Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Difference in a Saddle

Last year about this time I'd been taking lessons every week for about six months, learning how to ride 'correctly'.  I used the saddle and pad our daughter had always used on Champ. 

At first I didn't have any issues but as I progressed in my lessons, using my legs more and more, I found the saddle I was using wasn't fitting either of us.

The saddle pitched me forward leaving me feeling I was going to end up on Champ's neck.  My "50+ rear end spread" was a bit too generous for the seat.  :0  When I started learning to use my legs, I found my range of motion constrained.  I was uncomfortable and that led me to being unsure of my abilities.

Champ didn't seem to care for the saddle either.  He'd pin his ears back and sometimes even try to strike me with his left front leg when I went to put it on him.  But then, Champ was always a bit opinionated!

We are fortunate to have a western tack shop near our place.  Mike knows saddles.  He repairs tack and builds saddles.  His side of the store is a dream come true for a rider, his workshop like that of a scientist.  And if you haul your horse in, he'll take the time to fit the right saddle to your horse.  Mike knows his stuff.

Cindy, his wife, on the other side of the store, knows apparel.  The right jeans, hats and boots are waiting for the rider along with cool purses, belts, etc.  Cindy knows what fits and makes you look your best.  Such an eye!  When you buy from Cindy, you know you're going to come out of that shop looking incredible!

With my saddle becoming an issue, we hauled Champ into Mike's one summer evening, about this time last year for a saddle fitting.  I brought along all of the saddles we had at home, all sitting in the tack room because they didn't seem to fit any horse we owned.  Nice saddles ordered via the internet or picked up here and there.  Some hardly ridden in.

Mike first tried out our saddles.  He then hauled out saddles from his shop and eventually he hauled out saddle trees.  Champ was a hard fit, looking like he had narrow withers when in fact he had wide ones.  But Mike found the perfect fit for him.

I was able to trade in some of our unused saddles for a brand new one.  Having short legs, I'd had issues getting the stirrups short enough to fit correctly.  Mike had helped me in the past add additional notches on the fenders so the stirrups would fit me.  With this new saddle he recommended "youth" fenders so I'd get the range of motion I needed.

A few weeks later my new saddle arrived.  I picked it up along with a new pad and promptly went out and rode Champ.  What a difference for both of us!  A little more room for my 50+ spread, fenders that allowed me to move my legs, it was a dream to ride in.

Champ also seemed to like this saddle.  After a couple of rides, the pinned ears and flying front left leg stopped when he realized it wasn't going to hurt him.

The more I used it the better it got.  Suddenly I was doing rollbacks and loping off, etc.  I discovered a new found confidence that accompanied the ground work I'd been doing with Champ.  I found my balance and seat.  I felt secure.

Champ's sudden loss in June shook me and my family to our core.  I recall the day I brought all of Champ's tack home.  I balled my head off as I retired his bridle and my new saddle, knowing they were part of him and would never be used on him again.

I'd had Poco for two weeks when I lost Champ.  I'd been using that old saddle of Champ's on Poco.  Seemed to fit him ok and I thought it would work fine for the horse that was supposed to be my "live at home trail horse/safe for friends to ride" mount.

With Poco now as my only saddle horse, his destination and use changed.  Instead of going home, he remained at the barn to become my main riding horse.  I continued with my lessons.  For the first four weeks I think I was numb.  I didn't feel, I wasn't able to communicate with Poco and bless him, he tried so hard.

My inability made me frustrated.  I missed the team that my former horse and I had become.  My new horse and I weren't in synch.  I blamed it on my loss of Champ and that made me upset to think I wasn't Cowgirling up and dealing with it.

But, there was something familiar about my discomfort, something I'd felt before.  It took me almost five weeks of beating myself up to realize I'd pitched forward in this saddle before, felt that old burn in my knee as well as that feeling of being squeezed into the saddle.  I'd been here before but I couldn't place where.

The more I rode in that saddle the more uncomfortable I got until a few weeks ago I found myself frustrated at trying to sit back and being pushed forward to the point that I stopped riding and got off.  I hated myself when I told my pals at Ladies Night, "Ugh, this saddle just isn't working!"  I felt accountable for my actions and ashamed that I was blaming my lack of abilities on a stupid saddle.

It hit me then that the symptoms I was encountering were the same I'd had when I first started riding Champ.  The issue - the saddle.

Yet, there was a saddle that fit me well and I missed it as much as that big red paint horse.  At home I pulled that saddle out of our tack room, becoming misty eyed at the smell of Champ on it and the memories that came back as I hefted it up into my car.  Up at the barn I asked my trainer to spot me while I put it up on Poco.  We found it sat him well.  So up I went to take a spin.

When I sat down on Poco in that saddle it was like hearing a choir.  I literally cried out, "Ahhhh!"  It felt wonderful, it felt like I'd come home.  As I worked Poco I discovered something I'd been missing - my seat and balance!  I didn't realize how much I'd been using them, had missed those darned things and like old friends, was happy to find them again.  I sat back and I sat up tall, my legs felt great and my confidence rushed back to me like a wave on the beach.

I'm so pleased to have my balance and confidence back and Poco seems happier too.  I now know how important a good saddle is to the horse and rider. 

To be sure the saddle fits Poco correctly, I'll be hauling him down to visit Mike in the near future to have Mike put his two cents in on ensuring this is a good fit for Poco. there's this really bling headstall and reins that match my saddle on Mike's side of the store and an awesome pair of boots I've been keeping an eye on forever on Cindy's side...oh...and then there's this really cool buffalo hair purse I've wanted forever, just too cool, hope it's still there...and I could really use a new pair of jeans...  :)


  1. Great story! I too went through a saddle fitting with a pro this spring and what a difference it makes.
    I'm so sorry you lost Champ, but you're doing really well in your approach, in my opinion.
    I LOVE the sounds of that tack store! I ride English, but if was a western rider it would definitely be a dream come true. Someone so knowledgeable about saddles and working with them on one side and a very cool apparel store with someone who knows how to help on the other side. Sounds perfect.
    Thanks for a great story and happy riding.

  2. I had huge saddle issues as well - now I have a new horse and I am starting to think my saddle doesn't fit. And you are so right, riding in a bad saddle ruins your riding!

    Glad you and Poco are finding your way together.

  3. That saddle looks like mine - is it a Billy Cook? Mine is very comfortable. Saddles make such a difference! After having used school horses and their school tack, I can't believe the difference. Congratulations on getting your comfort and confidence back.

  4. Thank you so much for posting about your saddle experience. I have short legs also and kicking while loping is next to impossible in the saddle I am using. After reading about youth fenders, I went to check them out at my local tack store. It turns out the saddle I have been looking at already comes with the shorter fenders. I love the way the saddle fits me but now I need to see if it fits my horse.

  5. That saddle shop sounds very dangerous..and wonderful at the same time. I'd love to visit such a place and feel the tug on my wallet as I step through the doorway. Have fun, bridles, jeans...sigh. Very glad you have a good saddle and that you have brought it out to use on Poco.

  6. Where exactly is this saddle shop? I wanna go there! :))

  7. My saddle is a Crates. Going in and having my horse fit for his saddle was one of the best things I've ever done for both of us. I never realized what a large role comfort for the horse and rider played into a rider's confidence which in turn allowed one to ride better. I've now started riding without my stirrups to further improve my balance. Not hard (or scary) when your saddle fits! Mike's Western Suppliers and CL Western Wear is located in Enumclaw, WA, (360)825-3991. Well worth the trip and effort!