Choosing a saddle can be a minefield and is not something that should be undertaken without expert advice. Saddle fitter Debbie Richardson tells Julie Harding how, by enlisting the services of a qualified professional, you can actually save yourself money and avoid pitfalls.
There are several ways that you can find yourself a qualified saddle fitter. Log on to the Society of Master Saddlers website and search for one in your area, or ask local knowledgeable horse people and find one via word of mouth. By using a Society of Master Saddlers’ registered qualified saddle fitter, you will be assured of a high quality service.
There are many variables, but generally if you are an inexperienced rider who will be trying lots of different things with your horse, a general purpose (GP) saddle may fit the bill. Discipline-specific saddles, such as for show jumping, eventing or dressage, tend to be more suited to experienced riders who regularly practise their chosen sport.
A lot of people do and you can sometimes bag a bargain — but you can also end up with a nightmare. You may have spent in excess of £1,000 only to be told that the saddle is totally unsuitable for your horse. This happened to a customer, who burst into tears when told that she would have to sell on what was now a white elephant.
After discussing the rider’s and horse’s requirements over the phone, and finding out about the shapes of both horse and rider, sometimes via a photograph, the saddle fitter will be able to bring a range of new and second hand saddles in different price options to your yard for you to try. The fitter will not only check the fit on the horse, but he will watch it being ridden in. If you have problems, he will no doubt pay you a repeat visit to help resolve any issues. You may pay around £100 more for a saddle purchased in this way, but that will have bought safeguards and expert advice.
He will look for many things, such as the fit, angle of the points, shape of the tree to the horse’s back, length of saddle, clearance above and each side of the withers and, most important of all, does the horse work well in the saddle. He will also assess whether the rider feels stable, comfortable and secure.
Horses can change shape due to numerous factors, such as moving to a new yard or having their workload increased. Regular visits from your fitter are advised for this reason, but yours may already have sold you an adjustable gullet saddle, in which case some simple adjustments are all that will be needed.
Some riders use the wrong type of numnahs, which can affect fit, as can putting the saddle on too far forward over the withers — a common mistake. Also don’t become fixated on a certain saddle brand — it just may not work on your horse.
Leather is softer for the horse, but there is no doubt a market for synthetic saddles, due to their lower price point.
For more information about Debbie Richardson and the saddle fitting process, visit www.djrichardson.net.