Friday, October 14, 2011

Saddle fitting

On Wednesday Little Love had an appointment with a saddle fitter.  This is a lady who has studied saddle fitting in Great Britain and had came highly recommended by several people.  I had talked about this appointment with Little Love for days, to make sure she understood what was going on.  Saddles have not been her favorite thing in the past, and can you blame her?  I'm not sure she has ever had a saddle that even remotely fit her. 

As expected, the lady was amazed by the size of Little Love's withers.  She has big withers and when the woman pointed out the difference in height between her withers and her back (by holding a stick at the level of her withers but parallel with her back), even I was shocked.  The difference is four to five inches.  I had been afraid the lady would say that the only way to find a saddle that fit Little Love was to custom order one that cost more than an arm and a leg, but I had nothing to worry about.  Apparently they don't even make saddles with such high "panels"in the back.   So, the only option, no matter what saddle we have, is to use special pads underneath. 

The lady had a few used saddles with her and we tried them all.  The first one she tried on Little Love's back, looked good, even to my fairly untrained eye.  It was a English jumping saddle, NOT my first choice.  Then we tried some dressage saddles and a few other all purpose saddles.  We even tried a western saddle.  But none of them fit like the first one.  I had never seen a saddle on Little Love that actually allowed her withers to have space.  With a special pad (that you can fill with little panels), it looked and felt even better.

Little Love did so well through this entire process.  The lady was very understanding and talked to Lilo the entire time, assuring her that she wouldn't ride her, even thought she was trying on all these saddles.  In general, the energy around this woman was very peaceful and balanced, which helped Little Love immensely.  It is amazing how different she can be around people just based on their energy and intention.  The other day another woman stopped by to show me the used saddle she had for sale and the second she approached Little Love, she tried to bite the woman.  She never let this lady close.  There was something about her that rubbed Little Love the wrong way.  Perhaps it was merely the fact that the lady desperately wanted to touch Little Love; she was completely in awe of her size. 

Despite my dislike towards riding in a jumping saddle, I took the saddle for a try out period (the price was also a little more than I had planned for).  It was the only saddle that really fit Little Love and that's the most important thing.  I can adjust  - or so I keep telling myself :-)  Since we only have the saddle for a few days to try, I tacked up Lilo immediately and went for a walk.  It was absolutely weird to climb on her back and ride her.  I haven't ridden her since we were in Switzerland and even then I didn't ride her very much.  I felt really out of place and Little Love seemed a bit nervous, too.  She did, however, leave the yard without stopping.  It wasn't until the mailboxes that she decided this was a bad idea.  I climbed off and we continued on foot, both of us.  When we arrived at the bigger road, I asked Little Love if I could get on again.  She was alright with it, so I got back on.  We did a bit of trot and even a bit of canter and then I got off to walk back home.  Little Love seemed alright, but somehow our connection was not the greatest.  I was really worried I was making a mistake about the riding, what if Little Love didn't want it?

I didn't make it to the barn yesterday, but Melissa went instead, so Little Love got to think about this riding business a bit before I showed up today.  She was really muddy, which meant I had to scrub her clean to put the saddle on.  This, in Little Love's opinion, was highly irritating.  Not the best start for our ride.  When I put the saddle on, however, she stood completely relaxed as if she didn't care.   This is really out of character for her, so I took it as a good sign.

We walked for the first half kilometer, then I got on.  I rode her at the walk, working on my own position and bear down to see if I could get her to respond.  Low and behold, her back came up under my bottom, but since she has next to no muscle, she couldn't hold it for long.  I kept working one that and got the back a few more times.  Then we did a bit of trot on a slight incline and Lilo stretched down with long rein, lifting her back up.  When she wanted to walk I let her and got off to walk by her side. I must have been sitting on her perhaps 15 minutes, but it was enough for the day.  In any case, I don't think I ever want to sit on her much longer than that, at least not without some breaks in between.

I had a really good feeling the entire time, like Little Love was alright with the riding.  The fact that she so willingly brought her back up tells me that at least the saddle doesn't seem to bother her.  But does the riding in general bother her?  She is a very opinionated horse and I would hope for her to tell me if she didn't want me to ride.  I worry about this constantly, but I have to trust that she will communicate with me about this the same way she communicates about everything else.  In the winter riding will perhaps become important, depending on the amount of snow.  I know Little Love enjoys our time together on our walks and today I felt she even enjoyed it while riding.  I'll be going back over the weekend to test the saddle some more.  At the moment I'm leaning towards buying it even though I'm still a bit torn about the whole riding business.  I figure I can always sell it, right? 


  1. Of course you can always sell it....

    ...and if it's not used often, you can probably get most of your money back as well :)

    I think having as saddle is a good idea, because then if you want to use it for anything, it's there (if you have some rings added to it, it also makes a great way to hang stuff on during your walks that you might want to take along. I use my bareback for this a lot)...and of course if situations come along you CAN ride if you need to. It wouldn't surpise me if Lilo enjoyed a good strong canter every now and then (perhaps more than what you can run alongside her for).

    I think you owe it to yourself and little love to keep this option open should you both ever find it works in certain situations. I do not feel you are doing her any dis-service if she is agreeable to a ride.

    You said yourself that you felt Little Love enjoyed the time you rode together your last time out. ...and why shouldn't she? She has a rider that LISTENS to her and undestands her wants/needs. She knows you will get off if she asks and she also knows you now have the ability to have a good run together if you both shall choose (because you can now stay with her).

    I am sure, without any doubts, that a lot of horses don't like riding because they don't have this kind of understanding. I think it's people that can make riding bad, not the riding itself. It doesn't NEED to be a form of slavery -- There is NO doubt in my mind that it can be enjoyed by both horse and rider under the right circumstances.

    Still-- if you don't feel it is in your heart to having any riding as part of your time together, I am sure Lilo will be fine with this as well.
    She knows you love her no matter what you decide to do :-D

  2. Thats fantastic, and (in my inexperienced opinion) truly shows how far Lilo has come. It amazes me how different your connection with a horse can be on the ground versus under saddle.

    I've found myself trying to emulate you in several instances when I come to cross roads with my own mare; however my endeavours are rarely as successful as your own, mostly due to my ignorance and lack of experience. What really got me thinking was a ride my mare and I shared the other day. Cadence (my mare) was calm and cheerful; totally relaxed. She ground tied beautifully (something we've been working on... as she believes that "visiting" with her friend across the barn is an acceprable way of spending the time I waste in the tack room. I disagree) and I was all geared up for a fabulous ride. However, once I got on, I got the sense that she REALLY did not want me there. After 15 infuriating minutes, I hopped off, removed my tack, and let her run and buck it out of her system. Once she was nice and calm and happy to follow me around the arena, I tacked her back up again and hopped back on. Assuming that the reason for her previous misbehaviour to be pent up energy, I anticipated the return of my usual mare: pleasant, energetic, and responsive. Instead I still had Miss Piss and Vinegar. rather than listening to her, I just pushed through and went along with my plan for our ride. After a long and arduous ride, I took her and hand walked er outside.
    In the end, all was forgiven. None the less, I left the barn frustrated. Unsure of what I could have done differently, my lack of knowledge continues to burden me, my relationship with my mare, and my ability to train her effectively.

  3. After posting it, I feel the need to apologize for my nice long comment, centering mostly around me and my mare. How unpleasant. Anyhow, the purpose was merely to demonstrate the effect you have on your readers (and to thank you for it) and to reiterate how lucky Little Love is to have you.

  4. Carol, thank you so much for your encouraging comment :-) I think you are right about the canter, I feel that there are time Little Love just wants to "go" and now we can do it with a saddle. And like you said, I can always sell the darn saddle :-) I think I will let the seller know I am buying.

    Kate: I love it when my readers share their own experiences, so don't feel the need to apologize for it. I'm sure others want to hear them, too! I'm happy I can inspire you to try to find a way to communicate with your mare. You are obviously trying to hear what she has to say. I think that has been the key to my relationship with Lilo: listening. And not only listening, but honoring her opinion. Perhaps Cadence didn't want to have a ride that day. You heard that and took the saddle off, which meant you were listening. But, in the end you put the saddle back on. I can understand why you did; our human agenda is always very strong in our mind and it's hard to let go of the plan to ride. But maybe next time take your "listening" even further and honor her opinion completely. What would have happened if you wouldn't have re-tacked her? What if one day you changed your plan completely and let Cadence decide what you do? Sometimes the effects of our actions are not visible immediately, but rather manifest later. Trust builds slowly and through honest and persistent understanding. Trust your instinct (like you did, you took the saddle off) and stick with it for a bit longer, it might make a difference in the long run.

    Sorry, I don't want to tell you what to do with your horse, but merely give you an idea of how "far" you can take this thinking :-) Good luck and please share again!

  5. It's possible this is a whole new experience for Lilo: A saddle that fits and a rider that listens!

    Basically I agree with Carol ;)

  6. All of these comments are wonderful. Basically everything I needed to say too! I think the listening is the key to the entire relationship between horse and human. It's really nice to watch the progression of deeper trust and eventual communication between Little Love and you, K. It's something that we all "get" when we ask, and as you said, our agenda often gets in the way of allowing the answer to settle in. For me, it's the allowing part that I have to work on. I always get the answer but I might need to hear it a couple times before I say "ok, I get it... you told me that the first time! :)'

  7. Thanks for the reply; it was very interesting. The issue my mare and I have is finding balance. She's a little dominant, and a wee bit hot and high strung. For me, I have trouble communicating that for others safety, she must listen to me and trust my judgment, but not getting too bossy with her. Bossing around a dominant creature of any sort = trouble.

    Out of curiosity, and since I'd most definitely like to try it but have absolutely no clue as to how you'd go about it, how do you let a horse direct the ride/day/barn visit?

    Thanks again for the wonderful reply. I hope I'm not burdening you with questions; you have no obligation to reply.

  8. Interesting post and comments!

    Kate asks a very valid question - "How do you let a horse direct the ride/day/barn visit?" It would be fun to hear different peoples' answers.

    Every horse is different, and every day is different. Sometimes letting the horse direct the day means they get to stay in the pasture and you hang out with them there. In the case of our pony, it meant that for almost six months that's what she got to do!

    At first I was afraid I'd never ride again, but I've been having a go - the other day I emerged from the barn carrying saddles, and two of the horses crowded around enthusiastically, so like Carol says, I'm thinking it's not riding per se that horses object to but bossy riders and uncomfortable tack.

  9. I'm with June, when she says every horse is different and even every day is different. I really thought in the spring that I, too, would perhaps never ride again, but then again today I had such a great experience with Little Love under saddle that I think riding might be in the cards for us - sometimes. When I first met her years ago, she was definitely anti-riding. At times she was anti-everything LOL, but only because nobody had EVER listened to her opinion.

    Sometimes we take turns deciding; meaning I might decide to put the saddle on, but then when we are out there riding and get to a cross road, Lilo gets to decide which way we go. Or she gets to decide if we are trotting or walking. This used to result on some very short rides :-) and we were doing the same short loop over and over again, until one time she surprised me by taking a whole new turn. I figured she was finally ready to see something else than the same ol' trees.

    I think you really need to go with your gut with this one. There have been times when I already had Lilo tacked up and ready to go, but then suddenly decided to take the saddle off and do nothing but hang out just because I had a strong feeling this is what she wanted. Those are the times that made the biggest difference in our relationship. Listening to the horse like that really empowers them in so many ways. It gets easier the more you do it, because also the horse dares to express herself more (and in a more constructive way than say throwing a fit; at that point the situation has obviously escalated and you have not been listening at all)

    I feel the Lilo used to be against pretty much everything a human suggested, but now she lets me ask for difficult things like patience while cleaning a wound (something that would have resulted in a total fight before). I know with her there is a fine balance between letting her decide or implementing a human decision. Like you said Kate, bossing around a dominant horse is asking for trouble. I think it all boils down to trial and error. All I can say is that you have to sometimes have the guts to "let go" and let the horse make the call. Obviously staying safe is a number one priority, but after asking yourself the "what is the worse thing that could happen" question and analyzing the answer, you can find areas where perhaps you can loosen the figurative reins enough to allow your mare to have more authority. Which in the long run will empower her and help her trust you.

  10. At first I thought I'd never really get to decide anything and that I'd just be very passive for ever. But as you say, the more you give, the more the horse is able to be communicative without being resistant. And then you can figure out how to ask for things while still being willing to change plans and still keeping the lines of communication open. And a sort of harmonious cycle gets set in motion.