How to look after you and your saddle (1)
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In the first of this two-part blog, we discuss the importance of making relevant saddle checks as well as making sure you have the right saddle fit, not just for your horse, but for you as the rider.
With more spare time on our hands than usual, and with winter well underway, it's super important to be looking after your saddle during this time.
Looking after your saddle
When you clean your tack it’s important to make the following checks…
Stitching should be in good condition
Check your girth, the top of the girth straps where they are stitched onto webbing, your leathers, and your bridle. Stitching can break in places or wear away or even rot. Most items, however worn, can be repaired by an SMS Saddler or Master Saddler. Contact them to find out what COVID-safe procedures they have in place.
Hard or cracked edges on girths or bridle padding.
This is important to check as it may lead to bigger problems in the future if not addressed. If your horse is uncomfortable with how something feels, this could also impact your horse’s behaviour!
It is surprising what our brains and bodies can get used to and sometimes it is hard to tell when we are balanced. Uneven leathers can lead to an uneven rider or even a moving saddle. Make sure that they are the same overall length, and that all the holes line up and that none are stretched or cracked.
The saddle panels should be smooth and firm, and the left should match the right. Run your hands down the panels, feeling for any areas that are hollow or lumpy or simply different, left to right. Your Saddle Fitter will assess the saddle, your horse, and you, and see you both riding to find out what has caused the issues and how they can be remedied.
Here are some helpful hints to figure out if your saddle fit may need to be assessed:
- Your horse does not like to be tacked up or moves away when you go to mount.
- Your horse exhibits unwanted behaviour such as not moving forward, bucking, or napping.
- Your horse cannot perform what is being asked. For example, they cannot maintain an equal bend on both reins, they run into or out of transitions, or move quarter in or out during canter. Be aware that these, and any issues, may have other causes that may require your Vet, Farrier, Dentist, physical therapist, or Coach to work with you both.
- You lean or feel tipped forwards. A saddle that is too narrow may tip you back in the saddle and cause you to lean forward to regain balance. A saddle that is too wide may drop and not support you, causing you to tip forwards.
The right saddle fit for you
As a dressage rider, you can, of course, influence how the horse moves when training which can affect your saddle fit. It is important that the saddle works equally well for them as for the horse. After all, a well-balanced rider able to maintain self-carriage is a far better partner for the horse. Your Fitter can often make small adjustments to find out what works better for rider and horse.
What are the signs that my saddle may not be quite right for me?
- Recurrent back or joint pain associated with riding.
- Feeling fixed and unable to subtly change balance or position.
- Moving in the saddle or feeling unstable.
- Seat size and/or block size, placement and angle may not be right
- If the position of stirrups bars in relation to the centre of the seat is not right, you may find it difficult to maintain correct alignment.
- Feeling unstable may also be related to an ill-fitting and unbalanced saddle
- Losing your confidence, either because you do not feel stable, or because you are not able to do what your coach asks of you, or you just can’t seem to improve.
When is it important to be mindful of saddle fit?
- If there is more than one rider for the horse.
- After injury, or time out of riding
- As the rider progresses both in technique and fitness to ride (With improvement may come slightly different requirements from the saddle)
It is easy to forget about ourselves when we put so much time and effort into looking after our beloved furry friends! However, as a rider, it's important to take some time to focus on you in order to benefit from your partnership with your horse!
Often, riders are in need of a massage or a physical trainer as the horse. If it is hard to redirect time and money, just think of it as treating your horse by looking after yourself.
If you or your horse experiences any of the issues listed above it is worth speaking to your Qualified Fitter. Sometimes a small adjustment, or spotting an imbalance before it becomes an issue, can make a big difference to the experience of riding – for you and your horse.
Thank you to the Society of Master Saddlers Development for providing the above professional and valuable advice.
Disclaimer: Fittings should only be considered in line with current government guidelines.