At the Dublin Horse Show, aside from watching Buck Brannaman, I met Alan Ward who is a saddle fitter from the west.
At his stand Alan had an amazing blue gadget which gave you a 3D image of your horses back. Then you can turn your saddle upside down and place this on top & see the areas of your saddle that don’t touch your horses back.
One of the most common things in saddles is that they bridge – so the front of the saddle touches your horses back, the back of the saddle touches your horses back, but the middle of the saddle (where you sit) doesn’t touch your horses back. There is a gap. This can lead to soreness and also can cause your horse to show a fake outline as he tenses up to lift the middle of his back to bake the saddle fit more comfortably. It’s all not good anyway! You don’t want to be riding in a saddle that bridges.
If you buy a brand new saddle, while you may order the correct width & length for your horse & the correct seat size for you, you’ll get a standard flocking. So for new saddles too you’ll need to get a saddler out to look at it on your horse & adjust the saddle flocking so it fits the back exactly and doesn’t bridge.
Note – excuse any mistakes in this, I’m def not an expert in saddle fitting yet so I might have got some stuff mixed up.
Alan arrived out at 9am this morning, and did Hamish, Mandy’s horse first. Hamish is an 11 year old Irish cob. First up, Alan lay the blue gizmo (there is a technical name for this device – Alan is the only person in Ireland that has it) on Hamishs back like a blanket.
Then as it took the shape of his back, Alan then fixed it in place so it was a 3D model of Hamish back. This took about 7-8 minutes in total.
Then it was fun time! Mandys current general purpose saddle was turned upside down, and this blue device placed on it. For the while middle third of the saddle, it didn’t touch the blue gizmo. It was bridging where Mandy was sitting in the middle of the saddle.
You can see the bridging in this photo. The blue gismo doesn’t touch the saddle in the middle of the saddle.
Next up – fixing the saddle so it fits. Alan took out a box of flocking, and in about 10 mins the saddle had extra flocking put in where needed and it was time to check it again with the 3D model. HUGE difference – the bridging was gone. Now the blue gizmo touched the underside of the saddle the whole width down.
Then we back out to the paddock and put the saddle on the horse, and Alan checked it all again. Bridging looked to be gone (we could visually see the bridging a little before on Hamishs back), the width was already correct for Hamish & the length of the saddle was fine too.
Price MANDY: callout €30 to yard (split with me), so 15 each
Blue gizmo fitting: €95
Partial reflocking: Very reasonable and done on the spot in 5-10 mins. Excellent.
Existing saddle that now fits!
Alan sells a lot of new & second hand saddles. So in the future, if Mandy wants to trade in her saddle, because Alan now has a 3D image of Hamishs back, he will know when he gets in a second hand saddle that will fit Hamish exactly.
Next up Alan did Ozzie. Oz came in, and the blue gizmo was put on Ozzie back & then as it lay there, it was locked in place so it was an exact 3D image. A few weeks ago Steve told me my hunter saddle wasn’t helping me. Its design had me sitting back with my legs out front. Like I was in armchair.
I was always in what Buck would say position 3 – the stop / backup position. I do not want to always be in position 3! Sometimes I want my horse to go forwards!
So I went and saw a really expensive brand new €1000 dressage spanish saddle, but it was bridging so I returned it.
Then I got a second hand one on done deal for €80. From what I could see there was very little bridging, and the width looked ok. So I was very curious to see what Alan thought of my €80 purchase.
Oz poses happily for his photo shoot for Alans records.
The time of reckoning!! The saddle was turned upside down & the blue gismo laid on it. The middle third of the saddle was bridging!! I really didn’t think there was be so much space, based on what I saw looking at the saddle on Ozzie’s back as I had tried to check visually for it when I bought the saddle.
So I asked Alan what were the options. Because there was a lot of flocking in it already, Alan was instead able to adjust the saddle structure and in about 10 mins again, we put the blue gizmo on the saddle. Bingo – the bridging was gone.
The leather on the saddle isn’t great, so Alan reckoned it wasn’t an expensive saddle, and actually underneath it was made from vinyl, not leather.
Alan said long term a saddle with leather (and not vinyl) underneath would move more as Oz lifts his back & does lots of supple lateral work. So leather would be better really.
The most common Alan said he sees are bridging & the incorrect width of saddle. A physio Mandy knows said a very common cause of back / body issues is badly fitting saddle.
Alan actually had a few saddles in his car, so I asked him had he any dressage saddles I could try, seeing as he was here. He thought he did and brought out 3 of them.
I want to have a nice dressage saddle that has me in that shoulder – hip – heel position naturally. Alan was really nice and it was only when I asked him to take out the saddle that did! He is not pushy or salesy at all, and in fact he’s a believer in less tack, but get it fitting correctly. So no to gel pads, etc.
It turned out that a second hand dressage saddle he had fitted Oz perfectly. It’s an old Berneys saddle. Alan fitted it, and then watched as I lead Oz around with it on. He checked things I didn’t even understand while Oz walked – roll, rock, tilt – I can’t remember the words. Width was perfect, length was great, no bridging and all looked good. So I said I’d jump on.
Out to the paddock and off we went in the nice saddle & halter doing a few manouvres. Felt nice & Oz rode very nicely in it.
Oz was really soft & light. Did backup, FQ 180 one handed, walk normal, slow, fast, trot, trot slow, walk in a straight line with leg yields either way, more yields & bends, saddle & horse felt great. Oz did a great job.
Bought the saddle for €475. Great saddle & very happy it fits Oz perfectly. My old €80 dressage saddle which now also fits, will be kept as a backup just in case.
Price OZZIE: callout €30 to yard (split with Mandy)
Blue gizmo fitting: €95
Saddle re-adjusting: Very reasonable and done on the spot in 5-10 mins.
New dressage saddle & €80 old dressage saddle that fits
Alan also took away a nice older saddle that I wasn’t using on any horse, and will sell it on for me. He reckons he has a waiting list of people looking for high quality second hand saddles. So that’ll reduce the cost of my new saddle.
Also he checked a saddle I didn’t use, and it had a broken tree so that will be thrown out now.
Alan also looked at a 3rd much loved older saddle. We got it years ago with a horse. It has now semi disintergrated, so its not usable, but Alan agreed it was a lovely saddle in its day and the seat was actually made out of pigs leather which is really expensive. I gave it to him to use in other saddles for repairs, so it lives on
This whole morning was wonderful. Alan is lovely & very patient with the horses. It’s amazing to see exactly how my current saddle didn’t fit Ozzie (when I thought it wasn’t bad!!) & also crazy mad how fast it was to fix it – just a few minutes.
Alan travels countrywide for €30 and I would highly recommend him to come out & check if your current saddle is ok.
Really interestingly – Alan said with our 2 new fitting saddles, Mandy & I could expect our horses to have a little more energy now.
Because the saddles now fit, our horses don’t need to use as much energy to move as they did before. So if they keep using the extra energy for a while, we could see it as excess energy – more than usual. So it’s great, now my horse can do things in a more comfortable manner and with less energy to get the same job done.
Very similar to what I’m hoping to for my body with my Alexander technique lessons – save energy – just use the muscles I need to & then have more energy for longer every day.
Points to note:
1. If you need your saddle fixed or patched up, if you ring Alan we will send you out a postage stamp to send in your saddle for €6.50. You send in the saddle, Alan can patch it up & send it back to you again for €6.50.
2. There are a good few saddle companies that make saddles of all types – from English to western – that use this blue gizmo system. So when you get the 3D image made, Alan writes down all the measurements from this. So you can send these numbers to these European saddle companies who will make a saddle that actually fits your horse.
3. Alans website: http://www.saoirsesaddlery.ie/
4. If you want a new saddle & need exact stats for your horse to order it, you want your current saddle checked at your house with the blue gizmo & fixed on the spot, or you want your saddle repaired in the post quickly – call Alan. You’re in great hands.
5. Blue gizmo info (and its correct name) for those abroad who want to try & find it. More info here.