oh honey, that does not fit

Last Friday I had Robyn Dorius, certified saddle fitter at Advanced Equine Saddle Fit, out to check on Murray (along with a few of the other horses at the barn).  I was running late all day so showed up late for my appointment — just what I wanted, to be late and underprepared for an appointment where a stranger would be slapping saddles on Murray’s back.

Fortunately, besties to the rescue and one of my friends had Murray bridled and was lunging him a bit for me.  He was unappreciative and recalcitrant because… Murray.  Robyn started out by examining Murray while he was naked, and palpated both sides of his back and along his topline.  I prepped her by apologizing profusely for his potentially bad behavior and told her to let me know at any time if I needed to just kick his butt a little.  She collected a little information on me — what disciplines I ride in, what level, and whether or not I compete.

camelot (265)-(ZF-8462-66896-1-003)
sometimes, and with varied success

Robyn started me in the dressage saddle and comforted me when Murray made his most ridiculous girthy pony moves.  Interestingly, she commented that she knows a few horses that go “girth lame” during tacking up — Robyn attributed it to the horses getting so tight in their pecs that they can’t walk properly.  She felt underneath the saddle on both sides before I got on then had me walk and trot both directions.  It didn’t take long before she called me in to the center to give me the bad, but not unexpected, news: my dressage saddle doesn’t fit.

Robyn was forthright and blunt without being unkind.  “For what you want to do, if you want his topline muscles to develop properly, you cannot keep riding in these saddles.”  She also took the time to explain to me exactly what was wrong with the saddle.  To start with, the tree was too narrow.  Exacerbating the problem was that the tree is the wrong shape.  And adding insult to injury is the fact that it was really, weirdly tight in the gullet around Murray’s withers.  Robyn showed me where she should be able to slide her hand in under my saddle but couldn’t (at the wither behind the shoulders), and where she shouldn’t be able to slide her hand under the saddle but could (under my seat).

probably not a coincidence that my best-ever dressaging was done in not-my-saddle

We switched to my jump saddle.  Murray was being as bad as he ever is about warming up (I’ve been lunging him to warm up lately and that helps a lot), but Robyn insisted that seeing him on a bad day was actually a good thing.  After a couple of circles in each direction Robyn showed me again the problems with the saddle: this time it wasn’t too narrow, but the tree was still the wrong shape.  The bridging problem was exacerbated even more in my jump saddle and Robyn managed to get essentially her whole arm under my butt while I was on Murray’s back.

Murray did not really appreciate, but behaved.

So with that in mind, Robyn suggested that we put a saddle with a more appropriate tree shape on Murray to see if it could change his movement at all.  She started with a dressage saddle that she had taken out for one of the other girls.  I felt underneath the front panels and up in the back and wasn’t really sure what to look for, so Robyn guided me in what she was looking for in the saddle.  Ultimately she decided to go and get a different saddle from her truck to try on Murray.  This second saddle, a Custom, fit him much better than any of the others we had tried on so far, though Robyn said that if it were his saddle she would have changed the flocking a bit over the withers.  (During this portion of the appointment Murray was biting the air above my jacket sleeve and giving Robyn and me the side eye.  It was like he knew he wasn’t allowed to bite me — he’s not — but had to get his dissatisfaction out in some way so the air was what had to suffer. I was amused.)  We tacked up a third time and I got on.

murray: is this REAL LIFE?! is this FOREVER?!

Immediately Murray’s walk felt bigger. I complain about his walk a lot.  This was not his walk.  We walked and trotted and at this point Murray was well and truly sick of my shit and threw in some haunches swinging and sass of his own.  Getting tacked up and half ridden at the walk and trot only three times in an hour is not on his list of favourite things to do.  This was no magic bullet, and I didn’t expect it to be, but I did enjoy sitting in the Custom.  Robyn had me feel under this saddle again too, and pointed out where it was a little tight against his withers – she said she would change the flocking there (if it were my saddle, that is).

In the end, Robyn suggested several saddle brand trees that might work for us (Custom – but I don’t like big blocks so it’s probably moo), older Schleese’s, and… some other trees.  I don’t remember.  But she said that if I got a saddle/saddles out on trial she would happily evaluate them for me and could bring along a few of the consignment saddles she has at home to do a full on comparison.  (I always keep an eye on The Horse Of Course consignment saddles, because I lust after a Sommer, and Robyn said she’d happily evaluate those for me too.)

can you believe how good I’ve been, putting up with your
saddle-fit garbage, Nicole?!

So there it is. I need two new saddles.  But honestly, I’m not even upset about it.  Robyn took the time to teach me her saddle fitting philosophy and how to look for signs of good and bad saddle fit on my precious pony.  I’ve played around with a few saddles since then and can see which ones totally suck (like my dressage saddle) and which ones seem to suck less.  This is a major improvement over my previous level of saddle fitting knowledge.

And look at the even brighter side: it turns out that my SUPER sensitive pony has been toughing it out and showing up through a couple of pretty poorly fitting saddles.  Very, very proud of him for that.

Cherry on top: knocked one off the 2017 goal list already!


21 thoughts on “oh honey, that does not fit”

  1. Great news. At least you have something tangible to work on fixing. A while back when Fiction was throwing fits under saddle while jumping I had his jump saddle looked at and the gullet was wwaayyy too tight. Fixed it and he instantly relaxed. So whenever someone bitches at me for having an expensive saddle custom-made to fit my horse and claims I’m only doing it to be fancy, I tell them to fuck off and imagine what it would be like to constantly wear clothes 3x too small or too big every day while they work out.


  2. part of me feels like i know less about saddle fit now than i did before i spend wads of cash on two different fitters…. but i know that’s not true. esp the second fitter (bc srsly F that first one ugh) gave me a lot of insights into what to look for. this fitter you worked with sounds even more hands on and informative – definitely helpful! hopefully you can find something that works well for both of you!

    my only one narrow little piece of unsolicited advice on the subject, after pulling the trigger to purchase an expensive new jump saddle that ultimately fit neither me nor horse, would be to really do EVERYTHING in your trial saddles. for instance, had i actually tried to practice 2pt in the jump saddle while on trial, i would have recognized (theoretically), that WOW i can’t fucking do shit in this saddle! and then maybe not lost a ton of money buying it new and selling it used…. le sigh.


    1. (as a sorta-brief follow up to an already lengthy (sorry!) comment: i did in fact jump a ton while i had the trial on saddle. and jumped some giant shit (remember that massive brush fence?) – but my own personal anxieties and whatnot about jumping prohibited me from recognizing that some of my discomfort stemmed from not feeling strong and secure in the saddle. plain old 2pt practice would have eliminated the nerves and let me be more objective.. i just never tried it)


      1. Very, very good points. Thank you. I originally was leaning toward getting a dressage saddle first, but since I can’t jump in dressage tack but I can dressage in jump tack, I think I’ll probably reverse my plan.


  3. The joys of saddle fitting! Your fitter sounds pretty awesome, hopefully you will find some saddles that work better for you and Murray soon! 🙂 I just had a consult with Jen from the Saddle Geek and she is fantastic also if you want virtual assistance.


  4. Sommers are the best! I see them pop up sometimes on the English Tack Trader FB group. HoC doesn’t get many of the jumping/AP saddles on consignment (and the one that IS here is an 18″, which I imagine is far too big for you). As far as the dressage saddles go, the Sommer Lars, Diplomat, and Esprit have smaller blocks than the Spezial or Savoy models.

    I will keep an eye out for you!


  5. Hopefully you can get a pretty penny for your saddles and then purchase the new ones. As someone in the midst of trying to find a dressage saddle, I can tell you, sit in LOTS. And consignment saddles are the best. They’re already broken in and yo can find some great ones!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m a little afraid to have a saddle fitter out for mine so we’ll stick with the current one for now. Can’t wait to see what you end up picking up


  7. Big vote for Custom despite the blocks! Some of their older saddles have smaller blocks (and are cheaper- mine was $600 and sure it’s a bit green but it works!). The thing I love about them is that the tree is fully customizable by their reps (vs Albion which you can change but have to send to England to do it). When TC came home I got what was then Rico’s tree narrowed to fit him. It cost $350, which is more expensive than a reflock, but the saddle will literally fit every single horse I ever own. And that’s totally worth it! Also it makes my butt super happy. I don’t love the blocks but my butt is more important than my knees lol


  8. Hey, that’s my saddle fitter too. She’s awesome. I like how she’s so happy to fit saddles you buy elsewhere so you don’t feel like she’s just trying to get your to buy one of here. Sorry for the bad news on saddle fit though, but at least you have a direction to work in.


  9. Finding the right horse, finding the right man, finding the right saddle–the trifecta of ups and downs.

    I’m glad you’re on the path to getting not one, but two new saddles!

    I will never forget the day the County rep came out and I rode Knight in the wool flocked demo. He felt so much different–more forward and maybe even a little floaty (a tiny bit). Can’t wait to see how this shapes up.


  10. Good luck in the saddle hunt!! Sounds like you have a very knowledgeable and reasonable saddle fitter helping you out. I have always been curious how often, if ever, a saddle fitter actually tells someone their saddle is a good fit. 😉


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