Dusty Johnson

Saddle Fit: An Enduring Western Myth

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My question for everyone would be: What other factors or influences of these factors have other people seen to cause problems with saddle fit?

It may have been brought up before but bad, ok perhaps not completely bad but sometimes poorly thought out breeding practices and for sure lower quality horsemanship skills and or knowledge I beleive is a contributing factor but thats getting a bit off topic.

i agree with th montanan,100 years ago some wise old sage sat on a gate and culled the herd into pit ponys, cart horses , wagon types, saddle horses and they were sold that way probably based on confirmation.100 years later and theres well meaning horse owners with cart horses to ride etc etc.not every one sits like they should, some never will no matter who's wing they land under for direction.white spots on troubled areas usually mean problems,tender backs n tender loins also,its unfortunate but thats th crux the horse can try to communicate,excessively n he's gone.rider awareness must come first and then us knowledgable saddlemaker fitters can lead them into the light of right now how do we go about doin it pete

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Saddle Fit: An Enduring Western Myth

A popular topic among both leatherworkers and horse owners today is saddle fitting. Perfectly fitting a saddle to an individual animal is one of those things in life that sounds good in theory but in the real world simply does not work and in highly impractical. There are too many variables, both short term and long term, which are constantly changing.

The â€Å"saddle fitting†advice should come from those who have spent years studying the art and craft of saddlemaking and who have a better than average knowledge of riding styles and equine anatomy. This background is essential to understand what can and cannot be done within the parameters of saddle building. Our goal should be to find a saddle that will fit as closely as possible, under changing conditions, and that will compliment the back of the horse when used in these conditions. The variables are; the Horse, the Rider and the Saddle itself. Another consideration that fits into this picture is Economics.

The Fit is a determination of how the first three variables interact and compliment or oppose each other. It has been stated that â€Å"the saddle is both the central and the stabilizing force wedged between two very flexible and changing objectsâ€Â. To consider the saddle as having primary control over fit versus the ever changing rider is simply absurd. This is well understood by most experienced saddle makers and why most of them do not conduct saddle fitting clinics. Many equine clinics are conducted by those with varied equine skills, but are untrained and unskilled in saddle construction. They seem to have a miracle product or system using everything from old fashioned coat hangers to new age plastics and aluminum â€Å"fitting gauges†to create the perfect saddle fitting utopia. These â€Å"snake oil salesmen†are only looking to increase their income and prestige by making reasonable sounding claims that cannot be demonstrated as possible in the real world. The true student of proper saddle fit must consider the riding style, riding conditions and the condition of the animal (the primary cause of saddle problems today). The economics of the situation must also be evaluated. Most of us do not have unlimited money to purchase an individually fitted saddle for every horse we own or may purchase in the future.

There is no such thing as perfectly fitting a saddle to a horse !! Allow me to illustrate ... Did you buy your own shoes because they fit perfectly ... or because â€Å"they didn’t hurtâ€Â? Yet by buying the standard shoes available our feet are generally trouble free. Fit and comfort are two different variables, but related. Do the shoes you wore at 21 feel just as good at 45? Not for most folks! We must realize that fit is a judgment based on many ever changing variables. When analyzing saddles and horses we must remember it is an inexact art form for which no one has all the answers. The horseman who rides with skill, has quality tack, keeps his horse in good physical condition and monitors these three essential elements will rarely have a saddle problem.

If the saddle could be made to fit a specific horse perfectly, for his entire lifespan, shouldn’t that saddle be sold with the horse when we find a new steed to replace him? What should we do with the saddle when the horse dies? Perhaps take it behind the barn and shoot it! Studies show that 60 percent of horse buyers sell their animal within the first year. A good number of the 40 percent who keep the animal through the first year will sell within the next 2 years. Rarely will they sell the saddle with the animal. The useful life of a quality saddle is many times longer than the useful life of any individual equine. Fitting a saddle to one animal would be limiting the usefulness of an expensive product.

A saddle is noting more than a backpack for an animal. How many of us (even very serious hikers) have a specially fitted backpack? We go to the nearest sporting goods store and purchase a pack that suits our needs, has an appearance that pleases us and affords the comfort and flexibility we desire. Our horses deserve the same consideration ad courtesy. Many people have several animals but only 2 or 3 saddles. Common sense dictates that we have a saddle that will fit the majority of our animals. I often have clients tell me â€Å"My trainer says saddle made to fit my horse preciselyâ€Â. My response is to ask â€Å"How many saddles does your trainer have and how many horses does he ride?†Most trainers have 3 to 5 saddles and ride 20 or more horses in a season. Are they concerned with â€Å"exact fit†or animal comfort?

Why then is saddle fitting such a large topic and why do we have so many problems? Simply because we do not want our horses developing sores which is uncomfortable for them and limits our riding time. Let us examine the most common cause of saddle sores.

Most sores are caused by the rider not the saddle! Some time ago I attended a seminar that discussed saddle fitting. The speaker had an electronic pad that measured the pressure points under the saddle and displayed a colorful â€Å"map†of these points on a computer screen. Three different riders rode one horse with the same saddle and pressure points were measured. Pressure varied all over the animal’s back depending on riding style. This animal then would require three different saddles .... ridiculous! Many horsemen ride without proper balance, too high on the cantle, off to one side and generally uncollected. These riding faults cause problems which are transmitted through the saddle which are not the fault of the saddle at all. Many riders make the mistake of riding the saddle and not the animal!

A good custom saddle is made with emphasis on fitting the rider more than the horse. This is done to eliminate rider movement in he saddle, thereby eliminating pressure points on the horse a much as possible.

The animal’s condition must also be carefully monitored by the rider. The majority of problems with saddles are caused by people who do not properly condition their animal. Without proper training and conditioning we go out and put in a 20 or 30 mile ride. Or worse we go on a week long hunting or packing trip in less than ideal weather conditions. Animas must be conditioned and built up to this type of riding. During this conditioning process their muscles develop and their skin toughens much as we develop calluses for hard work.

I had a gentleman say â€Å"I am a serious rider and put in 30 miles at a time. I use many saddles and they all sore up my horse. What do you suggest?†I asked him if he was riding 10 miles at a time at least 3 days per week as conditioning for himself and the horse. His reply was â€Å"Well, no, I have many obligations and just do not have that kind of time. However, I do ride 30 miles every three or four weeks as time permits.†His problem has nothing to do with the saddle! The problem is a lack of conditioning. Human nature is such that rather than face our own limitations we find some other factor to blame. Good riding is a process of monitoring ourselves, our animal and our equipment and making adjustments if needed. Many ignore these things until they unsaddle and then exclaim â€Å"Oh, my, look what this saddle did†never realizing or admitting that their lack of observation and adjustment is the true cause of the problem.

An animal’s body is constantly shifting both in condition and in conformation. A saddle which is very comfortable for a horse at 3 years of age will set differently when he is 7, 12, 15. Will the suit we had tailored to our trim frame at 24 fit the same when we are 48? Why should we expect a horse and saddle to be different? Our animal’s body shape changes from season to season as they gain and lose weight and even during the course of a day’s ride. Notice how your saddle sets differently after a 20 mile ride, even on a well conditioned horse. This is one reason why that rig that looked perfect at the clinic or tack shop suddenly doesn’t seem to be doing such a great job. This type of â€Å"saddle fitting†only tells us that the saddle will not harm the animal where it is place while he is standing still! The important position is where it crawls to when in motion. Saddle position may vary a great del during a single ride to the action of the back muscles and the terrain being traversed.

Another reason for saddle sores is that most riders don’t understand the advantages and necessity of a quality saddle. The recent interest in â€Å"saddle fitting science†recently is in direct proportion to the number of new owners who are beginning to acquire basic riding skills and are doing so in poorly constructed, entry level saddles. This combination gives many a very negative experience which is then focused on the saddle. Although the individual saddle is not the primary factor affecting fit it is the catalyst molding man and animal as a unit and must be created with quality materials Saddles under $1600 are the low end of the market. They are generally mass produced of middle or low quality materials and are intended for entry level and light usage riders. The top end of the mass produced market is generally much more ornate with abundant silver decorations but not necessarily better constructed. Remember, â€Å"a garbage truck with a Charles Russell painting on the side still smells like garbageâ€Â.

Saddles in the middle price and above range are usually built by craftsmen who have spent their lives studying saddles and saddle construction. Artists who, themselves, are usually pretty good horsemen and who have studied many others horseback. Cowboy’s in the old west, realizing the importance of a quality saddle, allotted two to four months pay for their saddle (far less for their horse). In today’s dollars this would be $5000 to $8000. A quality saddle showed their commitment to their profession and a level of concern for their mount, an example many today could benefit from. This, and their animal’s better of conditioning, is why they didn’t have today’s level of problems. Today’s average new owner does not budget in the cost of real quality equipment and the horse is the one to suffer the consequences. If sore develop on a long ride in an entry level saddle it is because the saddle is not being used as intended. Serious riding requires a serious saddle.

Often owners come to my saddle shop and inquire into the cost of a nice custom rig for their very special, favorite horse. When I tell them they often exclaim, â€Å"Oh, I couldn’t spend that much on just a saddleâ€Â. Then they go back to the parking lot and get into their $45,000 pickup pulling a $15,000 trailer (both of which are depreciating in value daily!). The saddle would be more make for a more comfortable riding experience for them and their horse and would be useful (an hold its value) for the next 40 years.

A common cause of saddle problems is the result of the blankets or pads. Dirt, sweat and debris collect on the blanket and for a hard crust. This rubs on the back of an animal and can cause sever discomfort and soreness. Cleaning blankets and pads frequently will pay big dividends. Use only the amount of pad required. Too much padding requires cinching too tightly and may cause cinch sores. Also, placing the blanket properly is important. A twisted blanket can cause a great deal of pressure in areas under the saddle. Many riders then blame this on the saddle rather than acknowledging their error.

Another problem is often the size of the cinch. The purpose of the cinch is to anchor the saddle to the horse as comfortably as possible. The cinch should not interfere with the horse’s action. . The width should vary according to the position of the rigging plates as follows;

full position  17 strand cinch

7/8 position  19 strand cinch

3/4 position  21 strand cinch

Using a cinch that is wider than necessary in any position would extend too far forward and the foreleg of the horse would be constantly rubbing on it, which would result in chafing and sores in that area.

Super-wide cinches have become popular in recent years. Wide cinches have their place when roping heavy cattle and should not be pulled very tight, except while roping. They have no place on the pleasure or trail horse. Most riders think that this wide cinch is more humane and doesn’t cut into â€Å"Old Paintâ€Â, but the truth is that the wider cinch must be pulled tighter to hold the saddle as well and this tightness creates a corset effect across the horse’s chest. Restricted breathing is not a desirable trait! It is much better to have the right size cinch and not have to tighten it so much!

At each end of the cinch is the ring. This is used to run the latigos through when tying to the saddle. There are three styles of rings: round ring, ring with-buckle-tongue, and ring with-crossbar. The round ring is found on the cheapest of cinches and can only be used by tying the latigo. The round ring with-buckle-tongue is an improvement because it eliminates the bulk of a cinch knot, however, when the tongue is attached at the bottom of the ring it is also considered cheap. This arrangement can become ineffective if the pressures on the ring should make it oval. When the ring becomes oval the tongue goes through the ring and doesn’t work to lock the latigo in place. I see many riders using this type of ring with a knot and allowing the tongue to hang loose. This is a potential hazard to man and horse!

The best cinch ring is the ring with-crossbar. The crossbar prevents the ring from being pulled into an oval and the tongue is much shorter and less hazardous. The ideal ring with-crossbar is made with a flat profile (more surface area distributes pressure wider), a flat top surface (prevents unnecessary distortion of the latigo) and a small tab on the inside bottom prevents the cords from bunching to either side of the ring. This ideal ring is made of stainless steel. The materials in a cinch are very important. In bygone days the cinches were made of horsehair. The best were from mane hair and the poor grades were from tail hair. These were very durable and seemed to work quite well, but didn’t do much to absorb moisture. Other old time cinches were made of canvas or burlap. Horses get sores because of heat and moisture! The ideal cinch promotes transference of sweat away from the body and allows evaporation to cool and dry the heated area.

The best material to transfer water is cotton, but cotton looses much of its strength when wet. The next best is . Mohair is a blend of Angora Goat hair and Wool. It transfers water (sweat) rapidly AND becomes stronger with the addition of moisture. Mohair is also the best cinch material because it cleans easily and is best washed with mild soap (Ivory, dish soap, etc.) and water. [be sure to rinse out all soap before putting back on the horse] Mohair cinches are expensive, but not excessively so and will last a very long time. Many cinches are made of 100% nylon, or synthetic, cord. While these are strong they will not absorb or transfer moisture and will create a certain amount of heat.

When a problem occurs it is common today to point the finger at one variable such as the saddle or the pad and place blame there. This is way too simplistic an approach. Usually the problem is a combination of the variable we have been discussing. If we change one of these variables the problem may be temporarily eliminated but it should be monitored for some time to determine if that was the only problem. Often not!

Changing conditions mean we cannot expect the saddlemaker to take responsibility for choosing our saddle and placing it on our horse any more than we would expect the auto dealer to choose our truck and drive it for us. Anyone who places a saddle on an animal and states that it perfectly fits or does not fit is claiming they have the ability to see into the future. Changing conditions will always be present and, as horsemen, we must be aware of these conditions and react accordingly.

Owning a horse is, indeed, a lifestyle. It is a series of continual lessons and mistakes. People are so worried they are going to do something wrong that they forget how much fun it was at the beginning. Let’s step back and take a look at our horses, our equipment and ourselves and relax. Most of the â€Å"saddle fitting†problems will work themselves out with a little applied logic. A good saddle should last the rest of your life. Choose it carefully and enjoy the ride!

Happy Trails,

Dusty Johnson

Pleasant Valley Saddle Shop and School

Hi Dusty!

Well, first I will say that every one on this thread should be happy that you took the time to explain in great detail the reality of life about saddles and how they are built, used, and interact with both the horse and rider. The only way I would expend that much time and breath is if someone was in my shop and serious about taking that next step from a manufactured saddle to a custom hand made saddle, that they want to use and at some point pass on to their grand children!

I fully agree with what you have said here, and would only add this, it has been my experience over many years, (at least 40) in observing horesmen (and ladies) that after several years of owning horses, buying and selling them until they settle on what they like in style, type of riding, and conformation, and the like. Most horse folks are not ready to get a saddle made because they do not know what they need to know in order to be happy with the product. I generally won't make a saddle for a novice, and certainly will not make a saddle for a horse under 5 years old. The reasons are obvious, as you stated too many things change in the first several years.

It has been my observation that generally, once a person has finally settled on what they like, the majority of what they end up owning (horses) for the rest of their life are pretty much conformed the same, and a saddle that fits one of them really well, will most likey fit the others they end up having over time. Of course, there is never a perfect answer, and some folks do change completely what they ride like going from an Arab to a Draft horse of what ever, and in that case, all bets are off!

My advice to beginners out there is simple, go out and get yourself a good used old time makers saddle. The likes of a Price, Ringalero, or Ryon, from your local tack shop. You can get them for a reasonable price and will at least have a quality made piece that you can ride, and enjoy until you are ready to have a good custom one made. Those older saddles are like putting on a good comfortable pair of old slippers. They "just feel good"!

Happy Trails!

Bondo Bob

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Dusty don't live here anymore.

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Even though this thread is getting close to 2 years old, it is still a real valid discussion of different viewpoints. I think that Dusty did a good job of explaining different factors that afffect how a rider and saddle interact with a horse. The bottom line goes back to selecting a saddle that will not interfere with that to start with on the bottom side. I am not interested in a custom fit saddle for one horse at one point in time, I am looking at saddles that don't get in the way. They don't all work for different horses. We are dealing with some inexperienced riders and someone needs to give them guidance. Otherwise they are getting advice from the feedstore, an Ebay description, operaters at Valley Vet, and the guy with the trailer load of unmarked saddles at the auction.

The examples of buying backpacks is valid, but you are going to strap it on and make sure it doesn't pinch or bind before you head out. Who is more qualified to do that with a saddle, a saddle maker or a 20 year old guy stacking feed? I overheard this conversation at a feedstore a few years ago. Someone obviously pretty green was looking at saddles. They had a decent good selection and some were marked full quarter horse and others semi quarter horse bars. The feedstore saddle expert told her that the QH bars fit quarter horses and the semi QH bars fit paints and appaloosas because they are mostly half quarter horses, you know. Yep good sound advice there. With quality and sizes all over the scale on some of these saddles, the novice needs some direction. Just because Buck's or Ray's or whoevers Wade fits horses well doesn't mean than the $500 Wade on Ebay does. Another factor is that the tree can have the specs that will work, and a saddlemaker's riggings, blocking, and seat postion can change all of that.

Another argument for a lot of this seems to be that riders trade horses and never trade saddles so why worry about how one fits. The other misconception is that riders with a few horses will only own one saddle at a time. I really don't see that either. A lot of pretty good horsemen get by with two saddles. One that might fit their immature backed colts pretty well and another for the mature horses. It isn't rocket science and they recognize the need for both.

Bob, sounds like we grew up in the same area. I have had Price McClauchlins and Ryons back in the day. The Prices are kind of a blast from the past, I don't think I have seen one out here in 25 years that I recall. I think that connection when he was in Illinois probably helped get that area going for him. I see a few Ryons now and again. The only caveat I would give is that even though they were well made saddles, they can be 30 years old easy enough. The used saddles really need to be gone over with a fine tooth comb. Screws can come loose, riggings weak, worn sheepskin, and leathers over the bars. That can double up the price of some of them pretty fast.

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I don't know if I am worthy enough to post on this discussion. But here is something I once heard... A few years ago I contacted jeremiah watt concerning this very topic as I was interested in building my own trees and his reply cracked me up. He started by saying " First off before we delve into this let me give you a history lesson left out of the history books","The gun fight at the O.K. corral was actually started by two saddlemakers sitting around a bottle of whiskey talking about saddle fitting"...

After reading these very interesting posts I am now wondering if he may have been correct :grouphug5vj5:

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I don't know if I am worthy enough to post on this discussion. But here is something I once heard... A few years ago I contacted jeremiah watt concerning this very topic as I was interested in building my own trees and his reply cracked me up. He started by saying " First off before we delve into this let me give you a history lesson left out of the history books","The gun fight at the O.K. corral was actually started by two saddlemakers sitting around a bottle of whiskey talking about saddle fitting"...

After reading these very interesting posts I am now wondering if he may have been correct :grouphug5vj5:

:yes:

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There is no way I have enough savvy to add to a discussion about saddle fit... but I sure find this old thread fascinating.

There is ONE subject on which I am considered knowledgeable, and that is fiber. So when Dusty was discussing cinch material and said "but cotton looses much of its strength when wet" I can tell you for sure - that is not so. Cotton is a plant fiber, and like all plant fibers, it becomes STRONGER when it gets wet. (That's one reason they used it to make sails for ships!) Protein fibers, such as wool (which comes from sheep), mohair, alpaca, yak etc. become WEAKER when they are wet. Also, Dusty stated that "The next best is . Mohair is a blend of Angora Goat hair and Wool." that is also incorrect. Mohair is the name of the fiber that comes from the Angora goat. Now, maybe there is someone out there who does blend the two fibers, wool and mohair; but if it says "mohair", it means the fiber from an Angora goat, and not a blend. If it's a blend they will say so.

This is a minor point and no big deal. I hope the discussion continues!

I don't ride that many different horses in a day, but I've still got three saddles. One is a real trooper for me; it's a McClellan that was made around 1900. If I've got a horse that I can't seem to fit, I use that saddle; works (almost!) every time...

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Am I going to get my head bit off? I bot a big mutton-withered gelding that got a pretty good fit in a quality roping saddle with what are often called qh bars. When he was 10 this wasn't such a good fit so I went with wide bars. The year he was 18 nothing sat on him right. At 19 semi bars were a pretty good fit and that's what he used until he was retired at 27. All the saddles were of pretty good quality altho the semi was hand crafted.

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Not being a saddle maker on par with Bruce or dusty or any other the other saddle makers on here having only made 20 in the last three years I really apprechiate these conversations about saddle making, if only to illustrate that I am not the only one encountering problems with it.

Comparing the style and type of rider/horse/activity from BC Canada (where I was taught) and back home here in scotland, the idea's about saddle fitting are remarkibly different unfortunatly - in most cases I am making saddles for leasure riders onto horses treated more as pets or prize possesions which span from highly (and expensive) breed American horses to mostly highland ponies/horses.

The majority of my customers do have the sense to understand that when it comes to saddle fitting, that it will never be perfect. That the horse will change over the year as will the rider and not to always believe the advise of trainers/vets when saddle fitting is blamed for odd things - plus being local I am always willing to come out to them and sort any problems out.

Of course I am not a registered proffessional as in the trainers and vets and over here that is an important point to some - in fact now I just make saddle when and how I like then sale them on as they are - in the long run I find it more rewarding for me - like the saying states 'you can't please everyone, so just please yourself' which I guess is my version if stepping back and recapturing the joy I had from creating saddles in the first case.

Troy

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I'm with Dusty in that we can only try for a fairly good fit. In reading about the Huns during the time of Ghengis Khan his warriors each had 3 saddles for their horses-those for when the horses were in soft condition from winter, those for mid summer as the horses hardened and those for fall when extremely toughened. We need to keep in mind that these people almost lived on their horses. From what I've seen some of our biggest saddle problems arise from a rider allowing one hip to collapse and the corresponding shoulder drop. If this occurs on the right side there is additional pressure on the left. This produces a twist and can drive the front of the bars into the shoulder blade. Another common problem is riding with one hip ahead of the other which again causes the saddle to not sit squarely on the horse. So even if one could custom a tree to a horse's back it would come back with complaints about soring the horse if the rider has the aforementioned riding faults.

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Horsehairbraider - being a history buff on almost any topic, I'd read that the sails and a lot of clothing back then, especially trousers were made of hemp which lasts much longer than cotton.

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hemp - flax - or wool were the more common fibers found pre 1600 (I play history - this is what **I** know and I may be wrong)

cotten was a "luxury" fiber back then - so not likely to have been used for something so mundane as horse fittings.

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Ahhh, but back then horse fittings were not so mundane, but rather a lifeline to survival, as was the horse, for many people. Livings were made, familys were fed, with the horse.

(Just a thought that passed between my ears Suze)

:)

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A point for the newbies as well, as I have found this to clear up alot of confused saddle shoppers.

There is no set standard for saddle trees, no industrial gauge, so to speak, when refering to the bars.

By this I mean, if a saddle in a store says it is "full quarter horse bars", if can be different from one brand to the next.

Example, a "billy cook" full qtr hrs bars saddle can be different from a "circle Y" full qtr hrs bars saddle, UNLESS they both used the exact same tree, from the same manufacturer.

So when you say full, semi, arab, mule etc, it is a generalized label, which can vary with the brand or maker of tree, not an exact measure.

So for those buying "off the rack", you may fit a semi in one brand, and need a full in another.

Trick is to keep an open mind, and not tie yourself to a label.

Hopefully that was clearer than mud?

Edited by Janice

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Ahhh, but back then horse fittings were not so mundane, but rather a lifeline to survival, as was the horse, for many people. Livings were made, familys were fed, with the horse.

(Just a thought that passed between my ears Suze)

:)

Would you make a cinch out of "velvet fabric" today? probably not - it is expensive and not the "right fit" for the job

the era I am talking about (pre 1600) cotton was a RARE thing and priced acordingly. (think high end silk)

I use mundane as a term for "everyday" item.

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Basically it was the slave trade for picking cotton and the invention of the big spinning mills in the north east that bo't cotton into favor. Hemp was pushed into the background because it lasted so long and that's not what creates faster profits. That's what I was told.

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My point was not, "cinches are made of cotton" and in fact I never said that. I was addressing the fact that cotton becomes stronger, not weaker, when wet. Sorry if this was not clear.

As for whether cotton was used for sails, according to the Wikipedia article on sail cloth it was, and I certainly was not trying to say it was the only thing... It was simply lighter than linen and more likely to be used in the US. As for the rest, I bow to the experts. I simply wanted to clear up the wrong idea that cotton becomes weak when wet; this is not true.

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For those readers who have found a problem with my original posting about Saddle Fitting back at the start of this thread I suggst you read the current (November 2009) Western Horseman magazine, page 46. Thanks for checking.

Dusty Johnson, Pleasant Valley Saddle Shop & School

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I gotta' admit,

When i read that article last October (in the November Issue), I thought, "Great ranting2.gif , everything I thought i was learning just got bounced on its ear!"

From the article:

Should each saddle be made for each individual horse's measurements?

Harwood: Absolutely not. A saddle will outlast many a head of horses. If the average saddle won't fit, get rid of the horse, not the saddle.

Stormes: No...

Maloy: Only if you have a freak horse.

Willemsma: If you make a saddle to fit one horse, what do you do if the horse dies?

Schwarz: That's just foolishness. One saddle will last for many horses lifetimes.

Pedirni: Absolutely not.

Bean: That's very rarely necessary.

Mecum: No. Most horses' backs change from 4 to 12 years of age and from season to season.

Considering the circulation of Western Horseman Magazine and how many people it reaches, the names of the saddle makers they interviewed and the things that were said, how does one then say that it is necessary for a saddle to be built specifically to the measurements of a specific horse?

So, I see Dusty's point. I thought of saying something about the article back then but the thread had previously gone a little sideways. This way, I can hold Dusty up in front of me as a shield since he is older and should know better! whistle.gif

Seriously though, Many people, myself included, recognize the value in a hand made saddle by a true craftsman. But let's face it, these saddles cost more than most of our horses do. I believe that most people, that are concerned about a high quality saddle being for the sake of the horse; would step up to a hand made saddle for three, four or five grand, assuming they are in that financial position. On the other hand, I doubt to many of them think of it as a saddle specifically for that horse and will dispose of the saddle when the horse is no longer being ridden....for what ever reason, death, sale, injury, retirement, what have you. Now, yes, I had an uncle that seemed to buy a new Pick-up or Suburban everytime the ashtray got full, but these people are a small part of the equation. . .and weird.

So, what is middle ground?

And thank you Blake:

I think that I would add how the horse is trimmed or shod.

Indeed. I'm a barefoot trimmer, and I could go on for pages about horse feet. I know of a Very pricey Warmblood that has developed "Bucking" issues. He is being "trained" as if this acute onset of issues is behavioral. OMG! If you could see this poor creatures feet! He is all but foundered. When I politely as possible mentioned it...well, I am not welcome there anymore...oops.gif So, they continue with the saddle fittings and trainers and what not....anyways, getting off topic.

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I do think about some of the points made by all of you as well as the article. I look at our 3 1/2 year old and know that he has a couple more years to grow. Plus, just starting out under saddle, he is going to develop musculature and and other conformational changes. Theoretically, i am looking at about $4000. per year in saddles, until age 7 through 12 and then he will probably change again.

So, I watch the clinicians go from horse to horse with the same saddle and it isn't too often that they seem to have to ride in the owners saddle because theirs is not going to fit well enough. And, what is well enough?

If I had a plaster mold of my horses back made, sent it to Denise and Rod and had them make the perfect tree to match that mold, then sent the tree to my choice of fine makers, it very well could be two years before that saddle touches my horse. The horse will be a totally different animal by that time.

I do believe that there has to be a pretty broad range of fit. And I doubt that there will ever be a "Perfect Fit". Because, that would only be a moment in time, and with the horse and rider in a momentary position. Saddles are pretty static, horses and people are hugely dynamic.

Ok, pushing the "Add Reply" button with a little trepidation. surrender.gifsmile.gif

P.s. I am NOT a saddle fitter, and honestly would likely need help with fitting. But, on the other hand, this thread has a lot to do with why it is so hard for people to really learn "saddle fitting". No?

Edited by Newfman

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MY thoughts are that all these guys are "fitting" on some level, whether they choose to call it that or not. Everyone does. The difference is that very few of us are doing what somebody has termed "microfitting". Most of us aren't doing back molds to fit every nook and cranny. We order a tree with a gullet/handhole width and bar pattern that we think will fit what our customer rides. We do that at minimum. That has to be considered part of "fitting". I don't know of many customers who comes in to many of us and says, "I want a 6-1/4" gullet, 90 degree, northest bar tree" that doesn't have some background. Some or most of the time, they don't know what to ask for. Either we have to guess based on their pictures, descriptions, and our own experiences that tree maker X's 6-1/2 90 degree fits most of them like that I see and from tree maker Y I need a 4" handhole 93 degree tree. Not everybody's bottom patterns are the same either, and the bulgy horses might not go as well in a crowned up bottom that the narrower back would. These guys aren't just calling up a tree maker and saying "send me a 15-1/2" low Assoc". They are calling someone they have experience with, know what has worked for most of the past ones, and at least telling them some basic width measurement and ordering that. It might well be the same each time, or it could be "He rodes big blocky horses, ropes calves, and uses 1" pads with a Navajo and orders a 6-3/4" and the next guy rides mostly colts and narrower horses and he orders a 6-1/4 for him". THAT is fitting on a basic level to me. If we don't do that, we are about the same level of competance as the kid at the feedstore.

Horses are pretty tolerant, and there is a range of what works and what doesn't. If we are within that, we are doing alright. How big that range is what the question is.

A whole block got left out, so here it is. If we don't want to guess at what they ride, pictures, or whatever. we do have the card fitting system from Dennis Lane. That can give us an idea of a few dimensions and give us a better idea of the general profile of the back.

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Interesting points Bruce. The "range" makes good sense, as well as the question as to what the limits of the range actually are. So, maybe you have a saddle built for your primary (or only) horse, and hope that it fits other horses in the future. At least the first horse will be golden, and people being creatures of habit, may tend towards a certaint 'type' of horse, therefore their saddle tends to be serviceable over a variety of horses for that persons 'taste' in horses.

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If I had a plaster mold of my horses back made, sent it to Denise and Rod and had them make the perfect tree to match that mold,
Most of us aren't doing back molds to fit every nook and cranny.

Thought we better pop in here to clarify a possible misconception. There is a common idea out there that when a tree maker gets a mold or numbers from the DL system or back drawings or whatever else that they make an exact copy/negative/inverse for the bottom of the bar to fit that horse. This is NOT what we do. We simply use the information given to know what general type or shape of horse it represents and then use whatever combination of hand hole width, bar angle, rock, crown, etc. that is needed to fit that type of horse. We don't build trees to fit one specific horse - only the type of horse that represents - so the saddle can be used on other horses of that type. And with adequate surface area on the bars, it will also fit a range of horses on either side of the "ideal" type. Even though it will sit higher or lower on some horses, it will not dig in anywhere (no high pressure points) and will still have adequate surface area contacting the horse (even with some of the bar not contacting) to distribute the weight decently. This is how a well designed tree can be used on a lot of horses.

If an owner has an individual horse, then using these systems is a good way to get us the information on that horse's shape, since "big and wide" can mean different things to different people, or the owners simply don't know enough to describe their horses properly. A case in point: We were at a place that raised and trained Tennessee Walking Horses and we were using Dennis Lane's system to check their back types for our own benefit. As we checked out a mare the handler commented that they had no problems fitting a saddle to this horse as she was pretty wide so the "normal" saddles fit her well. Looking at the horse (and confirming our ideas with the DL cards) we would agree that our most common combination would work on this mare. Then they brought in a gelding telling us how hard a time they had fitting this horse because he was so narrow. Looking at his chest from the front, he was much narrower than the mare. But his back carded the same! The reason they were having problems fitting this horse was they were looking for a narrow saddle for a horse that wasn't narrow in the back! And these were people who had been in the equine business for a lot of years. So if they couldn't evaluate a back well, how can we expect an individual horse owner to be able to tell us what we need to know? Most saddle makers have spent a fair amount of time throwing trees on horses and evaluating what they see and then how well they work in the finished saddle. So they get to know how "such and such" tree specs from a specific maker will work on this type of horse. If they know their customers and the common type of horses ridden at that ranch or barn or even in the area in which they live, then they can make a good judgment call on what to order.

I'm attaching pictures of three horses below here to maybe illustrate. The bay with the white shoulder is a pretty middle of the road horse. He fits right into the middle of the bell curve of horse shape variations and there are a lot of horses out there like him. He would do OK in more than one of our common combinations of width and angle and our "normal" rock, though we chose the combination we thought was ideal. And the tree built for this order will fit a lot of other horses out there. Trees built for the dark brown and the gray, however, won't fit much of a range of shapes since they are already at the far edges of the bell curve of variations. They will, however, fit the relatively low percentage of other horses of this type/shape. And since both owners are committed to their specific breed and discipline, the chance of them having another horse of this shape is fairly good. Should you build for the ends of the bell curves? That is a question to be answered by individual makers. But even building for an "end of the bell curve shape" is a different question than building for an individual horse and his idiosyncrasies. Hopefully this helps demonstrate the difference.

(And yes, other factors than the tree or even the saddle affect the horse's back and need to be considered. But the tree and saddle DO affect the horse's back!)

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Edited by Rod and Denise Nikkel

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Thanks Denise (?) (50/50 chance right?!?!?)

You too Rod,

So, Lighten.gif , there you have it. I finally get it. I have read similar points made by the saddle makers, but there was always a post to the contrary. Someone, like myself (or the guy that recently posted and after recommendations from some truly great saddle makers, still elected to go with a saddle of questionable quality), could easily believe that some saddle makers just build a saddle to fit a group of horses and some micro-fit. That for a truly custom, high end saddle, you will pay many thousands and it will fit like a glove. That, obviously, is just not reality, nor is it practical, as I now understand. One maker may take more time or even get more personally involved in the fitting process, as in, actually flying out to do the fitting themselves before building the saddle, but ultimately, the tree will be made to fit in the middle of a range. I would have thought that the difference would be that the tree is made to exact specifications.

So, what you are paying for, is expertise, experience, craftsmanship, and brand. Quality aside, I know that if I bought a Circle Y, or Big Horn, or Tex Tan, or even a Clinton Anderson Aussie, there is a good chance that it will fit comfortably. If the saddle horn should 'pop off' at a team roping event blush.gif , I would be humiliated, and angry as hell at. . .whom? Circle Y? Tex Tan? These are just buildings and places of employment. Nobody but their name to it! Too many people, their name is still important. Nobody wants to have their name become Mudd, so I have a good feeling that the horn won't pop off of one of Bruce's saddles, or Keith's or Brents saddles, or Rod and Denise's tree. The saddle will fit and likely carry him through a variety of physical changes.

I believe there are a lot of "Master" saddle makers here. The level of talent on this forum is uncanny. I would now recommend to someone looking for a good saddle, to find a reputable saddle maker and have one Hand Made. It will fit your horse, and somebody is staking their personal reputation on its quality and craftsmanship. You don't have to have a Dale Harwood or a Keith Siedel to have a truly great saddle, though, they may ultimately have more "collectors" value in the end, but you can have a very well made saddle that fits remarkably well for the $3k range. I also understand how it would be a lot better for somone to find a well made used saddle for $1500 then it would be to buy a brand new saddle for $1500.

Hmm, sorry if I let the topic slip away a bit. This thread should not get lost. It should be referred to a lot of 'newbies' that come in saying, "I need help finding a saddle." It really clears things up.

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the tree will be made to fit in the middle of a range

Bingo! The ideal fit is when the horse is at the middle of the range of horse shapes which that tree would work on, and that is what we aim at when someone wants a tree for a specific horse. When they are looking to ride a number of horses, we try to figure out the general range that will be needed and hit the middle of that, though that is more commonly done verbally than with back drawings etc.

A couple points I would like to highlight in terms of "fitting a range" though. First, you need a well designed tree, which means that it doesn't dig in anywhere along its entire length. (There is not a lot of talk about fitting anything other than withers in the lay person world, and the rest of the tree is just as important.) If it doesn't have relief on the edges and tips, etc. it won't work even if the middle of the range the width and angle, etc. are correct. Second, you need adequate surface area. Narrow short bars may work OK if they are really dead on for fit. They don't have much range though because they need all that surface area to distribute the weight sufficiently and if they lose partial contact due to varying horse shape they may produce high pressure areas just due to lack of adequate surface area on the horse. (I would suggest there is a difference in these two factors between true hand made trees and production models. But then, every tree maker thinks a bit differently too!)

Edited by Rod and Denise Nikkel

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Cool. spoton.gif

Thank you.

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