Saddle fitting lessons

After many, many saddles and endless experiences over many years with countless saddle fitters, I’ve learned some lessons the hard way, through experience and often expensive mistakes.DSC03470

Lesson Number One: Your saddle is only as good as your fitter. Find a good fitter.

A beautiful saddle that doesn’t fit is like a designer shoes (bought on sale!) that just don’t fit. They stay in the closet because you’re not gonna wear them. Although in this case you might put that saddle on your poor horse, who pays the price with a sore back. Just. Don’t. Do. It.

Do everything you can do get it right. Get professional help. No, not therapy – a saddle fitter!

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Kristen of Saddle Solutions measures Starlight’s withers

But HOW do I find a good saddle fitter? Get recommendations from savvy (experienced) friends or trainers you trust. Beware that many people are very blind in this area  or have limited expertise. Ask around widely. If you keep hearing a certain name repeated as a good Fitter, then that’s probably your person. Check out their training and give them a try.

Lesson Number Two: An Independent saddle fitter is usually better for your purposes than one whose main agenda is selling a certain brand of saddles. Unless you are certain that you only ever want that one brand of saddle.

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Kristen from Saddle Solutions educates me about saddle fit.

Experience, Expertise, and Integrity are the most important qualities you want in a saddle fitter. Professionalism and reliability are nice to have, too! If the only one that fits those criteria who will come  to your area is the rep for a certain brand, you may have to use them. They will most likely be willing to work on other brands (ask); just be aware that their agenda is often to sell you one of their saddles, but it may not be the best fitting saddle for you or your horse because their product line is limited. This is why an independent fitter, whose only agenda is to fit you and your horse, is a better bet. He or she can recommend saddles/brands and/or objectively assess and fit what you already have.

Today Starlight and I enjoyed a fitting with Kristen Vliestra of Saddlery Solutions (www.saddlerysolutions.com). Kristen is an independent saddle fitter with many years in the business and her deep knowledge and expertise were very helpful in finding a good fit for me and Star.DSC03482

Below, Kristen demonstrates with chalk the proper weight bearing surface on Star’s back. She helped me to understand WHY this is all so important. If we don’t get this right, we will cause our horses pain and possible long-term damage to the musculature and spine. It also causes discomfort (back or fork pain) for the rider as the saddle is off-balance and we’re put out of position.DSC03490

In the video below, Kristen explains this clearly…

And here you see us trying a saddle that turned out to be a good fit for both of us. It has not yet been flocked to Star, so the balance is not quite right yet: It is a little low behind.  Later, Kristen took care of that. If you felt under the panels, you would feel nice smooth contact (no bridging!), no pressure points, which makes Star happy. As for me: I sat down in it and said, “ah, nice comfy saddle,” which is exactly what it ought to be.

Life is too short for your saddle to hurt you…or your horse! Invest in building a relationship with a good fitter!*

*If you’re within driving distance of San Jose, I recommend Saddlery Solutions (www.saddlerysolutions.com).

6 thoughts on “Saddle fitting lessons

  1. Serious mare envy here, completely off topic. Had a chance to see the video on the computer since my phone won’t play when I’m out in desolation wilderness. What a sweet looking girl she is! Opening up that trot to medium will be absolutely no problem, I can tell 🙂 Awesome!

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    • We have trouble getting the push from behind, but it will come. She wants to fling her legs in front (“look at me! This is an extension, right?” Uh, no sweetie, we need the hind end to also be engaged, o.k.? “But that’s WAY harder, mom…”).
      Your Valiosa is looking lovely in the pictures. I so wish I could see her in person! If you feel like we’re moving faster than you are, remember that Star is a year older than Valiosa; that I have a fair amount of show and training experience (at the lower levels, anyway), and I have a Grand Prix trainer at the barn to give me lessons and pointers whenever I need some help. Plus clinics every couple of months from various clinicians! I get LOTS of help (and I need it). You are doing amazingly figuring this out mostly on your own (WOW!) and that is the hard way to do it. The rewards will be immense, but it does take longer.
      As an aside: aren’t mares the BEST?

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      • Smiling at the “look at me!!”
        I can see her like that!

        Yeah, I AM doing this in a very backward, sort of isolated way. I suspect many amateurs do. Only they pewter out, loose focus. Interest. Motivation…
        And. They certainly don’t post about their failures online 😉
        So, I hope to be of inspiration of sorts, for all of us having to go at it alone, and to show that it’s OK to still have goals and motivation to try to ride well. My husband thinks it’s all nuts 🙂
        On August 14, my GP trainer I worked for a year will come and give a lesson. Can’t wait! Haven’t ridden Valiosa for that trainer for over a year. You have motivated me to audit more – this fall I want to go out and listen in on more lessons somehow!!!! Have to try to make it happen

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      • Yes, I did so much of it by myself for so long, I relate to your journey! And applaud your courage. But I am going much faster now – with more experience and help at just the right time and more frequently. Makes a BIG difference. However, as you say, most AAs don’t have the choice. I think your journey very relevant and it’s great that you write about it. Videotape is my biggest recommendation so that you can keep learning from your lessons when you get them; and videotape at least once/month just to check yourself (your eye will teach you as you see the problems you did not feel, and realize why things are not working). You are learning so much and Valiosa is a wonderful partner for the journey: lucky you.

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  2. Good work Kristen – we miss you but are happy to see that you are still following in Jochen’s footsteps and working for the good of the horse! Stay well and good luck in your new venture!

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