I recently had a master fitter come out to look at Tonka’s saddle. Saddles are stuffed (flocked) with wool, and even the perfect saddle needs to be checked yearly because the wool compacts, your horse changes shape, things happen. Nancy Shedrick pronounced my saddle to be exactly the right one for Tonka, and in fact not to even think about changing it (which I was.) He’s very fussy about what goes on his back, so it was good to have this definitive and positive evaluation. Nancy reflocked it just a tad, but when I got on I could feel the balance much-improved! I thought that I was all set with not having to spend money on another saddle.
Dressage saddles are specific for dressage. The rider drapes long legs along the horse’s sides. The angle of the hip and knee is relaxed and open. You don’t hold on with any tightness in your muscles. It’s all balance. The saddle helps to put you in that place. Perfect for dressage. Not so much for jumping.
I’ve had a couple of lessons over fences. My trainer, Stephanie Plaisted, figured that it wasn’t too big a deal that I was going over jumps in a dressage saddle. These were small jumps. But it turns out that Tonka has a natural aptitude for this sport. Some horses put in a big effort because they’re afraid of hitting the rails, or they can’t judge where their feet are. Tonka tucks his knees and arcs his back because he loves it. My job is to stay out of his way. It’s been about 40 years since I’ve done any serious jumping (I used to event.) My body remembers what to do, but it’s doing it with the muscle training of a dressage rider.
My style is rather like my favorite role models when I was growing up – the Thelwell children. Who else loved Thelwell's Horse Box: Containing - Angels on Horseback, Thelwell Country, A Leg at Each Corner, Riding Academy by Norman Thelwell (1971-10-03)?
Here’s how they did it – lots of air between you and the pony. Of course, I knew then that it wasn’t the right way to ride, but oh! what fun they had.
I’m having fun, now, too. Unfortunately, my style is closer to the Thelwell kids than to what Steph (and my horse!) would like to see.
Steph kindly didn’t put all of the blame on me. My dressage saddle was getting in the way. Steph offered to let me ride in her saddle. She could barely conceal her glee when we changed Tonka’s tack.
Did I mention that Steph is a successful trainer whose students compete on the hunter/jumper show circuit? She is convinced that she can convince me to switch to her sport. It’s all good-natured, but I think that underneath she is quite serious about this.
In any event, it’s always best to use the right tool for the job, and in this case, the right saddle. Steph’s jump saddle made an immediate difference. My knees stayed next to the horse.
I could fold over Tonka, but not look like I was about to fly off.
I could stay balanced on the landing.
Both Tonka and I had smiles on our faces.
I’ve told Steph that I’m not doing the hunter/jumper shows, (she is still sure she can change my mind!) but that I will try a 2-phase (dressage test and stadium jumping) this springtime. I’m in the market for a used jump saddle.
Have you had a saddle that changed your riding? Tell me about it in the comments!
Several years ago I had a local saddle fitter come out to measure and fit my horse. She came back with a large selection of saddles she felt would fit my OTTB. I chose the one he liked best and I was comfortable in (it’s amazing how quickly you can tell what will NOT work). Then about a year later we were having problems with going forward, refusing to do anything and acting up under saddle but longeing was fine. Told this to my horse chiro. She immediately said get the saddle, then promptly confirmed that the saddle was too long for the very short-backed horse. Second saddle fitter confirmed the saddle was 3″ too long and into his loins, then recommended Schleese since the brand makes models with a very short back, with shoulder relief. I found a nice, used, Schleese Eagle, which is a jumping-all purpose saddle (slightly deeper seat than a CC). Fits him well and puts me a great balanced position. Check the Schleese out!
The Schleese are wonderful saddles. Glad you realized at the outset of the issues that the “acting up” was discomfort and not a personality issue!
I’ve had a lot of ‘princess horses’ who were absolutely particular about saddle fit (although I can’t imagine ANY horse willing to work with an uncomfortable back) and have bought, ridden in, and sold a lot of them over the years. In searching for the right saddle for Lance, I talked to both a local tack store (English only) owner and a saddle fitter about the CAIR panels in some Wintecs. Both said they have had and seen the best results from them; the saddle fitter said that most saddle fitters hate them because they lose business, but she noticed that the horses whose backs were developing in all the right ways were those being ridden with CAIR-panel saddles. They don’t ever get lumpy-bumpy or compacted and hard, so backs can lift and round and develop equally on both sides. I don’t plan on ever switching back to flocked!
I was actually thinking about a Wintec Isabell for Tonka, but the reviews I read about the CAIR mentioned subtle movement and Tonka wants a saddle that doesn’t budge at all. He hates flex trees, and panels that perch and don’t wrap around him. It’s interesting to hear your positive take on the CAIR! I do love how light the saddles are.
My mixed breed mare (QH/Appy/Percheron) has conformation challenges. I’ve ridden her with several different saddles and even rode her bareback for years because I couldn’t afford something that would fit her well. Last year I had her fitted by a master fitter and we ordered her a dressage saddle. The difference was amazing! Her body is changing because we are now able to work her better, my riding is improving, and we are much happier all around. The saddle is adjustable (for future horses with similar conformation) and will outlive both of us. This was worth the investment.
What an adorable mix of breeds in your mare. those of us who live in a region where we can get in a master fitter are lucky, aren’t we? 🙂 Smart of you to realize that your horse’s shape will continue to change and that you’re saddle will have to, too.
I have had some western saddles put me in an awful chair seat, so change my riding for the worse. (And other western saddles work perfectly fine for me.) I am still at the point where pretty much any 18″ jump saddle with a forward flap will work ok for me if it fits the horse well enough, but having started with sometimes riding on saddles that were smaller and/or have knee blocks in the wrong place, it could be quite noticeable when having to work around those issues. I bought a used Collegiate just to have an adjustable 18″ saddle for lesson purposes.
I know only enough about western saddles to know how little I know 🙂
I certainly am somewhere very early in the Dunning Kruger curve for western saddles myself. 🙂
As you know, I know nothing about horses except what I have read in your blogs. It’s fascinating. ( Reminds me of learning about hens from you.). Thanks.
Thanks so much for this comment, Jean. When I write my posts I try to craft them so that even non-horsey people find them interesting. I appreciate your validation that I’m accomplishing that. Sorry, by the way, that I don’t even have cat stories. None anywhere in my life right now. Not even a good barn cat.
As I ride western, I can’t help you with jumping saddles, but I’ve definitely gone through my share of saddle fit issues over the years. I think back to when I got my first horse, and just threw whatever was available to me on him. He was an angel putting up with that! I’ve learned so much since then, and am lucky to have people around me with lots of experience in saddle fit.
By the way, there is a fantastic belt company, C4 Belts, and they have a few different Thelwell pony belts. I think you need one or all!!
I had never heard of Thelwell Ponies until today, but the C4 design option really are great! Something there for most everybody.
C4 also makes apple watch bands with their horsey motifs! John, you have to read Thelwell. Can’t be a true horse person without those books 🙂
Back in the day, even English riders would buy a saddle for yourself and put it on whatever horse you were riding. Don’t know how we did that! It is easier with the little jump saddles rather than the dressage saddles.