Which is right?
I have studied saddle fit until I think I will go crazy! I've noticed two different general schools of thought and would like some opinions.
First: some experts say that you should buy a saddle slightly larger than your horse's back, then the saddle should be shimmed and padded to create a flexible custom fit for your horse's back, like buying your shoes a 1/2 size too big and putting custom inserts in the bottom to fit your individual foot. Proponents of this fitting method say that your horse will be more comfortable, and have a less restricted range of motion because they have the flexibility of the padding between them and the rigid structures of the saddle tree.
On the flip side, other experts say that a well fitted saddle shouldn't require a pad at all, and that it will not interfere with the horse's motion IF it is correctly fitted and placed. The argument also runs that a badly fitted saddle is a badly fitted saddle, no matter what kind of padding is under it, and will never be as comfortable for your horse as a properly fitted saddle. By this theory it is nearly impossible to get a saddle without having it custom made for your horse, using multiple measurements, NOT just wither tracings.
I can see the logic of both ideas. I haven't figured out one or the other of these theories applies more to western or English saddles, or vise versa. I would love to hear what others think.
I've always been of the second mindset. I've also always been taught that the wider the horse, the less padding you should use, as lifting the saddle more will increase the likelihood that it will slip side to side.
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Also, many owners have said that the fit of their saddle changes as they work the horse more, it gets older, or has a foal. So saddle fitting is not just a "once & done".
That is why I'm torn, I can see the validity of having the perfect fit, but if(not if, WHEN) your horse's back changes, being able to alter the pad is a lot easier than getting a new saddle!
i just bought a county saddle, because you can always get a new tree for free within the first year. as long as they dont change too drastically, you can just get the saddle reflocked.
i also fit the saddle to the horse, if it requires a pad it is not that great of a fit.
Some people buy a size larger shoes and wear thick socks, but that rarely gives a comfortable fit under all circumstances.
There is a system of fitting (English) based on a wider-than-needed tree and shim pads but if it was that great everyone would have copied it by now.
IMO a horse will always be more comfortable in a correctly sized saddle (well, 99% of the time - there are always exceptions) PROVIDED the panel is the right shape ie. it has to support both saddle tree and rider in balance. Panel and tree work together in English saddles whereas Western saddles (please bear in mind I'm no expert on these) seem to rely more on the combination of saddle tree and blanket, the latter being a critical part of fit as with European-style Military saddles. And this theory is based on the saddle - the interface with the rider, if you like - moving as little as possible so as to interfere as little as possible with both horse's and rider's attempts to stay in balance with each other.
Unfortunately, as with most things horse, there are no absolutes. Saddle fit is always a compromise of some kind, based on what an eminent vet once said at a lecture - 'the best one can hope for (when fitting a saddle) is to minimise interference with the horse.'
My problem with a lot of popular 'theories' is they tend to be of the 'a horse is a horse' kind, rather than looking at each animal as an individual.
Just my take :)
It seems like the first one might apply more to Western saddles, since they don't have built-in padding and rely on a thick saddle pad to provide cushioning. I don't ride Western, so I'm just hypothesizing there :-)
The second strategy describes how I've always heard saddle fitting described for English saddles. The flocking IS padding, so unless it's a very cheap or poorly flocked saddle where the material has gotten compressed so it's hard and/or lumpy you shouldn't need anything additional. My saddle fitter recommended I put something under my saddle to aid in shock absorption, so I tried out a fleece pad she had on hand and I hated the feel of having so much extra material between my horse and saddle. I really couldn't see how a 1" thick pad wouldn't hurt the fit of my saddle- which had just been flocked to match my horse's shape. I went with a Thinline instead.
What we see is a close fit. The problem is the horse is standing still when you check the saddle for fit. As the horse moves his back is in a state of constant motion. The sweat pattern says a lot as does the temperature. When removing the saddle you have to be quick and run your hand front to back to feel for variations in heat. A warmer spot will have more heat. The middle area may be sweaty but cooler than front and back so we know there's a bit of bridging going on. Have I confused you further?
Verona, I find it hard to believe you were advised to use a pad. When a saddle is reflocked it should be ridden contacting the horse for the first 20 or so rides. The sweat is what helps the flocking shape to your horse. If your fitter is the same person who reflocked your saddle then someone hasn't done a very good job. You don't need additional padding unless you slam down in the saddle when you post or if jumping. If that is you in the avatar I can't see that you'd do that.
I agree that I don't think additional padding was absolutely necessary, but I don't think the Thinline is hurting anything in terms of fit. So, if it gives me or my horse a slightly better riding experience, I don't think it's a waste.
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