Saddles; They Can Make Or Break You

In a little deviation from my planned equipment themed run of posts, I am going to talk about saddles.

These are pretty essential piece of kit, and most riders are conscientious about having them checked regularly. We focus predominantly on how well they fit the horse, then make sure we feel comfortable and able to ride well. I don’t need to go into the difficulties around finding the right saddle – and saddle fitter for that matter; both can be a complete minefield. When we find a saddle that seems right for us and the horse, and a saddle fitter we get on with then we stick with them and just hope that by getting the saddle checked regularly we won’t run into problems and need to spend a fortune on a new one.

Well….if you recall a few weeks ago I wrote about Lizzie being not quite right and that we thought it was down to her feet getting too long. She did improve, but not fully – although at her 4 week trim 2 days ago, the farrier did say she had grown a lot again. I felt sure there was something else going on; she was due a saddle check and as she has been working so well this year I knew she would have changed shape. I do ‘check’ her over myself – but I know I’m not alone in finding it very difficult to assess my own animals due to the emotional link – so also could see how different she was. I had removed the pad and shim she had previously needed at Christmas, and thought all was well. She wouldn’t be working as well and progressing otherwise surely?

When she wasn’t improving as much as I’d hoped, I just thought I’d see what she felt like in a different saddle. The only other one I have if Baz’s, which has never fitted her in the past but I had to give it a go, just to see what happened.

It was totally unexpected – not only did Lizzie improve almost instantly, but so did I. A couple of months ago I did a post about symmetry with pictures of me in the stripy jacket. I commented at the time about my poor shoulder/upper body position at trot. The thing is, when riding Baz, I never really had a problem with my upper body – not once I’d properly focussed on my dressage training that is. I had put my inability to sit up in trot on Lizzie down to weakness and poor core strength that I hadn’t managed to regain post baby. Mum had also noted my less than ideal posture in trot and wondered about it to herself.

Then I sat on Lizzie in Baz’s saddle and I sat up straight in sitting trot and carried my hands as I should. I felt like I used to feel. Since then I have hacked in it, and found that Lizzie is moving much more through her whole body; and this means that whereas in walk I had been trying to make myself move with her even though she didn’t seem to be moving as much as I though she should, now she is moving as she should and I go with her easily. I also don’t feel stiff in my lumbar spine when I get off; even today when she was really wild and wanted to just go on the moor (It’s 10 Tors this weekend so I did threaten her with joining one of the groups), and normally if I’ve had to work hard to contain her on the moor I am very stiff afterwards. Again, something I’ve put down to my own core weakness.

So it appears that actually a lot of my perceived weakness issues are down to the saddle. Lizzie’s saddle is quite a simple dressage saddle, Baz’s is a straight cut GP. It was 2nd hand when Mum got it about 17 years ago, and we both love it as it is so light an comfortable.  But I didn’t really think that the saddles were that different, until I looked closely – unfortunately I can’t get the images of the seats to line up properly on here, but Lizzie’s is just so much bigger all over and I think it fixes both of us too much.

Baz’s is on the Left. It’s a 16 1/2 and Lizzie’s a 17 inch
You can see here how much bigger all round Lizzie’s is  – on the Left

I am still in shock about the extent of freedom of movement both of us have, and how much better my posture is. I am now a little anxious about our saddle check up in 10 days time. I know that whatever happens I need a saddle that is the same shape as Baz’s. In my dreams I will be told Baz’s actually fits Lizzie; I care not that it isn’t a dressage saddle….

The learning here is that it is always worth trying out a different saddle. Even if you think you are the problem, check what your saddle is doing to you. It never entered my head that the saddle was impacting on my posture and movement because I think that it had all crept up on me slowly – plus we got the saddle when my son was 2 weeks old so it’s all I’ve ridden in since getting back onto Lizzie post baby.

Think a little laterally and see where it leads you!