Just as my "journey to better hooves" has taught me incredibly much about horses, so has my "journey to better saddle fit". The saddle fit journey started with my gelding Gus, who came to me in June of 2009, with some "baggage", especially when it came to riding him. The story is too long and complicated to tell, suffice it to say that the problems he had could be traced down to improper saddle fit.
It took me more than one year to really understand what the problem was and probably one more year to solve it. I bought and sold 3 saddles, none seemed to be working for Gus. I just knew that he was uncomfortable under saddle. These were the observations:
1) when I rode Gus it was hard to keep im from not rooting his nose down to the ground.
2) Gus often tried to lay down with the saddle on
3) worst, Gus often bucked with the saddle on, with and without rider
Because of these problem, I never really rode Gus very much. The few times I did ride him and he actually worked hard enough to sweat I saw the following sweat pattern:
One can see a dry area just behind the shoulder blade. This dry area indicates too much pressure from the saddle in this place. Too much pressure stops the sweat glands to secret sweat. This was the same with the 3 different saddles I bought and sold again.
I inspected Gus' back and did notice a "swelling" in the muscles right there, exactly where the dry spots were, but I could not find a saddle that would alleviate the problem. So I basically stopped riding Gus altogether. After all, I got him as a companion horse and Molly was my main riding horse. And I did not have the time to ride two horses anyway.
Then, on one of the many occasions when I searched for information on saddle fit, I found this website:
This article introduced me to the "Thoracic Trapezius" muscle. This muscle was exactly where I always saw that "swelling" on Gus back and where his dry spots were when I rode him. Many "Baroque" horses have this enlarged trapezius muscle and Gus, being a cross between "American Cream and White" (a very rare draft horse breed) and a QH, has those too!
Then, another coincidence came my way. I became a Clinton Anderson "follower". I bought the Fundamentals and taught them to both horses. But maybe more importantly with respect to saddle fit, Clinton designed his PRS pad (pressure release pad) that has a cut-out in the area where Gus has his enlarged trapezius muscles. It turns out a lot of Quarter horses do have that issue too.
I bough the PRS pad and it solved the pressure issue immediately on Gus. However, the pad is very thick with 1 inch, and the cut-out isn't exactly where Gus' muscle enlargements are. Every horse is built differently. After a whole lot more research I found Tom at Skito pads, who made me my own custom PRS pad, 3/4 inch memory foam insert that fits in a cover made out of wool (bottom) and canvas (top). My Skito pad is the best pad I have ever owned!
In addition, I ordered Gus a custom made saddle, that accommodates Gus' back best possible. Allegany Mountain Saddlery made it possible. They sent me Steele tree fit forms that I could place on Gus' back and inspect for fit.
Steele had just come out with a new tree, a cross between a draft horse (wide in the front) and Arab (a lot of "rock" to the tree) tree, that Stacy, the owner of Allegany Mountain saddles, said she has had great success with on horses like Gus. She included the whole tree for me to try as there was no fit form available yet. This is the "HW" tree in the front of the picture. Sure enough, this was by far the best fitting tree for Gus, only the bars were a bit too long.
Stacy ordered the HW tree for me at Steele with even shorter bars,
especially for Gus, and built the whole saddle to my exact
This is what came out of this endevour:
And this is now a happy horse :-)!
It is kind of ironic: I have two horses, one has a really difficult topline (Gus) and one has a really difficult front leg anatomy (Molly). Molly's front leg anatomy has left her with damage in her lateral cartillages and Gus topline issues have left him with severe behavioral issues when it comes to riding. In neither case is it the horse's fault! Horses were not born to live in fenced in properties and carry people around on their backs. It is our responsibility to provide them with the best care we can give and not leave them damaged along the way.
Both my guys confronted me with enormous challenges, but after all they only left me stronger and a better horse person. On the go I became a hoof expert and saddle fitting expert and now I am even becoming a problem horse trainer. Gus still needs to overcome his fear of the saddle, to trust that it will never hurt him again. It may take another 2 years for this trust to develop. What else do I need to get an expert on in this vast country of "unlimited opportunities". Due to the size of the United States of America people have to become their own experts, due to lack of experts to rely on close-by. The internet makes it all possible.