When to book your Saddle-Fitting.
A Saddle-Fitting Series by Holly Barnett, REMT, CSF
How often should you and your horse get your saddle fit? At minimum, you want to have your saddles checked at least annually as basic maintenance however, twice a year is my general recommendation. A lot can change in 12 months, by the time behaviour and performance problems arise, they’ve been eroding your progress and creating compensation patterns in your horse’s musculature for months. Staying on top of your fit is key to prolonging your horse’s soundness and performance. Here are some factors to consider when answering the questions – when should I book my next fitting?
1) Your Horse’s Age – I know some of you are going to clasp your hands over your ears… young horses need to have their saddles fit! Yes, they are going to grow and change but this is a critical stage in their development period both mentally and physically for horses. The deep spinal muscles are in a delicate state in the immature horse and are susceptible to long term damage that can inhibit a horse’s performance for life. In horses under 6 years of age I recommend no less than twice a year, though monitoring their growth and having a game plan to keep up with the changes as they happen is the best approach. Senior horses also need to be maintained more often as their muscle condition can change rapidly. In order to keep them going strong for years to come be sure to maintain the fit of their saddle. They’ve earned it!
2) Seasons –Some horses work less in the winter and lose condition while others plump up on grass come summer. Pretty much every horse changes once we hit blanket season. Often riding habits shift with the seasons especially when your horse may be in more or less work. Anytime we have a major change in life, weight, training and development, it’s time to take a look at our saddle.
3) Showing – if you show your horse make sure you get your fitting booked well in advance. I can’t tell you the number of people who call the beginning of May scrambling because show season is starting in need an ‘emergency’ saddle fitting. Preparing for show season means getting your saddle fit months ahead of time so that you are dialed in by the time your first show rolls around. Leaving your fitting to the last minute means you’ve been riding in a subpar fit all preseason. Show season starts in January! I also recommend having your saddle re-fit throughout the season. Long hot days, trailering and increased training intensity all cause your horse to change shape. Your horse can’t perform their best if their saddle fit hasn’t followed them through those changes.
4) Rehab – Stop waiting for your horse to put on some topline before getting them fit! ESPECIALLY if they are coming back from an injury or extended period of time off. The most critical time for these horses is in the beginning – set them up for success, document your starting point and evaluate progress from there. Horses who suddenly go from regular to no work will go through serious changes that leave them vulnerable to new injuries when they are started back under saddle again. Work with your fitter, physio and trainer and closely monitor your progress. Taking the right steps in the beginning pays dividends and promotes the best possible outcome for you and your horse.
While this list isn’t exhaustive, it outlines some key considerations to make when deciding how to best maintain the fit of your saddle. In future issues we’ll discuss ways for you to help monitor your saddle and key signs it’s time for a refit.
About the Author: Holly Barnett has been a professional fitter and equine therapist for 20 years. She has worked with horses of all breeds and riders of all levels and disciplines throughout North America. She is the founder of August Equine, located in Campbellville ON. Her team provides saddle-fit consultations of all brands and sales of new and used saddles. Stay tuned for more issues of Beyond the Wither Tracing saddle-fit series. Visit www.augustequine.com for more information.