saddle fitting when Kasane started riding. I’ve been very lucky and the dressage saddle appears to fit Kasane very well. The all purpose might be a little narrow, but I’ll have to take pictures of her in both saddles and post them here for comparison with Isis’ pictures.
If you don’t have access to a saddle fitter, then a good way to get an idea about whether a saddle fits you and your horse is to watch a few videos on saddle fitting on YouTube. Out of the dozens of hits for searching for saddle fitting here are two options I watched when fitting Kasane with the dressage saddle.
This is a general video on how to fit a saddle.
Here is an excellent video on how the saddle needs to fit both you and your horse with discussions of equine and human anatomy.
General points to keep in mind:
Any saddle should be comfortable for you and your horse. (Your tush should say “Ahh!” when you sit in the saddle.)
Know what size saddle you need, including tree width and channel size.
Be aware of the type of flocking in the saddle — wool flocking can be reshaped while foam flocking cannot.
Sit in everything so you have a good idea of current offerings, quality differences between price ranges, and what fits you (narrow or wide twist, big thigh blocks, etc.).
Search online for reviews of any saddle you consider purchasing to find out other people’s experiences with the saddle.
If you find a saddle in a shop that you really like, you may be able to find a cheaper version of it online some where. You’ll have to pay shipping if you order online. Make sure you investigate return policies and trial program terms before purchasing.
Getting the saddle on the horse
If it is comfortable on the fake horse, it may (or may not) be comfortable when you actually ride in it. Make sure the tack shop place offers a reasonable trial. You should be able to try the saddle out (reasonable — so no visible damage or wear is done to the saddle) and bring the saddle back if it doesn’t fit. When you try a saddle on the horse for the first time, make sure the horse is clean so you won’t get the saddle dirty. (Retailers have to be able to sell the saddle if you return it.)
The videos above have some excellent points on how the saddle should fit and what you need to watch out for. When trying the saddle, keep an eye on where settles on the horse’s back. Is the channel wide enough? Does the saddle press on the horse’s shoulders? Does the saddle rock back and forth or does it settle into place properly?
When I was trying the Courbette Magic on Isis, it was one of three saddles I was test riding: a Wintec dressage, Albion dressage saddle, and the Magic. I paid my riding instructor for an extra lesson so we could try all of the saddles and then take a lesson in the saddle that fit the best. The Albion was too wide for Isis and the twist was far too wide for me. (It felt like I was riding a four-by-four.) The dressage didn’t quite fit me or her right even though it was comfortable to sit on in the store. Her movement was different in each saddle. When we put the Magic on her, her gaits felt freer. It just fit her beautifully, so that was the one I purchased.
My friend Zoltan came out with me to the barn on Tuesday and videod a ride on Kasane. It’s in three parts. Unfortunately the first part is sideways. (I’ll fix this as soon as I get the license for my video editing software sorted out.)
These rides are very early in Kasane’s training. She’s had maybe 10 rides at this point (including just sitting on her). She’s very relaxed and aware of me and her surroundings. We’ve only done walk, back, left, right, whoa, and pivot on the forehand.
At about 1:45 in the sideways movie, Kasane and I stop. I pick up contact with the reins and ask her to give to the pressure. After a few seconds of thinking about it, she releases to the pressure. Next time I pick up the reins, she immediately gives to the pressure. Very smart girl.
The second video shows Kasane being asked to back for the third time. It took me a long time to teach Isis and Prize to back. Kasane picked it up immediately.
The third video was from the end of our ride. We rode in a figure eight and then dismounted. She was willing to continue walking even though there were distractions (my friend filming at the fence).
I was immensely pleased with Kasane after this ride.
Horsemasters is hosting a trail ride on Saturday. I’m registered to ride either Prize or Kasane. The more I ride Kasane, the more I think she’d be okay. It’s an easy trail ride: sandy trails, walk with some trot, other riders like me with young horses or seeking to rebuild confidence. If Kasane and I have trouble, well we can always have a nice hike and I can walk with her.
Prior to the trail ride, I’d like to work her in the big ring and hopefully get her to trot under saddle. I don’t want that to be a new surprise on the trail. I’d like to have that first trot in a controlled environment and make sure she understands about coming back down in speed. Everything is always different when you change gaits…
When the chiropractor came out in early November, she pointed out that Isis’ spine near her withers had sore points. The sore spots were most likely caused by a saddle that didn’t fit properly.
I knew my old all purpose saddle (the Zaldi in the image gallery below, first picture) did not fit properly. When Isis first came here last year, I rode her in it a lot during jumping and lessons. When I focused more on riding dressage, I bought a new saddle, Courbette Magic. The saddle, and its special expanding tree, fit Isis perfectly.
When I looked for a new all purpose saddle, I wanted to find a Courbette Magic All Purpose. Instead, I found a Courbette Bernina: an all purpose saddle built on the same tree as the Magic but with wool flocking instead of foam. And comfy. So comfy. The Bernina was 1/3 the price it normally costs. It was “used,” allegedly, but the saddle looked brand new to me. No girth marks on the billets.
Here are the pictures from the saddle fitting, both before and after the first ride in it. Isis is modeling the saddle. I also tried it on Kasane, and it fits her. (However, she hasn’t been ridden yet so no pictures of me on her.)
Mom used to say that you knew a saddle fit properly if your “tush says aaahh!” when you sit in the saddle. This saddle is definitely a keeper.
After the riding lesson on Tuesday, I scheduled an extra lesson to fit the dressage saddles I’d located. I want to make sure whichever saddle I choose fits not only me, but also Isis. A new (or used) saddle is a big investment (“cheap” means under $500).
Arabians are notoriously hard to fit in saddles because they tend to have broad shoulders and round backs. Isis’ hunt saddle (made by Zaldi) is a wide saddle with a 32 cm tree. I found three saddles to try: an Albion Comfort (owned by one of the ladies at the barn), a Collegiate Jessica Dressage (brand new, at an excellent price), and a Courbette Magic Dressage. Of these, the Albion is probably the highest quality saddle. It’s beautifully made and comfortable to sit in on the saddle rack. The saddle has a wide twist, which I’m not crazy about (feels like you’re sitting on a log).
During my riding lesson on Tuesday, I did an experiment: I dropped my stirrup and rode as if I was in a dressage saddle. Big different on how Isis responded.
When you ride dressage, your seat is different then when you ride hunt seat. In dressage, you ride in a “balanced” seat: you sit back farther so that your upper body is up and down instead of leaning forward. Your stirrup length is also typically 2-3 holes longer.