PostHeaderIcon Saddle Hell Saga

I was a beginning adult rider in the mid 90′s and started out my riding life using my childhood saddle.  My childhood saddle fit my large pony and a narrow Saddlebred horse back in the sixties.

After some months of daily riding, horrid silver dollar size white spots developed on Sage’s withers.  My saddle was too tight and cut the circulation off at those two spots.  After no blood flow for a while, the horse’s hair grows white.  It was a blow as it meant young Sage had experienced pain while I was riding her.

Thus began saddle hell.

We had the Internet then so I was able to look at saddles on the Internet.  I found the Sharon Saare Saddle site.  Sharon was an early endurance rider.  She rode the famed Tevis Endurance ride with a 50 lb western saddle.  Light weight saddles, other than English saddles, were not yet invented.  Sharon invented a light weight Western Saddle.  She then learned that all horses did not fit under one tree.  By the time I found her, she had developed 9 trees.  Clearly, this was the saddle for me.  I ordered a saddle with a tree for a wide mutton withered horse.  Saddle fit at that time was determined by sweat pattern.  I rode the saddle and the sweat pattern was better, but still unacceptable.  I still had too much pressure on her withers.  She did not sweat where the saddle was too tight.  Here is an up to date explanation of all the Sharon Saddles by Barb Peck.  There is not much information detailing the eleven trees now offered by the current owner of the Sharon Saare saddles

I tried different pads.  I tried expensive pads.  I knew that if I spent enough money on magic pads and magic saddles, the problem would be solved.  Sadly, this is a false statement.  Money does not matter in saddle fit.  Knowledge matters.  So far my knowledge had failed.

I went to Equine fairs that had saddle makers.  Some of them gave speeches about saddle fit.  Dave Genadek was the new hero of saddle fit and I got to hear him talk and see his trees and saddles.  Plus he had saddle fitters in my area!  Oh excitement.  A Dave “saddle fitter” came to our barn.  Several of us were interested and different trees were put on the horses to find a fit.  A tree was put on Sage and declared “the right tree”.  I took a picture and had the film developed.  I was leary of Dave’s saddles.  He had only three trees available and I had failed with a saddle company that had 9 trees.  Why would this tree fit Sage when the other didn’t?  It was only when I got the picture of Sage with the tree on her back developed that I understood the problem.  Sage was a “downhill” horse.  Here is Dave’s web site now.

Pictures are two dimensional.  Real life is three dimensional.  I did look at Sage to see if she was a downhill horse early on.  I remember measuring her rear end and her front end.  She did not look downhill.  The wither and the rear measurement were very nearly equal.  I determined early on that she wasn’t a downhill horse.  But now I had a picture of Sage with a wooden tree on her back.  The tree pointed down on her withers. All my weight shifts to the front of the saddle in two silver dollar size pain spots.  Oh my!  This saddle would have been just like the Sharon Saare saddle or even worse.

Shims had not yet come into the saddle fitting vocabulary or perhaps I gave a try to shims and it was just too unknown of a concept for me to grasp.

Questing around for saddle maker experts, I found an Australian saddle maker who claimed he could fit any horse..  I called him.  He told me that he could build shims in the saddle.  He would build in the shims and make the saddle fit.  Oh my!  My excitement level was high.  He had directions on taking pictures and measuring Sage’s back.  I got all this together and picked out my Australian saddle.  It did have a horn.  It also had those knee pads or poley.  With my theory that money makes a difference, I ordered the most expensive saddle he had.  Expensive saddles have lots of leather. Plus I am a large sized person who needs a bigger saddle.  Bigger saddles have more leather and weigh more. Expensive large saddles contain lots of very good leather. When you put these concepts together with a wooden tree and the built-in shims, it makes for heavy.  I now owned a very well made Australian saddle that fit Sage.  Oh I was so happy as I drug that saddle up on Sage.  It might have been the Down Under “The Legend with Horn”. I did love the knee pad/poley.  When I changed back to a Western saddle, I really missed the support of the poley.

I took Sage and Velvet to the Missouri Fox Trotter World Show.  I read the rulebook and the rulebook said they didn’t allow Austratlian saddles in performance classes.  What!  Now I am on fire to find another saddle that I can show in which is a lighter weight.

It is about this time that Brenda Imus came along with her claim to know all things about gaited horses.  Plus, she had a saddle that had a special Supracor® liner that would make her saddle fit all gaited horse.   I sold the Australian behemoth and got my Imus saddle made by Amish saddle makers.  The saddle did OK while I was riding my older horses and the younger horse, JR.  But I had a two year old horse starting out.  After his start, I rode him and always ended up with my saddle on his neck.  And this little upstart colt decided to buck me off one afternoon, breaking my collar bone.  Good Lordy.

There was a strap broken on the saddle and I took it to a local saddle repair guy.  He took one look at the three point saddle girthing rigging system and told me it would likely work its way forward on a horse’s back.  I felt betrayed.  This saddle tried to kill me.  I sold it to a fan of Brenda Imus.

By this time the Tucker saddle had gained a lot of fame.  I ordered a Tucker saddle.  It fit Sage like a glove.  It fit Velvet.  It was a dream saddle.  But wait.  After riding my dream saddle for about an hour, I became a rider in serious pelvic pain.  I would get off barely able to walk.  Surely this was a one-time glitch.  I rode the saddle again and right about at an hour, the pain started.  Now I had a great saddle that fit the horse.  The saddle was comfortable for me for an hour.  I can’t go through life riding for a limited time of an hour.

Here’s how the Tucker tree was explained to me by the foremost saddle dealer in my world at the time, Freddy Fender.   The Tucker human seat is like a basket.  The ride sits on a a comfortable “basket” above the tree.  The “basket” has to be wider than the tree to fit.  Thus a rider’s pelvic bones have to be wider to fit the saddle.  I am a size large large in fat, but my bones are not of a wide enough width to fit the Tucker Saddle.  Oh cry…the best fitting saddle and it makes me moan with intense pain.  I looked for tree information on the Tucker saddle to see what the saddle tree is like now: Tucker Saddle Rider Fit. I would hate to pick out a Tucker saddle now after reading all this information.

Usually, a woman has a wider pelvis than a man and it makes it tougher for a woman to ride a saddle built for a man.  Long ago, this point was made a saddle makers started coming out with women’s saddles.  Who knows if this is being done now!

Next up is the Orthoflex saddle. The Orthoflex saddle was big news at the time.  The inventor, Len Brown, has sold the company and now sells Corrector Pads.  Here is the current  explanation of saddle fit from Len Brown I went to Freddy Fender and explained the situation and how I now wanted the new Orthoflex saddle.  He told me the Orthoflex saddle is built much like the Tucker saddle with the “basket” above the tree.  But he had one particular Orthoflex saddle in mind that was made more narrow in the seat that most of them.  I bought that saddle.  It must have weighed 45 lbs.  I could just barely manage to throw the saddle up on the horse.  When I rode at my original boarding stable, I carried the saddle to the large mounting block.  I got the saddle up on the mounting block.  I got myself up on the mounting block.  I was much better able to put the saddle on the horse with a three foot high head start!  The saddle worked really well.  It fit me and it fit the horse.  I might have had it for about six months when the unthinkable happened.  I carried the saddle out to my trailer, put Sage in and took off to a clinic or trail ride.  I stopped in Harrisonville at the Farm and Home Store.  When I got out of my truck, my back went out.  I was barely able to climb back into the truck cab.  I managed to drive back to the boarding stable.  I had someone get Sage out of the trailer and put her away.  I drove off to the hospital.  It took them a few heating pads and pain medication to get me to where I could make it home into the house.  It was that heavy saddle!  My back just couldn’t take tossing my saddle up on my horse anymore.  Orthoflex saddle had to go!

At this time of the century, more people started getting into saddle fit.  Linda Parelli started studying saddle fit and the instructors were all given a course in saddle fit.  A couple years went by and Linda had an English saddle made for her.  More time had gone by and the Parelli world produced saddles.  I ordered one of the original Natural Performer saddles.  This was a Western saddle.  In my horse life, I was now riding Sue.  Sue was a horse that had been ruined by people and she was slowly starting to return to saneness.  I got my new saddle and rode Sue.  Oh wow!  The Natural Performer was really an English saddle in disguise as a Western saddle.  I felt like is was high and dry on Sue’s back.  It was a very uncomfortable experience.  I don’t really understand how something that looks like a Western saddle rides like an English saddle.  I tried hard with that saddle.  I rode it and was nearly always just slightly nervous in it.  A Western saddle is supposed to be like sitting inside the horse’s back and cuddle you against all sideways motion.  This saddle felt like I was high above my horse and had no support from the seat or fenders to keep from slipping sideways out of the saddle.

I crawled back to Freddy Fender in Harrionsville and met Rhonda Martin.  She had recently moved to Harrisonville and was highly versed in saddle fit.  It was Rhonda that started me out on the Circle Y Flex Lite saddle.  Oh I loved that saddle.  It was light weight.  It fit me.  It acted like a Western saddle.  I came back a few years later and bought a used Circle Y Flex Lite that had a suede seat.  I rode the heck out of that saddle.  Some years later a person at the boarding stable was getting out of horses and he had a pecan colored Cirle Y Flex Lite saddle.  I bought that saddle from him.  I continued to ride in the suede seat saddle.  And that is when my earlier story of the broken tree occurred.

I have no saddle answers.  I wrote this article to describe how difficult saddles can be and some things to think about.  Saddle pads have come a long way.  I have a CSI saddle pad and you get what you pay for…protection for the horse.  I have shims now which need to be used if a horse’s back needs support.  I rely on Rhonda Martin, expert saddle fitter.  When it comes time for me to really think about getting another saddle, I’ll ask Rhonda for advice.  I don’t trust saddle makers.  They go on and on about saddle twist and rock, but there are few companies in existence that make the trees. Saddle makers don’t talk about a downhill horse.  They talk about twist, rock and width of the tree.

I could easily make a Sharon Saare saddle work now with my CSI pad and shims.  Oh the journey to saddle knowledge is huge.  Parelli has now spent years and years of testing saddles and developed many more styles. Checkout Parelli Saddles. They now have a barrel saddle that really makes the rider secure.  Pat Parelli rides in a saddle invented by Craig Johnson.  It has a tree made out of some kind of thick movable rubber life material.

 I have long been impressed by the Steele saddle tree.  Many saddle makers use Steele trees. I just found the Steele tree site and think this is the best explanation possible.  Similar to the Sharon Saare saddle, there are nine different trees and a way to find out if the tree fits your horse.

Buyer Beware.

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