Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What's in a Twist

We have all thrown around the T word since we became cognizant of saddles.  Mostly we talk about whether we like a narrow or wide twist.  Hmmmmm... have we ever considered the horse we are riding in this conversation?  Not very often.

Just what IS a twist?  The twist is actually supposed to accommodate the horse's shape, not the rider's.  It is the area in the saddle tree that actually twists the wood or plastic tree angle from the withers to the angle of the back.  That the twist is in an area that determines our comfort is just a coincidence.

Why is this important?  Most of us have been purchasing saddles with twists we like and we have not been taking the horse's shape into consideration.  If the twist is too narrow for your horse, whether in an English, Western, or Australian saddle, it will pinch the primary muscle in the horse, that needs to develop.  Not only will the trapezius muscle not develop, it will atrophy in many cases because the pinched area also becomes a pivot point where all the rider's weight focuses when the horse tries to utilize this muscle (ie. it flexes this muscle and lifts the narrowed area instead of having the room to flex into).

If the twist is too wide for a horse it can cut into this same muscle right at the top and dig into the spine.  In this case the tree will essentially hang on either sides of your horses's long wither spinous processes.

Hold your bicep tightly and flex it.  Try to imagine building up your bicep with the constant pain of either of these two kinds of constriction.  You would compensate somehow.  Horses do too and that is one reason why so many hocks and stifles are being injected.

When you purchase a saddle, use a saddle fitter who can talk you through whether your horse requires a wide, medium, or narrow twist.  So what about your comfort?  Let's just say I hope you are comfortable with the build of the horse you purchased, because his or her shape should be the first consideration when you purchase a saddle... after all, your weight is on their back, not vice versa.


Monday, January 31, 2011

Saddle Recommendations

As a professional saddle fitter, I have found that some companies' saddles work better than others.  Is this to say that I won't work with others?  Not at all!  I often see and work with saddles that fit a particular horse really well but they are saddles that have a very limited range of horses that they will fit that well.

I know and tend to recommend saddle companies who offer saddles that fit... better... than other companies' saddles.  This may sound strange to some of you, but some saddles, English, Western, and Australian style, have more tolerance for changes in your horse's body.  Most independent saddle fitters I know have favorite brands because they know that horses with similar bodies will be comfortable in that saddle.

Are these saddles more expensive?  Generally, yes and here's the trade-off:
  • Your horse will most likely be more comfortable from the day you purchase it
  • You will most likely be more comfortable in a higher quality saddle
  • Your horse's behavior and compliance level will be better
  • Resale value is higher
  • More perspective resale prospects because of higher tolerance of fit and comfort
  • This saddle will remain more comfortable to your horse for longer
Do I equate price with quality?  NO.  The saddles that I generally recommend are not at the highest end of the new and used markets.  They are expensive and they are expensive because they are designed well, built well, and utilize quality materials.

The other key component to these saddles is that they are mostly sold through representatives or tack stores who use time honored saddle fitting concepts.  When I recommend that a client purchase a new saddle, I usually know who will be fitting that saddle for my client and I trust the representative to make you and your horse comfortable.  If you are purchasing through the used saddle market, I will strongly encourage you to make sure that I see it before you own it.  If I am unsure of the saddle seller, I also encourage you to have me or an independent saddle fitter evaluate the fit.  There are saddle sellers and there are saddle fitters.  I would like to say that saddle sellers always have the clients' (both horse and rider) well being at heart, but this isn't always the case.  When you employ a saddle fitter who is not compensated by saddle companies, you know your money spent is for your benefit.