A New Toy (A long post loaded with photos!)

Surprise! I bought a saddle this month! 

As you guys might remember, my trainer has been hounding me to glue some thigh blocks to my old-as-dirt county saddle. Well, the thought of hotgluing anything to leather was giving me the shivers and I wasn't able to do it. So, I took a hard look at my savings and started seriously browsing sale ads. As luck would have it, an amazing deal popped up, and I jumped on it.

Check out my new (to me) Barnsby AVG! It's a 17.5 medium tree, with HUUUUUGE thigh blocks (to me).

Sale photo ... 
I was a little excited for it's arrival ... 
Seriously. Packing peanuts. Whyyyyy??
In fact, it was pretty hard to sit at work all day and think about the shiny saddle waiting to be tried on and ridden in. I even made it out to the barn that night despite the 4*F temperature. Brrr. The things we do...

What followed that night was an example of how horses can bring us up so high, and bash us down so low. I tried on the saddle, and it appeared to have amazing wither coverage and be the perfect fit. Then I girthed it up, and that amazing wither coverage shrank. 

Guys, it shrank a lot.

I screwed up my courage and decided to take it for a test spin just to see...

... nope. The saddle ended up settling more after some trotwork, and it was rubbing slightly at the top of Pig's withers. I was crushed. The drive home was hard, as I thought about all the money I have tied up in saddles (this saddle makes 4 .. FOUR saddles I own. That's $3,500 tied up in leather, guys. For a girl with a husband in medical school, that is really disheartening. "Eat ramen for the next year" disheartening.). When I got home I drank a lot of wine. 

The next day things started looking up. I emailed Barnsby and they put me in contact with a fitter in the Chicago area. Then I started thinking about the possibility of padding it up, and about the fact that it was so cold that I may have accidentally placed the saddle too far forward. The Barnsby fitter asked me to send her photos of the saddle on Guinness. 

Fast forward to Saturday ...  

The day dawned bright, and warm (finally). I was feeling a lot more optimistic about the saddle, and prepared with options if it didn't fit. I was also confident in my ability to resell the saddle if everything failed.
Gratuitous adorable puppy shot from Saturday. It really was a beautiful day here.
Armed with confidence, I set off taking photos of saddle fit for the Barnsby rep. First, girthed up without a pad. Things were looking good. I had about 3 fingers of clearance between the narrowest point and the withers.
Fit prior to riding. I actually think I have the saddle too far forward still in this photo. Sigh. #horseswithshoulders
Gullet fit on back. Looks pretty good to me, no? Much wider than my County, and cleanly clearing the spine.
Just to see, I tried the saddle with a riser pad. While the wither clearance was improved greatly, I didn't like the way the rest of the saddle fit. I felt the pad changed the way it sat, and created possible pressure points. Veto on the riser pad.
Wither clearance with front riser pad.

See how the saddle tilts backwards with the riser pad? I do not like this, Sam I Am.
After removing the riser pad, I went ahead and jumped in the saddle. Stirrupless and all. And? I went on to ride for 45 minutes. I checked the clearance on the saddle obsessively throughout the ride, but it never again rubbed the withers. I would still describe the clearance as "a little close for comfort", but I can comfortably ride with one finger stuck between the lowest point and the wither without pinching. 
Without front riser pad. 
Wither clearance after riding for 45 minutes.  Plus? Oh my god, thighblocks. I didn't know how much I loved you.
I'm cautiously calling this a success. After the 45 minute ride (which was nothing if not intense, I really pushed it), the hair on Pig's back was undisturbed where the saddle fit. There were no signs on the pad of pressure points or pinching. He moved out happily enough under the saddle, and didn't react to my prodding his back post ride. (He's pretty stoic about saddle fit, though. Nothing but truly awful fit seems to phase him.) 

The great thing? The saddle is an amazing fit for me. The thigh blocks are truly a revelation. They remind me to ride from the hip, instead of cuing from the leg. And, they keep me from riding in a chair seat. It's pretty much impossible in this saddle. And, the true black color is so pretty compared to the faded havana of my old County. I love it.

As of now I haven't heard back from the Barnsby fitter about her thoughts. I told her about the change in fit, and hope she has some ideas on how to improve it. The saddle could use a good flocking, and that just might be what it needs to fit Guinness perfectly. I'll keep you posted as things develop.

What do you guys think?


  1. Pretty! (I am no expert on fit or saddles so I will just say I like the way it looks :P )

  2. I would be a little worried about the way the saddle pad slid back during riding. I have a saddle that usually fits my horse - but he lost a lot of muscling last year. And when I put that same saddle on the wither clearance looked much like yours does: clear, but not ideal, but pretty workable. The catch was that the saddle pads were sliding back and putting wither pressure. He now has a white spot on his withers just from that. :( So keep an eye at how tightly the pad is pressing on his withers and how far it slides.

    1. Huh, great insight! I've never really thought of the pad causing a pressure point, but you're totally right!

      I actually think I screwed up the pad when I removed the riser pad. I noticed the slippage, too. Luckily, Sunday I didn't see the same slippage. I'll keep an eye on it, for sure! Thanks!

  3. Very nice new toy! So exciting!

  4. Definitely looks like the saddle is placed a little too far forward toward the withers in most of the photos. Should definitely have a nice level saddle, as you alluded to in the "do not like that Sam I Am" photo where it is exaggeratedly too far forward and upward from the riser. I'd slide it back on him another couple inches, cinch it up, and see how that goes.

    When I really go back into riding again after a serious [for me] lull of only riding sporadically, numerous folks pointed out how most people place saddles too far forward on the withers. This placement was all I knew. Its what I grew up being taught so I thought nothing of it. Folks showed me how to place a saddle so that [ideally] it sits balanced (level from cantle to pommel if you placed a board there; not always perfect if saddle has high cantle or a horn on the pommel). For my mare especially, setting the saddle just a few mere inches further back than what I'd been raised doing makes a huge difference. What's more interesting is that if I DON'T put the saddle there, it will inevitably shift back to that point during a riding session - be it on the flat or the trail.

    Sorry that turned into a novel - I just wanted to provide a little bit of support to the suggestion.

    I really hope the saddle works out for you two, it is beautiful! If it works then you can sell (?) the others and not have to eat ramen for a year ;-). I hope your hubby is at least nearing the end of med school?! Haha.

    1. I love these long comments. You guys are full of great information!

      I was definitely taught to place saddles way too far forward, and the change to dressage from the h/j world definitely accentuated that issue. I'll be paying special attention when I head out to ride today!

      I've been trying to sell one saddle for a looooong time, with no real interest. The other one should go quickly, though! As for the husband, he has another year in the school portion of med school, then it's off to residency (where at least he'll be paid!).

  5. Congrats! New saddles are the very best toys. :0)

    I am not an expert on saddle fit. I always look for clearance at the withers, a gullet that doesn't touch the spine anywhere, panels that seem to make solid contact, a saddle that doesn't rock forward and backward or side to side, etc. You've clearly checked all of that stuff.

    My saddle fitter has given me some good tips though. When you look at the saddle, you should be able to set a pencil in the seat and it should rest in the sweet spot. That's a way to imagine a level saddle. She also suggests placing the saddle on a bareback horse and then whack (gently) the pommel backwards to find where the saddle gets "stuck." This keeps you from putting the saddle too far forward. I always place my saddles too far forward, but then I whack them into place behind the shoulder. I know my saddle should rest in a spot that *seems* too far back. My girth should be a good hand away from the elbow.

    I think most of us were taught to place the saddle too far forward. When my saddle fitter showed me how far back my saddle should be, I was a little surprised. :0)

    Some new flocking might lift the saddle a bit for sure. I hope it works for you! :0)

    1. Forgot to mention: my saddle fitter also encourages the use of contoured pads (you probably do that already), and she stresses the importance of lifting the pad into the pommel to prevent the pad from rubbing the withers. Someone else made that suggestion, too and you probably do that as well. Just an additional penny to the already shared two cents.


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