As a Society of Master Saddlers qualified saddle fitter, Laura travels throughout the central belt of Scotland and a number of the inner islands on the west coast fitting and supplying saddles to customers.
Saddle fitting is a complicated business taking into account horse, rider and saddle as a whole rather than as separate entities. If one of the components isn’t right, then the whole relationship does not work.
Firstly, the horse - A horse that is uncomfortable through its back will not generally be as compliant as a horse that can move freely and is comfortable. The horse's comfort depends on the size of saddle and width they need and is paramount to his movement and ability. A horse that finds their saddle uncomfortable may react as though they’re being naughty, but imagine walking a mile in shoes a size too small for you – you’d be fidgety, sore and unhappy! So, if your horse isn’t going well and you’ve checked the obvious causes, think first – ‘is there something wrong with my saddle?’ before you blame them!
Girthing is also fundamental and can cause various issues such as saddles slipping and horses not striking off on the correct canter lead.
Secondly, the rider is important too. Riding in a saddle that is too big or too small for the rider can affect position and comfort. If you’re sitting in too big a saddle, it may feel like you’re swimming around trying to sit in the right balance and it will make it more difficult to feel secure. A seat that’s too small will make you feel held in and trapped, unable to get the freedom of movement you need to actively get your horse working.
The type of saddle you use for different disciplines is important too, for example, using a dressage saddle for eventing can make things rather difficult. We get a lot of riders who say, “Don’t judge my riding - I’m not very good!” Put them in a saddle that fits them and the horse and hey presto! What a difference! We’re not saying we can turn you into a top eventer or a grand prix dressage rider but once a rider feels more secure, comfortable and happy in a saddle, it can do wonders for their position and riding generally.
It’s not always possible to find the perfect solution. Sometimes, if a horse has a very short back, the rider may have to accept a smaller saddle. However, as I’m sure you’ll all agree the horse comes first - what you find is happier horse = happier rider, so a with little bit of rider compromise, both can be happy.'
When Laura comes to you for a saddle fitting it will take on average between 2-3 hours for an initial session. In that time she’ll run through horse conformation, take templates of your horse’s back, do a back assessment, check the horse’s movement, do a rider evaluation, a saddle evaluation and finally a ridden assessment - done on your current saddle if deemed suitable or on the new ones you’re trying out.
It is recommended that you get your saddle checked every 6 months. This is important as most horses change seasonally and with age - a saddle check can ensure that where possible, adjustment is made for these changes. You should also get your saddle checked if you are having any problems with it. It might be that you have changed too! Regular checks will identify any variations your horse may go through and what’s required to keep him happy throughout the year. New saddles will also need to be checked within 3 months as flock can settle and horses develop muscle as their movement improves.