Sunday, July 3, 2011

Is It a Good Fit?

Alright, you experienced saddle fitters out there in the blogosphere.  I need your opinion.
I purchased my new Tucker Cheyenne Springs trail saddle for two reasons:
1)  My "dream" saddle, a Hereford roping saddle, at close to 40 pounds, was getting too heavy for this old body to heft onto a horse.  Although I liked it's heavy-duty construction and full rigging, it was really a case of overkill for the riding that I do.
And, more importantly,
2) The Hereford had a semi-Quarter Horse tree, which it became evident was too narrow for either of my wide-bodied girls.
Kate developed patches of white hair at the top of both shoulders, indicating that the saddle was pinching her there, preventing both sweat (she would have a little dry spot there on an otherwise wet back) and circulation (hence killing the hide's color-producing cells). (By the way, it seems I switched saddles in time to prevent permanent damage:  this spring those vague white patches shed out with Kate's winter coat, leaving her dun coloring intact.)
Maddie is white on both shoulders, so the color-change wasn't there, but the lack of a proper sweat pattern was enough to cue me in.
So the Hereford went down the road to a [strong] young gal in Oregon who wanted to do cow horse work, and I began my search for a new saddle.
 I looked at various saddle designed for the middle-aged, female trail rider and ended up deciding on the Tucker brand, that was developed specifically for this particular market sector.  Because I have my English saddles if I want to ride in that fashion, and I have Paint horses to show/market in cowboy country, I wanted a pretty traditional looking western saddle.  The Cheyenne Springs fit the bill.

My friend Anita and I had hauled the girls down to Yakima earlier this year to make sure of the tree width to order, and put in my order.All of Kate and Maddie's rides this spring have been in the Tucker, with escalating problems with Maddie seemingly related to the dropped rigging necessitating a switch in girths.  But Kate has done well.
The only question I have is about the sweat pattern that developed after our ride last week in Robinson Canyon.  It was the most strenuous ride we've had this year, on a fairly humid day.  When I pulled Kate's tack off, here is how her back looked.

Her shoulders where the last saddle pinched were nicely wet.  The "tunnel" of the gullet was appropriately dry indicating plenty of air circulation down her spine between the bars of the saddle.  The thing that has me perplexed, however, is the dry area 2+ inches either side of that:  does this indicate that the saddle is "bridging" between the front and back, and not distributing the saddle/rider's weight uniformly across her back?
 This side (left) seems passable to me, but...
 ...her right side had an odd circle of sweat around the lower dry patch.
And the reality is that as Kate gets a little more fit (and loses a little more weight, though she's not as bad as last year) the "table" that is her back may become more sloped.  It will bear watching how this effects the saddle's fit to her back in the future.
What do y'all think?


  1. Based off of the saddle photo on your mares back first, it doesnt sit balanced. The seat of the saddle should be level, and its clear that the saddle tips down. I personally, don't like the lower rigging of the Tucker saddles anyways, I find they seem to just push the saddle down into the horse's back without allowing any lift.

    Now, based on the sweat marks, you are right to see a problem. It most certainly could be bridging that is causing that, but also consider that one side is drier than the other. This could indicate a few things; first, that the horse isnt even on both sides anyways. Think about the work you did and if you worked one side harder than the other. Does your mare prefer one side to the other? Aside from the obvious that the saddle isnt making contact evenly on both sides, clearly, one side is more developed than the other.

    Take this as you wish, but just know that I have gone through saddle fitting issues for the last two years, finally got an experienced saddle fitter to help me out and we went with a custom because nothing fit my horse just right. I even went seven months bareback while waiting for the ill fitting saddle to sell before being able to place the order on my custom. It's up to you on how important the fit and comfort of your horse is to determine what the next steps are for you in determining the right saddle.

  2. Paint Horse Milo--Thanks for your thoughtful and detailed reply. However, I think the first photo you discussed (of the Tucker on my B&W Maddie) was misleading--I shot it while trying to hold two horses and it is decidedly tilted! I replaced it with a different one, that looks better, because Maddie is straight in the frame. Let me know what you think.

    As for the left-right difference in the sweat pattern, you were very kind not to mention the possibility of the rider being unbalanced! I noticed on a subsequent ride that my right ankle was cramping up on me, so I now wonder if I'm the one that's throwing things off. The "work" on this ride was all on the trail, at a walk--nothing more than a lot of hills, both up and down. So Kate being "one-sided" would probably not be an issue.

    As for your saddle search, I feel your pain, though it only took me a year to get to the Tucker. If indeed the saddle is the problem, I will be mightily disappointed! I'll keep working on it.

    Again thanks for the response.

  3. Drat Laurie!
    After trying 6 times to comment..I'm frustrated...I wad able to last time.-but think I tried 7 times.. something about the " imbedded comments' - on page that I had to change, and tons of other Bloggers did too.

    But -wanted to say Drat about the saddle. I thought something outloud as I viewed the dry marks on Kate. I then read what you in.the same thought...bridging. Huh, the gal that first commented seems to have a head on that brand. Man...makes you want to post a " calling all bloggers..saddle brand forum" !

    When I but my Western will be an ANSUR. Aftet Viewing the warehouse and seeing how they are made, with the " flex core tree" . I'm thinking that wood trees Just don't fit well, or last long before the horse changes musceling shape, or the flocking goes..then you start over again!

    Will you have another made for Kate? You should inquire on an ANSUR Dealer near to test ride Western!

  4. Now, based on the photo that you reposted, I totally suspect bridging. It just doesnt look like the saddle makes even contact throughout the back, and it also appears to still sit lower on her front (not tilted as suggested before, but that the weight of the saddle sits forward, and I believe its due to the low rigging). Now, have you noticed any similar sweat patterns in the past? I have been following the blog since you got the saddle, and havent heard anything about it since you got it, but have you worked her hard enough to see similar sweat patterns or even any differences? Im just curious if this is a new finding or a current one.

    Horses can most definitely be one sided still (just did a post similar to this topic today on my blog), but unbalanced rider can effect it as well. Do you have contact with a reputable saddle fitter in the area? Or only the Tucker distributor? I dont want to come across as "anti-Tucker" but you want opinions from others who arent trying to sell it either! THat would be my suggestion, to get someone really knowledgeable to help you out - Lord knows it certainly was a God send for me to have access to not only a great saddle fitter, but body specialist too.

  5. Tried to comment on your blog about saddle fit, but Blogger isn't letting me in today. Here's my comment:
    re: the one-sidedness, think about your ride...was there anything happening on one side and not the other that might have caused you or Kate to bend a bit? For example, if you chatted with another rider for a long time over your left shoulder, you would put more weight in your right seatbone while you did it. Or if there was a horse that Kate likes to keep an eye on, she would bend herself to do it....

    Just a thought.

    Most horses are strongly "handed" just like people. Fiddle always strikes at enemies (butterflies, rowdy dogs, etc) with her left front foot). She always grazes with her right front extended. You gotta know that strong habits like that can shape the body into non-symmetry!


  6. All I can say is that it's a beautiful saddle. I'm not much for fitting saddles or saddle problems, I leave that to my daughter who knows a lot about such things. Good luck with getting it figured out.

  7. Good for you for being aware of the sweat patterns and correct saddle fit for your horses. That's something I tend to stress about, too. I'm always keeping my eye out for white patches and sweat patterns and worrying if they don't look quite right.
    And like you, a lighter saddle is what fit the bill for me, too. Being that I ride a pony size horse and I'm not exactly a pony-sized rider, I want to keep my saddle weight down to almost bareback riding weight, for my horse's comfort.
    I love leather, but ended up going with the Abetta Western Trail saddle instead. I really like the faux suede seat for the extra stick in the seat, but I didn't like the swish-swish of the cordura stirrup leather, so after I transferred the leather stirrup leathers, and leather latigos/cinches from my old heavy saddle to my new Abetta I was very pleased. And my mare seems pleased, too.

    Your new saddle is beautiful. I hope you get to the bottom of the fitting issues.