Yesterday I got to do two of my favorite things as a saddle fitter: Deliver a girl and her horse their first “real” saddle, and show another young rider what riding in correct tack feels like.
Toree bought her five year old mare Charlie straight from her let-down from the track. When I met them seven weeks ago for their initial fitting, Charlie was skinny, stiff, and a bit unsure, but incredibly kind and willing. I was so impressed with Toree’s handling of this young mare, and with Charlie’s adaptability to her new surroundings. Given how much horses change coming off the track and into careers like jumping and eventing, a WOW was an obvious choice. In the seven weeks between ordering and delivery, Charlie gained nearly two centimeters of trapezius just behind her scapula, growing more than a tree size in traditional saddle terms! Thankfully, we just put in a wider head plate and set up her Flair to fit, and the saddle we ordered works perfectly!
Seeing their progress under-saddle was inspiring. Toree has worked hard to properly build Charlie’s topline and balance her up, and the symmetry is as obvious under saddle as it is on their new template. When I last saw them, Charlie could barely hold herself up to the left, and now Charlie has a beautiful and balanced left lead. With the help of their new saddle, I expect both horse and rider will develop exponentially in the next few months!
Next up, I got to help Anna and her gelding Sheldon. I met this pair at a clinic over the summer, where Sheldon was a demo horse and I showed how his current saddle was restricting movement in his shoulders and sitting too low on his withers, disallowing topline development and likely contributing to his occasional refusals. Anna had purchased the saddle a few years back, when she was several inches shorter. Her femurs are quite long for her height, and her current saddle cannot accommodate her leg anymore, leaving her feeling insecure.
Sheldon is a typical shark-finned Thoroughbred with big hollows down to his ribcage, which is much wider. One of the unique fit options of a WOW saddle is that we can match the head plate to the angle of the muscle behind the furthest rotation of the scapula, and then lift the pommel off the wither with a specialized panel. When this is not an option, we can also use a V-style headplate, which lifts the front of the saddle higher than a U-style without changing the angle. Both options allow for wither clearance without having to go too narrow down lower. In this case, I did the first option to really give Sheldon as much freedom through his back as possible.
At first Sheldon was not convinced about the Flair adjustments, but after those ten minutes of fiddling Anna and he settled into a warm-up routine. Their trainer came out and immediately remarked at how nice and through his back he looked. She had them pop over a couple smaller fences, messing with the velcro blocks and stirrup positions a bit until Anna felt very comfortable. Sheldon is an enthusiastic mover, and Anna’s leg got much quieter with the correct stirrup and block positions- neither of which are options on her current saddle.
Anna’s trainer set up a couple fences on the diagonals and had Anna just take Sheldon over them on a loop. Each time, she raised them a hole, until we eventually ran out of daylight at just over a meter. Sheldon consistently took off square and landed square- a first, according to their trainer! As the fences got higher, Anna started to settle into feeling secure in her lower body and could focus on her equitation more and more, improving with every fence. It was magical to watch! They have been stuck at 2’3″, and I think this offered a revelation that a properly fitted saddle would help them get out of that rut. Since she has not had much saddle buying experience I recommended that she also try two other brands known for fitting thoroughbreds well before deciding- the same as I told Toree- but whatever she decides, I hope to see Anna and Sheldon jumping the bigger fences this coming summer!