That Saddle issue again!

Do you get your saddle checked regularly? Looking back I think we were really lucky with Baz, because once we had got the right saddle for him, and although he did obviously change shape massively through his life, he did well with an annual check up. There are 2 reasons I think, for this. Firstly he is not as sensitive as Lizzie, so small changes in fit didn’t bother him, unlike with her where the slightest change is acutely felt. She is the equine equivalent of the Princess and the Pea…… Secondly he progressed much more slowly through his training. Not that Lizzie is exactly racing on; she has just turned 10 and now starting baby canter pirouette work. She probably had further to come because she was SO scrawny and strung out like a string bean for quite a long time, and Baz has always been more contained.

I took her 1/2 sheepskin pad out in Feb/March time because although she hadn’t complained I realised it was all getting a bit tight around her shoulders. Then, by early April I noticed that Lizzie was getting a bit grumpy about her canter work. Mid lockdown we were a bit stuck, so I got myself on the list for my saddle fitter – Elly Pitts at Optimum Performance. Things got progressively worse, and even after a week off, Lizzie was starting to be reluctant to canter in some of her favourite places on the moor. She was also pulling me forwards (actually probably the worst thing she could have done, but it was her attempt to relieve pressure) and I was finding I was stiff in my low back after riding.

Thankfully we got a slot with Elly at the very end of June, and she confirmed that Lizzie had changed shape quite a lot, probably – as I thought -from sitting more and lifting through her shoulder girdle using her thoracic sling muscles. Reflocking made a big difference, but Lizzie was still a little short in the right canter. Elly popped a memory foam pad in – too thick for what we needed for the fit, but what Lizzie needed in order to get over her expectation that the saddle was going to pinch.

Lizzie’s temporary memory foam pad to alleviate her sensitivity

In addition, Elly moved my knee blocks. This is the 1st saddle I’ve had with ‘proper’ knee blocks, and thankfully they are moveable. I’m not a fan of knee blocks, especially as so many are excessively large and have a very negative effect on hip, pelvic and lumbar mobility in the rider. This is probably a topic I need to do as a separate blog really, but basically, too big and solid and the knee block fixes the rider so much that all the motion of the horse is transmitted to the rider’s back. Not great.

This time, Elly just moved mine up slightly, which meant the pressure was less because the angle of my thigh was moving away from the block, and my hips less fixed, rather than the block being closer to me knee.

Since then, we’ve been able to ditch the memory foam and work with a 1/2 sheepskin numnah and Lizzie is generally now back to herself. It took a good week; she is now as fast and furious as ever on the moor though! Today we had out 1st lesson with Pammy Hutton since November, and she was pleased enough with the canter work for us to start on Lizzie’s flying changes. We had a successful attempt on each rein eventually, and have a great exercise to work on at home. After that we worked on making Lizzie’s new collected trot more forward; I’ve struggled with this at home because in getting her more forward I’ve lost the ‘lift’, but today it all came together. Not bad considering how grumpy and uncomfortable she was 2 weeks’ ago – and how much she was pulling me forwards. I can now sit up, keep my weight in the centre of the saddle and be balanced, and therefore apply my aids as I should (well mostly, allowing for numpty rider moments!).

I know this isn’t that much of a Physio/Pilates post, but I thought it might be useful to share my challenges with you so that you know you aren’t alone!

Take care, and Good Luck if you are getting back out competing.

Louise

Published by Louise Towl Physio

I am a Chartered Physiotherapist with Pilates training, and I am an ACPAT (the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy) and RAMP (Register of Animal Musculoskeletal Practitioners) registered Veterinary Physiotherapist. Away from work I have ridden all my life, competing in various disciplines and now focussing on dressage. With my retired horse, Baz, I competed at Advanced level, and I now have a younger horse, Lizzie, who is currently competing at Elementary.

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