Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Still More On Western Saddles

I've lost count of the number of saddle posts I've done, but let's just say there have been quite a few. The saddle issues started back in 2008 when we really started doing a lot of riding. Prior to 2008, we were mostly just trail riding and playing around without any serious goals. Once I decided to start showing again, the rides became more demanding and more frequent and I really started to notice issues.

I mentioned briefly in another post that I borrowed a friend's western saddle. I've been wanting to ride Lilly western because of all the progress we've made and the saddle looked like it would fit so I gave it a try. It wasn't too narrow and had a nice, short skirt, but after a few minutes into our test ride I could tell Lilly was uncomfortable. She hadn't quite made it to the point where she was really displaying her usual symptoms because I could tell very early on that the saddle wasn't going to work and I took it off.

In my very popular Crates saddle post, I was wondering if I would have an easier time finding a saddle that Lilly was happy with because a lot of her issues dissolved when we tool those shoes off. Our experience with my friend's western saddle says otherwise, though, and I'm back to being a bit pessimistic about the whole situation.

My friend Alex rides Lilly in her western saddle when she comes out to work with us and I haven't seen a problem with that one at all, but Lilly doesn't always show discomfort right away. I'm not sure if Alex's saddle really does fit Lilly or if it just hasn't been used enough for Lilly to decide she doesn't like it. I suppose there really could be a saddle out there that fits as is, and maybe Alex has it, but she's not selling! Trust me, I asked. It's all a crap shoot really, and that's why all of this gets so frustrating.

But moving on to the actual purpose of this post... a new brand of saddle to consider! My trimmer recommends these saddles and I've never heard of them before until now. They're made by TW Saddlery and are quite unique to any saddle I've ever seen before. This from their website:

The traditional western saddle often is too tight due to substantial padding. The tradition of using both a blanket and pad, combined with the popularity of today's thicker pads, often creates bridging. Complicating the issue is the use of bulky, thick leather, double-thick skirting encasing the tree, and extending two to three inches in front of the bars of the tree. This often pinches the shoulders and interferes with the tree fitting in the manner it was designed to.

As a result of the saddle either being too narrow or too much padding, all pressure is on withers/shoulders. This failure of saddle to fit properly results in it being lifted off back, in center, and some remaining pressure is on loins where contact resumes. Horses experiencing this bridging will be reluctant to extend their gaits and this much pressure will cause pain, tissue damage and associated white hairs.

I wonder if Lilly would have white hairs on her withers if the hair there wasn't already white...

With these TW saddles, they have eliminated the unnecessary leather in front of bars and also shortened the bars slightly so shoulder movement isn't as compromised as it tends to be on a traditional western saddle. The saddles also do not have any fleece lining the bottom because it makes evaluating saddle fit much more difficult and just creates extra, unnecessary padding. The saddles come with neoprene pads and shims, and that's what is used to create a truly custom saddle.

The neoprene pads.
Think about it... you could have one saddle for four different horses. The pads are all removable, so you ride one horse with his pads, and then when you switch to another horse, ride him with his pads. Perhaps your horse has uneven shoulders... the pad on the left side can be thicker than the pad on the right side. Or, as the shape of your horse changes with work, you can get different pads for that too! Plus, the need for a special saddle pad goes out the window because that's what your saddle is doing for you with the neoprene pads.

There is a dealer who is pretty local to me, so I could load up Lilly and haul her out there for a consult. They use the Equi-Mapping technology when doing their saddle fitting so you can truly see how the saddle fits. I'm skeered to see the outcome with my new, expensive, of course it fits her! english saddle...

They also have a demo program so you can try the saddle before you make the purchase. Considering the saddle I'm interested in is $2700, a demo makes me feel much more at ease about the purchase.

There are a few different styles and I like the Ranch Versatility saddle the best. Without knowing the specifics about each one I might need something different, but if I were to buy one right now, that's the one I'd choose. They have a lot of different options too as far as color, tooling, and conchos go. Square skirts, round skirts, different riggings, and you can even get a matching breastcollar!

It's not super showy, but I think it would do okay in the show ring. I've also seen some of their show type saddles on different websites, so there's a good chance I could get some silver put on mine. So for now, this is the saddle I'm researching. I'm going to get in touch with the local dealer and discuss some of our issues with her to see what she thinks. This might be the answer!


  1. This sounds really promising! Let us know how the fitting goes!

  2. Any chance you could borrow Alex's saddle for a while to see if it works long term?

  3. I think it is beautiful and a demo is the way to go. Trailering her for a fitting sounds like a great idea. I appreciate all your saddle info.

  4. I kept wondering, in all your posts about finding a Western saddle, if anybody out there made a custom-fit saddle like they do for English saddles (plus English saddles can be restuffed). It's exciting to see that you've found someone who does! I LOVE the idea of trying a saddle out, especially given the price tag. You don't have to buy now, but if they make The Saddle That Fits... you can always start saving your pennies!

  5. Saddle fitting is so tricky, I just borrowed a new Ansur Konklusion to try and Gwen said it was a total no go. So much for a treeless saddle that's supposed to fit everything! Fortunately my crossover does- I feel like I won the lottery on that saddle.

    Anyway, enough ranting about myself. Take Lilly over and try it out- if she's happy with it, it would be worth the money.

  6. Sounds interesting.

    A person just has to keep trying until they find what works. It's soooo stressful.

  7. I'm heading out there Saturday for a play/work day and will be bringing my saddle. I MIGHT be talked into loaning it for a week or so. LOL You'll have to explain to my critter why we are ridding in the funky indian bareback pad though.....

    I think this saddle concept is a good one except for the neoprene part. With summers as hot as they are in NC I would worry about how much heat that neoprene is going to hold and if that is going to cause damage/discomfort.