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Saddle fitting in the morning

Saddle fitting in the morning

Tomorrow morning we’re taking Kasane to have her saddles fitted. It’s been over a year since I purchased the Prestige Venus K monoflap saddle. It was fitted to her when she was butt high and she is now level (even slightly up hill).


Because the saddles aren’t quite adjusted properly for her new physique, my lower back hurts when I ride in the saddles. The all purpose is especially hard for me, so I know it has to be on her too.

I have to be at the barn at 8:00. This will be fun for a non-morning person.

Saddles and shoes

Saddles and shoes

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).

Riding in the Prestige Venus K

Riding in the Prestige Venus K

Today was the second day of the test ride in the Prestige Venus K monoflap. Yesterday when I rode, it was in the small square ring behind the barn. That ring is on a slight incline and not quite large enough to have a straight line for any distance. Kasane did very well in the small ring yesterday, but I didn’t have a chance to ride in the larger ring because of a lesson going on.

This afternoon was a good opportunity to try riding in the saddle in the larger ring. I lunged Kasane on the line and then put the saddle on her. Chris fro the barn kept me company and watched Kasane while I road. This was the interesting part: I hadn’t had someone watch me ride Kasane to report how she moved in the Venus K saddle versus my Courbette Magic dressage.

Since I first started riding Kasane, she took a while to start to track properly (for her front feet and back feet to track the same hoof prints). I had thought it was because she was adjusting to having a rider, etc. I never thought it might be the saddle fit. Chris said that from the time I asked Kasane to walk on after I got on her, she tracked straight. That’s a HUGE difference. Kasane was also more forward at the trot. She felt freer with her movement.

Chris corrected my position a few times, which was very helpful. She pointed out that I was holding my hands at an angle instead of thumbs up. (I was taught to hold my hands at the same angle as the horse’s withers.) Once I corrected where my hand position, Kasane responded better to the reins. At one point, Chris had me stop and drop my stirrups. She checked the position of where the saddle puts my legs and where my legs fall naturally (great match). We decided that my regular stirrup leathers were set too short, but we weren’t able to fix them at the time.

Towards the end, I asked Kasane to trot again. This time I sat and rode like I was riding Isis (sitting back, riding by visualizing lifting up the front end and freeing her shoulders). We trotted around the end of the ring and then turned to trot across the middle and changed direction. When I did that, I heard Chris say, “Oh my.” 🙂 Chris said that was the first time she had ever seen Kasane trot with suspension (in other words, Kasane had lift and hang time in her trot.).

BIG improvements. Chris, who has watched me ride Kasane since the first ride, said it was the best she had ever seen Kasane — and it was the best she had ever seen me ride.

Wow. Huge endorsement for this saddle.

Comparison of saddle length

Comparison of saddle length

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.

Saddle fitting pictures

Saddle fitting pictures

Here are pictures of the saddle fitting. After the saddle fitter took Kasane’s measurements, we went through most of the saddles in the shop to find one that fit me and had short enough panels for her. Most of the used and new saddles I sat in didn’t fit my seat bones.

The Prestige Venus K monoflap fit my seat and was so very comfortable. (It is the pretty saddle with the fancy stitching on the flap and the large knee blocks.) Generally I don’t like large knee or thigh blocks because they usually get in the way. The Bates Innova dressage saddle has such large thigh blocks that riding in it makes me feel like I wouldn’t be able to get out of the saddle in an emergency. You are locked into place. The Venus doesn’t feel that way. The tree width (gullet size is 32 cm) and panel length were good for Kasane.

The Prestige Gallileo fit my seat okay, but I didn’t like the thigh blocks on it. They hit my leg in the wrong position. The blocks didn’t pinch, but they felt like my leg would go numb after a while. The saddler said that he could change the thigh blocks so they velcroed in place and could be changed. I have no doubt that the saddle fitter could make those changes — he’s a master saddler. I just hate to spend that kind of money on a saddle without it fitting me perfectly. The saddle flaps are fitted over the thigh blocks. I don’t know how the saddle would look if those blocks were modified and the panels were still molded to the old shape. In addition to changing the thigh blocks, the gullet would have to be exchanged for a smaller size and the panels would have to be reflocked to match Kasane’s back. (Reflocking is included in the cost of the saddle.) The saddler preferred how the Gallileo fit because the panels were shorter than the Venus.

Dressage saddle fitting for Kasane

Dressage saddle fitting for Kasane

Day started early. I was at up at 7:45, tried to go back to sleep, dozed until 8:15. At the barn to meet the farrier by 9:30. Groomed Kasane and Prize and then had their feet trimmed. The farrier said that both of them had great feet, so that is always good news. No thrush (foot disease), no strange cracks, no blemishes. Just good strong feet.

We had a full house today with two students at the barn for lessons at the same time I was ready to work Kasane. I free lunged Kasane in the small ring behind the barn. Initially she was very good but then got a wild hair and took off at a canter, bucked my way a few times, stopped in the corners, took off when I approached, and then bucked some more… She was obviously feeling good. When she does things like that, I will work with her to try and get her to cooperate. Some times she calms down, other times she gets too excited. Today was one of those days, so I put her on the lunge line and we went did walk, trot, canter on the line. She was very good (except for one little bit when she pulled on the lunge line). I took the line off and asked her to go around again, and she did. No more stopping in the corners. Poor little girl was breathing pretty hard by the time we had finished lunging.

I put the dressage saddle on then and we just walked around the small ring. We trotted a few times around but mostly focused on walking and bending. After a little while, I went into the big ring with one of the other students and rode around at a walk and a little bit at a trot. Kasane seemed reluctant to back when asked — not like her. Normally when you ask her to back up, she slides back evenly. This time she was braced / tight in her movement. I asked her to pivot on her forehand, which she did, and then we stopped (ending on a good note). I rode for about 30 minutes, the longest ride we’ve had since she’s been healing.

At that point it was time to load up and go to the saddle fitting appointment at tack shop. The barn owner and I took Kasane and Missy for a fitting. They behaved very well — surprising, considering there were cows in the field near the ring where I turned Kasane out. She had never seen cows before up close. She looked at them, snorted. And went back to grazing. Definitely not phased. Maybe I have a future cow horse. Who knows?

Kasane had never had the dressage saddle fitted to her. I had thought the Courbette Magic dressage saddle fit Kasane well, but the saddle fitter, Dennis, discovered otherwise. He did tracings of her withers, measurements, etc. When he placed my saddle on Kasane, he noted that it wasn’t balanced very well for her. It tipped back. The billets where the girth attach are too far back and therefore don’t let the saddle sit properly when the girth is attached. This can cause the saddle to move and shift.

Sure enough, when Dennis felt around Kasane’s back, her right scapula was sore and her back on the right side and left side where the end of the saddle sits were also sore. She flinched away from his finger pressure. Poor girl.

This was all a huge surprise. I really thought my saddle had fit her pretty well. Normally, saddles can be customized to fit a horse by reflocking the wool underneath a saddle in the panels — if the saddle is flocked with wool. My Courbette dressage saddle has foam so nothing can be done. The billets could be readjusted but it would be very expensive. the saddle would still have to be padded to fill in areas with shims in a saddle pad. These aren’t good options for the long term comfort of her back. The panel length under the saddle is too long (20 inches). Kasane is short backed and should have a saddle that is 18-19 inches in panel length that are not gusseted.

Basically right now I don’t have a saddle that fits her. My all purpose saddle has the same tree as the dressage saddle. However, it’s flocked with wool, so something can be done with the tree. (The billets are different in the saddle so that should help.) I left my all purpose with Dennis. He’s going to call me with an estimate for reflocking the saddle (which involves removing all of the padding on the saddle panels, refilling them to customize them to Kasane’s back shape).

We tried some of the saddles in the shop on Kasane, used and new. The two saddles that fit my but and had short enough panels were the Prestige Venus K Monoflap (drool) and Prestige Gallileo. I sat in a lot of saddles and the only ones that fit my seat were the two Prestige. I definitely preferred the monoflap.

Saddles are very expensive. A “cheap” dressage saddle is $1,000. When you buy a saddle for a horse and have it custom fit to the horse, then you are making an investment in the both the soundness of your horse and in the saddle itself. A well made saddle lasts decades with proper care. My Zaldi all purpose is over 20 years old, and barely looks used. My Ashely and Clarke saddle that Mom has was given to me when I was 13 and still looks great. I take good care of my saddles and tack.

With saddles, in general, you get what you pay for. Besides the cost of the horse, the saddle is the next biggest cost. I’ve been very lucky with the saddles I found for Isis. Right now, I have to go to the various tack shops and sit in all fo the saddles. Find the models that fit me and will fit Kasane. Then I start looking for used saddles that are more reasonably priced.

Saddle fitting for the Courbette Bernina

Saddle fitting for the Courbette Bernina

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.

Riding in the Courbette Magic

Riding in the Courbette Magic

DSCN0868.JPGI rode twice over the weekend in the Courbette Magic dressage saddle. Both times, Isis and I had really good, productive rides. She is more responsive to my leg (longer stirrups, legs in right place… yup).

The more I ride in it, the more I like it. One of the ladies at the barn mentioned that she thought the saddle looked a little high in the withers. It doesn’t feel that way when I sit in it, though.

I feel secure in the saddle. The treated leather is a little grippy against my legs, so it provides extra support and stability. Isis also moves out well — much better than she does in her Zaldi all purpose saddle.

I took pictures of how the saddle fits on Isis’ back and of the pad’s sweat marks after an 1.5 hour ride.

I called Trumbell Mountain Tack Shop back. They were great: very knowledgeable about saddle fitting. The sales staff looked at the pictures I posted. Overall, they like the fit of the saddle. I should take another series of pictures with me sitting in the saddle. I’ve been given an extended saddle trial period, too. Awesome.

Saddle fitting

Saddle fitting

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).

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Saddle news

Saddle news

Some good news at least. I went back to the tack shop last Thursday to pick up a saddle to try on Isis. It’s a wide-tree all purpose Spanish-made Zaldi saddle. Lovingly taken care of by the previous owner. It’s very soft.

Unlike the other four saddles I’ve tried on Isis, this one settled perfectly on her back. The seat was level. Her whithers were the proper distance from the pommel, instead of sitting six-fingers up.

I’ll call the tack shop Monday and tell them I’m keeping the saddle.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if I can’t use it on her? Not going there.

Trooper saddle

Trooper saddle

Isis is not a dainty mare. She is built like a tank; something inherited from her Crabbet breeding. Her sire takes a regular tree, as did her mother. Isis has to do everything in a special manner, and that means she is difficult to fit with a saddle.

At the tack shop the other day, I picked up a trooper saddle made by M&W Saddlerly here in Tennessee. The tree had the just about the widest one I’d seen. The seat was wonderfully comfortable. If you’ve ever sat in saddles, you know what it’s like when your tush says “aaahhh!”

The saddle itself was more than I’d wanted to pay. However, it was very comfortable and if it fit would have been a great saddle for trail riding. Key words: If it fit.

Which, of course, it didn’t. Without the saddle pad, it seemed to fit on her back relatively well. Except it was too long when properly cinched. She had maybe an inch from the end of the saddle to her hips. Not quite enough to be able to get her legs underneath her and really move. Surprisingly, the saddle was also too long for my gelding, who is two inches taller than Isis and longer in the back.

I tried it on her and just sat on it. We took a step or two to see how it felt, and then I dismounted. The trooper saddle is rather like a cross between a McClelland (cavalry saddle) and an Australian stock saddle. The seat feels suspended in this saddle — good for distributing weight over the horse’s back, not good for feeling close and connected when riding. It was disappointing, and I wasn’t sure.

However, for that amount of money, I wasn’t going to keep the saddle if I had any doubt. It looked too long for her and also seemed to not quite fit her back. The whithers seemed okay, but her shoulders didn’t quite have free movement.

It was a relief to return the saddle. It’s still an incredibly comfortable saddle. Someone will have a happy tush after hours of trail riding.