Debbie, my wonderful riding teacher and manager of a big stable (38 horses or so) has a dream of doing long distance riding. She has her horse, Tercel, an Arabian gelding, but since he is an Arab it can be difficult to find a saddle that FITS him. If you are going to ride a horse long distances, a well fitting saddle is essential if you want a sound, usable horse at the end of the ride. She already bought one saddle that ended up not really fitting Debbie or Tercel, and Tercel HATED that saddle because all the rings on it made too much noise. When she finds time to ride Tercel she has been making do with an old Crosby jumping saddle that she pads up until he is sort of comfortable enough for a short ride but does not fit well enough to do concentrated fitness work (miles and miles and miles worth of wet saddle blankets.)
I have finally convinced Debbie to ride Tercel during my lessons with her, just to give him some work even if it is only 30 minutes at a time, hardly a wet saddle blanket! The week before I suggested to Debbie that she try my EZ-Fit treeless saddle on him, mostly to give Tercel a chance to give his opinion of this saddle, and also to give Debbie a “feel” of how he moves with a really relaxed back. You see, if you ride a horse enough in tack that really does not fit well, all the tense muscles and lack of suppleness start to feel normal and correct. I thought it would be good for Debbie to get a feeling of how Tercel moves when he is not defending his back from a poorly fitting saddle. I also wanted to see how this horse, sort of notorious for sudden starts and panicked reactions, would react to the EZ-Fit saddle. Tercel had never been girthed up with a saddle that uses the girthing system of my treeless saddle, the rear billet straps attach to the back third of the saddle, both to spread out the pressure on the horse’s back and to keep the cantle from bouncing, and the rear billet slants from the saddle, diagonally across his rib cage, to the buckles of a dressage girth. Due to Tercel’s past history of freak outs from anything different and new, neither Debbie or I were really sure how he would react to the new girthing arrangement.
My son and I groomed Mia, I trimmed her hooves, and I left my son to start tacking Mia up while I went to help Debbie saddle Tercel. At first he did not know what to think about the non-slip pad, it was shaped differently from all the pads he had known and loved throughout the years. I held Tercel while Debbie placed the saddle on his back, and he sort of relaxed, since the EZ-Fit saddle is a lot lighter he already knew something was different in a pleasant sort of way. We girthed him up slowly, I find with the EZ-Fit I have to put the front buckle of the girth up three holes before I can get the back girth buckle up to the first hole, and when we got the girth started on both sides Debbie went from side to side slowly tightening the girth. When she put the stirrups down Tercel had apparently decided that there was absolutely nothing to be scared of from this saddle and he did not react at all. So Debbie put on Tercel’s Spirit bitless bridle while I put on Mia’s bridle and two exercise/quarter sheets (there was a really cold breeze) and I followed Debbie to the ring.
By the time Tercel got to the ring he had obviously decided that the new saddle would not attack and kill him. He calmly let Debbie get on, and calmly proceeded around the ring, relaxed, tail gently swinging, head sort of low (Debbie’s weight was in a new place so he was adjusting to it), ears pricked forward, and with a pleasant look on his face. He ignored several excuses to throw a hissy fit. Then she asked for a trot, and he gaily trotted off, after the first few steps he started that wonderful springy, impulsive trot he has when he is comfortable and happy. Tercel was causing no problems at all. Unfortunately Debbie was a lot less comfortable in the saddle than Tercel was carrying it on his back, she had trouble getting her balance right, the stirrup leathers (lined and rather substantial) bothered her legs, and her hips started bothering her because of the wider “twist” of the saddle. I commiserated with her, reminding her that we hunt seat riders are rather spoiled when it comes to saddles, our type of saddles are made for riding all-day fox hunts at all gaits and levels of activity (and, at least historically, different levels of sobriety.) We are truly spoiled in the saddle department if the saddle is big enough for us! I called my son over and he helped Debbie get the stirrup in the correct place on her foot and she became a little happier (I have this trouble too,) but she still complained about her right leg just not feeling “right.” Tercel did not seem to react much to Debbie’s discomfort until the canter on the right lead, and then his ears stopped being pricked cheerfully forward and he started looking less happy. However he still ignored several excuses for freaking out (ducks quacking, dogs racing up and down the outside of the ring, birds flying off suddenly.) Then Debbie had to get down to rescue a dog who could not figure out how to get through the cow pasture fence, and Tercel stood peacefully at the riding ring’s fence, unheld and untied, until Debbie made it back to him after a minute or so.
So Tercel likes the EZ-Fit saddle, but Debbie is not comfortable in it, not comfortable enough to ride hundreds of miles in it!
Meanwhile Mia was not too happy. She never likes sharing the riding ring with other horses, and she spent her time making unpleasant faces at Tercel whenever he got closer than 20 feet. Mia was stiff and I think her occult spavin in her right hock was bothering her. It was also the first time this autumn I used two exercise sheets on her and she was not sure that she approved (even though I did it plenty of times last winter.) She would trot sound but she just could not get into it and all she gave me was this shuffling plod around the ring. Walking was fine (in-between all the times she made faces at Tercel,) backing, turning without using the reins, etc., so long I stayed at a walk. Since she is nearly thirty years old I did not make an issue of it, after all getting after her for being stiff and sore would be like yelling at a ninety year old arthritic woman for not being able to jump around like a teen-age cheer leader. So I just walked her around the jumps and concentrated on how well Tercel was doing in the saddle I lent him.
At the end of the ride Debbie decided to work with Tercel on opening the riding ring’s gate while she was still mounted. Since the gate is new Debbie had to figure out how to time the new latch and how much force she had to use to swing the gate. She finally succeeded and she and Tercel opened the gate into the ring. I am happy to report that the EZ-Fit treeless saddle stayed still on Tercel’s back and did not bother him at all by slipping over to one side, which is pretty good since we did not tighten the girth at all.
So Debbie’s saddle search continues. At least now her seat bones know how Tercel’s back feels when it is comfortable. This will help her in the future to determine whether Tercel is happy with whatever saddle is on his back. Then, after she works him for several months and his back muscles change, she may have to go through her saddle search all over again. Such is life with horses.
Have a great ride!