Why can't saddle fitters agree?!

 Isn't there great comfort in a set of rules?  For my job, a "universal truths of saddle fitting", so you can assess saddles and fitters against each other?

If only.

Did you know there are many, many ways to fit a saddle?

The series of debates hosted by the Professional Saddle Fitter's Association (linked to at the bottom of the article) looks at this issue and the divisiveness it causes. Most designers and fitters are trained in, usually, just one of these many approaches/protocols for what a well-fitting saddle looks like. I write this as a fitter who fitted only one (admittedly brilliant!) brand for 12 years and then had to almost re-learn everything I thought I knew to take on a completely different second brand.

Let me explain the "philosophy" behind the two brands I fit.

AH Saddles are fitted to spread pressure (broad fairly flat panels, gussets to rear and usually to the front too) and are fitted to be close, to be low on the horse, to aid with stability so they don't slip except in extremis. They do this, in my opinion better than any other wide horse brand, or, generally, any other models aimed at cobs and natives, though of course there are always horses that WILL need something else. There are 4 trees and two basic panel styles, ALL for wide and flatter backs, the shape absolutely matters, and a handful of flocking can make a lot of difference.

ErgoX2 have a short, "round" panel (made on a last, like a shoe), with a reduced contact area on the horse, and are fitted to free up the shoulder and the thoracolumbar area (at and beyond the back of the saddle). The design for the horse is simple, to be in balance and allow the horse to push up at the base of the wither, and to that end they get the rider in the right place for the horse to be able to do that, and facilitate the rider's aiding to help with that where needed. They will not work well on very asymmetric horses and each saddle only works well if the fit of the saddle for the rider is good (their USP is placement/stability of the rider).

Do they even sound like the same product, doing essentially the same job?  Maybe not.  They do have things in common - wooden (laminate) trees, flocked panels and of course are made from leather but that's about where it ends.

The ReactorPanel (flexi panel) saddles I fitted years ago had a "similarly different" set of protocols for fitting. Do you find it confusing when you're reading about saddles, trying to select a fitter, or, of course, a brand?!

What we have to do is understand the protocols of how each saddle should be fitted.

AH saddles, as with many British brands, are designed to have the tree points about 2" behind the back edge of the shoulder blade (often further back than people realise), and for the weight bearing area, usually right towards the back of the saddle (almost all the way around the curve of the panel, though how to decide where this point is is hotly disputed with some wanting to reference the tree rather than the panel), to not extend beyond the last rib. Again there are more debates about whether it should be the last rib or the actual vertebra, T18.

Note the gussets front and rear, the flat panel shape, shallower through the middle, and the panel sewn into the sweat flap, a fairly standard British saddle type construction.

With ErgoX2 the panel is designed to relieve the shoulder and thoracolumbar areas, with very little or any contact at the very front and rear with a rounded panel shape.  The saddle is fitted to the rider so that they can inwardly rotate the thigh as well as not overweighting the seat bones, carrying extra weight down that inner thigh where the horse can most easily carry it.  All this means we can actually place the saddle slightly over the rearward position of the shoulder blade (when the leg swings forwards) AND we can, if necessary to fit the rider's pelvis, fit the saddle to extend beyond the back rib.

Note the lack of gussets front and rear, the minimal contact area designed into the front of the saddle and the rounder, deeper shape in the middle of the panel.  In addition these panels float freely through the middle of the saddle, not being stitched into the sweat flap (see .

Why?

Because of where they place the rider's weight. You can think that the T18 rule is about kidneys – it might be – or the lack of skeletal structure, again it might be. However, it could be that we stop at the last rib in an effort to actually keep the rider forward more over the horse's centre of gravity, and on a part of the back with the least movement. These British style saddles tend to sit the rider slightly to the back of the seat, the way they're designed, so to keep the rider forwards, the saddle must be short. There is also an argument that the horse's control of its pelvis is affected if the rider's weight is further back.

And how do we consider the shoulder when fitting a more traditional British type of saddle? Set a saddle back to achieve shoulder freedom….most of us do exactly this when fitting, plus of course the overall fit of the saddle will allow, or not, the various muscles that control the shoulder, to function correctly. It's not all about the fit right at the front.

These two fundamentally different approaches affect all sorts of things – from panel filling through to location of girth straps.

Note the slightly different position/placement of the rider on the horse: AH on the left showing great shoulder freedom from setting the saddle back correctly, ErgoX2 in the middle with a wonderful before and after shot from a colleague in Canada, and another ErgoX2 on the right showing that forward position seat (a cm or two makes a lot of difference!).

If I tried to fit an AH like I fit an ErgoX2, or vice versa, I'd be in trouble. Imagine how different the rules for treeless and treed might be, for funky semi flexible endurance saddles compared to a little show saddle on a non-spring tree with a thin panel, for a racing saddle compared to a stock saddle…all with different types of trees, panel, and beliefs behind their design.

There IS no one way to fit a saddle, to make a rider more stable but keep flexibility, and ability to move, for the horse. We have, for too long, been told that there are simple, universal rules of saddle fit, that your qualified, generalist saddle fitter is the only one to trust to assess your saddle and tell you if it fits or not.

I've always felt strongly there is room for specialists, those who have different experience, different training, different models and perhaps an understanding of things beyond those on offer from your local fitter. The industry is changing…we must be more open minded…there are many roads to Rome.

Here's the webinar from before Christmas, there are others both on YouTube and to purchase from the PSFA.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldPyKS3WLtc

https://professionalsaddlefittersassociation.org/shop 

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