From Endurance to Dressage
I have a really great team of professionals who keep my horses fit and healthy. My vet, farrier, chiropractor, trainer, and saddle fitter are all genuinely concerned about the well-being of my two boys as well as my success as a competitor. Unfortunately, they rarely get to meet - how cool would that be?, but I make sure to pass on any observations to the team member who most needs to know.
Even though she was out less than a year ago, I was able to have Tina Fitch, saddle fitter extraordinaire, out on Wednesday to evaluate my saddle's fit. I use the same saddle on both horses, so I am pretty vigilant about keeping up on its suitability for what, at first glance, looks like two, totally different shaped bodies. Speedy is 15'1 with good withers and a well sprung ribcage. Izzy is 16'3 also with well formed withers and a lot of back.
Even though my saddle has felt balanced while I ride, I decided that with the move to Third Level, it was worth having it looked at again sooner than expected. It didn't take Tina long to say that everything was in great shape; no adjustment was needed. She liked the fit better on Speedy and reminded me that she doesn't love it on Izzy, but with careful placement of my half pad, it still works.
I didn't get off scot-free though. Before she even looks at a saddle, Tina always gives the horse a pretty thorough hands-on exam. Seeing where a horse is tight or tender gives her an idea of what she might expect to find on the saddle. To her surprise, and mine, she immediately discovered that Speedy's back was pretty tight. That's the first time she's ever noticed anything amiss.
She asked a lot of questions - was my trainer happy with my position? I think so. Has Speedy been behaving differently? He's been kind of grumpy. What pad am I using? The same one as last time. Try as she might, she just couldn't find an issue with the saddle that would account for the tightness in his back.
I told her that we made the move to Third Level this year which has meant an increase in Speedy's workload. She agreed that the work we were doing could explain the tightness, as could just general anxiety associated with his "winter of woe." I had told her about the three abscesses, the Cushing's diagnosis, the lacerations to his front legs, the knocked out tooth, and the recent bubble wrap debacle. His pasterns are nearly healed by the way.
Tina shook her head in amazement and said that all of that combined stress could have just added up to a tense, sore back. While she was working on the other two saddles, I put in a call to my chiropractor. He was at a cutting show, but assured me he'd make it to the ranch within a day or two to give Speedy a check. Like I said, I have a great team of professionals.
While a saddle fitting isn't free, getting a professional evaluation of my horses' backs and comfort level is worth the fee. What I thought was just grumpiness as Speedy recovers from his woeful winter, might actually be due to some soreness. And if my chiropractor can adjust him before it turns into something more serious, the saddle fitting (and chiropractor) fee will be more than worth it.
Asking my horses to work so hard for me means that I owe them these small courtesies. They're worth it.
After two years, we were finally able to get our favorite saddle fitter to come to Bakersfield. Tina Hoover has an excellent eye for correct saddle fit, and she has brilliant explanations for why saddles do this and that.
I have to admit to being a complete failure in the media department though. She checked my saddle from top to bottom and front to back and then she did it all again with the saddle on each horse. Me? I just stood there taking it all in while forgetting to get pictures of her working. Sorry.
In my defense, it was the quickest saddle adjustment ever. Tina popped the saddle up on Speedy's smooth, white back and shifted it around. She looked at me with a so sorry expression. No adjustment needed, she explained. This saddle fits great.
What?!? I was shocked. The past several times she has adjusted my saddle, she has had to move quite a bit of flocking around as I sit on my right seat bone more than the left. This has the effect of squashing the wool on the right side panel, making my saddle uneven.
Over the past two years, I must have been paying attention during lessons because my saddle's wool flocking is now suggesting that I am sitting evenly on my seat bones. Score one for me!
Tina popped the saddle up on Izzy's back and did much of the same scooting, sliding, and re-positioning. Believe it or not, Speedy is a fair bit wider through his shoulders and rib cage than is the big brown horse. Arabs are known for having very well sprung rib cages, and Speedy is no exception.
While the saddle fits Speedy better than it does Izzy, it is still a good fit for my Zweibrücker. Tina said that while a narrower tree might give a more perfect ft, this saddle fits just fine, especially if I use a half pad with a regular dressage pad.
While I knew the saddle wasn't a horrible fit for Izzy, it was a relief to get a nod of approval from a professional saddle fitter. I am hankering for a second saddle, but knowing that this one fits Izzy well enough will keep that money in my pocket a bit longer.
Next up ... the chiropractor puts in his two cents.
The saddle fitter was out this past weekend. Good thing she’s really nice as I peppered her with questions the entire time she worked. She’s adjusted my saddle’s flocking for the past three years, and I always have new questions for her.
I popped over to my trainer’s barn on Friday just to watch some lessons. Even though I don’t jump, I enjoy watching the other gals go, and they are always quite tolerant of my questions (I ask EVERYONE questions). I just learned what chipping means (adding a stride). After everyone was done riding, we had a discussion about saddle fitting. No one at JL’s barn ever has their saddles adjusted, and when I asked why not, no one seemed to know why it was necessary.
So when Tina Hoover, my saddle fitter, showed up, that was my first question: why don’t the H/Js get their saddles adjusted? The simple answer was that many jumping saddles have foam inside and not flocking. Hmm … didn’t know that. The more complicated answer had a lot do with how little contact with the horse’s back that H/Js have. Dressage riders have far more contact with their horses’ backs and are far more likely to feel when the saddle isn’t sitting quite right.
And that was exactly why I felt my saddle needed some work. For the past little while, I have felt that I was tilting to the right. My saddle wasn’t slipping, but I just felt … crooked. I always assume that any glitch in my riding experience has to do with my ineptness. If my saddle feels crooked, it’s probably me, but since she was scheduled to be in my area, I figured having her professional eye was a good call.
Surprisingly, the crookedness wasn’t completely my fault. The flocking under my left thigh had been compacted and was in need of re-fluffing/re-stuffing. In addition, the pommel of my saddle had also dropped; it’s hard to sit back when your saddle is pitching you forward!
Tina had me hop up on Speedy G, saddled without a pad, so that she could see how her adjustments worked in real life. Right away I felt that I was sitting more deeply into the saddle and it was a whole lot easier to sit up and back. Tina called it giving me a different place to sit. Definitely.
Then we put the saddle on Sydney. It was better than it had been, but right away I could feel that my pelvis was tipped forward, and I didn’t have that same feeling of sitting on my seat bones. Tina snapped this quick photo, which proved that what I was feeling was correct. Believe it or not, Speedy is actually wider than Sydney. So on him, the pommel sits up higher, which allows me to sit in the deepest part of my saddle’s seat. Since Sydney is a bit narrower, the saddle’s pommel drops down slightly over his withers. There’s still plenty of clearance, but I am pitched forward a little bit.
This was very interesting because when Tina was out last year, the saddle sat pretty evenly on both horses while the year before, it fit like it did this weekend. Tina had a very interesting explanation for the change. She said that one possibility is that as a horse works in a more uphill frame, the muscling around the withers gets narrower. There’s a lengthy explanation as to why, and I am not sure that I understand it well enough to explain it, but it did seem to fit with the work that Sydney has been doing this past year.
Fortunately, the fix is pretty easy. Since the saddle fit Speedy so well, it seemed easier to just go back to the riser pad that I had been using on Sydney last year. It raises the front of the saddle by about an inch, which is hopefully all he needs.
Since I started riding in a dressage saddle, I’ve had my saddle’s flocking adjusted once a year. We don’t have any local saddle fitters, but if we did, I think I would have my saddle looked at every six months. That leads me to ask: if you’re a H/J, is your saddled filled with foam or flocking? If it’s flocked, do you get it adjusted? For the dressage crowd, how often do you have your saddled adjusted?
I told you I ask a lot of questions.
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at Second Level. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2021 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2021 Pending …
3/6-7 El Sueño (***)
4/17-18 El Sueño (***)
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
5/23 TMC (*)
6/12-13 SB (***) OR
6/19-20 El Sueño (***)
6/27 TMC (*)
7/3-4 Burbank (***) OR
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
7/25 TMC (*)
8/14-15 RAAC (Q) (***)
8/29 TMC (*)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
2021 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2nd Level Qualifying
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 60.610% Bhathal
2nd Level Qualifying
5 Scores/4 Judges/61%:
Stuff I Read