Two weeks ago I gave my 42 year old Stubben Siegfried its yearly deep larding. When I got to the girth billet straps it became clear to me that I have to make some decisions, however much the horses prefer my Stubben Siegfried it is no longer safe for me to ride in as the front left billet strap could split all the way down the center without warning. GRUMBLE, I have been avoiding this decision for a year, hoping things would last long enough so I could save up for a replacement saddle. This is an OLD saddle, with a crease in the seat, worn out seat cushion, and pretty deep wrinkles in the leather under the knee rolls. I will have to replace two billet straps and just hope that the saddle lasts several more years.
But until then I will have to ride in another one of my saddles. My first choice, as always, is my beloved 36 years old 17” Crosby “Wide Front”, a spring treed saddle made with decent English leather. Do not let the name fool you like it did me at first, the only reason this saddle is called a “wide front” is because it is one size wider than the old Crosby Prix de Nations saddle made for narrow backed shark fin withered Thoroughbreds. Since I have my Corrector pad I decided to try it though it is a little too narrow for the Arabs I ride. One of the reasons that Len Brown developed the Corrector pad because he knew of several trainers that refused to ride in any saddle but their favorite saddle, and that these trainers did not care that their prize saddle might not fit every horse they train. The Corrector is designed to protect the horse’s back from the front and back of the saddle tree and to give the horse’s back room to move even with saddles that do not fit perfectly. So I shimmed up the back of my Corrector pad for my Crosby so the center of the seat would be flat and tried this combination with both Mick (twice) and Mia (once).
Riding the horses they did not seem too put out with the change of saddle but it did not work for me very well. During my first ride on Mick I had to lengthen my stirrup leathers a hole and I still could not easily find the “sweet point” of the seat. Since this saddle is just a little bit too small for me I was not surprised, this saddle fits me very closely when the rear is not shimmed up. Mick strode forth at the walk and gave me no problems trotting, but I definitely was not getting any feelings of joy from him. Meanwhile my seat bones were pointedly telling me that they missed my sheepskin seat saver I had been using on my Stubben because the seat padding finally died. So for the next ride (on Mia) I put my other seat saver on the Crosby, and while that made my seat bones more comfortable Mia started to “tell” me that she wanted another saddle on. She did nothing drastic even though she was still focused on her new “love”, the new mare Quizzy, and was quite irritated with me when I told her to walk and trot away from Quizzy, irritated enough that if the saddle had been hurting her she would have vehemently shown her displeasure. Mia never hesitates to correct me if I make her too uncomfortable even when she is cheerful, and when she is displeased she becomes even more determined to show me how displeased she is if I am hurting her in any way.
I tried the Crosby one more time on Mick. My ride was good, but when we girthed him up Mick put up more of a fuss than usual in spite of Debbie and I doing the Ttouch circles on his back and shoulders (Clouded Leopard circles), and for the girth area (Abalone circles and belly lifts using my pretty wide girth.) When we got out to the riding ring Mick had resigned himself to the saddle, but all during my ride he was giving me little hints that all was not right in his world. Halfway through my ride I realized that I would cause Mick and Mia problems if I insisted on riding in my favorite saddle, and I would have to go to my next choice of saddles, my old Wintec 250 with the flocked panels.
I really do not like this saddle, at least compared to my ancient leather jumping saddles. One of the reasons I do not like it is that, under the panels that rest on the back there is a cone shaped projection on the inside of the panels (toward the gullet) where the rear end of the saddle flaps are attached to the body of the saddle. I am sure that the saddlers put this in to make the seat aids more noticeable, and I am sure with a rider that uses a lot of seat aids that the horse’s back would quickly become uncomfortable and even painful. Luckily for the horses I ride I ride Forward Seat and I rarely use any seat aids in my riding. Still none of the horses I rode with this saddle before I got my Corrector pad liked the saddle, and ever since I found these projections I absolutely refuse to use the Wintecs without the Corrector pad under them. The other reason I don’t like this saddle is that even though it is an 18” saddle it fits my seat almost as tight as my 17” Crosby and the saddle flaps are not really long enough to take my long thigh. I fixed my saddle flap problem by taking the velcroed knee pads out, but this saddle really has never felt as good to me as my leather jumping saddles.
Luckily I had recently tested all the Wintec gullets on Mick’s and Mia’s backs and my Wintec was already set up with the one that fit them, the red gullet plate which Wintec calls its WIDE gullet plate. So I sat down and thought and decided to do one shim in each corner of my Corrector pad. When the horse is wearing the Corrector under a saddle that fits they relax their backs and the front of the saddle goes down a little, this is why I used the front shims. I used the rear shims because I wanted the center of the seat to be as flat as possible. On Friday I got to use the Wintec on Mia. She relaxed some when she realized that I was using a saddle that fit her in the front. I got up on her expecting to feel a lot less secure in the saddle but I found that since I had lifted the rear of the saddle all of a sudden I had found the sweet spot of security, for once my thigh was lying in the “rider’s groove” and I felt more secure than in my old leather jumping saddles. Woo-Hoo!!!! THAT was a first! I had to lengthen my stirrups leathers a hole and they still felt too short so I just concentrated on making my leg longer by keeping my knees and heels down. I felt wonderful, united with my saddle and my horse, but then my lower back started hurting me, and it continued to hurt me throughout my ride. Oh-oh, that hasn’t happened to me for years and years. After my head-on collision with a drunk driver 28 years ago I essentially stopped riding for over five years because my lower back hurt so much every time I rode even though I changed saddles and tried many other things to help my back. I DO NOT want to ride with my lower back giving me fits! It just takes all the joy out of riding. So the rear shims in the Corrector when I use my Wintec 250 will have to go, I would rather feel a little bit insecure in the saddle with my back feeling comfortable than secure with my back muscles spasming. So next week I will try riding with just the front shims in, hopefully my back will feel better.
However since the rear shims had shifted my seat just enough so that I got into the “rider’s groove” I decided to try it with my Wintec Wide saddle that I use on Shannon’s table backed horses. Today I rode Bobby and my Wintec Wide with the added rear shims in the Corrector pad, and it was not as uncomfortable as before and my back did not bother me too much. While the ends of the tree were still jutting out to my thigh it was in a slightly different place and I gained an inch or two of frictional grip though the inside of my knees still had some air space under them. Today Bobby showed progress, probably because while Shannon was grooming him and tacking him up I did the Clouded Leopard Ttouches on his neck and his shoulders on both sides (instead of just one side like last week.) Bobby did not grind his bit (the Mullen mouth Kimberwick) when it was put in his mouth, Bobby did not grind his bit when we walked, and it was only after 10 minutes into the ride that Bobby started do one or two slow thoughtful chews on his bit after we stopped. It was so good not to have to hear Bobby trying to chew his metal bit into two pieces! I had no “discussions” with Bobby today, he would start to pretzel himself up, I would make sure I was centered in the saddle, and he would straighten out in response to my leg and hand aids. I only had to use my seat aids on some of the turns. I even dared to try some figure-8’s with him around two barrels Shannon has in her ring. These figure-8’s were not good even circles at all, but I was able to keep Bobby more or less on track even when we got near to Shannon. I was just happy that we were able to do them without a major blow-up on Bobby’s part. Perfection will come later, much later. Otherwise I mostly worked on trying to do straight lines, and those times that I kept even contact with both reins and I used my legs and my outside indirect rein of opposition whenever he started turning his head to the center of the ring I got more straight steps out of Bobby than I have for years. Yeah, success I can build on!
If I get my Wintec 250 so that I ride in it with some security and comfort I won’t have to get the girth billets replaced on my Stubben before I get my EZ-fit treeless saddle for Shannon’s table backed horses. I COULD decide to use my ancient leather dressage saddle, but I do not enjoy riding Forward Seat in it, my knees project an inch or two in front of the flap! After I get the EZ-fit I will save up and get my Stubben fixed, but even then I am going to have to replace it eventually. I have been looking at the Thorowgood saddles, they have adjustable gullet plates that do not have the kink that the Wintec gullet plates have and they have finally put out a jumping saddle with an 18” seat. It sounds like I would have to get two of them, one for the more normally backed horses using the long gullet plates and one for the wider backed horses using the short gullet plates. Since I have a looong thigh and I ride Forward Seat I really do not fit in most of the GP saddles so it sort of distresses me that Thorowgood’s saddle for cobs/low withered horses is a GP saddle as this is the one I would probably need for Cider, and I would have to adjust my seat and riding to the saddle once again. Maybe one day they will make a low wither jumping saddle too! Until then I will have to ride Cider in my greatly hoped for EZ-fit treeless saddle.
I am not wealthy. If I do not spend my allowance for a year on tack, bits and books I can get ONE saddle that costs under $1,000. If I decided to get a good leather saddle I would have to save my allowance for two to six years. Since I am riding other people’s horses I decided that it made a lot more sense for me to buy saddles with the adjustable pommels than having to get a different saddle every time I changed horses. Since my funds are limited I would rather buy a decently made synthetic saddle than several sized cruddy cheap leather saddles. This is why I bought my Wintecs and why the next treed saddles I get will probably be the Thorowgoods. I look at the modern Stubbens (I particularly like the looks of the Roxanne) and think of all the saddles I would have to get to be able to put a properly fitting saddle of all the horses I ride, and I have decided that unless I win one of the big interstate lottery games I will have to learn to like synthetic saddles. At least nowadays there are alternatives to Wintec, something for which I am profoundly grateful.
May all of your saddles fit you and your horses perfectly.
Have a great ride!