Evaluating and Correcting Fit on a Saddle You Own
What is Saddle Fit?
Let's begin by saying saddle fitting is NOT intended to sell you a new saddle! We have a 75% success rate helping to identify and correct ill fitting saddles allowing riders to keep the saddles they already own. We have several methods that we use, none of which are about sweat marks.
GOOD FIT is when the underside of the saddle (for a treed saddle, the bars of the tree, for an english or flocked saddle, the flocked panels) are "touching the animal" and weight bearing from front to back on either side of the spine, evenly, with no voids or areas of pressure that are carrying more than other places (pressure points). The spine should be open from front to back when the rider is seated and animal is moving. The saddle should be balanced front to back and side to side. Many factors enter in to the combination of achieving this ultimate goal. A gullet measurement is just one of many factors. Decent fit simply cannot be done by looking at just a few photos of the saddled animal.
We provide saddle fit evaluation that combines a visual examination of the horse both statically and dynamically, the rider and tack, and we use several methods to "measure" the fit. An evaluation takes upwards of two hours. The saddle is the last segment because saddle fit is not about just the saddle!
The million dollar question: how do we correct fit? After a thorough evaluation (takes about an hour) we examine the saddle and pad, and if there is enough room (the tree allows for padding) we can successfully correct several differences between the animals shape and the tree by shimming for asymmetry, downhill build, a dippy back for example. However a too narrow tree, too long in the skirt, stationary very forward rigging, fenders hung in the wrong spot for the rider, etc. often makes it impossible to do anything. We do have great success with animals that have a boney exposed spine, building a gullet to get off the spine, atrophy behind the shoulders that causes the saddle to sit low in front and on the withers, too much rock in the tree, and more.
We suggest checking fit regularly, depending on the work the animal is in, a minimum of twice a year, more for an animal in work or young growing changing horses.
FITTING THE DYNAMIC ANIMAL: When the horse moves off from the standing position, muscles engage, and the entire back and shoulder area changes. When standing, muscles are in a slack and relaxed/dropped position. Depending on the sport and terrain, these changes can be quite dramatic. Head position, the riders posture and hands, the footfall, straightness vrs. crooked, lost of things change when the animal moves. You simply cannot fit a standing still animal only.
THE RIDER: can affect the fit, and saddle can dictate the posture of the rider as well. Leaning back, forward, to the side, the height of your hands, posture, feet position...all this can affect how it feels to the animal and they compensate for our imbalances by changing their way of travel and posture. Crooked rider = crooked horse.
THE PAD: can make a lot of difference in fit. The thicker the pad, the more width you need in your tree, especially in the front. But don't be fooled by just a "wide" tree, there is much more to it than just the gullet measurement.
THE HOOF: an unbalance hoof trim can greatly affect an equine's way of travel, and hoof and shoe wear can tell us a story about the animal as well. What the farrier does to the hoof changes what we see in the fit, and visa versa.
THE TERRAIN and SPORT: an evaluation also considers the terrain you ride in, or varied terrain. No saddle fit can fit all different riding styles and horses way of travel. An equine's use of the body really changes from hills to flat, hard to sand footing. Then we consider your posture to ride that sport, for example a distance rider is "in their stirrups" a large amount of time, whereas a gaited rider is seated all of the time.
THE SADDLE: can be too long, too short, too much rock, not enough, too wide, too narrow, no channel down the middle, rubbing leather, stirrups set in the wrong position and a whole lot more. Saddles can be broken, twisted, warped.
SHIMMING: for a saddle fitter, the new shim pads can be a nightmare because for the most part, saddles are covered up on the underside. So you have no way of seeing your fit. Sweat marks are terribly inaccurate yet very commonly suggested as a way to read your saddle fit. Consequently riders are guessing at what they need to do. Often the result is over shimming, which then invites a new problem. A wither riser is famous for that, for example. Flat shims do not serve the same purpose as a wedge shim does, and shim and pad content also needs to be specific to the need. Felt is great for SOME situations, but not all situations. Adding a thick untapered flat shim often results in a new problem. Foam shims are wonderful as long as they are being utilized properly for the right situations. With all methods of fitting whether it be flocking, shimming, skiving, interchangeable gullet, adding fitting discs, changing out the underside, the increments are very small, but the affect is very large.
- Flex Panel
- WESTERN/ENDURANCE Saddles
We have plenty of experience in the flex panel style of saddle, such as Orthoflex, Timberline, Watson etc. They can be very tricky and require careful consideration. The shorter the flex panel, the less flexing is going on. So much so that the truth to the short english flex panel saddles are not actually flexing, they are undulating. In order to flex, the panels need to be long enough to "bend". If they are only as long as the tree, there is no bending happening. The content of the panel is varied, as are the swivel connection points which can become the resting place for pressure points. Many flex panel saddles are placed forward tossing the rider to the rear soring the horse in the rear as well. Tricky category of saddles but we have a lot of experience with them.
We have done extensive private research studies with the late Dr. Kerry Ridgway using several brands of treeless saddles and pads. At the time treeless choices were creating what is referred to as “micro trauma” meaning a constant concussion to the boney process of the spine, buckling, and high psi under the rider and at the girthing/stirrup attachment points. Fast forward several years and many of the treeless makers have added multiple changes to insure that there is actually a gullet from front to back allowing ample protection to the spine. Having said that, rider weight can affect success and the concentration of rider position will never be actually distributed as that requires something rigid to achieve a larger surface. However treeless saddles have come very far from their early humble beginnings. Be sure to work with a fitter who uses more than sweat marks to determine fit and pressure points when considering a treeless saddle.
English or other flocked saddles (Aussi for example) require either reflocking by a trained professional for better fit, or if you hope to use one saddle for several animals we build the SKITO Equalizer Saddle Pad. Specifically designed shims out of foam and/or felt depending on the need, are equine orthodics and can be quite accurate and changeable as the animal changes.
Treed Saddles of all kinds: for trail, endurance, pleasure. Again, most you cannot see the fit and they are often long, and come in two tree options. The biggest obstacle in fitting a treed saddle is to "see the fit". We have several diagnostic methods to evaluate the tree fit with the rider riding. Many saddle rider combinations are easily corrected with a combination of either less or more padding in certain places, balancing an asymmetric or down hill animal and more.
What Does Your Saddle Fitting Appointment Look Like?
An exercised horse is a cooperative horse. It is helpful to bring a clean horse and clean pad, your bridle, helmet, and anything else you normally use when riding. Please leave your dogs at home.
As well as a physical examination and asking a lot of questions about you and your horse, you will be riding for approximately 20 minutes in all three gaits, and occasionally require a second 20 minutes after a correction has been made. Your riding is NOT about sweating it is about riding all 3 gaits.
BAD READINGS, WHAT THEN? For fit correction after riding for the first 20 minutes, we employ the use of shims to balance, and fine tune, your saddle fit. Our pads that we use for correction are built with their patented open front which allows us to get at the entire inside pocket of the pad on both sides. We can add or subtract carefully designed foam and or felt "shims" that are designed to fill in the "voids" or places under that saddle that are not making contact and causing high concentrations of pressure in other areas.
NOTHING IS WORKING: Occasionally we have a saddle that we simply cannot help, for example a saddle that is too narrow or has not enough spinal clearance. We also have problems helping saddles with gullets that are too narrow, or trees that have too much rock for a straight topline horse, resulting in sitting on the spinal processes. Keep in mind saddle fit is for the heath and welfare of your horse. Pain affects the health, attitude, and performance of your equine partner.
Pricing & Appointments
Saddle Fitting is available on site in Vass, NC, which is just a few miles north of Southern Pines. Fitting can be done at your farm without an extra fee as long as it's closer than a 20 minute drive. Arrangements can be made for appointments further away and will include extra fees. Read below. Please call ahead to make an appointment 336-267-0276. We are also at rides during the season, and can provide saddle fit services there as well as long as the ride/event manager is made aware. It requires communication between the three of us.
TRAVEL & FEES for APPOINTMENTS: If your appointment time goes over the allotted 1 1/2 hour your fees will be pro-rated in 15 minute increments. Fees do not include any necessary orthodic saddle pads, shims, cushions, etc.
BUILDING A NEW SADDLE? If you are close, we can easily do that here in Vass, or on location within a 20 minute drive or if further, arrangements can be made to ship you the Saddle Gauge for $150 plus $20 US Postal Flat Rate shipping. Please call for more information 336-267-0276. Ask for Shelby
- Initial Full Evaluation 1-1/2 hrs. at your farm or trailer in $85. If your fitting results in the building of a new saddle, $55.00 will be applied to the cost of your new saddle.
- Travel to your farm location: I may consider this given the availability of time, with an added expense of packing gear, and mileage both directions and if necessary accommodations for an overnight. Getting together 4-5 others who are seeking fitting is a better way to approach this as the added fees can be split between all those with pre-paid appointments. It is the responsibility of the "host" to insure all appointments are pre paid in advance of a farm trip. No exceptions.
- Follow up fitting $55 per recheck within six months time and also depending on the work load of the animal it may be necessary to have a fit check more frequently.
- Specialized Saddle refitting $35 for a quick refit (less than a half hour) or $55 for a complete teaching and fitting, not including supplies
- Saddle Gauge and Port Lewis pad 4 day rental $150 plus shipping both directions ($140.00 of the rental fee is applied if you are building a saddle. If renting for your own use your refund will be $100 for the use for four days. Shipping is never refundable).
- Hour long phone consult $55.
- Fit appointments do not include any necessary shims or a pad of your choice. We can talk to this subject after your appointment if time allows, or at the end of a group setting. Otherwise we can easily speak over the phone. You can visit our saddle pad choices under Accessories on this website. Be prepared to include payment of any necessary extra items.
- We prefer cash for payment. If mailing in pre-paid payments we accept and prefer checks written to Double Diamond Equine and be mailed early enough for them to clear. Lastly we accept Pay Pal, MC and Visa.
All appointments are paid in advance or in person prior to your appointment. No-shows do not result in refunds. You may reschedule.
LATE or CANCELLED: Late arrivals will be charged for their full appointment fee and will end as scheduled to insure the next appointment is kept on schedule. Cancelled appointments will be given the chance to reschedule. No refunds.
GROUPS OR BARN PARTIES: If you'd like to host a saddle fit day at your barn or event, please call for details. We need a minimum of four appointments pre-scheduled and pre-paid.
TRAILERING TO OUR SHOWROOM: Please call for an appointment ahead, and bring your coggins. Leave dogs at home please.
Rules of the Game
- Bear in mind this is your paid time, so keep chat to a minimum, be efficient, and ready. Discussions are better handled prior to your appointment.
- While terribly interesting. on-lookers may add to the confusion and eat up your valued time.
- Please arrive at least a half hour ahead of your scheduled time, preferably more.
- If I am coming to your barn, or we are meeting on site, please follow the same rules
- Fill out the one page form of history, tack, and contact information. Better yet, ask me to mail you a copy so that is done ahead of your appointment. My email is [email protected]
- PLEASE bring a clean horse, pads, and tack., plus your bridle and any riding equip.
- Have your horse warmed up, ridden, and quiet.
- If your horse is not able to cooperate there will be no refunds but we can reschedule. You will not receive a refund for your initial appointment but will receive a discounted reschedule price of $55 as long as I have obtained enough information to consider your next appointment to be abbreviated. Otherwise the full $85 will be assumed at the rescheduled appointment. Your safety, and mine, are my priority.
- Leave your dogs at home or not running loose during the appointments. We are working close so we need a quite mind set.
- If you have particular needs to discuss, please feel free to call a few days ahead.
- There is no guarantee that we will be able to correct your saddle fit as there are many variables to consider. Dynamic testing can reveal the relationship between the horse and the tack and rider, though not necessarily only relating to the saddle itself. We strive for a pain free ride considering all the variables.
CHECK OUR CALENDAR OF EVENTS: in case we are close to you, please call ahead for an appointment to trailer in