The Search for a Saddle

Week of October 19th

…. continued saga of finding the right saddle….

I took a lovely ride with friends along the Jackson River borrowing my friend’s Synergist endurance saddle [this one not for sale]. Synergist saddles are all about the custom fit- for the person and the horse. They even will send you a mold and do their best to get their panels to fit as exactly as possible your horses’ back. They are specific about the angles and distances in a woman’s vs a man’s seat (it seems like overkill to me at first glance) and try to put you as the rider in the most balanced position possible on the horse.

pretty fall ride along the Jackson River
pretty fall ride along the Jackson River

I had ridden in this saddle before on a different horse and felt very uncomfortable in it. The horse was gaited and to me there is a difference in the position you use to encourage a nice gait vs. the position I use to post a trot. I had a hard time getting the horse a year ago to gait nicely in the saddle- and my own position was different from riding mostly gaited horses. My hips and knees bothered me once I got off. However this time- on Khaleesi I loved it.

From hopping into the saddle I felt like I was comfortably poised in exactly the right position without being stiff. Of course this also meant I felt like it was easy to sit balanced without having to work so hard at it. (is that cheating?) We moved together with ease and it really felt nice.

As for Khaleesi- she seemed to move great underneath me. I had no trouble communicating with her and she had a great trot and canter for the ride which was at least 15 miles. She also seemed happy and foreword and didn’t exhibit any signs of pain or stress. Her ears were forward and we went in all positions of the ride, front, middle and back without much fuss.

Synergist
Synergist

I got down to feel a little stiff in one knee, but basically great. The saddle isn’t (of course) custom made for Khalees or me, but the fit was ‘decent’ enough to try a ride or two. She had a pretty good sweat pattern with two spots that were a little dry but it wasn’t bad. It was enough for me to contact the company with a few questions of what I might look for in a used saddle if we decided to go that route. I am going to do a quick measurement or two and give them my friend’s saddle number to see how close that saddle would be to fitting her and me, and then the company can help steer me toward used saddles that are the closest fit off the rack- we may not have to go the whole mold-fitted routine.

Our next trial was to ride in a borrowed ortho-flex [this one is for sale]. I love the idea of the orthoflex tree and considering it is a saddle my friend would like to sell, it would be great if it was a match for us. Basically ortho-flex makes a saddle on panels that have the ability to give and flex with the movement of the horse’s back. Also, the rider is slightly suspended above the panels and the seat is connected at 4 points in front and back of the seat/panels which means not directly underneath the rider’s seat. This concept is great as it distributes the pressure along a large surface area. Basic physics dictates that the larger the surface area to distribute the pressure the less pressure in any one place there will be.

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I put it on and the fit seemed pretty good when it came to how it sat on her back. My concern was that the panels extend more forward at front than I liked to see for her. She has a lot of movement and though I realize the panels DO have the ability to flex, they were still there on her shoulders and are pretty stiff/hard- also the rear of the panels sat down on her back and I wondered if they would push in behind me at the place the seat is attached. But the concept of them being flexible was in my mind as we headed out to see how it worked for us.

The first thing I noticed was it was harder to get my leg cues in, either to move forward or side- I had a hard time getting my foot to her actual side past the english flaps and the sheepskin pad. To ask her to move I really had to give her a good kick. Next, I felt all my communication that we’d been getting so much better at was working through a filter. I was sitting off her back which I believe was probably good for not creating pressure points- but at the same time it was also taking away the contact altogether.

I felt like we were off in general but we kept going as I thought “Maybe we just need to get used to how this feels?”

Unfortunately in our case, I don’t think she felt great in the saddle either. Her stride was shorter in everything from walk to trot to canter. Her back legs didn’t seem to get underneath her like I’m used to and she tripped or slipped on her back feet more than usual.

She tried to turn me around as well (lately she’s been pretty good about going out happily with me- so though I can chalk part of that up to not wanting to leave her friends…) it was notable that at least once she REALLY tried to convince me to turn home. I didn’t let her and though we did cut the ride a little shorter than I’d planned, I wanted to get a decent amount of time in the saddle.

When I did turn her home at first she happily trotted off but though I was ready for her to try to push me home, she would trot a few steps then return to a walk. A couple of times I asked her to canter, one time she really decided to push with a fast pace up a hill, it was a short stride bunny hop feeling canter that just went really fast. As we neared home I tried to really put my finger on how we felt that day and the description I came up with was robotic- I felt slightly jerky and off kilter. I had a hard time keeping my feet underneath me but I chose the middle stirrup setting and probably would have been better with the one most under my seat.

After about 8 miles we returned the the barn and my final feel for the ortho-flex was that I love it in concept, it’s a lovely saddle, and I’ve known riders who really swear by them. I just don’t think it’s the right saddle for us. [If anyone out there is searching for an older ortho-flex in great condition, let me know and I’ll connect you to its owner!]

One thing that is for certain as I’m on this saddle choosing exploration- between reading other people’s thoughts and the saddles I’ve ridden in myself- it is an incredibly personal and individual journey. I have looked up posts and blogs and just about every saddle has people who sear by them as the only reasonable option and people who say they are terrible and no horse should ever be ridden in one.

I have already been quite amazed at the different feel for myself and for her depending on the saddle. I assumed saddles would make a difference- but I’m even surprised myself at how big of a difference in both of us it can make. Just the few I’ve started with have convinced me that this process is worthwhile to find the feel that I want on the long miles of trail of an endurance rider, and the saddle that helps Khaleesi move and feel her best as well. I am much more determined to beg, borrow and take on trial until we really find the right match- and hope that a couple of miles will give us the data we need to really know what will work long term.

what Khaleesi thinks about saddle fitting.
what Khaleesi thinks about saddle fitting.

I still have a few local options to borrow- then I may consider doing a loan-order from a couple reputable companies as well before making any real decision. I have a friend who swears by her Ansur saddle and has agreed to loan it to me for a ride. Honestly I hope I we don’t love that one because they cost a fortune! I love the Phoenix Rising (IMUS) saddle I chose for Faygo. Every time I ride her in it- it feels like “home”.  In talking to the company it appears Khaleesi is more likely a standard tree (Faygo is wide) so I plan to ride with a friend who has an extra hubby saddle the right fit to see how she does in that one. I have also heard lots of great reviews about Specialized so if I can’t borrow one I plan to do a loaner saddle in that brand just to see. I like the lighter weight of their Eurolight model. Once I get narrowed down to a couple top choices, I suppose that will be the time to visit some saddle fitting contacts and see what the pressure pad and the professionals think.

One thing I’ve been thinking about is the difference between an all-purpose english style saddle that we’ve been working in up till now and saddle more designed for long trails. I believe I’d like to always have something like my Wintec (hoping I can get the flocking or CAIR system fixed) for working on our balance, training (mine and hers!) and communication, then something built on a trail/endurance tree for our longer distances. I believe that the panels on most of the saddles I’m considering are slightly wider (meaning surface area, not a wider tree) and will distribute weight better for many hours in the saddle, and if a saddle helps me stay more balanced (cheating?) I think for long rides that could be good for both she and I as long as it doesn’t inhibit communication by being rigid.

I am starting to think that having a streamlined saddle for learning and a trail saddle for long rides might be a good choice for us.

Meanwhile, we’re still getting some nice fall rides in!

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