I have lost count how many times I have heard the voice on the other end of the telephone say “ I have just bought a pony for my daughter and I am having difficulty finding a saddle to fit him” To be honest those words are enough to bring a chill to the spine of most saddle fitters.
So what are the issues that arise most often? Well without doubt the serial offenders are the smaller native pony breeds, Shetlands, Dartmoors, Welsh section A’s etc. The usual problem is that the saddle slips forwards or sometimes to the side. There are several aspects of the conformation of these breeds of native ponies which contribute to the saddle slipping forwards and it is quite common for all of these issues to be present in one pony!! They tend to have very little wither, are narrow across the shoulders, have a forward girth groove, have a flat back and have a round barrel shaped rib cage.
To explain a girth groove is the position the girth naturally wants to lie on the pony. If we carefully place a saddle on one of these ponies, and draw an imaginary vertical line down from the girth straps, this would show the ideal location for the girth to sit. Unfortunately when a pony has this combination of narrow shoulders and a round belly (sorry rib cage!!) then the girth will always migrate to the narrowest point which will be right up behind the pony’s front legs. Often this is six or eight inches forward of the ideal position we have just identified. This has two effects, firstly the girth becomes slack and secondly it draws the saddle forwards over the shoulders towards the pony’s neck.
So is there anything we can do to combat this problem. Well basically everything about the fit of the saddle has to be just right, what may be a good enough fit on a larger horse to work effectively will not be good enough on one of these ponies. So the saddle has to be made on a saddle tree which fits the pony and the width setting has to be precise, often a quarter of a size adjustment can make all the difference. The saddle needs to be balanced on the pony. So many of the pony showing saddles are too low at the back causing the saddle to tip backwards and put the rider out of balance. To get this right we often have to flock the saddle on site to fit the pony more precisely. A really good girth that is elasticated at both ends will provide a constant and regular pressure. The last part of the equation is to girth the saddle in the right way, often it is necessary to use point straps. Each of these factors increases the chances of the saddle sitting still by a few percentage points and when we get every part of the equation right we get the end result we have all been looking for.
Next month I am going to talk about what to expect at a saddle fitting appointment.