When was LM Saddles established?
Lavinia Mitchell started saddle fitting in 1992. The designing and producing of LM Saddles and Shim systems began in 2007
If a saddle fits properly, why do you need a numnah under it?
The horse is not the same width or shape when moving, as he is when standing still. Which is obvious when you stop to think about it. The muscles and soft tissue of the horses back can compress significantly under the pressure of a girthed up saddle with rider aboard. Just see how far you can compress an area just from the pressure if your hand. We fit for the wider moving back of the horse which entails using a shim numnah or pad system that supports the saddle when the back is down but compresses when the horse lifts his back and so helps to prevent the compression and restriction of the horse.
Why do you use shims and pads under your saddles?
We use them for two main reasons. Firstly, and very importantly, to allow the saddle to be fitted for the wider lifted back of a moving ridden horse, regardless of its breed, size, discipline. Then secondly as an important tool to help horses that are going through a remedial saddle fitting process. Long term it also allows owners to adjust the fit of their saddles if their horse gains or loses top line in the form or muscle or weight.
What is the hardest part of your work?
We are still amazed to see just how many saddles are still so restricting to the horses they have been fitted to. No matter how long we at LM Saddles have been saddle-fitting it still shocks and upsets us. It is so sad that the horses have had to endure wearing them, even more so knowing that the owners have tried to do the very best for their horses. Although there are many improvements and developments now taking place within the Saddlery world, which of course is encouraging.
What is the most common problem that you come across?
Although we are asked to see horses for all sorts of reasons, still, in 99% of cases, the horses are being ridden in saddles that are too narrow in the tree and bear no resemblance to the profile of a healthy back. In our experience this is true of nearly all horses regardless of their shapes and sizes and is equally true of those with narrow frames or with muscle wastage. Not just those with broad flat backs. The combination of saddles not being wide enough, having poor design features and being fitted to the static shape is still prevalent.
Are your saddles close contact saddles?
No, we prefer to work with wool flocked panel designs that are more comfortable for horses. Slim close contact panels are not suitable for every day riding as the panels do not give a good weight bearing contact along the horses’ back and often offer the horse very little protection from the frame of the saddle and the weight of the rider. If used at all we believe they should be kept for the purpose they are designed for; usually Showing and cross country jumping, not general exercise and schooling.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
Without a doubt it is seeing the wonderful changes that can happen for the horses, seeing them recover from soreness and muscle wastage in their bodies, watching the physical problems begin to repair, their movement improve and, even better than that, the changes that occur on an emotional level when they no longer have to endure the frequent discomfort that regularly accompanies being ridden in an uncomfortable saddle.
It is also really exciting to follow the progress of horses that have always been ridden using the Saddling System, that have been started in the saddles as youngsters and go on to develop the most wonderful backs.
How do you deal with the fact that for every horse you help, there are so many others continually being fitted in saddles that are damaging to them?
We realised a long time ago that the only way to cope with it was not to be judgmental, but to try and accept that saddles are not intentionally designed poorly, or fitted badly. That no one would set out to make a horse uncomfortable on purpose and that hopefully it is down to a lack of knowledge and understanding. It is only inexcusable if someone is aware of the problem and still does nothing.
What improvements would you like to see in other saddles?
Although there have been some significant improvements over the last few years, if we could change one thing only, it would be to have many conventional tree widths discontinued and for every saddle maker to produce his or her saddles on trees that reflect the shape of a normal healthy back.
Is there a “best” approach to saddle fitting?
We believe that the way we fit offers horses optimum comfort and freedom to move, as nature intended. Comfort for the rider, too. But we do realise that there are, and probably always will be, differing views on how best to fit a saddle. If someone is unsure, then I would always suggest that they explore a variety of choices. If they pay attention, observe their horse’s reactions, and then trust their own instincts, they will stand a better chance of finding what best suits them and their horse.
It seems you do a lot of driving, but how far do you actually travel?
In the U.K LM saddles has clients as far north as Scotland and as far south as Cornwall. Also across the water in Ireland and The Netherlands. We do our best to respond to all requests for help, though there are some areas that we cannot realistically cover yet.
Regarding consultations, why do you choose to work the way that you do?
Over the years it has proved really helpful for owners who want to understand more about saddle design and fitting. It gives them the opportunity to try a range of saddles designed with the horse’s comfort and well-being in mind, and fitted in a way that allows for the dynamic movement of the horse. The rider has a chance to experience the differences that can occur with this approach. Owners are often genuinely interested in getting to the bottom of any problems they are having with their horse, and as we are interested in looking at the horse as a whole it is not unusual for us to suggest input from other therapists that may be able to help the owner. Even though poor saddling could have initially caused the problems, it is not unusual for there to be more issues involved by the time we are first contacted. First consultations can often last between one and a half to three hours.
Why do you do follow-up visits as well? Are they compulsory?
No, not compulsory, but it is a service that we offer. It can be beneficial for a number of reasons. If the horse is undergoing changes then the owner may prefer to have further advice on how best to use their saddle. Until they become more confident in making changes themselves, they may like help in adjusting the shims under their saddle to maintain optimum fit and comfort.
If they have lost confidence in saddles because of previous bad experiences, it can be very reassuring to know that they can call on their consultant for advice, and to know that an established support service is in place.
One of the things that we most value is the relationship that we have with our clients, many of whom we come to count as friends. It is always lovely to go back and see how things have improved for them and their horses over the weeks and months, and to keep in touch for what in many cases becomes years!
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