Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Serious about Saddlery

Horsebytes - A blog for Seattle-area horse folks
Posted by Monica Bretherton

No group is more intense about saddle fit than endurance riders - with good reason. Ideally, the saddle is the "user interface" between horse and rider, helping to distribute weight and keep rider and horse in tune, but it can rapidly become a source of discomfort or outright pain for both on a longer ride.

So I was intrigued when a few months back, Cathy Leddy showed me her Specialized Saddle's shim system that customizes the fit under removable foam panels. In theory, this seemed like a great system, but I am skeptical of perfect systems, as life as a way of throwing me the curve balls.

There are already a lot of shim systems out there, most of them in saddle pads. the best known is perhaps the Corrector by Les Brown. Some upscale makers like Thinline and Mattes have also added systems of their own. There is a big market for correction saddle pads as a quick fix for some of the most common saddle fitting problems, like a back that is changing through fitness, as skilled saddle flockers are hard to find. At between $150 and $300 dollars, though, pads can be a pricey bandaid that don't quite do enough.

A different animal

The Specialized Saddle is different than a correction pad. The adjustment shims are an integral part of the saddle, through the wonders of velcro with high density foam ships sandwiched in between. The adjustments are made in the space between the tree and the thick foam panels that spread the weight on the horse's back, so there is no lumpiness or bumpiness in the curved weight-bearing surface.

The gullet width can also be altered by adjusting where the panels are attached to the tree, so the standard saddle is truly customizeable to almost any horse (for a super-wide back, the company makes an extra-wide tree).

Well, I thought, sounds great, but how does this work out in practice? With all this focus on fitting the horse, was the rider being neglected?


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