Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Saddle Fit

When I bought Arya, her previous owner warned me that finding a saddle to fit her would be a pain in the butt.  So I got started looking right away.  I found a Western saddle that had fit a draft horse on Craigslist, and even better, the seller was willing to take it back if it didn't fit.  It didn't fit at all without a pad, but with a pad that was thicker in the front and had a cutout for her withers, it actually seemed to work.  I kept that saddle for riding in the meantime, returned the saddle I'd been borrowing from Arya's former owner, but kept looking for a lighter weight saddle that would be better for longer distance riding.

I tried a few saddles.  One I bought outright but luckily was able to sell on to the next person, one I was able to get on trial (had to pay shipping both ways, though, which wasn't cheap).  Tried a couple saddles of Shar's on her, but her horses are so skinny that it wasn't very helpful.  I hired a saddle fitter from afar, who shipped me saddle trees and had me take pictures and measurements of my horse.  I finally got to meet up with her in person, and she told me that at least my western saddle wasn't causing her too much pain, though of course it wasn't the ideal fit for her.

Finally, I saw a saddle online that intrigued me.  It was an SR brand--those saddles are made right here locally, and while the build of the tree limits the pool of horses it can truly fit, the padding can be adjusted to some extent by the saddle maker to fit a bit of a variety of horses within that pool.  I inquired about it, sent the serial number to the saddle maker and he was able to tell me some information about it, etc.  But within a day or two, the seller said she'd sent it out on trial, so if it sold to that person, I'd be out of luck.

But then ANOTHER saddle of the same brand came up online, and actually seemed like it'd be a better fit for Arya, plus it was $500 cheaper.  It was older, but looked to be in great shape.  It was black, which would be my preferred color, not that I can afford to be picky.  The down side was it was in Texas and being sold as "all sales final," no returns if it didn't work out (or wasn't as advertised, but at least with buying through Facebook, you have the person's name and some information about them, and they're kind of in your "network" of horse-related groups.  Not quite as much of a stranger as buying off Craigslist.

It was a risk, but at least being in the same town as the maker, I knew I'd probably have an easier time of selling it on if it didn't work out than I would with a different brand.  I went ahead and bought the saddle and had it shipped to me.

When it arrived, I excitedly put it onto Arya, and Shar and I evaluated whether it seemed to fit her.  It really did.  It fit her like a glove.  Well, at least in our opinion, but we'd been wrong about these things before.  Shar was trailering to the trainer's place a few days later, so she was nice enough to haul my horse and my saddle along, and Celena evaluated the fit and gave it the thumbs up.  Woo hoo!

When I first sat in the saddle, though, the stirrups were way too short.  On their longest setting, I still felt like a jumper (as in the people who ride horses over jumps, not the article of clothing, either British or American).  So I contacted the saddle maker, who was more than happy to use the measurements and saddle number I provided to make a set of new fenders for the saddle that fit my legs and matched the saddle.  Woo hoo!

Of course, it took him a few weeks to get the fenders made, so in the meantime I kept riding in the western saddle, looking longingly at the new SR saddle in the tack room (well, it spent a lot of time in my trunk, too).  Finally, Steve called and said he was done with my fenders.  I visited his IMPECCABLE shop, got to chat with him a little while he worked, and he installed the new fenders.  I was SO excited!

Oh, at one point Shar joked that maybe I'd get there and the new fenders would be ORANGE.  (One of the saddles I'd tried had been a VERY orange shade of brown, which I hated, but of course I would have bought it if it fit Arya.)  I said I was sure that Steve would know by the saddle number which color to make the fenders, though I'd never explicitly told him what color to make them.  Well, sure enough, when I got there, the fenders were an orange-ish shade of brown.  But only on the back side (next to the horse).  The visible part was suitably black, darker than the saddle, even, because of the wear it showed.

Anyway, got the saddle on Thursday night, and went riding with Shar on Friday night.  Put the pad on, saddle on, had to use a western cinch and cheapie billet and latigo on loan from Shar until I get a better cinch/girth setup (the one that came with the saddle is too short for my large and slightly chubby girl), switched the pommel pack over from the western to the SR, switched the fleece seat cover over from the western to the SR, put the bridle on, and after much anticipation, mounted up.

OUCH.  My hips were in immediate pain.  Shar helped me with adjusting the stirrups, since they still seemed a bit short.  We went down to the lowest hole (though the fenders themselves are mounted on the saddle with some adjustability both forward/back and up/down, and had one more notch lower they could go).  They still hurt.  Ugh.  Well, maybe they were just tight from not riding a lot lately, so I figured we should go ahead and ride and maybe my hips would loosen up.

We started out with a good long walk, since this was only Flash's second ride back from his recovery (and the first one had been pretty short).  My hips still hurt.  We picked up a trot, and the saddle felt SO good.  I felt more balanced than usual, and posting more off my thighs rather than my feet.  Back to a walk, and the pain was back.  We trotted again, and I tried a two-point (standing in the stirrups).  I have crappy balance, so I was still tipping forward and back a bit, but much less than when I attempt it in the western saddle.

We continued on, but Flash took a bit of a misstep that was just what happened that alerted Shar to his problem in the first place (bad hoof angles, and he's now under the care of a corrective shoer), so we declared the rest of the ride a walk-only ride, which of course meant more discomfort for me.  :-(

As we went along, my hips got more and more sore.  Shar asked if I wanted to try riding without stirrups.  OUCH!  That made it worse, as it felt like it was pulling my femurs down and out of my hip sockets.  I could barely get my feet back into the stirrups at that point, and once I did, I couldn't really squeeze her with my legs to urge her any faster.

I genuinely started to wonder whether I'd even be able to climb down off of her--first I'd have to stand up in the stirrups enough to heave one leg over to the other side, then hop down and hopefully land safely on the ground.  When we finally got home and I attempted to dismount, I spent some time laying on my belly across the saddle and wiggling my legs before I hopped down to the ground.  I did manage to land safely.  Woo!  But now I was worried that the saddle I'd finally found to fit Arya wasn't going to fit ME.  Oh dear.

I took the saddle home over the weekend and moved the fenders forward a position as well as lowering them so I'd have a better range of options for adjusting them down by the stirrups.

Yesterday, I went to Shar's house, pulled Arya out, and tacked her all up, including the newly adjusted stirrups.  I got on.  My hips STILL hurt.  Ugh.  I pulled the fleece seat cover off, and the pommel pack, and moved the saddle a bit further forward (the further back it is, the wider her body is in that spot).  Got back on.  Better, but still a bit painful, and now it felt like the stirrups were too long and too far forward.  Aargh!

I took the saddle back off, adjusted the stirrups back to the middle spot (forward/back) but left them on the longer setting.  I raised the stirrups a couple notches using the normal buckle, though.  Got on (still without seat cover or pommel pack) and WOW.  Finally felt comfortable again.  So I may have to get used to slightly shorter stirrups for a bit, and re-try longer stirrups little by little, but it seems that must have been the only issue.  Well, it's possible the seat cover adds a little extra width that my hips don't like.  I hope not, as it'll be great sweat absorption in the summer, insulation in the winter, and chafe protection year round.  I put it back on, but was tired of getting on and off and needed to get back home.  So if my hips hurt on the next ride (same stirrup settings, but with fleece added back on), I'll have to take the cover off and stuff it in my saddle bags or something.  But if not, then WOO HOO!  Finally back in business with a saddle that works.

Here's the saddle without the seat cover or pommel pack:

And then with the seat cover and packs, as I'll normally be riding in it (I hope!):

Clearly Arya was very upset and agitated by all the hubbub.  ;-)

No comments:

Post a Comment