Friday, January 20, 2012

Riley: Whither the wither?

War may be hell, but saddle searching is somewhere along the way there. Recall that I was whining about the clinic last week. Yes, the clinician was pretty candid about my problems, but you know, for all my complaining I think he really helped me. But there is something I haven't told you (yet).

The real bummer was that he thought Riley looked like he might be hurting somewhere. Backsore, maybe.


I sort of knew this. Ri has been girthy and nasty when I saddle him up, but saddle fitters come out every few months and say the saddle is not a bad fit. It does slip forward. I wanted to hold out till he stopped growing before addressing it.

I don't think it can wait. So here I go again. Saddle fitting purgatory, don't want to buy new and have his back change, but don't want to buy used (again) really. And I have no $$$ to finance this. At least not any $$$ that is not earmarked for retirement.

I work with a great saddler, and she asked me for pix of Ri "naked." Look at his little baby back! Whither the whither? He looks like a yearling, and that sleepy baby face cracks me up.


  1. I've worked with a lot of saddle fitters personally as part of my further research as an Equine Massage Therapist into equine back pain (something I see a LOT in my daily work). Many of these so-called "professionals" have NO idea what they are talking about, unfortunately. I learned this first hand.

    We can talk about panel length, curvature, wither ramp and slope, degree of angulation, and all sorts of other scientific-sounding terms all day, but the wisest and most sound advice I've EVER gotten on saddle fit came not from a saddle fitter but from a mammalian biologist who specialized in the equine body and biomechanics. When I asked her the number one piece of advice she gives to anyone who asks her about saddles, and this is what she told me:

    "Saddle up your horse and go find a hill with a decent, even slope. Get on: walk up the hill, and walk back down the hill. If the saddle hasn't shifted forward or backward, buy it."

    The lesson? You cannot fix longitudinal shift in a saddle. It indicates a serious fitting issue, and will always mean pressure imbalance. Unless we're talking serious mutton withers or a mule (whose conformation often makes them very difficult to fit anyway) if it slides, it doesn't fit. :)

  2. Have you thought about the possibility of gastric ulcers? That can make a horse very sore around the heart girth.

  3. I went through a LOOONG search to find the right saddle for my last horse, and learned some interesting things along the way. One was that only straight billets (not V-billets) worked on that horse; V-billets made the front of the saddle rotate downward ever so subtly, making him uncomfortable. The second was the noticeable difference in his comfort between two identical-except-for-size saddles; the 17.5" was fine, the 18" (which was probably a bit more ideal for MY rear end) was enough longer to put pressure on an area of his back he didn't like. And third, he was MUCH happier with wool serge-covered panels than he was with leather-covered panels, even with a good pad and sheepskin numnah. (I called him "The Prince and the Pea.")

    I am blessed to have an equine vet husband with special training in locomotor pathology, an instructor with the best "eye" I've ever experienced, and a saddle fitter (who also has a good eye and uses thermography) who listens to both of the above. That so many horses do their jobs in spite of sore backs always amazes and saddens me!

  4. Looking at his photo, it does look like he is a bit back sore. He looks like he is tracking up in his hindquarters, standing with them under himself a bit and arching his loins. Does he move a bit on his forehand? Feel a little hollow in the back sometimes?
    Have you thought about a flex tree?

  5. Here's my BLUNT but caring advice. DON'T be a saddle snob. Go for a Wintec (a nice one, used). Get a gullet kit & Mattes pad with shims. You will not have a fully developed pony until he is 6 or greater b/c he is a warmblood. I had the same problem with my Friesian sport. All the saddle fitters told me Wintec ... all WBs take longer to develop.

    Don't overthink. Don't overspend. Sorry, it is better that the saddle fits Riley than you ... for Riley's longevity and your pocketbook. You will have to ride better, more self-balanced in a Wintec ... no fancy Albion knee block technology, but Wintec has stepped up in the world and does a GREAT job for the "hard to fit," the growing, the atrophied topline, the seniors ...

    You're overthinking, like me. ;)

    WHEN, and only WHEN, Riley is topped out and topline finished ... buy that $$$$ saddle. Wintecs and other gullet-changeables have a darn good place in the world for a good reason. Good luck!

  6. Add: Mammalian biologists have also recently discovered RIDING, in general, is incompatible with horses' backs & anatomy as a whole. I dunno ... go on all fours on toothpick legs and put 1/10 - 1/5 your weight on top. W/T/C, travers/renvers, passage, jump, etc. on average an hour a day with that weight 2/3 up your spine, anterior-side. It doesn't make sense.

    THIS is why I say, please don't "overthink." You can go round and round forever & still second guess yourself! Truth is, at the end of the day, you can only do the best you can do given the information you have. I think you'd be pleasantly surprised by a temporary Wintec ... if you're not already spoiled by your current, cushy saddle ;)

    And do have his protein (ESR & CRP) levels checked in a CBC for GI inflammation (indicating ulcers or other, without an expensive scope requiring more stress for Ri & traveling) ... if a change of saddle doesn't remedy the issue. :)

  7. I agree with Freisianwelshx. I have a half-Andalusian with a really sway back, really hard to fit. My trainer said I was fighting with my (expesive English) saddle, and suggested an Isabella Wirth Wintec. Gullet is changeable. Oh boy, for the first time I myself had a good seat, and my boy seems completely confortable.

  8. Hey Friesianwelsh --

    Yes, what you say makes sense, but I grew up with a mom who said "buy the best bras, and the best eyeglasses you can afford, b/c you wear them ALL THE TIME." Horses are so important to me and my riding (pathetic as it is) is so important to me, that I want to make the best of every ride. I have ridden in wintecs and found them to be uncomfortable. In the grand scheme of things making every ride count 100% is more important to me than the$$$. Now, there are a lot of saddles between the wintec and a custom county perfection ($5500 plus) and I am trying to do this on a budget. Your advice is good and I'll keep it in mind as I weigh my options. Thanks!

  9. We did the Wintec route for the dressage saddle for our young QH. It's the basic Wintec dressage model, and although I do not like synthetic saddles, it rides okay and with its wool-flocked panels and gullet that can be changed it has served its purpose well.

    It's a 17.5 and comes with a wide gullet - in near-perfect condition and for sale b/c he is grown up now and ready for a permanent saddle. (I'm saving, he's waiting... :))

  10. If the saddle is slipping forward, then it is most likely bumping into the ends of his shoulder blades. Unfortunately, I am well acquainted with that problem. The shape of the panels, the channel width, and the angle and length of the tree points must all be considered. As I am sure your saddle fitter will tell you, a good fit is much more than gullet size, which can make saddles with a changeable gullet system problematic and misleading. I wouldn't overlook used options just yet, if you are concerned about your horse growing.

    Trumbull Mountain Tack Shop has a great selection and a very knowledgeable staff. I had a wonderful experience when I bought my saddle from them (Vermont to NJ). Their trial policy is also difficult to beat!

  11. I'm working with Trumbull Mtn and locally a saddle fitter named Gary Seversen. Fun fun fun.

  12. Can you get dressage saddles with integrated panels? My hunter mare had practically no withers and super wide shoulders and I ended up getting a Antares with integrated panels, and although it was pricey, Im able to use it on other higher-withered horses with a Bevel half pad. Perhaps getting a quality saddle that fits Riley well now can eliminate (potential) future back soreness/problems. And you could always get a good therapeutic or half pad in case he grows.

  13. Count your blessings--you have a local saddle fitter. ;-) It's double the fun when you have to freehand everything.

  14. OK, I am going to be radical here, but I have been riding in Ansur treeless saddles since 2000 and have not had any back soreness issues with any of four horses I trained in the saddles.

    The Excel dressage saddle puts you in super position and is worth the investment because you will never have to worry about its not fitting Riley as he changes and grows. The saddle will change with him.

    I have three very different backs on my three current horses and the saddle goes from one to the other with no problems. With my old guy, who has lost muscling along his wither, I might use a supplemental pad, but Tucker and Chance need nothing but a regular saddle pad.

    All that being said, I you want a test ride let me know. I really believe in these saddles and have found them to be the solution for many riders.

    If treeless does not work, I know an excellent saddle fitter and distributor of Trilogy saddles as well. She, of course, swears by them.

    Also, pay heed to Biz's comment about ulcers. It's worth consideration as an additional issue to make Riley unhappy.

  15. I bought one of the first Wintecs back 20+ years ago. I couldn't afford anything else, but I loved it. It was just an all purpose, but it lasted over twenty years! I just threw it out last year, because the stitching had finally given way. The only thing I didn't like was the fake leathers and billets. I had the billets changed to real leather and used real leathers for the stirrups. I wanted them to break if they had to in a bad situation.
    Anyway horse loved it too. I bought another for my then three year old, cus I didn't want to waste money going thru saddles. I got a wintec with CAIR panels and adustable gullet and I just resold it for almost what I paid for it 5 years ago!
    Then I went and bought a second hand Passier.

  16. Wow, Stacey. That sounds like the dream team of saddle fitting. I look forward to saddle-search updates. :)

  17. I was going to suggest Trumbull Mt. They are very helpful and not biased toward any one brand. Please keep us updated on all this.

  18. Wow this post got some conversation going! I found the Wintec, was not an easy ride, found myself bracing and perching to find balance. When my old trainer was fitting a saddle for her new young horse (5 yr old Swedish WB), it seemed the mare's back would change between fittings! But I must say, when the final saddle came, WOW what a feeling, I was on that horse like glue, and could feel everything. The right equipment does matter.

  19. I am doing the saddle search, too, because the custom POS I bought (custom in price only) was never meant to fit me. Seat too small, pitches me forward. I want to go cheap, USED, and see if THAT works because the custom and NEW did NOT work. At least the custom did not harm my horse, because if THAT had been the case, I would have hunted down the saddle guy and done him seriously bodily harm. Horses are expensive enough just to maintain. I don't need someone who claims to be an expert taking my money and hurting my horse.

    Of course I just got back from the vet (second visit in two weeks). First was impaction colic so now we add electrolytes to his feed every day to encourage him to drink more water). Today was joint injection and a Tildren IV in the RF. Nearly knocked out my saddle fund (which keeps getting depleted to fix things like trailers and vehicles) but I have a few nickels left ;o) Good luck with the fitting. I'm still waiting for the fitters to return to the barn where I go for training (laughing hysterically--I take lessons every month).

  20. I have to disagree with some people about the Wintecs. There is a lot more to saddle fit than just the gullet and the adjustable gullet it only the front of the saddle. Wintecs are notorious for 'bridging' - they sit on the horse at the withers and back but across the middle don't make any contact with the horse. Wintecs are very comfortable, afordable and nice looking saddles but are rarely the best fitting. The other thing I don't like about most synthetic saddles is that they don't have wool flocked panels. My saddle fitter pointed out that with a wool flocked panel the saddle fit can be changed as the horse's musculature or weight fluctuates. With the foam flocked panels of synthetic saddles these subtle, but important, adjustments cannot be made.

    Also some saddle fitters will occasionally have used saddles for sale - saddles that were used as demo saddles.

  21. I've been riding and using Ansur's flex treed saddles for 12 years now. I own about a dozen of the saddles. I've taken a mare that was stuck at Level 3 and I am now at PSG and I'm working on piaffe. ALL of my boarders at my barn now also ride in Ansurs because they've tried mine, and proved to themselves that the horses go better. Ansur's dressage saddle, the Excel, fits ANY horse that I put it on..... my wide bodied PSG Friesian (when NO other saddle would work for both her and me) and the same saddle goes on my high withered, slimmer OTTB. Serious.... if you are tired of constantly trying to fit a "moving targe" (the horse's back changing) with constantly adjusting a fixed treed saddle, then you should at least TRY the Ansur.

    Seriously...think about this.... let's say that you own a custom pair of designer loafers... really nice comfortable shoes, with a hard sole. And you own a really good pair running sneakers, with their flexible sole. Which pair of shoes would YOU rather run a marathon in???? When we put treed saddles on a horse.... it looks good and fits well for a HORSE STANDING STILL. But when we ask the horses to start moving, then they should be in the "sneaker".

    I work with a TOP FEI judge and trainer, who at first, did not believe in the Ansur saddles, but he now has seen for himself on THREE different horses at my barn, that they went MUCH better in the Ansur Excels.

    Now... as I said, there are over 20 Ansur saddles in my barn and not ONE of them has had to be readjusted by a saddle fitter.

    Please... for the sake of your horse, check this out: and feel free to contact me for more success stories.

    Gale Wolfe

  22. You have my sympathies! Finding a saddle that's a good fit for horse and rider can be a real pain.

    I started looking for a saddle for Crispin when I started him under saddle. That was a year ago and I haven't found a saddle yet!

    To me, Riley doesn't look like a horse that's too difficult to fit. But slipping (and the broken hairs on his back) is never a good sign. On the other hand, you may just get lucky and whatever is wrong can be fixed by changing/re-flocking your saddle.

  23. I have to say that I agree with you on wintecs. I've ridden in probably a dozen different ones at this point and have just never liked them. They aren't distinctly uncomfortable but I do feel like it takes distinct effort to stay in a good position. I don't think it's spoiled of anyone to want a saddle that fits them and puts them in a great position.

    I just recently took the plunge and bought a saddle despite not owning a horse, and probably not anticipating owning one for at least 3-5 more years. I always felt like it was silly to buy one since I switch around on horses and the privates have their own, but after 2 years at my current barn riding in totally random saddles that weren't a great fit for me or the horses I decided it was time and I don't regret the decision at all. My riding is so much better in my new saddle! Now that I don't have to focus on fighting a saddle to get my leg back in the right position I can actually sit deeply and focus on my horse.

    Since I'm in New York City saddle shopping was kind of miserable (no local tack shop w/ used saddles, fitter charges $200 for driving and fitting...) but in the end I got a lot of advice fromt the people at Trumbull (wither tracings etc), my trainer and I was just honest with myself about what I wanted in a saddle and how the horse acted.

    I ended up getting an ADT with wool flocking (half price since it was a demo being closed out!). And despite having some anxiety about the shoulder maybe being restrictive the horse is going amazingly and opening up his stride much bigger than ever before since I got the saddle. Not sure if it's me riding better or him liking the saddle a lot. I'm super glad I got the wool since this way the fit can be changed around in the future and I probably will have the front panel adjusted when money isn't as tight.
    Anyhow I basically think a really nice saddle is worth the money, especially if you can get a good deal since if you're comfy and in the right spot you ride better and it'll retain it's value if you need to sell it. I dunno if an Arc de Triomphe would work on Riley since it's for more of a TB bodied horse but I am obsessed with mine and recommend it highly.

  24. Dumb question -- are there broken hairs in the photo, or do you mean in general? Thanks!

  25. Maybe it's just an optical illusion or his winter coat is just very sensitiv, but to me it looks like there has been something rubbing and breaking some hairs at the back of his saddle area. But I didn't mean to imply anything. Maybe he just already started shedding.

  26. btw, what kind of saddle do you have for him? I sure you did post about it at some point, but since you're a very busy blogger (and I really enjoy that!) I think my chances of finding that specific entry are slim.

    On my journey to the (hopefully) perfect saddle I'm finding this blog very interesting and helpfull:

    (Though I expect you probably already know all about it)

  27. It's a used County Perfection, which I love, and it is nearly identical to the saddle my trainer used and that Riley loved -- hers was Med 17", mine is Med 17.5, same model. However, after we started using my saddle he started to get nasty when being saddled.

  28. If I remember right, there's not much you can do to the gullet of a county saddle. Maybe add or (in you case more likely) take out some of the flocking to make it wider.

    Without seeing the saddle or seing you ride (so it is a far fetched assumption!!!) my guess is that he just muscled up and the saddle is now a tad too narrow in the gullet. That would make the rear panels pinch him in the back.

    Have you checked you saddles centre of gravity lately? Is it still in the middle or slightly in front of it or has it moved back?

  29. ...oh, has the fitter asked you for pictures with the saddle (girthed but no pad) too? I think those would be much more interesting... *hint* ;-)

  30. I'll post pix tomorrow, but they won't be my saddle but a saddle I test drove last week. If I get time to take pix I'll share photos of my saddle...

  31. Stacey, I agree with your mom. For certain items, eyeglasses, cookwear, saddles, etc., go with the best quality that you can afford. But if you think you have saddle fit problems, Icelandics tend to be boulder shouldered, mutton withered, short backed little beasties. I have had to buy 3 saddles for Blessi in almost 8 years because he keeps muscling up in the withers area and the saddle is too small.
    Oh well, good luck in your saddle search. And let us know how it works out with Trumball Mountain since I was thinking about contacting them for my next saddle.
    And I also have a horse chiropracter look at Blessi every six months or so just to make sure that he is not sore in any particular area.
    Regards, Pamela N.

  32. I'm going to add some specifics to my first posts. :)

    1) I had my Wintec wool-flocked.
    2) I added a Mattes pad with shims (that more than makes up for any insufficiencies in the Wintec, adjustable gullet) and you can transfer it to your next saddle.
    3) I never mentioned it had to be your last and only saddle. Wintecs sell like Hondas used ... very quickly!!!
    4) Riding is just as important to me. That is why I chose to think a little more in the realm of fitting my baby to maintain his longeivity than my own comfort. It's the lesser of two evils, trust me. Riley's not too far off being finished growing. 6-8 for most WBs. And, with the regular, correct work you do with him, it won't be long. A friend of mine has a $30,000 6-year-old, Oldenburg that is now sitting in a field for the rest of his life because of saddle fit leading to him using his body defensively and breaking down. I certainly don't have the money or gumption to replace my horses. Replacing the saddle is that much easier, cost effective, and less heart-rending, any way you look at it. :)

    Food for thought. Thank you for keeping this in the back of your mind. You're right about this being akin to war ... believe me, I am a VETERAN in respect to saddle fitting odd-shaped horses. :P

  33. I ride in Wintecs as well, but not all Wintecs are equal. I have a Wintec I bought when they first came out. It's old, ragged, and fits a good majority of horses. It is the most comfortable saddle I have ever ridden in. But it didn't fit my competition horse. I went through 7 different saddles before coming back to a Wintec 2000 AP (with the suede seat and changeable gullet) Her back is happy, I am 85% happy.
    Now I don't like the Wintec Dressage saddles, but I do like the AP, western and old Endurance models. They have fit the majority of horses I have had in to retrain. And lets face it, no oiling and no anguish if you go through briers or too deep in the creek are a big plus for me.

  34. If you really want the best that money can buy then you really should take Jean up on that offer to test ride an Ansur Excel...

    I have an Ansur Crossover that I paid $$$$$$ for and it's been worth every penny.

  35. I have had many hard to fit horses for saddles. We ended up with a wintec isabel, wool flocked. Especially for young developing horses the wintec allows greater adaptability. Our friend bought a custom saddle for her 6 yr old and by time it came in it did not fit. We now have 3 wintec isabels and they all have gone from the white wide tree to the extra wide and extra extra wide trees. If you can afford the bates version, then you can have leather.
    One thing is that "best" does not always mean "most expensive"
    I agree with some of the others that sheepskin pads help. I have two horses that use them.
    Good luck saddle hunting. I completely feel your frustration.


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