Friday, May 27, 2011

Shark Fins and Saddles

When I bought Spider, I owned four saddles.  None of them fit him.  I tried at least a dozen more.  None fit.  I had to bite the bullet and have a saddle custom made for him. 

It's Spider's giant, shark fin withers that make things difficult.  He's narrower than a "narrow" tree, and they just don't make off-the-rack saddles in tree size "shark fin". 

"Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum"  (scary 'Jaws' theme music)

The thing about custom saddles is that they're, well, custom.  They're made to the exact specifications of the horse's back.  But, horses' backs change over time and the flocking in the saddle gets worn and compressed and thus the saddles have to be checked and refitted periodically.  The saddler's reccomendation is to check the fit every year for a saddle that gets used as much as mine does, but it has been two years since mine was checked.  Bad owner!

I've observed over the last few months that I'm leaning forward badly when I ride.  Others have noticed this, too (my trainer said I looked "like a Hunter").  This past week I also noticed that Spider seemed a bit bridle lame in the trot.  And the canter work has been ridiculous: tense, refusing to come round, breaking gait, just bad.  I finally put two and two together.  The saddle wasn't fitting properly.  It was coming down on his withers, pitching me forward and causing Spider to bobble onto his forehand.  No wonder he was resisting sitting down in the canter, every time he did that saddle must have been slamming into his withers!

So yesterday I had the saddler out.  He confirmed my suspicions:  poor saddle fit.  The fun thing about the saddler is that he takes tracings of Spider's back every time he evaluates the saddle.  That means I have a sort of record of the shape of Spider's back over the years.  This year's tracing was shocking.  Somehow, in spite of being in consistent work, Spider's back has gotten narrower and his wither higher!  I made the poor saddler redo the measurement to be sure.  I suppose it must be age... Spider turned 16 this year.  Or perhaps he isn't quite as fit as I thought he was.  Who knows.

We decided not to take the tree in any further.  The saddler reflocked the saddle and I'll put a no-bow pad under the pommel for now.  We'll re-evaluate the fit in the fall.  If Spider's back is still the same after a summer's worth of work, then we'll take in the tree. 

No-bow pad under saddle pommel.  I moved the saddle back a bit for illustrative purposes, ordinarily it would be further under the saddle.


  1. Once more, I extol the virtue of the Ansur saddle. I did put my Excel on a shark finned TB and it did fit. The "no tree" shrinks down to size. Might need a bit of shimming if the horse really lacks muscle on either side, but, that was it. Trouble is, Ansurs are expensive...but since I have three horses to fit, one saddle does the job for all.

    Glad you have a good fitter to work with. Spider was a brave boy to try to work when he was so uncomfortable. Hopefully you have now solved the problem and he will be a happy camper.

  2. I feel for you and having a saddle fit just right. I've had the same problem with Dusty and Blue. Only they have NO withers at all and round backs. I also had about four or five saddle that didn't fit so had a custom saddle made. Well Dusty got to wear it three times before her injury, I tried it on Blue and it fits...sort of. I don't think I'll ever find one that doesn't slip. And I'm really annoyed I paid for a custom saddle when it works the exact same way as my old one did. Good luck with your shark fin boy and his saddle for the summer.

  3. I can 100% sypathize with this entire post but I am sure you have read enough of my saddle fitting Our two have twin shark withers.

  4. Ugh, shark fin withers are so hard to fit!

  5. I sympathize totally. We're having the opposite problem with round, roly-poly backs right now.

  6. My last horse had incredibly high and narrow withers AND a big broad back like a warmblood. I eventually found a very very old, made in Germany jump saddle by Courbette that fit him - with a wither pad. It was a long search. Nina is a nice, middle of the road TB with high, but not horrible withers and most medium tree saddles seem to fit her fine. I like this.

  7. I've been wanting to have Rogo's saddle refit for a while now. I had it made for him a year ago and he's grown since then. After reading your post I wonder if some of his recent behavior is related.
    I don't think 16 is so old. I bet after a summer's work Spider's back will be back to where it was. This time of year is probably the least 'fit', if you've had anywhere near as much rain as we've had.

  8. What does "bridle lame"mean? I've never heard that expression.

  9. Muddy K- "Bridle lame" is a term for when a horse takes short steps on the front legs only when under saddle. It is sometimes accompanied by head bobbing. The horse appears unsound, but if you stand in your stirrups and give the reins completely the horse will trot off fine. The horse also will walk, trot and canter fine on the longe line. Bridle lameness is caused by something blocking the forward energy from the hind end. The "something" can be heavy hands, rider balance issues, poor saddle fit, dental issues or even the horse just not being forward enough to begin with. It isn't a true lameness, but more of a training issue. As soon as the source of the "blockage" is found and eliminated, the horse moves just fine.

  10. Thanks for the detailed answer, Shannon. Much appreciated. Just love learning these things.

  11. Did your saddle fitter ever talk to you about a Mattes pad? I have an Albion SL Dressage saddle and a long, low backed 3/4 Trakehner (26 now) and it works very well on her. What's nice is, you can put shims in the front, back or both to make it fit even better. We have had saddle fitting clinics here for over 10 years...when you ride a lot, reflocking can make such a difference. The horse's bodies do change with age. Good luck.


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