Bits About Saddles

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Whenever I start with a new student, one of the most frustrating things to deal with is an equipment issue, especially with saddles, but also often with bits. Riders seek out instructors for help and insight about how to make their seat more stable and their aids all more effective and how to solve training problems.

If the saddle doesn't really fit the rider, however, then no amount of lessons on the longe line is going to improve the rider's seat. If the saddle is pinching the horse's withers, or the bit is jamming into the roof of the horse's mouth and causing discomfort, the horse's resistance won?t be from a lack of correct training. The rider is being unfair to both her horse and to herself, and the money and time she expends on lessons is wasted.

Riders, however, seem to find it easier to believe their own riding is at fault than to accept the possibility that they're actually struggling against the fit of the saddle. they're quicker to think the horse is blowing them off by going above the bit than that the bit might be causing the horse pain.

Equipment changes can be very expensive, particularly with saddles. The rider might also be stuck with riding a borrowed or leased horse where the equipment is part of the deal. When you've used a particular bridle or saddle for a long time, it's part of your daily landscape - you just don't see it as a source of your problems.

Instructors don't like to confront a rider with the idea that an expensive change is probably necessary, even though they know in their heart of hearts that it will make a real difference. The instructor might start with diplomacy, suggesting that a rider borrow saddles to see if they feel more comfortable, or make stop-gap suggestions such as using a riser pad to bring the cantle up before shelling out for a whole new saddle. The instructor might suggest experimenting with bits of a size, material or mechanism that differs somewhat from the one the rider is currently using.

Pay close attention if an instructor hints at a possible equipment change, but don't accept it on face value. Require an explanation of the biomechanics. For example, ask how the rider?s seat would become more (or less) stable in a saddle with a larger seat area. What is it about the bit that might make it pinch the corners of the mouth?

Get more than one person's evaluation - consult your vet, your horse's dentist, a saddle fitter, another instructor. Borrow before you buy, and look for serviceable used equipment before buying new. The good thing about quality horse gear is that it holds up over time, and a saddle or bit that no longer fits another rider or horse could easily be just the answer for you.