Back Profile and Tree Selection – Part 2 – Horses with low or no withers

Hopefully you found part one on horses with withers useful, now let's get onto a bit more of a specialist topic for me, flatter backs and mutton withers!

If you read the last post you'll already have an idea of what we're looking at here – lower pommels and flatter seats.And you'd mostly be right but I'll add in a little caveat later.So let's look at some flatter backed horses, and some suitable saddles.

First we have Fiona Gunn's Connemara.Her pony is a classic shaped Connemara, a low wither to a pretty flat back, not totally straight as some can be (Icelandics and others can have "ruler-straight" backs).Here are the landmarks we looked at last time, though often harder to see in round ponies!

The shoulder looks pretty laid back giving the classic native short saddle platform.You will notice that there is a drop from the front blue line (shoulder blade, where the front edge of the saddle will sit) to the rear red line (back rib) which means that the saddle will need to be slightly lifted at the back to balance it, requiring at least a small rear gusset.

On the left below is our Sport GP, the model we would most commonly fit to Connies, one of several models built on the "Sport Pony" tree.It is not our flattest tree but certainly is certainly classed as very flat relative to the average.The rear gusset is moderate in size (though smaller than those we saw on the Classic and the VSD) and works for most fairly level to uphill shapes.  

On the right is the Supercob GP, even flatter (and overall a wider tree).You can see that both these saddles have a much shallower seat than those in the last post, reflecting the flatter fit on the horse.You will also see, especially in this Sport GP, the flat spot in the bottom of the seat, showing off those flat rails.The Supercob GP is a slightly different shape but does fit super flat overall.It has an even smaller rear gusset due to the very flat backs it's designed for.

Both saddles have the low pommel of a truly flat tree plus the low cantle - there is no need for a higher cantle though it is possible to add one for some purposes (such as on our Supercob Dressage model).This means the seats are generous, you'd be surprised, and riders often are, at the size of bottom that will fit in these saddles!

When looking at seat size and space available there are fewer variables with flatter backs, they need a flatter tree anyway so there's little change in the shape of the tree you can fit if you can move the smaller saddle backwards.  What we should look at perhaps more closely with the flatter back is the shape the back makes when it lifts. This IS a factor in the higher withered horse but it's not always so crucial, and with the saddles we fit the flat rails cope with a raised back very well.But here we're talking about backs that become table top when trotting or cantering, video your horse on the lunge and have a look! So often you need a flatter tree than you might realise, and the flocking may very well need to be adjusted to cope with that raised back shape, even bridging very mildly when the horse is just standing.

On the left is another common shape that we fit – Laura Oughton-Aukers's Dartmoor.Luckily Laura fits in a 15" saddle otherwise we'd have been stumped, he is in the same tree as the Sport GP, but as he is more level between where the front and back of the saddle sit, his Symphony show saddle, has very small rear gussets. On the right a rescue cob, Florence, owned by Kerry Speaight who also goes in the Sport GP, it has adequate clearance for her wither, though not as much as on a lower wither, and is nice and short on her back.

 ​Moving onto the Supercob GP here's Marty on the left, the Section D belonging to my brand ambassador Emma Sayer. At this point he was very wide, a XXXW, and round across the top of the withers, rounder than he looks in the photo.He also lifts his back a lot in work so the flatter the tree the better.And finally we have the very wide Ebby, a Dales owned by Anna Millar. Ebby has since lost a few kilos but is a classic example of a Supercob fit – very flat and wide, I think you can see the width in the photo!

Here is a very interesting shape on the left, not a horse I have fitted but it's a great photo of a dipped/sway back. I see this issue a lot, but in Louise Kukainis' Neo's case, an Iberian breed, it is fairly extreme.On the right is a Savvy, sadly no longer with us, a coloured cob, owned by Karen King.He is without such a dipped back, but is fairly curvy and croup high (3-4" higher at the croup than the wither); it's a photo I use a lot on my social media as it shows how we fit such a downhill shape. 

I would actually approach both Ebby and Neosimilarly – neither has a real wither though they do have curve. Neo has a classic sway back but if you look at the shoulder blade marked in blue you'll see there actually is very little wither above it, perhaps some forwards of it, so the shape behind the shoulder blade is not a drop down from a high wither (which is formed by extended spinal processes), it's a curved spine. Specifying a curvier tree isn't the way we fit these horses as we believe not only does it lead to the saddle perching up pretty high, as well as restricting seat room on what are nearly always short backs, but the shape of the tree in the middle (to be covered in future posts) just isn't right for wider backs on the whole.We would usually fit a flat tree but with a very short, curved panel.The flatter, wider tree gives more room for the horse to lift its back and move then the plain panel at the back is much more sympathetic to the curved back than a large rear gusset which would be needed on a tree with more of a curve.This approach all in all gives much freedom for the horse and more stability for horse and rider. 

The last photo shows Savvy wearing his Sport GP with this"upswept" panel; you can see the difference to a gusseted panel in the Facebook post linked below, the first of four photos illustrating the panel shapes. The bonus is that the rider gains extra space without a longer footprint, however on a more "normal" shaped back the saddle will tip back; there is no "free lunch" when you go to a shorter footprint like this, no magic "put a larger seat on a smaller panel" solution as so many seem to recommend. No matter the design, if made correctly, the saddle will sit lower at the back compared to one with the panel that matches the seat size.

I hope this gives us a good start on tree shape, there is a lot left to cover, so watch this space for more blog posts. 

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Steph Bloom - A new upswept panel version of the Sport GP,... | Facebook

A new upswept panel version of the Sport GP, 17", on the left, an ex demo version with the full gusseted rear panel on the right.
Emma Sayer and her day shadowing Steph
Back Profile and Tree Selection – Part 1 – Horses ...

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Tuesday, 18 February 2020

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