Saturday, March 8, 2014

Specialized Saddle fitting comments

So.  Hannah asked for a brief bunch of notes on the Specialized saddles and fitting them, and instead I took a zillion photos of how I know mine's in roughly the right place and how to check the fit, so this is long and photo-heavy under the cut with a lot of commentary on Specialized saddles!
One of the biggest challenges I've had with this horse and saddles is that everything seems to run into her shoulders.  When saddles are tight through her shoulders, it's harder for her to go down hills with any kind of grace.  Confetti doesn't have much in the way of withers, just lots of shoulder.  I absolutely have to use a crupper on our regular trails and I'm not convinced there's a saddle in the world that will change that, and the crupper is tighter than what most people recommend as a result.. but that's a whole different post.

So.  Here's what we're working from:
With her head down, it's a little easier to see where the braids fall in relation to her shoulder.

Standing, today, left side. Same braids, so same point of reference.

Right side with her half-mane, which is entirely unhelpful for finding her shoulder.  
Right now, I have the Eurolight set up with 1" thick fitting pads and no shims whatsoever.  I make no claim to this working for any other horse, but despite all I've read about shims nearly always being necessary, Fetti doesn't seem to need them.
Pommel has the pink bags against my jeans; cantle on the ground.  

Always worth looking at the saddle on the horse without a pad.  Left side above, right side below.  I check whether I can slide my fingers under the front of the saddle at her shoulder.  Left: yes, kinda.  Right:  barely.  I know there's an asymmetry and her shoulders aren't even, so I ignore the fact that she's not standing square.  Depending on your horse, the asymmetry may warrant a shim in the front.

Also: placement of my saddle can be determined by looking at saddle in relation to braids on the left, if that's a point of confusion!  I slide it back, and frequently then slide it back a second time to where it stops comfortably.

Added pad (in my case, Woolback) and put the saddle back on, but not yet girthed up at all.  This is actually the farthest forward that I'm comfortable having the saddle, and I ended up shifting it back another inch or two after taking most of the photos.

Checked the fit again.  I can comfortably get my hand in under the pad on the left shoulder, snug on the right.  For her, that's 'acceptable'.  I think 'snug' is recommended.
At one point, we tried adding a shim on her left shoulder.  Unfortunately, the difference is small enough that the shims made it too tight on the left, even with the thinnest wedge shim.  I'd rather not go down that road with her, so out it (eventually) went.

Again, that's all un-girthed.  Girthed it up and checked again - snug on left (pictured), very snug on right to the point where I could barely get fingers under.  If I had shims on the right, I'd take them out and probably be happier without them.  I have no shims, so I live with it.

Pre-ride saddle photos:

This inch and a half of forwards motion displays the need for a crupper.  This is after some downhill steps and the crupper is as tight as it will go.
Post-ride photos:

And sweat patterns.  No dry spots, no swirled hairs.

Other things to check for that aren't pictured:  does it bridge badly in the middle?  Does it still do so with pad?  Even pressure front-to-back is recommended; we're running with a setup that seems to bridge slightly, but I figure she can lift her back, it's not an awful lot of bridging, and the sweat patterns are even.

Previously, I tried 1/2" fitting pads with a dressage pad underneath.  It seemed to fit relatively well - except for the part where it tipped ME forwards and left the hairs at her shoulder looking curved/wavy when I took the saddle off afterwards.  Saddle tipping forwards?  Too wide, even when I tried it with the Woolback instead of thin dressage pad.  Yes, her shoulders are wide - but make the saddle too wide, it'll put too much pressure on them.  It's also possible to widen the tree by moving the front of the fitting pads down - tried that too, but again, we (currently) went for narrow rather than wide.  It feels really counterintuitive to make the saddle narrower because it's pinching at the shoulders.. but it worked.

I reached out to a semi-local Specialized rep when I was first purchasing the saddle.  She was nice enough, but it seems that as soon as I was definitively not buying a saddle through her (I got one used already, I just want help fitting it!) interest waned.  Plus I would have been paying $200+ to get her out to the barn since I'm at least an hour or two away, and that's assuming the fitting didn't take too long...  yeah, no thanks.

Instead, I did a lot of the initial fiddling with it myself.  I screwed things up, checked sweat patterns, got frustrated, tried again, checked sweat patterns, swore at it, and settled for 'good enough' for our October ride last year.  Luckily for me, another gal at the barn ended up buying her horse a Specialized saddle straight from the company, and has gotten quite good about figuring out what might work.  Which is not to say she gets it right on the first try either!  We went to 1/2" shims and dressage pad, then reworked it a while later when I still wasn't 100% happy with the balance.  It can be an incredibly frustrating process, likely more so if your horse does more than just fuss politely about trotting down hills.

Sometimes I tried putting the shims in upside-down, too.  I know you're not 'supposed' to.  But if it gets results - why not?

I mentioned that I have the crupper fairly tight.  I use that to double-check my saddle fit:  I know approximately how tight the crupper should be at the beginning of the ride, so if it's too tight, the saddle is too far forwards.  I would imagine something similar could be done with breastplates.

I don't claim to have all the answers, but I will happily answer what questions I can, or at the very least sympathize with anyone beating their head against fitting one of these.  Thoughts? Questions?  Fire away.


  1. Great post!

    I am running 3/4" pads with one tiny shim for D's right shoulder. I've got more play in her shoulders than you do in Fetti's, but D's got that huge walker stride so I think she needs room to rotate her shoulders. I will probably crupper for VC/Tevis but I don't use one regularly anymore.

    I found that the longer the saddle kept working for me (A's for back, no soreness in the days after a ride) the less I worried about whether it was fitted properly. If I can do 50s and 100s, and she's not sore, that's the proof in the pudding?

  2. I have the exact same problem with Comanche! Everything seems to run into his shoulders and/or is too tight in that area. Right now I am using an old 1950's western saddle, which seems to do the trick. It's heavy as heck, but I think it will work until I can afford something else:)

    1. My previous saddle is a no-name probably-Arab-tree endurance saddle. Full leather, clunky, Western-style. First saddle I ever found that really works with her shoulders since it flares out. If it fits, heavy can be manageable :)