Friday, October 24, 2008

Saddle Research

As I study the various facets of saddles, I find myself to be better educated, but more confused. There are so many aspects to consider when choosing a saddle. It's kind of like buying a house. You are never going to find exactly what you want, so you have to either compromise or build your own. I have decided that when the time comes for me to buy that new saddle, my priorities will be as follows:

1. The saddle tree must conform to my mare's back. (This is nearly impossible without the help of custom saddle maker, from what I've read, so I'll probably have to settle for "close enough". The horse will be the judge.)

2. The saddle must stay where I place it on my mare's back. (My current saddle rides up onto her neck and the cinch gets jammed in the groove behind her "armpits". Of course, the fact that she has a fat belly doesn't help keep the cinch in place.)

3. The position of the fenders must help me keep my legs under me, not hinder me by pulling my legs in front of me (like my current saddle does.)

4. The stirrups must be easy to turn and pick up once dropped. (The stirrup on the left side of my current saddle requires me to reach down and turn it with my hand in order to get my foot in.)

5. The seat must be the right size to fit me.

6. The seat must be comfortable.

7. The saddle must be within my price range.

8. The saddle should be light enough that I can lift it over the horse's back even when my arms are in pain and weak due to my nerve problems in my neck and back. (I'm estimating 30 pounds tops.)

The saddle should have an Arabian tree, but I'm willing to entertain the notion that some other bar would suffice since my current Arab saddle is too wide for my Arabian mare. This is the guide that I have seen:

* Standard Quarter Horse bar fits 80% of all western horses. (Gullet width: 5 3/4")

* Semi Quarter Horse bar fits higher withered horses with narrow shoulders. (Gullet width: 6")

* Full Quarter Horse bar fits flat or mutton withered horses. (Gullet width: 6 1/4"-6 1/2")

* Extra-wide Quarter Horse bars. (Gullet width: 6 3/4"-7")

* Arabian bars. (Gullet width: 6 1/4"-6 3/4" and has a flatter pitch than quarter horse bars)

Looking at these pictures of my mare, which bar do you think would work for her, if any? I've already done the template trick and found that she needs a wide angle to the bars (105 plus or minus 4 degrees), not the very wide or flat angle (112 plus or minus 4 degrees) that most Arabs require. Do you see anything about her 20-year-old back conformation that I should pay special attention to when considering saddles?

I'd be interested in hearing your experiences in dealing with ill-fitting saddles, what you consider when buying a saddle, and what your priorities would be. Somebody almost always says something in a comment that I haven't considered before, so I'm using this post as a forum for others to speak out about saddles, whether they be English, Western, Dressage, All Purpose, Reining, Roping, Trail, Barrel, Gaited, Jumping, Endurance, Ranch, Show or whatever.


Kirsten said...

After MUCH shopping around on our tiny budget, we finally found a used Stubben Edelweiss with a wide tree that actually fits our Arab. It has great clearance over his withers unlike some other wider tree saddles, and one thing I really like is the width of the channel between the panels. At the withers it is the width of my hand, and at the cantel still 4 fingers wide. With the tree fitting just right, I finally don't have to pad up the back to balance the saddle. Leg position is finally just right with irons dropping right behind the girth.

Your mare is beautiful, and built very much like my gelding!


dp said...

This is far from my area of expertise, but I have had excellent luck with my three Wintec saddles (one english all purpose, one close contact, one stock). The AP has the easy-change gullet systems, and it fits both Tonka (wide) and Raven (high-withered) comfortably with the change of a gullet. It also fits me.

The CC and the stock both have a fixed gullet and they both weight less than 10lbs without fittings. I mostly ride Raven in the CC because it is so light and easy and comfy.

I did borrow a friend's Wintec western with semi QH bars and it fit Raven nicely. VERY comfortable. I will get one next summer, probably. Maybe you are looking for something more high-end, but I encourage everyone to consider Wintecs as an option because they are so light, affordable and versatile. I swear I don't work for them!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

I'm sorry, NM. I wish I could help you fit your horses' backs to find the best saddle fit, but I'm a bit obsessive about it and would need to be there in person. I spent several weeks taking measurements, doing research and talking to the Henry Miller/Eli Miller Saddle Distributors over the phone and by e-mail.

Thankfully all that obsessiveness worked because I love my saddle and would buy another one just like it several times again, if we ever get anymore horses.

I noticed you wrote that one of your problems was a stirrup that you have to manually turn. And I do have an excellent solution for that problem. :)

My stirrups are always open and turned out for my feet to slide right in or out. I never have to touch them.

What I did was, as soon as my saddle arrived, I oiled it real good, and bent and twisted the fenders out.

Then with the fenders and stirrups in the position I wanted them, I slipped a 1x2 piece of wood inside(a broomstick or 2x4 would would also work) and extended it between each stirrup. Anytime I'm not riding my horse I keep that length of wood in that position.

It's a really good thing to do, not only because of the safety and inconvenience factor of having to manually place a stirrup on your foot, but also because a stiff stirrup that wants to bend back aginst the horse, makes your knees hips and legs sore, because your leg is essentially working to keep your stirrup in the most comfortable position.....outwards and straight forward.

I can tell you that, by doing this, along with my comfy saddle, I don't ever experience knee, leg or hip pain while riding anymore.

Good luck with your saddle shopping. I hope you find one that you love just as much I do mine :)


20 meter circle of life said...

OHhhh saddls shopping, I feel your pain. Last year I tried 32 befor I found my dream saddle- Bates Caprilli. I have a wide hard to fit Arab. The Bates line just works for him.
I have been shopping for a CC and western, and its tough. if possible check them out and try them on, my fitter told me fit the horse first and the rider second.
Good luck

Andrea said...

I have always used Alamo Saddles. I have two of them. They always seem to fit my horses well. I have narrow high withered TB and I have my fat Quarter horses that I used the Alamo Saddles on.

I did buy a really expensive English Saddle. It has buffalo hide on it. I can't remember the name of the saddle right of hand, but that doesn't matter, you need a western saddle.

Your mare looks very nice for 20!! I wouldn't have put her past 12. Arabians look so much younger than they really are. They age well. But as far as a saddle goes. If you find one you like, but the fenders and sturrips are not where you can put your feet into them. This is what I did with both of my saddles.

Get a large 50 gallon bucket. Fill the bucket with water. Put the fender into the water until you do not see any water bubbles any more. Take out the fender and do it to the other fender as well. Then take the saddle and put it on a saddle rack and take the fenders and bend them the way you want them. Take a broom stick and put it through the sturrips. And let the fenders dry.

I did that with both of my saddles, on was a light oil and the other was a rough out. I have never had to lean over and put my foot into the sturrip.

I am no help shopping but maybe that will help out with sturip placement. ???

Callie said...

She reminds me of my Misty mare which is morgan/quarter. She has a fairly high wither and a narrow soulder. I use a semi-quarter horse bar and it fits beautifully, but best way is a wither/shoulder tracing. Good luck!

Victoria Cummings said...

NM - I see a dip in her back that comes with age. Skito makes a really good pad and they have a wedge that's desigend to fit in that dip to help keep the saddle comfy for the horse and takes the pressure off her withers. I think that's why you're finding the cinch moving and the other problems that you've encountered. Custom saddles are great, but remember that they probably won't fit any other horse very well, so there's not much chance of re-selling them. Crates turns their stirrups and makes an Arabian tree, and I think I also may have mentioned Tucker to you. Both companies have good websites and the re-sale value is strong on their saddles. Good luck - you've got your priorities straight - the comfort of the horse comes first!

Laura said...

I have an idea for the stirrups - there are swivel stirrups that you can buy - a sample is here:

I'm not sure if there are other kinds/styles, but you get the idea. That might help getting your foot back in the stirrup...

Saddle shopping is so hard. I'm sure you've googled western saddle fit, but I found this site with a lot of info: - maybe if you call/email one of these places, they will work with you to suggest a saddle.

It also sounds like the Eli/Henry Miller saddle that Lisa bought might be an option. If a company is willing to do some back and forth with you to get the right fit, it might be worth the effort.

I don't envy your situation at all. I went through it in June for Rusty's english saddle. I think I tried 10 before I called a saddle fitter to bring out demo saddles. Nothing like that existed for western saddles here thought.

Jenn said...

Good luck! I hate saddle fitting. Hate it so much that I finally broke down and bought a saddle with an interchangeable gullet. In my little herd I have a mutton-withered Appy, a wide-withered QH and a shark-fin withered Thoroughbred. I use the same saddle on all of 'em.

The only problem with having a saddle that is built to fit just one horse at one point in their lives is at some point, that saddle won't fit anyone. Backs change with age, weight and fitness. I don't know if they make western saddles with interchangeable gullets, but maybe you can check into those.

As for the fenders...those are the #1 reason I hate western saddles. After riding for any length of time in one my bad knee is on FIRE and my hip joint is getting there.

LJB said...

It my understanding that the different quarter horse bars are not really different, simply placed wider apart from each other, or further from the spine. So the curve of the bar does not change, just where it sits on the horse's back.

Dave Genadek has a great teaching video about saddle fit on his Aboutthehorse website.

Sometimes a temporary fix for a less than perfect western saddle (which usually means it bridges with pressure primarily on the shoulders and the loins rather than evenly distributed along the back) is to fold a small towel and place it across the back where the gap is (can slide your hand up under the saddle resting on the horse's back and feel the air space). As long as that doesn't create too much rocking front to back, it can help distribute the weight along the back while relieving the pressure of the bars sitting right on the shoulders inhibiting front end movement.

I went for the expensive western custom saddle years ago and haven't regretted it once. If I'm injured, it's too heavy for me to lift, but then, if I'm injured I don't belong on the back of a horse! *g*

Rising Rainbow said...

I've always hear that a semi-QH with 3/4 bars would fit the most Arabians. Just what you needed, another idea.