Sympathetic & Holistic
At LM Saddles we take a rounded sympathetic and holistic approach to the ‘fitting’ of saddles.
These are some of the factors that we like to take into consideration when meeting a horse
- What is the history of this horse?
- Does this horse have good muscle development?
- Does this horse have any muscle wastage?
- Is there room for improvement?
- Is the horse’s posture good or compromised?
- What health problems does this horse have?
- What riding / training issues is this horse experiencing?
- What behaviour problems does this horse exhibit?
All of the above can be influenced by the design and fit of a saddle.
Often, a horse will come to a new home with problems inherited from its past experiences. Where saddling is concerned, it is always possible that a horse will have been fitted in saddles that have never been truly comfortable from the first day that he or she was backed.
Where muscle wastage and posture problems exist, it is still a common practise for a new saddle to be fitted to the contours of the incorrect shape of the horses back. This can compound the problem and does not help the horse in the long term.
Our approach is to work with the horse taking into account what changes are likely to occur over time, and then saddling in a way that will encourage those positive changes to happen.
Some key points that we look for in every fitting are:
- This is so important and is at the core of our fitting principle because:
- The saddle should be fitted to allow for the moving shape
- The static shape of a horses back is not the same as the moving shape
- The moving back, when lifting is wider across its span in the saddle area
- The moving back, when lifting, is flatter from wither to croup
Once this is understood it is easy to see why a saddle fitted snugly to a static back has the ability to interfere with the bio-mechanically correct movement for a ridden horse by:
- Lessening the horse’s ability to lift the back and so engage behind
- Putting the horses on its forehand
- Creating tension in the horse’s body
- Causing physical problems
- All of the above can then lead to emotional issues within the horse
The effect of excercise on muscle
This wither tracing is an example of a group of horses that have been used in a dissertation to show the change in muscle bulk in the back of a horse when exercised.
The experiment was carried out over three days:
Day 1 – Lunged on both reins with no saddle
Day 2 – Lunged on both reins wearing current saddle and numnah
Day 3 – Lunged on both reins wearing LM Saddle and Shim pad
Each exercise period was preceded by a back measurement of the static horse and the lifted back of the static horse. You can clearly see how after exercise with no saddle there is a small increase in the muscle, but not as much as when exercised in the wider fitting LM saddle and shim system. What shows very clearly is the compression of the back muscles when the horse is wearing its own saddle.
This perfectly illustrates how a horse with muscle atrophy will remain the same when its saddle is fitted to its existing shape, and how that muscle can develop and recover when a remedial fitting process is used.
We accommodate the moving horse by selecting the saddle tree which mirrors the width of the horse’s wider lifted back, not the horse’s static or dropped back. The important point to understand when using this system is that it involves fitting the saddle in conjunction with a *shim wither pad, saddle pad, numnah or half-pad.
(Note: If you are unfamiliar with the term ‘shim’, it refers to shaped pieces of soft foam padding which are inserted into purpose made pads and numnahs that are designed with a row of shim pockets on each side) – View our Shim Systems.
This creates a soft but supportive interface between horse and its saddle. The shims can compress and allow room for the back to lift and widen. If the horse hollows or drops its back, the pad still cushions the back and shoulder area.
For many horses with well-developed backs, they may only use a slim shim just behind each shoulder under the widest part of the saddle, at the front.
When working with a horse who has muscle atrophy, muscle asymmetry and/or compromised posture we will take a remedial approach to the saddle fitting. This still means selecting a saddle tree width that more closely reflects the width/shape of the horse once its muscles are no longer wasted. It involves using extra layers of shims to support the saddle where most needed. This will be where the horse’s muscle is lacking, where there is muscle asymmetry or where the posture of the back is dropped. The extra shims form a yielding but more supportive layer between the back of the horse and the saddle. The number of shim layers used can be increased or decreased as the horse and saddle require*. (*It is important that the saddle remains balanced front to back with the lowest, flattest point of the seat being in the middle). We will advise on this in detail once we have established the needs of the individual requirements of each horse and rider.
In remedial fitting the extra layers of shims are used as a means to an end. As the back profile and musculature of the horse improves, the shims can be reduced accordingly.
NOTE. The aim is not to try and remove all of the shims! As described above, we (and most horses) would like the saddle always to be a little wider than the static back; hence we would expect the front of the saddle to remain shimmed even when the horses is more developed.
At the end of a fitting our check list is:
- The saddle should be correctly balanced front to back
- The shoulder should be clear of restriction
- The saddle should be stable on the back and not bounce or rock
- The length should be correct for horse and rider
- The rider should be placed in a well-balanced position
- The style of the saddle should be appropriate for the rider’s requirements
It is important that these points are monitored and maintained as the horse’s shape starts changing. It is something that we talk through with owners & riders who care for, work with and saddle the horse on a daily basis.
You may also find it interesting to read this excerpt from “Animal Management”, prepared in the Veterinary Department for General Staff, War Office (1908). Here is a short sample of the text:
Panels have been made of felt (numnah) and fitted to the side bars; by themselves they are insufficient protection to the back. They must be used with a blanket, and are then useful. Strips of numnah of varying lengths may be usefully employed in making a saddle fit; two, three, or more layers may be cut out, kept together by a stitch or two and bound to the side bar. This will again be referred to in dealing with sore backs, for which purpose strips of Numnah are of the greatest value.
A blanket beneath the saddle is a most admirable method of protection. It does not lend itself like a panel to graduated variations of thickness, but on the other hand, it can be dealt with by a person without any instruction in the trade of a saddler, and the changes he can effect by altering the method of folding may be brought about in a few minutes.
Thick & Thin Blankets
A good thick blanket is economy, a thin blanket an abomination; a good blanket folds, a thin blanket wrinkles; a good blanket saves a back from bruising, and lasts some time; a thin blanket has a short life, and is never satisfactory when horses are losing condition.
Uses of a Blanket
The great recommendation of a blanket is that so many useful adjustments may be made by alterations in its folding when a back becomes worn or injured, and this will even be the chief recommendation of a blanket under a military saddle. In fact, a blanket is the only means of immediately replacing artificially the amount of flesh a horse loses, and so enables us not only to prevent the ribs from becoming bruised through the whole weight of the rider being brought closer to the body, but also to keep the arches of the saddle clear of the spine. We must not forget that every ounce of flesh lost on the back brings the saddle nearer to the delicate parts below, and increases enormously the liability to injury.