SUMMER 2020 BANNER
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ATTENTION TO DETAIL COUNTS!

By Antonia Wills, SMS Qualified Saddle Fitter & BE TrainerBy Antonia Wills, SMS Qualified Saddle Fitter & BE Trainer

I recently attended the BE home coaches day, and the theme across all the presentations was the importance of checking every detail of your horses care, management, training, feeding and equipment, so that you are making the most of your own and your horse’s ability.I recently attended the BE home coaches day, and the theme across all the presentations was the importance of checking every detail of your horses care, management, training, feeding and equipment, so that you are making the most of your own and your horse’s ability.Of course, choice of saddle and saddle fit is right at the top of this list.

For eventing and show jumping, it is important that your saddle is forward cut enough for you to shorten your stirrups and remain balanced whilst out of the saddle. Lower leg stability is very important - if your leg swings backwards over a fence, your balance and therefore your horse’s balance will be compromised. You will also be unable to assist your horse on landing – imperative if you are landing down a drop, or into water, or needing to alter the stride length in a related distance. For this reason jumping saddles tend to have thigh blocks angled forwards which sit above the knee. They also have a flatter seat and a squared cantle to allow more room for the rider to adjust their position. Calf blocks are also standard.For eventing and show jumping, it is important that your saddle is forward cut enough for you to shorten your stirrups and remain balanced whilst out of the saddle. Lower leg stability is very important - if your leg swings backwards over a fence, your balance and therefore your horse’s balance will be compromised. You will also be unable to assist your horse on landing – imperative if you are landing down a drop, or into water, or needing to alter the stride length in a related distance. For this reason jumping saddles tend to have thigh blocks angled forwards which sit above the knee. They also have a flatter seat and a squared cantle to allow more room for the rider to adjust their position. Calf blocks are also standard..

Close contact saddles, both single and double flap, are very popular, particularly with professionals. The single (mono) flap ones Close contact saddles, both single and double flap, are very popular, particularly with professionals. The single (mono) flap ones take a short girth, eliminating the bulk of girth buckles under the rider’s thigh. They often (but not always) have a foam (rather than flocked) panel and are narrower in the seat and the twist. The blocks tend to be smaller, and in the case of monoflap saddles, will be built into the surface of the flap. Nowadays manufacturers are producing saddles with carbon fibre trees, offering lateral flexibility and memory foam panels, which mould to the horse’s shape.

However, many riders prefer the security of larger blocks and ‘more saddle’; these have the advantage of being more alterable and affordable.

f you are planning to event, but can only afford one saddle, I recommend opting for a jump saddle. A correctly fitted and balanced saddle should not impair your dressage work up to BE novice level. However, when you are ready, a dressage saddle will make an important difference. With a deeper seat and longer flap you will be able to lengthen your stirrups and wrap your legs around your horse, while sitting stiller and taller. You will find it easier to use your weight aids for lateral work as you progress through the grades. Dressage f you are planning to event, but can only afford one saddle, I recommend opting for a jump saddle. A correctly fitted and balanced saddle should not impair your dressage work up to BE novice level. However, when you are ready, a dressage saddle will make an important difference. With a deeper seat and longer flap you will be able to lengthen your stirrups and wrap your legs around your horse, while sitting stiller and taller. You will find it easier to use your weight aids for lateral work as you progress through the grades. Dressage saddles are designed to sit behind the horse’s shoulder blade, encouraging the horse to move more freely; this also helps with stability. The choice of dressage saddles on the market is huge, and they all feel and fit quite differently, so it is important to try as many as you can.

For many people, a general purpose saddle fits the bill, and it will be entirely suitable for hacking, schooling and low level competitions. GPs are cheaper than the more specialist saddles, and frequently come up second hand! They tend to have a medium depth of seat and a pencil roll in front of the rider’s knee. There are two styles of GP – the Event (VSS) which is the more forward cut of the two and more suitable for jumping and hunting, and the VSD which is straighter cut and geared towards flatwork. Cobs, with their big, fleshy shoulders, are often fitted with VSD saddles with flat trees.

Saddle fit, whatever brand of saddle you choose, is crucial. The conformation of each horse and rider combination is unique, and has a unique blend of requirements. Saddle fitters need to carry a very wide range of saddles in all widths and seat lengths, as what works beautifully for one will be hopeless for the next. Budget can of course be a limiting factor. Sometimes it is possible to find the perfect fit for a small outlay, but regardless of how much or little money you have spent buying your horse, comfort and suitability for you both is a priority and should not be compromised.

Please allow plenty of time and adequate facilities for a saddle fitting. You may also consider having your trainer present. Saddles that look good when initially placed on the horse are often hopeless when ridden in, and a saddle that was previously eliminated may then come back into the reckoning. The saddle has to sit still in all paces, and be super comfortable for both horse and rider, and this can sometimes take a few hours or even a repeat visit to get right.

requent checks of your saddle are also very important. The first check on a new saddle is normally after 2-3 months, once the flocking has settled, and then 6 monthly checks are recommended to fine tune the fit, especially if your horse changes shape. It is vital to contact your saddle fitter if you notice any discomfort in your horse or movement in the saddle.

When checking any saddle, your fitter will check the soundness of the tree and the stitching, then the panels, which should be smooth and level. The horse’s back will be palpated for any sensitive areas, lumps or bumps (you can do this yourself as part of your daily routine) and then the saddle placed on the horse’s back (without numnah) to check the entire length of the panel  is in even contact with the horse’s back. When checking any saddle, your fitter will check the soundness of the tree and the stitching, then the panels, which should be smooth and level. The horse’s back will be palpated for any sensitive areas, lumps or bumps (you can do this yourself as part of your daily routine) and then the saddle placed on the horse’s back (without numnah) to check the entire length of the panel  is in even contact with the horse’s back. It is essential to see the saddle ridden in, when any excessive movement (forwards, backwards, up and down, side to side etc) can be identified and rectified.

Your choice of numnah or saddle pad can make all the difference to your horse’s comfort however well the saddle fits. I recommend a high wither design, even for low withered horses, so that the numnah does not pull down and cause pressure on the horse’s wither. Make sure that your numnah is long enough that the binding is well clear in front of and behind the saddle, and there should be no thick binding under the girth as this can rub. Always firmly attach the numnah to the saddle in order to keep the numnah in place; annoyingly some numnahs have the webbing for the girth straps too far back, so that the girth is pulled out Your choice of numnah or saddle pad can make all the difference to your horse’s comfort however well the saddle fits. I recommend a high wither design, even for low withered horses, so that the numnah does not pull down and cause pressure on the horse’s wither. Make sure that your numnah is long enough that the binding is well clear in front of and behind the saddle, and there should be no thick binding under the girth as this can rub. Always firmly attach the numnah to the saddle in order to keep the numnah in place; annoyingly some numnahs have the webbing for the girth straps too far back, so that the girth is pulled out of  place. Also, choose the correct shape of numnah for your type of saddle, whether is dressage, jump or GP.

If you intend to use an extra pad ensure your saddle fitter knows and If you intend to use an extra pad ensure your saddle fitter knows and fits the saddle accordingly. Pads can be really useful, particularly if used with close contact saddles, which have thinner panels and cannot be adjusted, or if your horse lacks topline. Pads can be used to alter the balance of your saddle, or with shims if you have a saddle slip issue. Anti-slip gel pads can also be incredibly useful, and you can now buy all in one anti-slip saddle cloths.

It is worth checking your stirrup leathers are even. I often find people riding with one leather longer than the other because it has stretched. If you have a calfskin covered saddle you will need calfskin covered leathers; check they have a nylon core which doesn’t stretch. You can also have hook-on leathers which reduce the bulk under the leg.

The science behind girths has leapt forward. Anatomically shaped girths that are cut back behind the elbows with a wide bearing surface and no sharp edges have been proven to improve stride length and comfort. If you have any issues with saddle stability, choose a non-elastic girth, and talk to your saddle fitter about girthing options such as point and balance straps. Dressage girths should be as long as possible without catching on the bottom of the numnah when tightened – keeping the buckles well above the point of the elbow.

Breastplates are always a thorny issue! You should always use one if you are going across country, and certainly if your saddle tends to slip backwards.  For them to really work they have to be tight enough to prevent the saddle starting to slip. The 5 point breastplates probably work the best, but you run the risk of impeding the shoulder movement. 

There are a mind boggling amount of ‘comfort’ bridles on the market; you might bear the following points in mind: Look for padded headpieces that are shaped to avoid cutting in behind the ears. Make sure the browband is loose so that the headpiece is not pulled forwards. The throatlash should also be loose, so the horse can flex at the poll without feeling constricted. The cheekpiece and noseband buckles should sit below the corner of the eye, and the cheekpieces and noseband ‘arms’ should run down behind the horse’s cheekbones. A cavesson noseband should sit about 1 cm below the cheek bones, and watch that the buckle at the back doesn’t create a pressure point on the jaw bone. Unfortunately, many flash and crank nosebands are overtightened, leading to excessive pressure on the horse’s face. Current research tells us that grackle nosebands are more comfortable than cranks or flashes.  

The exhaustive research, pressure testing and product testing of equestrian tack and equipment means that there is now a huge range of innovative designs on the market. Our perception of how the comfort of our horses is paramount to their well-being and performance has also increased. The watchword for us all is that attention to detail is key, and that every horse, no matter its age, value or competitive level, deserves to feel as comfortable as possible when it is being ridden by us.

This article was written by Antonia Wills. Antonia is qualified with the Society of Master Saddlers. She carries a wide ranging new and second hand stock of saddles suitable for all disciplines, including Amerigo, Equipe, Albion, Fairfax, Pessoa and more. As a former event rider and BE Accredited Coach she also offers freelance teaching, and can be contacted for saddle fitting or lessons on 07941 512933.