For quite a while now Dustry’s jump saddle hasn’t really been fitting either of us very well. For him because he has muscled up and developed a good top line its curved tree is no longer a very good fit, so I’ve had to pad it up with a half sheepskin and saddle cloth. For me because I am long from hip to knee but short from knee to ankle it doesn’t really allow me to ride as short as I would like to for jumping because if I raise my stirrups any more my knees will be off the front of the knee rolls!
So I decided to bite the bullet and buy him his first custom made (just for him what a spoilt little diva) jump saddle. After quite a lot of research looking at recommended brands, the fitting process and local saddlers I decided to go with Kate Hardt from Northumbria Equine. Yes I know Northumbria isn’t local to Wiltshire at all, but thankfully a friend who I met when eventing last season also wanted to get a new saddle from Kate and so we shared the visit.
Having a new saddle fitted
Kate arrived and tried on a range of bare trees on Dustry’s back, looking for the best fit. It’s fascinating to see just how different six 17.5inch wide trees are. Despite all being the same ‘size’ on paper they all differed in fit. Some were too curved in the seat, some were too high at the wither and prone to pinching, but finally we found one that was just right, the perfect shape for his spine. Having watched this process for the first time (I’ve always bought second hand saddles up until now) it was a bit of a light-bulb moment, and made me question how we could really ever know 100% how well a saddle suited a horse unless built from scratch like this. If there is so much tree variation between the same size saddle, finding something that fits without knowing the tree inside it is not an easy job.
Origin of saddle is also another element to consider. There is a bit of a trend at the moment for Italian saddles (a few years back German brand such as Stubben were all the rage), they do look gorgeous, and the workmanship is lovely but essentially they are designed and built primarily for an Italian customer base. If the build and breed of horses in Italy differs considerably to that of those in the UK, just how well can those Italian saddles fit UK horse’s backs? Food for thought…
I tried D in all 3 paces and popped a little fence and already in Kate’s demo saddle he was feeling so much more free and longer in his stride. So I excitedly placed my order, raided my bank account, and listed my old jump saddle on eBay to help pay for the new one.
4 weeks later I took D back to pick up his new saddle and get the fit and feel checked by Kate. Again we had a quick play in the arena and he felt fab, really loose and free in his movement. I also felt SO much more secure in my position. Not being able to get my stirrups short enough for jumping meant that finding my balance in 2 point position was really hard, suddenly in my new saddle I could trot round out of the saddle and hold that position without having to rely on the reins or gripping with my knees – Hooray!
It’s such a great feeling to be back in balance and able to be more independent with your hands. I knew my old jump saddle wasn’t a great fit for me, but sitting in my new saddle it really brought it home just how much that saddle wasn’t doing D or I any favours.
When I got home having only quickly tried the saddle and so excited to finally get it I tacked D up again and took him for a quick hack round the farm. I don’t think he was impressed one bit with being ridden twice in one day, but I was beaming from ear to ear as the saddle just felt great, and he went to sweetly in it.
I’ve started to notice the little things with it too, such as:
1/ D’s fidgeting when mounting and doing up the girth has been reduced
2/ Going down a steep stony track on the farm D now stays straighter doesn’t hollow and fight with the bit
3/ D doesn’t trip nearly as much as before when negotiating uneven/a change of terrain
4/ It’s early days but he seems to be much calmer to hacks too
All of this I think points to his old saddle (despite being checked regularly and fitted by a master saddler) having become a poor fit for his new developed shape, which (although only slightly) has been having an impact on his way of going. His new saddle is a monoflap close contact and because it’s made to measure I no longer have to pad it up with a half sheepskin. I am a big fan of the Back on Track therapeutic products (swear by the mesh stable rug), and as luck would have it I managed to pick up a second hand Back on Track saddle cloth, which goes great with his new saddle.
Elasticated flash guinea pig
In addition to my new saddle Kate also gave me a new product she wants to test. After the success of her elasticated grackle nose band she has produced an elasticated flash which I have agreed to road test. The nice thing about the flash having some stretch in it is that the horse can still flex it’s jaw and doesn’t come up against a rigid barrier if it tries to cough or open it’s mouth. Great for giving treats whilst mounted and enabling jaw movement just not jaw crossing and bogging off with the bit! I think this is a kinder option to a traditional leather strap as it allows more movement. It is definitely NOT designed with the the idea of cranking it up tight, but as with any elasticated item (I’m thinking girths) in the wrong hands that is a possibility.
I’ll keep you posted on how we get on with it but so far so good with that too.
Now that we’re ready to get jumping and eventing this season I have lined up some show jump and xc schooling for D and once we’ve blown away the cobwebs we’ll be looking to enter our first event. #excitingtimesahead