Saddle Fitting Experience

I really wasn't sure what to expect from my very first hands-on saddle fitting ever.  The lady who remotely fit my Dressage saddle last year came to Indiana last weekend (she comes up about once a year from Florida), and I jumped at the chance to have her take a look at my Dressage saddle in person.

I didn't get any pictures from the fitting because I was pretty involved with it, but this is from when I got it in March of 2017.  He's filled out quite a bit in the shoulders since then.

It was fascinating.  The fitter is from Ireland, and really knew her stuff.  Immediately she noted that my saddle was generally a great fit for both of us (whew), but it was lower in the back than the front.
There's a lot going wrong in this picture from September 2017, but you can clearly see how the saddle being too low in the back pushes my pelvis back and my knee forward into the roll.  I didn't know that was an issue until I felt the properly adjusted saddle on Saturday.

She also noted that the flocking was very compressed on the left side compared to the right, due to me sitting harder on the left side.  This explains a LOT - as I became aware of this positional flaw since about January, I've been trying to fix it, but I've been fighting the saddle while I try to fix it, and with the horse, the saddle and my own body pushing me onto the left, that's a lot to overcome. This was an easy fix, they adjusted the flocking on the left a couple of times and I rode in it and it was AMAZING how straight and level it was.  It also didn't slide off to the left anymore.

When I first realized my left side issue, riding T in January 2018.  

Next, to fix the saddle being lower in the back, we had two options.  The first was to try a ThinLine half pad with rear shims, and this was a stunning improvement.  I noted that my knees weren't as much in the knee rolls anymore, and it was very easy to stay straight in the saddle.  My trainer and the fitter said the knee roll change was very visible.

May 2018

I would have thought that was the best it could get if she hadn't mocked up the second option, which was a tree widening.  For that, she took the ThinLine off and shimmed it just naked under the saddle with some special shims.

She also used a TSF StretchTec neoprene girth to keep the saddle in place, which it hasn't been doing lately (it's been sliding forward).  She explained that she's found that people with the leather TSF original girth like I've got now can't get it tight enough to keep the saddle in place, and she asked my trainer if that sounds familiar with me.  My trainer laughed.  Yes, yes that's a problem.  She tells me almost every ride my girth is way too loose.

My previous original 24" TSF, which I owned before my 18" StretchTec TSF, which I owned before the 22" original TSF I bought with this saddle at the recommendation of this saddle fitter (18 months ago).  My Facebook status with TSF is "It's complicated".

When I got on with those two adjustments, it was absolutely miraculous.  It felt like she'd lowered my stirrups by a hole (she hadn't), and it was almost annoyingly easy to stay centered in the saddle, as my pretzel body tried to fight the symmetry it wasn't used to.  It was suddenly far less work to sit the canter, and I could really get my leg around him in a way I haven't been able to before.

More from last summer, can't wait to see a side profile once I get it back!

She and my trainer watched me ride several laps like that and everyone agreed that was the better option.  At the end, she said it was a testament to what must be really flexible hips that I rode in that saddle the way it was as long as I did.  She said most people wouldn't have been able to ride with as straight of a leg as it kept me in when it was too low in the back.

So, now my saddle goes to Florida so it will be waiting for her and her assistant when they get back from their marathon cross-country saddle fitting trip.  Can't wait to get it back!

In the meantime, I'm reunited with this gorgeous thing. <3

17 comments:

  1. Oh, your fitter sounds wonderful! Is the tree on your dressage saddle traditionally adjustable (like a Prestige or a Schleese) or do they do something special to make it wider?

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    1. I'm not sure what they do, I don't believe it has a traditionally adjustable tree. I'm putting my faith in the hands of this saddle fitter on this a bit, my trainer and barn have used her for many years and love her, so I didn't ask! Probably should have!

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    2. I did some sleuthing on the AE website and it looks like the trees on them are designed to adjust one width, which is something I've seen with Prestige, too. Too bad... I have an older Courbette saddle that is hard to find and fits me like a glove... but I really could use an extra centimeter or two in the tree. Alas, no miracles to be found. Yet :D

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  2. Interesting that making the tree wider would accomplish something similar to what shims do! Sounds like a really great saddle fitting session and I'm excited for you to get it back ASAP!

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    1. Yeah, basically the back was too low, so we had two options: raise the back or lower the front. By taking the Thinline out and placing the shims, plus using the neoprene girth to keep it back toward the narrower part of his withers a bit, it mocked up for me what the feel would be if the saddle was balanced from the tree widening (vs using the ThinLine shim pad alone, which just mocked up what raising the back would have been)

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  3. A good saddle fitter is pretty much a miracle worker. Glad getting it properly fit helped so many things!

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    1. Yeah, it felt like absolute black magic witchcraft. Two thumbs up.

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  4. That’s really interesting to hear about the synthetic TSF. I have the Stretchtech for Katai and it’s been the best girth for her but now I want to try the synthetic for her just to compare.

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    1. I liked my TSF StretchTec too, except that I had the wrong size. I generally hate neoprene, but if we're being real, the leather version isn't breathing a whole lot either. And if I had to choose between the saddle getting shoved up into my horse's withers or some heat around his midsection, well, I'm going with option 2!

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  5. Interesting. I don't have a TSF, but a similar model and I can NEVER get it tight enough. I wonder if a stretch version would help the problem!

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    1. I do seem to remember that when I had the leather StretchTec she didn't get onto me as much about my girth. It also fit him more snugly around the ribcage rather than having that slightly gappy place on the front. I'm curious to try the new one, she drop shipped it this week so I should have it soon.

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  6. So jealous of your access to a good saddle fitter. It's so amazing what those seemingly small changes can do for rider position and horse comfort!

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    1. It's so funny you say that because I DON'T have access to a good saddle fitter! This lady is out of Florida and it takes a miracle to get her up here. Worth it though.

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  7. I bet you'll have no problem keeping your leg under you once your saddle comes back! Your hips are all stretched out and good to go. ;) I will be interested to hear how it changes your ride.

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  8. I'm always fascinated on how these little changes can do so much good!

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  9. My coach always says my girth is too loose as well, though I've also heard that on most horses (excluding a few round butterballs with no withers I presume) with a properly fitting saddle it should be snug but not tight. In any event my saddle doesn't seem to slide, so ::shrug::

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  10. (I'm assuming this is the same fitter from our previous convos and the calendar) She was at our barn last Friday too and it was awesome to have her look at my saddle. I ended up paying the fee to hear that my saddle basically fits both of us perfectly, but hey, I'll take that any day! Interesting she pulled out the ThinLine pads - she was diehard Mattes pads here and that ended up being her only suggestion, that we need a bigger half pad.
    Can't wait to hear all about how great it is when it comes back! I bet it will be a world of difference.

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