Thin Line Blog: Saddle Fitter on School Horses, Western Dressage and Rider Comfort
Terry Peiper of Fit Right Saddle Solutions
ThinLine saddle pads were first introduced to me in 2010 when I asked Susan Harris, an Anatomy in Motion Riding Instructor, for her advice on how we could prevent our lesson horses from becoming sour. Without hesitation, she answered, “Great saddle pads that absorb the shock of the beginner riders bouncing on their backs.” A saddle fitter recommended Thin Line, so I gave one a try.
I was a riding instructor at a small private barn back then. As is the case with many riding stables, I didn’t have the budget for a custom fit saddle for each horse. The Thin Line pad made an immediately, noticeable difference in the horse’s attitude. So, I tried it on my own sensitive mare. I think she became addicted to it because if we ever tried to go without, she was irritated.
Now, I understand her addiction because my other horse is a bit small, short strided, and choppy. I had numerous issues with my back over the years riding this horse, but he is such a good guy, I keep trying. Hip, knee and back pain are very common side effects of riding in a poorly fitting saddle. The saddle has to fit the horse and the rider. Fortunately, I have found that if I use the Thin Line Sheepskin Pad and a saddle that fits us both, my back doesn’t hurt. Just one ride without my Thin Line and my back will start to ache. I am definitely a believer!
Saddle Fitters select products for their business.
I was already a huge Thin Line fan when I started fitting saddles. Since our saddles are all completely adjustable there usually isn’t a need for a shimmable pad, but sometimes we need to build a pad for the client to use until their new adjustable saddle comes. Then, we simply remove the shims and we still have a great pad. To me, great pads are:
Soft natural material next to the horse:
Martha Josey said, “If it is soft enough to put against your face, it is soft enough to put on your horse’s back.” I just cringe when I see things like foam rubber saddle pads. We have all heard about the sensitivity of the horse’s skin being able to feel a fly, yet so many people put horrible uncomfortable and/or dirty materials on their horse’s backs.
Contoured to the shape of the horse’s back:
If the pad doesn’t follow the shape of the horse’s back and allow some relief at the withers, it can rub on the spinal ligament causing painful pressure, soreness and muscle atrophy.
Not so thick that they make our saddles too tight:
Most of the time we see pads that are way too thick for the saddle they are being used with, making the saddle way too tight. The thickness of the pad depends on the type of saddle and condition of the horse. Sadly, the saddle pad advertisements lead us to believe the big thick special pads can fix a poorly fitting saddle.
Why would a Saddle Fitter Shim a Pad?
Some of my clients have saddles made by other manufacturers that are fitting pretty close but can be made better with a shimmed pad. Thin Line pads allow me to put the shim exactly where that horse needs it. The shims on the left side usually need to be different than the shims on the right side due to the horse’s asymmetry. I think it is crazy good luck if you can find a pad with the shoulder holes already filled in exactly in the right place for your horse. And it’s even crazier good luck if your horse is exactly the same on both sides. Thin Line pads let me put the shims exactly where the horse needs them to be with that saddle. And the shims are made out of the same Thin Line material so they provide even more protection.
One saddle for every horse.
Some of my clients have one saddle and more than one horse. If the saddle’s tree angle matches up to both horse’s shoulder angles, we can usually fit the saddle to the larger horse and shim a pad for the smaller horse. That way we can use one saddle on more than one horse successfully.
Therapeutic facilities or riding stables.
Some of my clients have numerous horses like a therapeutic facility or riding stable. In those cases, we measure all the saddles, determine which ones are close to fitting and then build a pad for the horse/saddle combination. With a silver marker, we write the horse’s name right on the pad and provide a little mark where the front of the saddle should be when tacked up. That way I know that the person tacking up puts the saddle on the pad in the same place that I did when I put it together.
Local Veterinarians support the choice.
Dr. Ivana Ruddock specializes in equine anatomy from the inside out, educating horse lovers through horse dissection clinics. A large part of the horse’s saddle support area is covered with fascia. Since fascia communicates to the brain 4 times faster than the nervous system, she said: “a pad that distributes pressure out horizontally would be a big benefit to the horse.” I believe she is right, the reactions of the horses I have worked with for the past 6 years have proven it.
Saddle fit really does affect our horse’s behavior, performance and ultimately the health of horse and rider. Saddle pads and girths have a huge influence on the saddle fit. Thankfully Thin Line has given us a product that we can use to help the horses be more comfortable doing their jobs. Thank you Thin Line.
Fit Right Saddle Solutions
“Spreading the word about proper saddle fit and how it affects our horse’s behavior, performance and ultimately the health of horse and rider. “
The hallmarks of the Western Dressage Horse are usefulness, rideability, willingness, safety, pure gaits, lightness, calmness, and steadiness. All of which speak to comfort, the most important element in saddle fitting.