Saturday, June 18, 2011

Dressage Saddles?

I'm going to complain some more about saddles and saddle fit... I thought I was done complaining, but an interesting thing occurred today when I was riding Lilly, so I wanted to "talk it out" and see if any of you have opinions.

I was dying to ride my horse today. I thought about trying the saddle on her again to see if she had the same reaction she did the other day. When I was having trouble with my saddles before I purchased my new Pessoa, the issues didn't present themselves every time I rode... it just happened on certain days. The more I thought about it, though, the more I decided I didn't want to risk it. If the saddle is uncomfortable for her, I don't want to put in on her back again... at least not until the x-wide gullet arrives. Then I thought about working her in the round pen instead, but that didn't help with the fact that I wanted to ride.

So, I decided to ride bareback! I dressed her (and me) exactly as if we were going on a normal ride, but the saddle stayed in the tack room. It was a bit hot today but I knew if I was bareback she wasn't going to get ridden as hard. We did our normal warm-up routine and she did very well. We trotted quite a bit and then I decided to go ahead and canter. I really do love my horse... she does her very best to do what she's told, while keeping me safe at the same time. I really do need to ride bareback more often because my seat is definitely not what it used to be. I say that every time I ride bareback and then I let months lapse before I ride bareback again. :)

Riding bareback would be good for Lilly too. She is so sensitive that she ends up doing a lot of things I don't want her to do because she thinks I'm cuing her for something. In reality, I'm just holding on for dear life!

Anyway, the point of all this is to share with you that she never ONCE chomped on the bit. She was relaxed, happy, calm, and content the entire ride. Even before the canter, even after the canter, and for the entirety of our ride. Normally she chomps and chomps and chomps... but she is also normally wearing a saddle. If there's a time where she should be nervous or upset, it's when I'm asking her to canter, while at the same time gripping her sides with everything I have!

I have never had a ride on her quite like the one I had today. I've had great rides on her where she seems happy and content, but she was still chewing on that bit. Today, she was in a completely different place.

So now I'm wondering, even though the humans in her life have looked at this Pessoa, even picked it out specifically for her, and said, "yep, that'll fit her perfectly"... does it really fit her the way she wants it to fit her? Is it uncomfortable enough that she shows her discontent by chewing on the bit, and then if it gets too painful she starts exhibiting the usual signs?

Or was today just a big fluke?

Something else I haven't been able to figure out... why, if the saddle doesn't fit her, does she not seem uncomfortable every time it's on her back? Maybe that's where the chomping comes in? But I can ride and ride and ride without issue and then all of a sudden, she is too uncomfortable to move.

I've been reading up on some of the saddle fitting articles because I wanted to make sure I was putting the saddle in the correct spot on her back. The articles say, " your hand up from the elbow; a vertical line from that point will run by the edge of the shoulder muscle. Just behind that line is where you want the saddle to lie."

So here's the vertical line from her elbow...

And here's where I put the saddle...
Does it look like the saddle is too far forward or sitting on her shoulders? I am very careful to make sure I place it properly on her back because I know what an issue she has with those shoulders...

This picture of the saddle shows the amount of clearance between her withers and the pommel of the saddle. If anything, I think there might be too much, indicating that the saddle is still too narrow for her.

Too much clearance?
I was chatting with the BO today about all of this and she suggested I try her dressage saddle. It's a wide tree because she uses it on her GIANT Oldenburg, but she said the dressage saddles have a larger area of contact and that might be what Lilly needs. I have zero experience with dressage saddles, but I'm willing to try it out and see how Lilly reacts.

Do any of you dressage riders out there have any comments regarding how your saddle might fit vs a hunt seat saddle?  I have been told that most of the hunt seat saddles on today's market are designed for Thoroughbred type horses with high withers and a more narrow back... not for those horses with beefy shoulders and backs like a table.  The dressage saddles, on the other hand, are built for giant Oldenburg horses like the one my BO has.  A saddle made for that type of horse would definitely fit my Lilly better than a saddle made for a Thoroughbred.

The potential "problem" here is that the dressage saddle might be just what the doctor ordered, but how can I show hunt seat classes in a dressage saddle?!


  1. Hunt seat saddles have bars that are much more forward than dressage saddles. Also, most people who do saddle fitting, particularly if they're trying to sell you something, don't really do a very good job - there are exceptions.

    Most hunt seat saddles are either put on the horse too far forward or are too narrow in the shoulders - there can be other issues. If you put your hand between the front of the saddle and the horse's shoulder while you're riding at the walk/trot, you'll know - if your hand is pinched so is the horse's shoulder.

    Your bareback ride is pretty indicative. I use my chiropractor to judge saddle fit. Good luck!

  2. I completely understand your pain and frustration. With everything I've been through with Apple I understand why you are second guessing everything....

    That being is more likely that you aren't as comfortable on her bareback as you are in the saddle so you were LESS demanding of her and more worried about staying on and balanced. This gave her an opportunity to be "in charge" and less worried about performance. I would say she was relaxed because you were focused on you more than you were on her. :)

  3. To me, your saddle does look too far forward, but I'm used to the dressage perspective. As you suggested, we try to keep the saddle behind the shoulder so we can have a "free" shoulder for lateral movements. That said, there are a lot of warmbloods in the hunter/jumper world these days, and I would think there would have to be good fitting hunt saddles out there for the big guys.

    If it's any comfort, we've started the search for a good dressage saddle for Ben, the new Clyde. You would not believe how bad bad bad bad bad draft horse saddles are.

  4. I feel your pain! I went to a saddle fitting clinic last night that was more of a talk then any actual work with horses. But looking at your first photo with the red line shows that if you put that saddle there, it would be on her sholder. The fitter stressed the point that the point of the tree should be 3 fingers behind the point of the sholder, so more like your pic of where you have your saddle now. I was following the red line and was having issues with the saddle slipping back on Lu.

    We're still having western fit, well purchasing issues. D has a Hubbards that fits him well, but there is nothing else that comes close.

  5. The saddle looks really good to me, but i don't ride hunt seat so probably shouldn't offer an opinion :) Is Lily diisplaying other signs of discomfort beside chomping on the bit? I wonder if this is a sign she's uncomfortable, or is she just focussing and concentrating on the work? In dressage we strive to have a horse with a relaxed jaw who chews the bit and develops white froth around the mouth. It's a sign things are going well.
    You probably covered this in an earlier post that I missed, but thought I'd mention it.
    Your bareback ride sounds great. Good for you guys! I need to do this more too.

  6. I've had a horrid time fitting my guy too. Whenever he gets a little more plump or his body changes, his saddle isn't quite right any more, and boy does he let me know! Sooo frustrating. I see my saddle fitter about ever 6 months.

    I'm no expert, but your saddle may be a smidge forward. If you move it back, the issue is that her sweet spot for the girth is pretty far forward, so it's possible that it will cram the saddle down, forward, and onto her shoulder. Do your billets hang straight down on your saddle, or do they hang forward? If they're not straight down, that could be your issue.

    Another thing to consider is feet. Sometimes uncomfy feet can show itself as back pain. Was she shod recently? Is she out on lush grass, or has her feed changed recently? Has she been in/out more? All possibilities to consider.

  7. Zero experience in this field, so I'll just read and learn. ;-)

  8. I don't know anything. Is she different in that saddle with your show number pad? I think you've said this before, but I don't know if you've shown in this saddle or not yet.

    I did a quick google image search for saddle trees hoping to find a picture of a hunt saddle and dressage saddle trees. I was unsuccessful but I did get a picture of peanut brittle... hmmm.

  9. I think Lilly might be expressing anxiety over a pain that might occur - it certainly happened for Milo. While the new saddle would fit wonderful, he still was nervous and unsure for a while about truely lifting up into it. Finally, he seemed to have some trust in the saddle but it took some time. I think he was fearful of a pinch like he experienced before. That could at least be a factor for Mis Lilly's case.

    Get on bareback more chica!!! Lord knows the seven months of it sure helped both Milo and I!!

  10. Well I'm all about experimenting so I'd put the saddle in one spot, mark where it lies with chalk and see how she likes it. Then you could move the saddle back, mark again, and see how she likes that. I'd do this without the pad so you could mark where the saddle actually lies. Just don't get her too sweaty.

    It could also be that the tree isn't the issue but the gullet. You never know.

    I've been trying to do more bareback riding too. The walk is A-OK, but anything more than that...

  11. I've had saddle fitting nightmares with my horse as well. She's built just like Lilly - she's short, wide, and has a short back. I recently posted about our woes on my blog.

    I just bought a Thorowgood dressage saddle with an XXW gullet, and she is going well in it. However, I can't show in it since synthetics are illegal for QH/APHA shows. Have you tried a Duett? They make XXW saddles that are leather. They have a very generous trial policy, are relatively inexpensive, and are a great fit for wide, table-backed horses. I did not get one only because I could not deal with the wide twist of the saddle (hip issues), but it fit my horse wonderfully.

  12. Don't worry about the synthetics being illegal! Showed in my wintec on the APHA circuit for at least three years. When it comes to English, the judges won't notice, or care. I showed at small one-judge shows, up to the six-judge zone show (and got class champion in our equitation class on my dinky old wintec!)

    /How is Lilly's sweat pattern under the saddle? Even?

  13. Just come across your blog and reading this post is like reading about my life! I too have saddle fitting issues, although I have had a dressage saddle that I then had to sell as it was hurting my horse. Just bought a new one - have to see if that's any better. It's such a nightmare!

  14. I really appreciate everyone taking the time to respond and providing your thoughts and opinions. I’ve been doing some more research about saddles and saddle fit, and with a little help from Double A Training who came out on Monday, we have determined that Lilly’s saddle does fit, at least according to the saddle fit rules. That doesn’t mean that Lilly thinks it fits, but the points of the tree lie behind Lilly’s shoulder, even if the flap sits forward of the red line, and all other aspects of the saddle in regard to fit point to the saddle fitting her properly. I’m still going to try the wider gullet and then check the fit again, because it’s possible that it could fit better…

    Kate, that’s was I was thinking in regards to the dressage saddles. They’re just a lot different and perhaps something with a less forward style might be the kind of saddle she needs. My current saddle is a lot less forward than my last one, but it still might be too much.

    Terry, I can’t even imagine trying to find a saddle for a draft horse!!

    Sam, I definitely don’t have trouble with the saddle sliding around, which is nice, but I’m not looking forward to trying to find a western saddle. I’ve been wanting to replace the ones I sold, but for now it’s definitely on hold.

    Carol, you asked about Lilly chewing on the bit and what other signs she exhibits when she’s uncomfortable… the way Lilly chews on the bit is more like a sign of her being unhappy or nervous. I could be wrong, especially since you point out that if she’s chewing, at least she’s not clenching her jaw shut, but she’s a heavy chewer. Sometimes I think she’s chewing on it because she has OCD. Aside from the bit, though, she will shake her head like she’s shaking off a fly, twitch her withers, and then eventually stop wanting to walk forward as if she’s trying to keep from moving her shoulders. She feels a bit like a pogo stick…

    Jenj, you’re right about her girth “sweet spot”. When I saddle Lilly, I’ll start the saddle out too far forward, and then slide it back until it settles into the “spot” where it kind of stops going back on its own. The billets do hang straight down, but if the saddle is much farther back, I have a difficult time with her girth. Like you mentioned, it might actually cause another type of issue with her. Also, her feet were trimmed a few weeks ago and all seems well with them. Nothing major has changed recently, but I still often wonder if she has some residual issues from being on stall rest so long.

  15. Cowgirls, that’s what I’m doing too! LOL

    SillyPony, I have showed in my number pad this year and didn’t have any issues. I haven’t seen a single sign of her being uncomfortable until my ride the other day. Saddle trees are related to peanut brittle? Who knew!! :)

    Milo, that’s an interesting point too. She’s been doing so well up until now that I’m not sure if she’s anticipating pain, but she could be feeling a little bit of discomfort and then over-reacting to it. I’ll definitely be riding bareback more now… I really need to!
    Smazourek, I’ll have to get some colored chalk… maybe blue? The main problem with this is that it doesn’t happen every time I ride. Sometimes she seems fine and other days the saddle is the worst thing ever. I don’t know if she takes the discomfort for a while and then it just gets to be too much, or if it really doesn’t bother her sometimes. The other issue is that once she starts staggering around, trying to ride her again is impossible. I think once she has it in her head that it hurts, there’s nothing I can do to make her comfortable again.

    Spazfilly, isn’t saddle fitting fun?? And like you said, sometimes the saddle fits the horse but doesn’t fit you, so that adds a whole new variable into the equation.

    DIJ, Lilly’s sweat pattern is pretty even except for a few dry spots, but it usually isn’t the same dry spots over and over again. On the days that she really tells me she’s uncomfortable, I don’t get to ride her long enough to evaluate because she hasn’t really had a chance to get too sweaty.

    Suzie, good luck with your new saddle!! I have had more trouble with saddle fit in the past couple years with this horse… hopefully you have more luck than I!

  16. The design of the dressage saddle enables the rider to sit deeper with their legs longer. Generally speaking, a dressage saddle is only necessary for those riders where dressage is their main discipline and are riding at more advanced levels.
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