The fruits of my admin

As it was, implausibly, heading for 3 months since we got the Bates saddle it was time to book in for another check of the fit. Which meant time to try to match my schedule to a fellow livery’s (as well as the saddle fitter’s) in order to share the substantial mileage and call out fees. This was achieved, although not without some stress, and I spent a week or so with my fingers crossed because I’d booked the saddle fit but my boss was off so I couldn’t book the leave I needed to take on the day of the appointment.

But my manager returned and had no issue with me taking the leave. Great. But to add another layer of complication we also needed to see the equine dentist who by coincidence asked if she could do his teeth on that particular day. Err… I don’t know. A couple of conversations with the saddle fitter later I still didn’t know. They were sending two fitters out to us and weren’t sure if they’d want to fit us in parallel or consecutively. The dentist was committed to come out to us around lunchtime on that day to see another horse so we decided we’d wait and see. If Drifter and I were busy when she wanted to do us we’d just have to arrange another date. She is local and used to work as a groom on our yard so she doesn’t change a call out fee, which is pleasant.

So the day came round and I still didn’t know whether we should be ready to be fitted at 10.30 or at 12, and whether we would be seeing the dentist afterwards or not. I turned up just before 10.30 prepared to wait around a lot. I took my crochet with me. Of course by the time I got there it was raining again so the idea of sitting on the yard crocheting was less appealing than it might have been!

I was pleased to find that they were happy to do the fittings at the same time so I wouldn’t have to wait and we should be done by the time the dentist arrived. Excellent.

I was eager to see how the new measurements of the curves of his back would compare to those from last time we saw the saddle fitter. I feel that his musculature has changed (for the better) since we last saw her but I wanted to see if she agreed, and to match those lines against each other to see what’s changed. Drifter was less eager. In fact it transpired that he was in a bad mood. Luckily he is a good boy even when he’s not at his most cooperative, so we didn’t have any issues getting the measurements, but his expression made it clear that he was not pleased by the process (just wait until you see the dentist, I thought, then you’ll have something to look upset about!)

I was fascinated to see that he has indeed made good progress with evening up the muscling over his shoulders. The asymmetry is much less pronounced. Also revealed, which I had not expected, is that he has lost some fat in that area. It was not enough to necessitate a change of gullet width, but it was enough that the saddle was sitting lower at the front than it ought to (I thought I was just forgetting to sit up straight, but it turns out it was the saddle not helping me as much as it did before).

So we headed off to the school for a spin in it, so she could see it in action, with the promise of alterations to come.

Drifter was not in the mood. A soft, supple, yielding and submissive horse I did not have. To be honest, I never have that, but I can usually work in that direction. He was feeling decidedly obstructive. I found this unhelpful! It is not easy to feel if the saddle is straight when the horse is too grumpy to go in a straight line without constant discussion about it, and is tense and erratic to ride.

The fitter concurred with what I had felt over the last few weeks: the extra 4mm pads that she put in the right hand side were now not needed and were pushing the saddle over to the left. I still find it miraculous how much of a difference sitting 4mm makes. Additionally we had the girth straps attached at different sites on each side to compensate for his tendency to push it round if anchored equally.

The Bates was in its element again. First she adjusted the anchor points on the girth. We had a ride. To be honest it felt awkward. Drifter was arguing about everything, I couldn’t seem to press the right buttons and it was just, well, disappointing. But this was only the beginning.

She headed out to the van with it while Drifter huffed.

Him: The saddle’s off, so my work is done. I want to go back to my haynet.

Me: No. You are not done, which is why your flash is still done up. You will stay here. In order to keep your brain engaged we will do in-hand walk/halt transitions until you are listening to me.

Him: I will not listen.

Me: Then we will do it for longer. We have lots of time. But we don’t have much space because the other saddle fit is going on around us. Walk on ….

Ten minutes later and she’d had the saddle open, stripped out the pads she added in the right side last time and instead put in a matched pair at the front of the saddle to lift it up a little. We tried it.

I could really feel the difference from the pads at the front of the saddle. I was sitting much less forward. On the other hand I still felt like I was pushing all the wrong buttons and Drifter was still arguing. My fear was that maybe this was a good fit and I’d have to adjust my riding again. I was relieved to find she wasn’t happy with it yet either.

She changed the girth anchor points on both sides and we had another go.

And metaphorically, the sun shone on us. Suddenly I felt straight, he felt straight and we were riding in harmony again. He relaxed and stopped arguing with me. Everything was easy. She seemed happy too. I asked if we could have a canter, to check it would stay put, so we did, a little hesitantly because the other saddle fitting had got to the point of someone trying to have their first canter in a dressage saddle and not being able to get the transition because of the unaccustomed leg position.

When we managed to get a good space to try our canter I was grinning at once. I felt so strong and secure and straight. I felt that whatever he did underneath me I could stay beautifully upright. I realised that I’d been clinging on with my legs because I didn’t have that straight-up security. Now I had it, my legs were so free to ask for refinements in the canter. I have never felt so good cantering any horse, and never so safe cantering this one. D seemed very happy with it also and we had a beautiful downward transition because I’d been so much more balanced now that a) I wasn’t unbalancing him and b) I could help him to balance with more effective half-halts so he wasn’t on his forehand. Equipped once again with a beautifully balanced saddle I feel like I can really make progress with helping him to improve his canter. I can’t wait!

The bad news was that as he’s changing so much she wants to see him again in another 3 months. Sigh.

As we sorted out the bill I confided that I’d love to be shopping for a dressage saddle but just don’t have the budget at the moment. She said, somewhat to my suprise, that she didn’t think I’d get on with one because of the leg position. Interesting! I always listen hard to anyone who could jump on selling me something expensive but instead tells me I don’t need it! This will stop me wishing something I can’t have, and let me enjoy what I do have. I may now be the only adult rider on the yard without a dressage saddle, but just because everyone else has one doesn’t actually make it right for me! I suspect after that conversation that a dressage saddle isn’t really going to give me anything I don’t already have except that look. And if I’m flopping around in it I’m pretty sure that would undermine any look! Maybe if we actually ever get good at this dressage malarky I’ll reconsider in a year or three, but for now I won’t be wishing for a dressage saddle in my Christmas stocking!

Once I’d paid the saddle fitting bill, it was time to wait for the dentist. Happily she turned up only about 10 minutes later and in no time she had her gag in his mouth. She said she was happy to start with him because she knew he was as easy to do as they come. She didn’t need anyone to hold him and although he obviously wasn’t enjoying the process of having the power file wielded in his mouth he endured without any impolite behaviour. It must be so much easier and quicker for modern-day equine dentists than their pre-power-tool predecessors.

She was pleased with his teeth and did not have too much work to do on them. As I paid she recommended that we go from 6 monthly visits to annual ones. Hurray!

We were all done for the day, we’d managed to see both professionals and I hadn’t had to wait around more than 10 minutes or so at any point. Not a bad morning’s work!

A fitting saddle from the saddle fitter

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.

Bates_AP_SC_blk

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.