Monday, April 21, 2014

Saddle Woes

(Thanks to everyone to sent me well wishes, inspiration, and some helpful advice over the past few days. I'm working on trying to figure out the best course of action, and all of your encouragement really helps. Right now I just have to remember to keep getting up every morning and just to put my pants on one leg at a time, and know that that's as good a place as any to start!)

Hmmm. I seem to have a small saddle fitting problem on my hands. I'm still trying to find the perfect endurance saddle... and it's not easy. The problem is not necessarily with the horse.... it's the fact that endurance saddles are made for Arabs. O is not remotely shaped the same way. 

I've been doing all my conditioning and rides thus far in the barrel saddle. It's super comfy, it fits her great, we both love it, but it is quite heavy. I feel like she really shouldn't have to tote 40 extra pounds of gear around... surely that will be fatiguing over time. Not to mention the awful ridicule and sneers that I've had to endure up until this point... Texans are extremely nice people, until you infringe upon something they feel like they know more than you about, and then they will make your life some real hell. I've been told that I'm going to give my horse ulcers 'with all that noisy tack' or injure her, that I have no business riding her in that saddle, and all of their usual horse abuser spiel. Honestly, I think it's just Texans... I hear that some of the eventers in Area 5 can be just as horrible, cliquish, and nasty. I'm quite sure this is true, having met some of the more awful ones - when I lived in New England and was showing at almost every single event there, I didn't know a single person and rarely had to interact with anyone. Down here, I'm not eventing at all, and yet I know dozens and dozens of eventers in the area - I can't walk into a tack store or go to a schooling or show without running across tons of people that I know. WHY? I find this terribly suspicious, and it's part of the reason I'm lukewarm about eventing down here... everyone knows everyone, and everyone's business is everyone else's business. I cannot for the life of me figure out WHY this is, other than it's a cultural thing... Texans are into other Texans' business, and they're not afraid to tell you all about how you're doing everything the wrong way.

Anyway. I digress. 

I set an Abetta on her just to see if that might work, and I didn't even bother putting a girth on it, the fit was already so visibly bad. Well, it's a cheap saddle, so that's probably why it didn't work.... right?

I tried my dressage saddle on her, a saddle I know fits us both well. Unfortunately, once you get moving at speed, the stirrup leathers pinch and rub me something HORRIBLE, and I ended up with saddle sores on my calves so bad that I could barely ride for a week. My nice soft leather dressage girth also rubbed her until she bled.... yes, the same one we've used for a year without fail. We did some vigorous galloping that day, and it was too much for her paper skin. The dressage saddle is also Italian made, which basically means there is some flex and rock back-to-front naturally in the saddle - the horse's back is supposed to come up to meet it as it naturally rounds over its topline. When you're out galloping over terrain, a nice round topline is just not something you're going to have... so there ended up being too much movement in the back of the saddle. I love my dressage saddle, and you couldn't pry it from my cold lifeless hands, but it isn't going to work in this situation... not even close. But, it's a kind of purpose-bred piece of equipment, so that's why it didn't work... right?

Blog reader Meghan sent me her amazingly wonderful Stonewall to try. It was SO SUPER COMFY. Unfortunately, it ended up being too wide for her (which was a complete surprise!), and tilted downwards as our test ride progressed onward. It ended up crushing her shoulder blades something fierce, and though she was pretty tolerant, she was not amused. I tried shimming the saddle pad, but it was not really to any avail. SUCH a tragedy, as I loved the saddle and thought it was super super comfy. 
The rules of the Stonewall were that if it didn't work for O, it had to be paid forward to another person in need, so it is currently with a client of mine who is an endurance newbie herself and is aiming hopefully for competition this spring. If it doesn't work for her, it will go to another person as a pay it forward, until we find a home for it where it works, with someone who needs it and couldn't otherwise afford it. Such is the magic of pay it forward! 
As for the fit, it just wasn't the right one for O, and that's why it didn't work.... right?

(Obviously, at this point I was running out of ideas.)

The client that currently has the Stonewall offered up her Specialized saddle as a kind of try-it-out trade for the Stonewall. Hey, now there's an idea! Specialized saddles are raved about, and they have these really unique foam panels that velcro on and off of the saddle - so basically you can create any kind of custom fit that you like with it. You can pad them, shim them, make them narrow, make them wide... whatever you want! This HAD to work for O. If I couldn't create a custom fit this way, I couldn't see how else I could do it without going full actual custom.

I messed with it for at least 45 minutes, trying and trying and trying to get it right. Finally, I had something that *seemed* perfect, or as perfect as I could get it.

I mounted up, and the second I touched down in that saddle, O's head went up and her ears went back. It felt comfy to me, but I started trotting, and she inverted and flattened her ears further. We cantered in both directions, and all she could do was cross-canter. She never cross canters, ever. Obviously, she was not a fan. 

I took it off, re-shimmed it, same response. Over and over, she told me that she hated it.

We both finally had enough, and I pulled the saddle and just jumped on bareback instead. My now very sweaty and hot fussy monster melted into a completely mellow little western pleasure horse, happy to jog along slowly on a light contact. Hmmmm.

Three strikes for purpose-made endurance saddles. My dressage saddle, barrel saddle, and jump saddle all fit her with no problems, no special fittings required. My conclusion here is that endurance saddles are made for Arabs, not warmbloods. Beyond that, I got nothing.

I figured I should end with something productive today after our super crappy test ride in the saddle, and spent a few minutes walking the barrels bareback, which she knows well and likes to do. We did walk-trot pattern work on the barrels the other day, and she was so slow and peaceful that she broke to the walk around every barrel, and gave me this very enjoyable little smooth trot between the barrels - that happy little disengaged pokey joggy trot that meant she was about ready to go to sleep, she was so relaxed. She loves to run, and she is a fast little lightning bolt, but the flip side of her is that she also loves to do slow easy things, and will do slow easy things all day long with no complaints. (We joke about the fact that she has one googoo crazy white sclera eye, and one very soft deep brown eye - it must make her Jekyll and Hyde!) She understand the barrels and likes to do them, and that makes her very mellow and easy to work with. When she doesn't like something (ahem, dressage), she'll let you know in no uncertain terms that she thinks it isn't worth her while.

For extra funsies today, I decided to see if I could do some sort of bridle-less work with her. I took her into the small pen, put a lead rope around her neck, and found that yes, I have reasonably good steering and brakes with just a neck rope. Her expression at this point says it all: "ugh, well, ok sure why not, I suppose." You can see her get annoyed with the backing, which is not her favorite thing to do anyway, but she gets it!

Oh yeah, and by the way, while I was spiraling into the ever-deepening madness of my depression, I forgot to tell you - I re-roached her mane! So don't be shocked!

Oh, and also don't judge her level of filth. She was literally coated head to toe in crusty mud, and I scraped off enough to put a saddle on her and that was it. Filthy beast!

Oh, also, don't laugh too hard at the end when my phone fell off the fencepost and crashed to the ground. At least it stayed up while I was riding!

 The hair was getting out of control. It was looking more or less terrible, was constantly getting crimped and clogged with mud, and had taken on this enormous flare to both sides that was no longer a tameable option. It had to go.

So much floof, what's a girl to do? (Hack it off. That's what.)

While I am horribly missing her spectacular mohawk, it truthfully doesn't look too terrible. Actually, she look very serious and militare again, which is kind of a nice bonus - I like that controlled look, versus a wild scraggly feral animal mane. 

Very serious about lunging, she is.

She is pretty darn cute, any way you look at it. She rocks the barrel tack well. I will have to admit, this look is a lot better than the endurance tack, any of it... she looked like a ridiculous pony mule wearing those saddles. I'm not sure why, but all of the endurance saddles and pads were really LARGE... aren't they supposed to go on dinky Arabs? They looked ridiculous on her! 

Oh well. What can you do. We'll figure something out. Or maybe we won't figure something out, and we'll keep on attempting to do endurance in a barrel saddle, enduring the painful jeers and taunts of the local endurance crowd. Or we'll give up on that idea entirely, and do something else. I don't really know at this point.

If nothing else, at least the bluebonnets are fantastic this year.... even if it is deathstorm season....


  1. What about trying treeless? I have no experience with them to comment further, and too new to your blog to know if that's a no-no, but might be worth a try. She looks great with her trim hairdo :)

    1. That's another thing I forgot to mention I tried, and it crushed her poor withers something terrible. They're not made for a horse with withers like hers nfortunately.

    2. Hi Andrea,
      I've used several different types of treeless on my A-framed, high withered TB. Some models with more success than others. I would be happy to share my experiences if you'd like. My email is

  2. Plenty of Aussies do endurance in Wintec Isabel saddles - I have a Bates Caprilli dressage saddle which is Ze Ultimatez in comfort, and I can go 30km on my dressage horse (who also has paper skin) with no dramas to her or me.

    Re: girth. I use a mohair dressage girth as my mare had a tumor taken from her girthline. No other girth can touch her without blood and raw flesh being the end result. 12 months with the mohair and no dramas so far. Pair the dressage saddle with a sheepskin lined saddle pad (Premier Equine) and a thinline, and Mrs I'm-too-sensitive-for-normal-gear is good to G.O.

    And she is HARD to fit any saddle to. Short backed, sloped shoulder. Takes a wide gullet even though she's only measured at a medium.

    1. That's the weird thing about her, she takes a medium tree in english tack no problem, but the medium tree in the Stonewall was too wide for her. It's a mystery!
      I see tons of people doing this in dressage tack, and I thought I could do it too... man it was a bad idea!
      I have a woolback cinch that works great, but all my dressage girths are leather... I will have to see about a dressage girth too!

    2. I always thought she was completely simple to fit, her back to me is completely average. Every saddle I've put on her til now has fit like a charm. so frustrating!

  3. I think you worry too much about what others think or say. Just do what works for you! I've had some pretty crazy tack combinations over the years and while others might be shaking their heads, I just keep smiling. What works works and what doesn't doesn't. It's as simple as that! :)

    1. I do worry about it too much. It makes me feel terrible to be heckled and harassed, sometimes I just want to fit in for once in my life... alas that is not meant to be!

    2. I agree with Prairie.
      I think you just need to enjoy your horse for what she and you are - the people who support you and love you will stay in your life and ones who like you for YOU will come INTO your life :) Sometimes it isn't about fitting in - sometimes it's just about being YOU.

      Maybe your mare is trying to show you who the real you is. Maybe she is telling you to stop fighting, stop worrying and stop caring what other people think.

    3. I too, agree with Prairie. It's harder for some than others, but if you can, try very hard to find that place where you are happy with who you are and what you're doing and don't give a rats ass about what the world thinks or does around you.

      I was born that way. Never much liked people and certainly never cared what anyone thought of me!

      Strength to you, to find your way. :)

    4. Part of my problem is that I tote around a very strong self loathing... so I hate actually being the person I am. It's hard to explain, and even harder to let go of... you know?

      I wish there were fewer Texans in Texas though... they seem to always catch me where I am most vulnerable, and then they heckle me until I feel completely bewildered. They're not like northerners, northerners wouldn't care who you were, and if they did care they'd never let on... Texans will harass you until you change to fit their mold. It's exhausting trying to get out from under their scrutiny!

    5. Obviously you should move to Austin. Much safer here. ;)

  4. I've been asked heaps of times what sort of saddle you need to do endurance. My answer is: So long as (most importantly) your horse likes it and (also quite importantly) you like it, it's an endurance saddle. If you can ride the distance in it, and your horse is still comfortable at the end, then THAT is an endurance saddle. There's a girl who rode the Quilty (our national champs) bareback (and bitless too), so whatever works for YOU and YOUR horse.

    So if you and your horse are happy in a barrel saddle, ride in a barrel saddle. If anyone hassles you about your saddle, just say that you checked your horse's back and it was okay, and that you'd rather ride her in a heavy saddle that fits, than a light one that doesn't. (Anyway, I don't know what it's like there, but plenty of riders here are heavyweight and need a lighter saddle. You probably don't weigh as much as some of the riders, so the heavier saddle might not be an issue).

    If you keep using the barrel saddle and THEN have an issue come up that suggests that the saddle is too heavy, maybe you could look at a lighter (synthetic maybe?) western saddle?

    Otherwise, you could look at an Aussie saddle (we call them stock saddles)? Still not that light (usually lighter than a western saddle though), but you might have more luck with fit compared to an 'Arabian' saddle...
    (I ride in a Mackinder endurance saddle and love it!)

  5. I have no saddle advice but good luck! Love the freshly roached look on O - she's such a beaut<3

  6. I too was wondering if you'd tried an Aussie stock saddle? good luck, Andrea! Just keep on keeping on and ignore the haters :-)

  7. Bummer about the treeless, because Sensation makes an AMAZING saddle. But if you have withers.....they're not so great. I ride my Friesian in their Jump model. I had to make a special pad to go under it, otherwise it would be on her spine (she kinda doesn't have withers. :P) I couldn't use it without the pad maybe theres a way to make a treeless pad that would allow a treeless like the Sensation to work? I don't know. Saddle issues are the pits!

  8. Why don't you just ride in your jump saddle? I did my first 1000 miles of endurance in my jump saddle protected by a sheepskin cover and had zero problems. You could also put a sheepskin over your dressage saddle with the leathers underneath. I have also done several hundred miles in my dressage saddle with no problems. My other two saddles are purpose made (Black Country Equinox and Arabian Saddle Co. Solstice although the latter likely wouldn't work, the Equinox can be built on a regular tree if the hoop tree doesn't work for you.

    I still can't figure out how or why anyone at endurance rides would be "heckled and harassed." Most are so focused on themselves, their horse and the ride before them they can't be bothered to even speak to a newbie.

  9. It's truthfully a cultural thing I think. When I rode up north, nobody gave me the time of day. Down here, everyone leans over to give you their 2 cents. It made my college roomie (who lives in CA) completely panicky when she was here ("why are they looking at me? Why are they talking to us? Why won't they leave us alone?") It's just the way people are here, they're TOO friendly and every sport is a social one.
    And they do heckle here... my first experience with that was at my intro ride, where two ladies on bay arabs gave some snarky hell to a rider in a western saddle right in front of me, then talked loudly about him behind his back as he rode away. I had two ladies follow me for about a mile at my first ride, and when we got to the vet check they both screamed loudly (so that all the vets, riders, management could hear) that I was a cheater and had skipped trail. Turns out they were 50 mile riders on a completely different trail from me. I've had about 15 other people comment on my big heavy horned saddle since then, including ride management when they weighed us for BC. Bah.

  10. Have you thought about an Australian saddle? Best of both worlds for me. Horn and tree'd like a western, but not nearly as heavy. I've seen some of the endurance crowd in Florida using them.

  11. Are there professional saddle fitters for endurance saddles the way there are for jump and dressage saddles? If so, maybe that Stonewall could get adjusted?

  12. I ride in a Wintec AP (wool flocked, no CAIR panels). Endurance stirrups, saddle bags, and a seat saver make it comfy for me. There's a saddle pad that my FEI friend uses that helped make it extra comfy for her horse... it reacts to the horse's body heat to help 'fill in the gaps' so to speak. I'll have to remember what it was called...

  13. I love her roached mane. She did SO AWESOME with the neckrope!! I need to work on that some more. I keep forgetting hehe. Chrome hates backing up too by the way.

    Sorry about the saddle woes... that really sucks. I don't think there is anything wrong with using the barrel saddle since she's conditioned in it, especially if she is checking out fine in the vet checks. It is hard to ignore the people who harass though... I wish people would just mind their own business! That's one reason I've never competed and if I do it'll be at the barn where I used to work and I know everyone. Sorry I don't have any advice, but I hope things get better soon!

  14. Saddle fitting is horrid and I hate it. I'm not an endurance rider so I won't be of any help but I wanted to just say that the roaches mane looks really wonderful and neat on her and good luck with finding a saddle that works for you both.

  15. What about a Skito pad for O and leather webbers for you on the dressage saddle? Normal stirrup leathers take the skin off my legs on normal rides, but Webbers are comfy enough to ride without high boots.

  16. I have had some luck with synthetic Western saddles. It's nice having something that's only 20-25lbs.!

    A-Betta saddles are, in my experience, poorly made all around so I'm not surprised that brand in particular didn't work out for you. I have enjoyed Big Horn and Fabtron (they are quite similar). The Full Quarter Horse Bars have worked well for my Fjord and Haflinger and have been descent on my Percheron and Belgian. They also make a Haflinger and Draft saddle that are wider.

    Good luck with your saddle fit adventure.

  17. Have you thought about using these people to your advantage? Next time they heckle you just say something like " I know it's a heavy saddle I'd love to be able to find something lighter that fits her, but I'm have a heck of a time doing so. I've tried x, y, z saddles and none of them have worked. Do you have any suggestions as to what I should try next? I have a budget of $blah."
    Some people may be trying to "help" and make sure that you know that it's not ideal, and if you get defensive they will get more pushy.

  18. Don't worry, I do! I've tried several saddles on at ride camp. I never get defensive when people are mean... which is why I vent here ;)

  19. I don't know if you're still saddle hunting but I think I have a saddle that might work for you. It's a very lightweight very comfortable saddle made by Black Country with their a-frame style tree. It does not have the hoop tree like the equinox but it is in the same line of saddles. They're impossible to find in the United States.