Not sure if it was because the day's temperature was still pretty cool or what, but the results weren't terribly conclusive in terms of what you could see in the pad (I could actually feel what was going on a little better). I did exactly the same route with each saddle+pad combination: up around the back of my property (requires a short steep climb and descent), down the driveway, along the lane at a trot, up a gradual hill at a walk, trot back along the lane, trudge back up the driveway, for a 2 mile, 30 minute round trip. On the third saddle, the Bob Marshall, I finally ran out of daylight and had to feel around in the dark and wait for the following morning to take the photo.
Step 1: Removed copious amounts of crud from filthy horse. He's only been home a week and was already liberally coated. I scraped the worst off with a shedding blade.
Step 2: Wash remaining grime off filthy horse with the use of hot water piped from the basement. Was glad for both our sakes that I have a hose set up for this.
Step3: Insert wet clean horse into blankies and install in front of breakfast to dry off while I went indoors for a sandwich.
Step 4: Start to test saddles. I put a pillowcase under the PLIP to keep it clean and so he didn't have slidey plastic against him as I know some horses can't deal with that at all. The whole thing was fairly slidey anyway and made it hard to feel comfortable to start with. Not to mention I haven't been on him since September and have been riding 12:3 hh Small Thing instead. I felt very high up and very unstable.
Saddle #1: Sensation + Freeform Panels + Triple Thick Woolback pad
The Freeform panels are currently stuffed with high-tech Jen-X multi-layer poron inserts. These are the same material as the pad inserts I used for VC100, but I reasoned I just need to use them differently. The Triple Thick Woolback was a Christmas present from my mumma (thanks mumma!) - I'm not sure what my actual plan for this pad is, but thought it might compliment the FF panels - pad cush without the bulk of a pad with inserts.
In the photo, you're looking at the underside of the pad, with the front at the top, so the right side of the picture is the left side of the horse.
The impression was pretty much as expected - pressure along the topline. Looking at this, it reinforced an idea I've got about how I can improve this set up - and indeed I tried it on Tuesday. More about that later.
Saddle #2: Freeform + Haf pad + Equipedic Inserts.
I borrowed this saddle from Kerrie (thanks Kerrie!). I really liked how it sat on him, but when I got on the saddle it made me squeak like a squeaky thing. Holy crap - I could not ride in this saddle to save my life and was flopping around like a landed fish. OK, so it's been a while since I rode in a saddle with free-swing stirrups, but that was ridiculous. The pommel admittedly needed adjusting (it was set up very peaked and I kept crashing into it), so I could probably improve the fit for me, but - gah - it was hard to ride in. I was bummed because I really wanted to like this saddle and the impression wasn't actually too bad. I think the underside profile is wider than for the Sensation, so although there's still pressure, it was slightly better. I'd like to try this again with my FF panels, but am not sure if it's worth it given the difficulty I was having staying balanced in the saddle. Will think on this a bit more.
Because the day was warming up, as was the PLIP (and thus giving a more pronounced impression?) I had a hard time stopping it sliding down the windscreen on the truck (my viewing platform, post-ride), hence the creasing on the right.
Saddle #3: Bob Marshall Sports Saddle + Skito Dryback pad + Skito inserts
For the grand finale, I tried this saddle - the reasoning being that although I doubt it'll work, I already own it, so should try it - stranger things have happened. This is the saddle I started my endurance career in back in 1998. I rode for a few seasons in it (and not many rides when I look back) on both Provo and Mouse and was perfectly happy. Since then, it has pretty much lived in the heated basement as a "just in case" option.
Funnily enough, Fergus actually felt the best in this saddle - he was walking out really big and moved well. It might be that the seat was huge (I used to ride it in a sheepskin cover), so I was sitting a bit chair-like even though the stirrups are set back - sitting on your back pockets = better for gaiting? But then again, it could be because it was the end of the day and he wanted his supper. That's why saddle fit on a non-demonstrative horse is hard - it's not like he tells me that he's uncomfortable. I also felt pretty comfy in it, but my gut feeling was that it was going to pinch him in the withers.
By the time we were done, it was pretty much dark, so I had to wait until the following morning to take the PLIP photo, but could feel in the dark that - yup - it was really tight around the withers.
So conclusions? I'm not sure I have any, based on what I see from the PLIP impressions - at least no different from my existing knowledge.
Fast Forward to Tuesday Morning:
The main thing I understand is I need to get pressure away from the ligaments either side of his spine because this is the current way any saddle seems to be fitting him:
Tuesday morning it hadn't rained for two days and looking at the forecast, this was the last rain-free window we were going to have for ten days or so. So I persuaded pft to come out with me on his mtn bike and we scuttled out early and rode at Cool for a couple of hours. When we were done, I'd continue on down to work and pft would take Fergus and his mtn bike home.
Although it was bright sunshine, it was pretty slimey out there and we had some interesting shimmying going on at times. Because his feet were so mud encrusted and because of the slick footing, I opted to leave Fergus barefoot which proved to be a mistake - unless it was soft easy footing, he was very tender-footed. Next time I'll be hosing off his feet before we leave home and he will be booted.
My aim on this ride was to see how far apart I could place the FF panels under the saddle - aiming basically to get them as wide apart to allow for F's back ligaments. And I got them pretty wide - so wide that 30 hours later, my hips are still whining about it.
You can just see the panel poking out under the saddle in the back. I was reasonably happy with this experiment (whiny hips, notwithstanding), but it needs a bit of fine-tuning.
Fast Forward to Tuesday Afternoon:
On Monday evening, I'd sent a long email to Dana Johnson at Sensation Saddlery up in Canada, explaining the problems I've been having and asking if she had any ideas on how I could remedy the problem.
She called me back on Tuesday afternoon and we had a long talk on the phone. I was very appreciative of her honesty - keeping in mind she designed the Sensation saddle, so knows what can/can't be done.
And the gist of the conversation was her telling me that she'd dealt with horses built like Fergus before - slab-sided, yet with huge spinal ligaments - and she basically thought that I'd never get the Sensation saddle to work satisfactorily on him. She said the basic problem is your seat bones are 4" apart, and Fergus needs a 6-8" gullet, and a treeless saddle doesn't have the structure to be able support the rider's weight across that span.
So I was pretty bummed, to say the least.
However, all is not lost. She pointed me in the direction of DP Saddlery - they make highly adjustable, flex-tree saddles, which hopefully will have the capability to accommodate Fergus' weirdo back. I have an email in to them, now, so we'll see if they can help.
In the meantime, I think I can get the FF panels to work - albeit not an ideal set-up (particularly for me and my hips), but it might get us through in a pinch until an alternative can be found.
Looks like I'm going to be needing to sell some saddles in the near-future to fund a new one for Fergus - probably the Bob Marshall Sports Saddle and one of the Sensation Hybrids.