<phew> what a lot of information squashed into a short period of time. As such I'm going from addled memory, so any mistakes in information are mine.
- Fergus' back is flat as a flat thing, and fourteen times longer than it needs to be.
- Fergus' pectoral area is way more overdeveloped than it needs to be - while his butt is a sad pathetic thing. This likely contributed to him going lame last year - because I've let him get so heavy on the forehand, yet he isn't necessarily moving freely, so he's slapping his big feet down with all his weight on that end.
- I am riding with all my weight in my stirrups and my pubic bone (no wonder I was experiencing pressure) and need to learn to carry my weight in my thighs (which, in turn, will lift me off my weight-in-feet and stop crushing my delicates).
- I am moving too much "with" him, thereby exacerbating his big movement even more and creating yet more friction (friction being something I feel like I've been fighting for several years by fiddling around with pad material)
She has a nifty program on her computer that allows you to visually strip down the horse, layer by layer, showing muscle, fascia, bone and ligament. She showed me which muscles are supposed to be there and have atrophied (the more superficial rhomboid and trapezius) and what he has left - the long deep muscle running along either side his spine - the longissimus dorsi.
This is where I'd been confused. I initially thought this was muscle, then was told it was ligament, only to find out that, yes, it is muscle. This is the area that has been rubbing - mostly because it's the only thing left of any prominence in his back, in terms of muscle. It's also the area I've been trying to stay away from with my shimming/panel contortions. But as she pointed out, if I stay away from that, there's not much left to sit a saddle on. :(
RP panel on the left, FF on the right.
Notice the "scoop" in the RP panel gullet area
behind the withers. Notice also the larger
She took a look at the Freeform and the panels. Biggest problem she could see was with the shape of the FF panels - they are too straight along the top gullet edge in the middle, which means they are pressing on that problem area.
Luckily I'd identified this as being "wrong" and my way to get around it was to spread the panels as wide as I could. Unfortunately, whilst that widened them away from the pressure area, it also took the weight-bearing surface away from the remaining muscle-area in the back of the saddle. Not good.
We compared the reactor panel panels with my FF ones and concluded that I could actually carve out the offending area of insert in the FF panel - leaving an empty baggy area and I think the cover is rigid enough that it wouldn't get bunched under where it shouldn't - and equally wouldn't put pressure where it shouldn't. Since I plan to continue using these panels on my Sensation saddle on my other horses, I'll likely make this modification.
My last ride on the borrowed Freeform had been Thursday - I rode two miles - and Saddle Fit Session #3 occurred on Sunday - and I was still sore enough in my adductors to be waddling funny.
My thought was that was if the saddle worked perfectly for Fergus, then I would make it work for me. But in the event, while it might work on a "normal horse" (i.e. any of the others), the weight and pressure distribution was still not going be be great for him - particularly in his compromised state. What I need for him at this point is whatever's going to offer him the best protection and the best opportunity to grow a healthy back. So we didn't pursue the Freeform any further.
Lisa took a look at my Sensation - with the same reservations - it doesn't have a gullet, so needs the panels, but they aren't the right shape for what Fergus needs, and it offers even less support, so we didn't fiddle with that saddle any further either.
Onto Reactor Panel saddles. Since Lisa knows about them and how to fit them to horse and rider, it seemed sensible to try them out and see how things felt.
As I'd mentioned before, I'd ridden in a borrowed RP saddle on a borrowed horse at an endurance ride a few years back and didn't love the saddle - years of riding in treeless saddles has meant that I am not so tolerant about the hardness of treed saddles. Admittedly, that saddle wasn't fitted to me, so it's not surprising I wasn't terribly comfortable in it.
(As an aside, I mentioned to Lisa that I got a horrid calf-rub from it and she wondered if the stirrup leathers had been run *underneath* the flap, which can create a nice little ridge where the stirrup leather comes out at the bottom. I don't remember. I just remember using an entire roll of vet wrap to protect my lower leg from 12 miles onwards).
NB: saddle pics below taken from the RP Saddle website.
Click pics for more info on each saddle.
Baker saddle—the first saddle she put me in was a Baker saddle. She said this is a very flat tree, so ideal for Fergus' flat back - and would be the least invasive to my delicates because of the fairly flat seat and lack of rise in the pommel area. It had knee blocks in under the flap.
We rode maybe a mile or so, with some trotting thrown in and she was able to figure out what my riding problems were (and therefore why I've been having the problems I've been having). I started my endurance career in a Bob Marshall Sportsaddle which, because of the lack of twist, tends to make you ride duck-footed. And apparently I never really got out of the habit. My "protective mode" is to drop my weight in my stirrups and turn my feet out, contacting the horse with the back of my calf (just take a look at my half-chaps for a clear indication of this). And I ride with a long stirrup.
So she shortened up my stirrups (Lucy wailing about jockey-length and insecure seat) and had me rotate my inner thigh in to contact the saddle flap and carry my weight.
I think I maybe managed three strides of "good riding", but I got the idea.
The seat wasn't great for me - too flat, so I was swimming around and fighting my balance (all things that would be helped if I actually had any core muscles... Core muscles? What is it?).
Heraldic—the next candidate was a heraldic saddle - this is basically a flapless version of the englishy saddles, with "poley" type thingies up high to stop you falling out - a definite plus. The lack of flap means it's lighter-weight and potentially closer contact against the horse - although that's debateable, because you then add fluffy covers on the stirrup leathers which are lovely and cushy, but push you away from the horse.
This seat was much better suited to me - I felt much more comfortable in it, with the exception of where the cantle was digging into my butt around the bottom edge (same problem as I had on the Freeform). Whilst it felt more comfortable, I also felt like I'd be able to just fall back into my old habits riding in this saddle, which wouldn't help either of us. I wasn't as able to ride correctly in this saddle due to muscle memory putting me back to my [bad] "comfort zone".
Lisa did point out something I hadn't realised - that any of the trees/seats can be "Heraldic-ized" - that is to say, you can order them in flapless variety. She also mentioned someone might be selling a used "Heraldic" with a Tribute seat - more about that later, but if I was made of money, that's likely the option I would go for. All of these saddles are much heavier than I'm used to, and once I strap on all the stuff-that-I-can't-possibly-do-without, it would weigh a ton. So having a lighter-weight flapless version would be a definite plus.
Tribute—then she pulled out a Tribute saddle and that—as the Three Bears said—was "just right" for me. It has a higher cantle (something that I felt had been lacking from all the strange saddles I'd been riding in thus far) and just felt "right" for my butt.
So we slapped that onto Fergus and off I went down the road on my out-n-back mile route. I trotted and whilst it wasn't pretty, it felt the best of all the saddles I'd tried that day. It rotated my leg beautifully, so I was able to keep my thigh turned in and my calf on the horse (something that worried me - I thought I wasn't supposed to, but it was explained to me that when your leg is rotated in like that, you're not using the fulcrum (?) of your knee to add super-pressure the way you can when your leg is rotated out, so the horse can breathe and he won't hate you).
The only real complaint I had about it was how hard it was, it was digging into my seat bones. So Lisa kindly loaned me a sheepskin cover and I came home with this (used) saddle on trial for a couple of weeks:
It's now Tuesday and I still haven't had a chance to try the saddle out again. The next two days are rain-free, and then it starts to rain again, so I need to get out there first thing before work.
Spot how much fun this type of weather is to someone who works Mon-Friday:
...and how excited am I about that 2.28 inches of rain on Friday?! Woot! Not.