Saddle Smarts

October 12, 2014

When I was in middle school, a friend of mine received a new saddle for her birthday. She already had her own horse, trailer–you name it, but I was totally captivated by the idea of a brand-new saddle. I can still remember the smell of the unused leather when she unwrapped it. I was totally mystified by the concept that something so beautifully crafted could be received as a gift! Needless to say, that would never be on a list of things I would request from Santa for Christmas. It was almost as unthinkable as getting an actual horse!

So, being raised in a family with limited means, I was actually quite content with my weekly riding lessons. That $20 every week was a pretty decent splurge for my father and grandfather, and I was grateful. That didn’t stop me from wanting a horse of my own and dedicating my little porcelain piggy bank to the cause. I knew it was a dream.

That life seems like a dream now, but now that I’m with my third horse, I still have yet to be the first owner of agood saddle. (Sorry, Wintec GP… you don’t count). I have owned a number of beautiful used saddles, though none of them would ever be acceptable for shows. I have loved them all the same and meticulously cared for each. But in a couple of weeks this will all change.

Having lived on a more than modest budget most of my life, I strive to be realistic with what I can do with the money I have when it comes to tack and equipment. That means, almost always, that I will settle for en ebay or craigslist “upgrade”. But a couple weekends ago, reality came to the door and wouldn’t leave until I paid it off.

It all started with my trainer, who insisted I get a recommendation from a saddle fitter, because she sure as heck wasn’t about to let me continue riding my newly trained mare in a cheap general purpose saddle. That’s how I found Louise.

Louise Palmer, of Palmer Equine came out to take a look at my beautiful Valentine and make an assessment of her build in relation to the saddle we are currently using. I’ve had my used Courbette Vision for about two years, and while it was great on my last horse, I had a feeling it wouldn’t pass Louise’s evaluation. Louise was kind enough to humor me, placing the saddle on Val’s back after looking over her measurements, then to the saddle, then back to Val’s back–all the while knowing she could never recommend we keep with this saddle.

“This saddle is too big for her.”

Wait… what?

Val is a Percheron Arabian cross. How is it possible that she would need a medium to medium narrow tree?? The bubble burst. I was falling out of the sky of comfortable common knowledge onto the crusty dessert of everything-you-think-you-know-is-wrong world. And, wow, what an awful thing to be wrong about. Anyone who’s ever known back pain can safely say it’s not something they would wish on even their worst enemy. How can I ask my young mare to collect and balance when she’s constantly trying to adjust to the pain of an ill-fitting saddle?

Once the initial shock of my oversight has passed, Louise advises me to buy a saddle that will fit Val’s conformation. Visions of money hemorrhaging from my bank account quickly appear. She asks what type of budget I’m aiming for. The words fall from my mouth with such reluctance I’m afraid I might not have actually said anything to begin with. Luckily, she was able to find a couple of options for me, but not under 1k.

I really thought, not sure why, that $1000 would get me into the really nice saddle range, but sadly it only barely penetrates the pretty decent used saddle level. Nevertheless, Louise helped us find a saddle that is adjustable and, most importantly, fits Val. We settled on a Kent & Masters basic dressage saddle with an adjustable tree. I will finally have a VERY nice new saddle that FITS my horse.

The bad part? I had to wait 7 weeks for it to come in. Hey, at least I can save up enough to pay for it at least.

So, after waiting so long, Val has had to suffer with an ill-fitting saddle. I think it’s starting to feel worse and worse judging by the dry spots on the saddle blanket and her heavier movements. I should see it at least in the next couple of weeks. I hope.

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