March 7, 2008

The importance of a good fitting saddle

My horses were paid a visit the other day by their saddle fitter,
Kate Athanas-Wilson.  Kate and her husband, Jim, run a business called
Dutchess Bridle & Saddle, LLC located
in Port Jervis, NY.  Jim runs the workroom where he applies his
expertise to saddle repairs.  Kate works out of her truck, fitting
saddles for at least 700 clients in 6 states.  Kate is a highly
qualified saddle fitter, having received her certification from the
Society of Master Saddlers in the UK – the authority of English
saddlery.  She comes to my stables every 6 months to make saddle
adjustments.  You may wonder why this is necessary and Kate makes it
very clear. 

She explained that a horse’s body changes throughout the year.
During warm weather, my Friesians are outdoors grazing on fresh grass
and they gain weight.  During winter, with a change in diet, they lose
body mass.  But, like any physical being, there are also muscular
changes that occur throughout the years.  When a saddle no longer fits
a horse well, the horse will not be happy and can actually experience
all sorts of physical problems.  This can also be a danger for a rider
if the horse isn’t comfortable with something on its back.  Kate said
that many years ago, our cavalry knew that a good fitting saddle meant
that you had a good horse, and for some reason that notion had been
overlooked for quite some time.  But, in recent years, things are
changing and horse owners are becoming more aware of the importance of
maintaining a proper fitting saddle.

Kate who just arrived at my stables on a very cold morning. She’s all bundled up in her work gear.

A warm greeting from Rutger, who is most curious about his

These are Kate’s very detailed charts and her measuring
devise – a flexible ruler.

This is the chart of Rutger’s back and how it’s changed
during Kate’s last 3 visits. She uses a
new ink color each time she comes.

Kate measures the curve of Rutger’s back in a few
crucial areas with this flexible Ruler.

also records how many fingers fit between the straightened ruler and the sway
of the horse's back.

With this visit, Kate uses a green pen and draws new lines
for each measurement. This visual gives
her a good indication on how to adjust Rutger’s saddle  this time._o7j3493

is meticulous and keeps very detailed records of each horse she visits.

Sometimes she determines the changes to be rather minor and
adjustments only need to be made to the Mattes Correction Pad, which is placed
beneath the actual saddle. This pad has
pockets for flannel shims, or inserts.

Here’s the saddle sitting atop the Mattes Pad.

the saddle, itself, needs adjustment, Kate takes it to her workroom in her


These are some of the things she uses – wool flocking
material, a flocking iron, a flocking smasher, and a flocking awl.

Kate inserting flocking wool through a small seam hole into the saddle using
the flocking iron.

the smasher, she pounds the exterior of the saddle to compress the flocking
material so there are no bulges or lumps, making sure the saddle is
balanced. One of her instructors used
the analogy that it’s like wallpapering through a keyhole.

looks like Rutger is anxious to go outdoors with me sitting atop his newly
fitted saddle. _o7j3483