Ask the Expert: Getting the most from your saddle
It’s impossible to underestimate the power of the saddle for your ride, so Bates Saddles founder Ron Bates explains why taking the time to get yours adjusted right is crucial.
Why is saddle balance so important?
There are many factors that impact the balance of your saddle over time. Horses and riders change with maturity and fitness among other things. Without the ability to correct the balance of my saddle, my performance and comfort would inevitably suffer. When your saddle is balanced, you can remain effortlessly balanced with soft hands, a secure seat, good leg contact and your horse is able to move freely. It’s fundamental to maximising performance.
As a rider, you may start to notice a general feeling of insecurity; you might become more aware of your saddle or readjust your position frequently throughout your ride. Maybe your horse is not responding to your aids the way it should. These are all indications that you should check the balance of your saddle.
When should I get a saddle fitter?
It’s an unrealistic expectation that your saddle, once fitted, will always fit.
We know horses and riders change physically over time with many factors such as level of work, diet and injury.
In a perfect world, we’d like to equip riders with the confidence to identify visual cues of when to call their saddle fitter and be able to effectively communicate the issues they see.
As riders, we should make a point of creating a quarterly calendar reminder for a saddle day and take an extra 10 minutes when tacking up to visually gauge a number of factors. They include:
- an even pressure and contact with your horse’s back
- the deepest part of the seat sitting flat, level and in balance
- having sufficient space around the horse’s wither and spine
- checking for wear on your saddle and stirrup leathers.
Always make sure your horse is standing square, with the saddle correctly placed on their back, girthed up and stirrups run up and safely secured.
If you spot changes in any of these key elements of a saddle fit, you’ll know it’s time to call your fitter to make an adjustment.
How could a poorly fitted saddled impact my performance?
Riders can benefit from many advances in saddle technology that make it possible to achieve a good fit of their saddle. When your saddle fits, it supports your position and your horse’s movement perfectly, so you can remain still in the saddle with effortless balance.
Communication between you and your horse is greatly enhanced too, as your aids are delivered in the same location every time with soft hands, a secure seat and good leg contact. It’s also important for your peace of mind that your horse’s wellbeing is protected, so they are as comfortable and willing, as they are free to move naturally under saddle.
Every rider has experienced struggles with their riding not easily explained at the time. Chances are a simple adjustment to your saddle could make all the difference. If you notice your horse isn’t responding to your aids the way they should, your position isn’t improving despite lessons, you become increasingly aware of your saddle and constantly readjust yourself, or you feel insecure and unbalanced, it could be down to your saddle.
When it comes to your horse, there are many behavioural signs they may not be comfortable under the saddle. Horses might show a reluctance to forward or achieve medium/extend paces; grunt during particular movements; put their back up when the saddle is put on or put their ears back when being girthed or mounted. Horses with saddle issues may also have a tendency to do more rearing, bucking, napping or bolting than they normally would.
What are the most common issues around saddle care?
We receive many queries about leather care – how much, how often and how we can tell when enough is enough.
Riders take a lot of pride in the presentation of their saddle, they appreciate it’s a living material and if they are to maintain its exceptional strength and durability over time, it will require diligent care. Where every hide is unique, the level of care it requires is also unique. We must take into account how often the saddle is used and the daily weather or environmental conditions it’s exposed to. It is little wonder riders are looking for greater guidance on this topic.
What are the signs the leather is still in good condition?
When the leather in your saddle is well-conditioned, it feels soft and easy to work in your hands, yet still with some body and strength, the surface is smooth and it has a rich depth of colour. Each time you clean your saddle, these are the things you look for to guide its condition – feel, surface condition and colour.
If you can see the colour is starting to fade or the leather is drying out or becoming stiffer, it may be a sign your leather is thirsty. With any signs of premature wear to the surface grain, your leather needs more fats to replenish it. Once the surface grain is worn away, the individual fibres become exposed, loosen and pull away. The leather will then continue to wear at an increasingly rapid rate until a hole is worn through the leather.
When it comes to choosing a saddle, what should riders look out for?
There are many factors you will consider in selecting your new saddle and a wealth of information and professional advice to guide you. The best advice I can offer is to look for a saddle designed to adapt with you and your horse.
I never tire of hearing stories from riders who have transformed their riding and enjoyment with simple adjustments made possible by the technology in our saddles. Our bodies and our horses are constantly changing in flexibility, development and condition.
It’s incredibly valuable to be able to shift the location of your stirrup bar, or utilise a bigger knee support, or change the width of the tree and depth of the panel by a little or a lot and then return it all back to standard again. It becomes even more important at the elite competition level where incremental adjustments ensure a finely tuned fit throughout your preparations.
There are many saddles you can make small adjustments to, but if you invest in one designed for ongoing adjustment, you will be grateful time and time again. It will always be important to choose reputable brands made from quality materials that are structurally safe and suited to you and your horse. Consulting with a professional saddle fitter will help you navigate all of those factors in making your final decision.
Find out more about how Bates Saddles can help you at batessaddles.com
This article was originally published in the Spring 2021 issue of British Eventing Life