These first two photos are of Note and me doing a saddle fit trial in an extra narrow County Innovation. This saddle is one of my favorites, and one which looks pretty darn close to a good fit when he's standing still.
The bucking showed that Note wasn't entirely comfortable with the fit of this saddle as-is. I've taken his measurements and compared them to Raven's, who is built very similarly to him. They are close in age, both just under 16 hands tall, both have high withers, both have strong opinions on things with a temper to back it up.
They even have similar bucking styles - this is Raven expressing her opinion.
I got a great question this weekend while I was messing around with saddles for Note. I was asked, "Since your horses tend to express themselves with shenanigans anyway, how do you know whether it's saddle pain or just being fresh?" It's an excellent question, as I often ride my horses through nonsense unrelated to saddle fit. The big giveaway is that "poor saddle fit" bucking causes back pain in my own body. Usually I'll hurt in the same place the horse does once I take the saddle off and palpate his back. Horses being silly and playing doesn't hurt (unless they get me off, then the ground can be sort of hard....)
There are other things I notice when it's saddle fit, too. Note moves with tension in his gaits, smaller steps that may be faster or slower than normal for him. When cantering he will toss his head, but also weave left and right like a fish, often swapping leads and finally deciding to keep one lead in his front end and the other lead in his hind end. When he is comfortable he will keep the same lead in front and back, his head is quiet, and he will canter in a straight line.
This is video from the first ride, and the exciting bits start just after 2:20. It's at that point the impression pad has compressed and Note is starting to feel the true fit - which he obviously doesn't like. Cantering makes any discomfort more obvious, as the gait naturally lends itself to the horse lifting and rounding his back. When the saddle is wrong, lifting your back into pain results in strong objections!
The impression pad is a clear plastic saddle pad filled with red dough. I place this closest to the horse, then tack up as usual and ride for about a half hour. Afterwards when I carefully untack, any displaced dough shows where pressure point were on the horse's back from the saddle or pads.
After this first ride I took a correction half pad and shimmed it in a way that I hoped would resolve Note's issues. Then I rode the same saddle with the correction pad and the impression pad again. The impression wasn't great either time, but Note seemed much more comfortable the second ride, showing that at least the shimmed saddle was better than without a correction pad.
He was so much better behaved that I even popped him over a couple cross rails. That was so I could see how the saddle fit over fences when he was lifting his back in a more pronounced way.
I rode Note in the same saddle again today, with the correction pad but no impression pad. This was so I could try him without the first ride in a painful setup to compare. Note still didn't seem entirely comfortable, although he wasn't a bronc. I think I'll pass on this particular saddle and wait for just the right one. This is a tricky case, as I can tell when the saddle doesn't fit, but in this situation I'm not entirely sure WHY it doesn't fit. At least Note is telling me what he thinks, and since his opinion matters the most I can go with that.
Stay tuned for further saddle fit rides. I'm planning to get Note going well enough to start competing him this year, so a properly fitted saddle is a necessity. I'll get it sorted out eventually, this is just proving to be more complicated than my average tack adjustments.