Saddled with Guilt

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The Relatable Rider

Years ago, when it was time to buy a saddle, I wanted to stick with the same popular brand of jumping saddle that I was riding in at the time. The saddle rep confirmed that my current saddle did not fit my mare, Fire, and I tried a few of the saddles she had brought to figure out what I wanted.

A warning here - one I was given when trying on wedding dresses - DO NOT try a dress you cannot afford. The same goes for saddles - don’t try the one that is wildly out of your budget. That’s what I did, and it was amazing and beautiful. And so incredibly expensive. I was stuck between the “regular” model and the fun, expensive one that came with a choice of piping colours, backed by a very successful ad campaign. Spoiler alert: I went with the fun, expensive one.

I was happy with this saddle, and after riding in it for a while I had it checked by a different rep who said that although not perfect, it was a good fit. Given that my mare was young and still growing, I didn’t make any changes.

Fast forward to this past winter when Fire was having behavioural issues. I didn’t suspect that the saddle was causing them. Fire didn’t show any signs of being back sore or sensitive. My vet came to check her out and scoped her for ulcers but nothing was found. I lost sleep at night and wracked my brain trying to figure out what was wrong. In the end, when we moved to a new barn, many of the issues all but disappeared.

But I still needed a new saddle, so when the rep from a different brand of saddle was at the barn, I asked her to take a look. She explained that my saddle didn’t fit and left me one of her brand’s trial saddles to ride in. When Fire first picked up the trot in that saddle, it brought tears to my eyes. She’s a big mare and it fit her well, allowing her to move so much better, and she was noticeably happier in general. It didn’t take long for me to realize and accept that I could never go back to my old saddle.

We are now happily riding in the new saddle, which just so happens to be a dressage saddle. I suspect that some of the problems we were having were related to the fit of the saddle. While Fire didn’t exhibit typical signs of saddle fit issues, on looking back it’s clear that they were contributing. She moves so much better now with a free shoulder, a happy back, and improved contact, and she is developing a proper top line.

Never underestimate the importance of proper saddle fit. What we ask these horses to do is ridiculous, and it’s our responsibility to ensure they are happy, healthy, and comfortable.

Remember the previous blog, Ground Control, when I talked about the bumps on Fire’s back that I could not figure out? Well, her old saddle had rubbed the hair on her back and the bumps were ingrown hairs/irritated hair follicles. Now that she’s in a saddle that fits well, the rubbed hair and bumps are gone!

Although still feeling some guilt for not getting a new saddle sooner, I am reminded of one of my favourite quotes that is so relevant to horses and this very situation:

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” - Maya Angelou

April Ray