I was very nervous on the morning of the saddle fitting. The kind of nervous where you spend time looking something that turns out to be already in your hand; the kind of nervous where it takes five attempts to get something out of the kitchen because every time you go in there for it something distracts you and you come out without it; the kind of nervous that makes you incapable of efficient ordinary logical thought.
In short, I appeared to be afraid.
Upon (finally) reaching the yard I yammered on about my nerves to a couple of members of staff and came to the conclusion that a) I was afraid of making a costly mistake and b) my last experience with a saddle fitter left me feeling like I’d done battle and lost.
I left the staff in peace and went to groom, which helped a bit.
The saddle fitter arrived a little early and introduced herself. She began measuring him and taking a history. When she transferred the shapes of him from her flexible curve to the paper she showed me how the left shoulder (which he uses to compensate for the weak right hind) was considerably larger that the right. She had a nice manner and D was very calm.
She began by putting his old saddle on him. Ungirthed it looked OK. And even girthed most of it looked OK, but she had me look at first one shoulder then the other and I could see how the large left shoulder had no room although the other had a nice fit. She will try to sell the old saddle for me, on commission, and the guide price she suggested she’d try to get for in was almost twice what I’d feared she might say. Clearly the scuffs and scratches didn’t take as much off the value as I feared.
So time to try on the contents of her van …
She tried about 6 different saddles on him in the stable, some of which were obviously not right, others of which seemed better. The two that seemed best were both Bates adjustable ones. While I fetched his bridle and put that on she switched the gullet over from a medium wide to a wide in one of the Bates and we could take him to the indoor school for a spin in it. She took my stirrups from the old saddle and remarked that my leathers were such different lengths. I explained that because there was a lot more horse under one side I’d been told to do that so my irons were level.
Unfortunately he and I had a bit of an embarrassing argument about whether he was going into the school… but once we were in and I was on … oooh! After a walk in which I couldn’t tell how he felt about it, we had a trot. A really fast, bouncy, free, happy trot. Crikey! If I buy this saddle I might need a stronger bit to slow this speed demon down! Clearly he liked it! On my side of things although it was very comfortable I felt like it was very unforgiving if I had a wobble of balance. We had a (fast) canter on each rein too.
She showed me how on the left canter lead the strong left shoulder had shoved the saddle so that the cantle was off centre and the weight-bearing area encroached on his spine. She suggested we try the other Bates as the saddle was more supportive and she’d put one of the pad inserts in it to try to compensate for the shoulder.
Although both of the Bates saddles are general purpose, the second one had a more dressage-y shape to it with a deeper saddle but will still be fine for me to jump in for the time being. If we were to start jumping big obstacles it wouldn’t suit, but to be honest I have no great desire for that.
With the insert in, I was impressed to see that my stirrup irons were level when the leathers were the same length. Hurray! Unfortunately that left canter pushed everything off-balance again. So she tweaked the pads, and we tested and it was better but still not perfect and then she moved the location of one of the girth anchor straps on one side.
It stayed put! My legs stayed the same length! Drifter and I both found all of the adjustments felt very strange. We were used to being slightly off-balance and slightly off-centre so will take us a little while to settle in, but I’m sure we’ll do so much better for it.
When we were properly set up, compensating for his asymmetry of build, I felt for the first time ever that my legs were sitting equally and had equal jobs to do and got equal reactions from him. I had to ask slightly differently for things than we’re used to, so we both had confused moments but it was all positive change.
I couldn’t believe how much difference could be made by using a 4mm insert, but it was so much better. I’m delighted I can ride with both stirrup leathers on the same number hole because I always felt uneasy about them being different and never felt right in the stirrups even though people told me that they were how they should be.
I think this is the one.
It was really fascinating to learn, for example, how much difference it makes to him where the girth straps were positioned. I truly felt looked after and felt that Drifter and I were getting the best possible care. The entire fit process took two and a half hours, but it felt like a miracle to me how much balance she gave us.
To compare this to my last experience with a different saddle fitter … well this one came off very favourably indeed! I have every confidence that this fitter did her best to get everything right for us. I believe we have a great saddle and a great fit, but if something did go wrong I’d be confident that she’d look after us well. She gave me the confidence to give her feedback on what I felt and it was a positive experience throughout, for both of us.
Having seen her working on the Bates saddles I’m a real convert to the world of adjustable saddles. To be able to try something knowing it can be instantly corrected is amazing and knowing that if he changed shape we can accommodate it gives me real peace of mind. I can’t wait for our next ride!
Here’s a youtube video about the adjustable system, which briefly shows the inserts and the structure of these saddles. It’s obviously a sales video but I still think it’s interesting.
*I know there are kinder bits than snaffles, but as I’ve posted before, a snaffle seems to be what makes him happy, so who am I to argue? But it’s not like I had him in something really harsh.