Saddle woes

In 2001, I bought my first saddle, a Collegiate Ruiz Diaz All-Purpose, at the Charlotte’s Saddlery fall sale. It was my first major purchase.

Here’s me sitting in it on Charley at a schooling show (circa 2005), in between our itty bitty jumper rounds.

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At the time, I wanted to do a bit of everything, so an all-purpose saddle was a good fit. You can tell from the photo, though, that it has a rather deep seat and puts my leg more forward than is wanted for jumping – because it’s a true all-purpose, in between a dressage and close contact design. Nevertheless, I rode in it all through high school and college, in both jumping and a few dressage lessons, as well as a few schooling shows. It was a good first saddle, and I still have it, though I don’t ride in it anymore.

Now, I ride in a Frank Baines Reflex close contact saddle. It is AMAZING Рextremely comfortable, puts me in the right position and really well-made. I owe some of my good leg position and stickability to this saddle, really, and everyone who has sat in it has commented on how comfortable and supportive it is.

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How did I come to own a Frank Baines? When I first got Sabra, we noticed my Collegiate saddle didn’t fit her, and neither did my Crosby Prix de Nations close contact saddle (which I owned for about six months). Both were too tight on her withers and her spine. In fact, we tried most of the saddles in my trainer’s lesson program tack room – about 15 in all – and none of them quite fit Sabra.

We had the Charlotte’s Saddlery rep come out to the barn, and she chose the Frank Baines as the best fitting saddle for both Sabra and me. I had it flocked right after I first bought it – just to add a bit of flocking to the front.

Then in May, we noticed that my saddle had fallen in the front and wasn’t sitting level on her back. We had the same saddle fitter come out and re-flock my saddle. This time, however, my saddle fit worse than before it was flocked. The front panels did not lay against her sides, and weren’t even parallel with her sides like they should be. The front parts behind her withers were so overstuffed that they actually created pressure points behind her withers. Every time I took the saddle off, there were big dry spots behind her withers. (FYI, if you take off your tack and your horse didn’t sweat evenly underneath it, your saddle probably does not fit correctly!)

The bridge was even worse than before, too, and I kind of rocked back and forth in the saddle unintentionally whenever I rode because of the funky fit. Plus, as you noticed if you watched my show videos, the saddle fitter added more flocking to the left side than the right, meaning it put more pressure on the left side. As a result, Sabra and I drifted left. Sometimes, my lower back on my left side would start to ache if we trotted one direction for a while.

At the July GHHJA show at GSWEC, we stopped by Fort Bend Saddlery to get his opinion. He agreed that my saddle was overstuffed on the left side, and thought the tree (medium-wide) was too wide for Sabra. He recommended Tess Wheat out of Austin to adjust it.

Yesterday, Tess came out and did a great job, analyzing how Sabra was built and what needed to be adjusted to make the saddle fit correctly again. She first put the saddle on Sabra and agreed with¬†the Fort Bend Saddlery guy’s assessment. She brought in my tree, took out quite a bit of flocking and then adjusted all the flocking so it was even again.

I learned a lot about how a saddle should fit, as well as how Sabra is built in comparison to the typical Thoroughbreds she often sees. I actually have a well-made saddle, made with quality materials, apparently, and Sabra, unlike many Thoroughbreds is well built, too. Many Thoroughbreds have shark-fin withers, a drop in their back and a high croup, but Sabra has a nice, muscled back and topline, along with a well-muscled neck and hind-end (thanks to good genes and a lot of correct, dressage-based flatwork, yay!). So that’s good to hear!

Plus, did you know that if you have a well-fitted saddle, there’s no need for five million extra pads underneath it? Yup, all you need is a simple, square pad. I used to ride with a half-pad when I had my Crosby, but stopped because 1. my saddle fit just right without extra stuff; and 2. I felt like I lost my feel of Sabra and the way she moved underneath me with all that padding buffering.

Tess then had me sit and ride in my saddle for a good 20 minutes so she could see how it fit and changed once I sat in it, as well as how Sabra moved underneath it. It felt a TON better, and Sabra was a happy camper. The whole session took a little over an hour, and it was well worth it to make sure my saddle fit and Sabra and I were both comfortable again.

We started working on jumper turns and courses in our lesson on Wednesday, and with my saddle fitting well again, I’m getting excited for our jumper debut this fall/winter!

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