Saddle Fitting Recap, Part I

As our record-breaking Extreme Cold Warning has relentlessly continued with its icey grip, my saddle fitting appointment was scheduled for February 3rd but as the temperatures teased -60C (apparently this is -76F? That seems like it should be illegal), we decided to reschedule.  The Saddle Fitter has a busy schedule of travelling for additional training, and travelling for appointments and as such, we had a small window of opportunity.  We rescheduled for the following week on February 10th, and while it was still cold, it had warmed up significantly to a balmy daytime high of -25C (-13F), and like any good Canadian, we emerged from our Igloos, Timmies in hand, and bundled up to face the day.  Initially my appointment was scheduled for 10AM, but I switched with a friend at a different barn to try and time it when the sun was at it's highest for ultimate warmth-ness.

I forced myself to pop on her the day before the fitting appointment so she was less likely to kill me - note the frost
While the tack room of the barn where Sierra is has heat, the stall portion does not.  When I am there, I open the door that separates the two and it heats the stall area nicely.. but unfortunately, the gloriously large windows let in a ton of cold and there isn't much saving it when the temperatures are that cold.  Despite keeping the door between the two cracked over night and the heat cranked, we could still see our breath on Sunday afternoon.  However, much like the weather, we were unrelenting in our pursuit to see the appointment through, so we braved the cold and pushed through it.
Upon arrival, the saddle fitter assessed Sierras body condition and conformation.  She rated her body condition a 2.5 - 2.75 (out of 5, 2.5 being perfect) and didn't have any negative or abnormal reactions to palpation.  She noted that despite being a decently sized mare, she has a short back.  I can't say i'm particularly shocked, as many TB's have an average length back but a longer loin (often envisioned as a generalized long back), and she expressed some concerns with my saddle fit based on that.  I ride in an 18" seat (thanks, booty), and my saddle (Zaldi Kira Klass) has fairly long panels, so this posed an initial concern.

Loving life being parked under the heater to try and dry her off
Following the basic body assessment, we grabbed my saddle and discussed it's features - mainly the cutback shoulder relief panels, the panel length and the tree design.  Zaldi's are designed for Iberian type horses which often have a flatter back, and we discussed that Sierra is quite 'curvey' in that regard, and is more similar to a WB type.  We noted the saddle was much too wide, and was therefor dipping down in front - this is something I already knew and was getting by with a gel front riser.  I thought it had made a pretty big difference in correcting the balance, but as the appointment went on I realized how much room for improvement still remained.  We also discussed how the cutback shoulder panels actually have a negative effect on fit, and it opened up my eyes while mending my my bleeding heart.  Like most horse owners, I thought they were cool and wanted to do all that I could to help my horse feel as comfortable as possible, but once she pointed out the instability and pressure points they create, I was really surprised and all of her points made complete sense to me!

She pulled out a new shimmable Prolite Half Pad and installed the "big" front shims, and while it's gaudy to look at, it magnified the fact that while the gel front riser helped, it wasn't nearly enough.  In lifting the front, it raised some concerns of the back 'bouncing' as well as putting more weight onto the back of the panels, so we wrestled the girth up and ventured across the yard to the arena to pop on her  for a few minutes.

As usual, the walk across the yard convinced Sierra to stop holding her breath and I did up the girth tighter and walked a lap to warm my own muscles up before getting on.  On the walk over and during our lap around the ring to warm myself up, she assessed our gaits and noted Sierra moved evenly with great symmetry. Interestingly enough, Sierra got worried when I walked her up to the mounting block and went to get on and the saddle Fitter walked up to her on the opposite side.  She backed up in confusion, with resulted in her typical dramatic response of OMG DON'T HIT ME IN THE FACE. I reassured her, stepped her up and swung a leg over.  I centered myself and headed off at a walk and immediately my saddle felt SO different.  I can't even explain how 'easy' sitting on my horse felt, but what was more remarkable was how much I had been compensation previously, without even realizing.  I've always worked to find and maintain the floor of my seat and assumed that it was a constant struggle due to lack of fitness and copious amounts of unnecessary insulation, but with the large shims installed in the Prolite pad, it felt so much easier, and so much more comfortable and natural.  I wasn't feeling like I was consistently having to stretch myself up and back, and instead could sit level and balanced, even in the trot.  I didn't canter because I've concluded that arena is just too damn small for a fat and strung-out Sierra and she gets panicky and then bucks, but regardless it felt like a completely different saddle and Sierra felt soft and comfortable.

My Saddle w/ the Gel Front Riser (Pre Fitting Appointment .. and pre-cleaning)
Once halted, the fitter noted that even though my panels are a little long in relation to Sierras back, they don't make contact at the furthest part as they sweep up slightly, and the weight distribution is well in front of the last rib, which rendered her confident my saddle was suitable.  We did discuss trying some demo's and that obviously we could get a 'better fit' with a different saddle with a curvier tree and shorter panels, but regardless she had no concerns with my saddle for her. I got the impression it was more of a "well, if you wanna spend money", which means at least for the time being, I will be keeping my saddle.  Truthfully, if I were to sell my Zaldi to get something else, considering I don't 'have to' sell it, I wouldn't be willing to sway from my preferences in aesthetic options and build specifications, and none of these things are in my budget right now, even if I sold my saddle first.. So while a small part of me maybe was aroused at the idea of a new saddle, my inner financial adviser told me to shut that sh!t down, don't fix what ain't broke!

Now you might be thinking that this wasn't really a 'saddle fitting' and you're not exactly wrong - we did not adjust my saddle to Sierra's shape.  The saddle fitter is travelling for appointments before heading out for additional training and she does not believe in pressing trees on site.  With a show coming in 2.5 weeks, she wasn't confident she could have it done in time, so she is lending me the Prolite pad for the time being.  She will come back and take additional tracings and take my saddle home to press in her shop, then return to adjust the flocking as needed.  We both agreed it was better to err on the side of caution with the scheduling, and when she returns Sierra will hopefully be in better condition.

In addition, she also offered to take my girth and order me a new one in a larger size at no additional cost, which is great!  I purchased my girth for Kidd (who is significantly smaller that Sierra), and while it fit her when she was thinner, her body has changed so much and she's so much more filled out that it is a struggle to do up.  As a result of lifting the front of my saddle, it's even worse now, so that's a huge yay!  I also sent her home with Kidd's BR bridle that one horse broke a keeper for the noseband on, and Sierra broke both cheek pieces during her lunging melt down last summer.. So yay's all around!

Overall I was really happy with the appointment.  I came away feeling as though I learned a lot of new things, and look forward to having it fully adjusted!

I didn't take any photos of it without anything underneath, or with the Prolite pad, but I will try and remember one of these days.. If nothing else, the changes fascinate me!

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