I got some good photos this weekend of Sara and Fergie trying out different saddles. We had to kiss a few frogs before we found the prince of a dressage saddle for Sara to purchase, but it's always a learning experience determining the right fit for a horse and rider.
Fergie has a narrow back, with high withers and a long distance between the back of her shoulder blade and the lowest point on her back. Because of these things we needed to find her a saddle that was narrow enough to sit balanced front to back. We also needed something that was fairly long so that the lowest point on the saddle would line up with the lowest point on her back. Because gravity is the rule on our planet, if those two points aren't in alignment the saddle will scoot backwards until those two points do coincide. Trying to keep the saddle forwards using a breastplate would only exacerbate the poor fit. Conversely, if I had a horse with a very short back and the saddle was too long, the saddle would shimmy forwards until those low points aligned, causing the saddle to creep up the horse's neck.
This first pair of photos shows how one of the saddles worked, or didn't work. The saddle was a fairly good fit for Fergie the mare, perhaps a touch narrow in the gullet. This caused the saddle to sit rocked back a bit, with the front of the saddle a little higher than it should be in relation to the back of the saddle. As a result, Sara was pushed backwards into a chair seat, with her legs out in front of her. She said that this saddle felt like she was definitely sitting ON the saddle, not IN it. The video of them riding in this saddle can be seen here:
When I watched her ride it looked like she was struggling to find her balance, because she couldn't get her legs underneath her. I've added the white lines to the photos so you can see that Sara's leg is not anywhere near the line. Her leg should fall directly beneath her seat, so that the line intersects her ear, shoulder, hip, and heel. Sara is generally a very well balanced rider, so I knew that this saddle was throwing her off.
We tried several different saddles, some I was able to rule out by looking at the way they fit Fergie while she was standing still. There were a few that looked pretty good, though, and so we had Sara ride Fergie in those with the impression pad. The impression pad is basically a clear saddle pad filled with red dough. As the ride progresses, the dough shifts out of the way, and when I remove the saddle I'm left with an impression of how that saddle fits that horse's back with that rider. This is important because a horse's back changes shape when she is moving, and a saddle that fits well when the horse is holding still might still create pressure points when the horse is moving. This saddle's impression showed what I suspected: it was a little too narrow in the gullet. Even if it had been a perfect fit for Fergie, we still wouldn't have purchased this one because of the position it put Sara in.
This next picture is the saddle that we ended up having Sara purchase. Check out the plumb line on this one!