CJ Millar
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CJ Millar


About CJ Millar

Serial horse owner (that I never sell...) and cross-discipline rider with a love for eventing, hunter/jumpers, and a passion for fox hunting and hunter pacing! Part time western rider, lover of camping (with horses) and all things outdoors. Lifetime saddle fit information seeker.

Latest Articles Written

It’s a Long #RoadToRolex for Jordan Linstedt and RevitaVet Capato

Jordan Linstedt and RevitaVet Capato. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld. Jordan Linstedt and RevitaVet Capato. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Jordan Linstedt is no rookie when it comes to the Kentucky Rolex Three-Day Event. She’s successfully competed there multiple times with different horses.

Her current mount, RevitaVet Capato, the 14-year-old Hanoverian owned by Jordan and her mom, Barbara Linstedt, is heading there with her for their third Rolex together. They were even featured on last year’s Rolex tickets! But that doesn’t mean getting there is easy.

Jordan Linstedt and Revitavet Capato. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

It Takes a Village

From #RolexRookie to seasoned competitor, getting to Rolex really does take a village, and a whole lot of support. Jordan is based in Redmond, Wash., which means traveling from coast to coast to get from where she’s based to Kentucky, and a lot of prep work to make it all happen. Recently I had a chance to catch up with Jordan on what it takes to get to Rolex, from the prep to the travel and of course actually competing there, and will be following her up through the event at the end of April.

First, she credits Neelie and Simon Floyd, who co-own Hawkwind Farm (Jordan’s home base), for being the foundation of her support. They helped host the fundraiser event to kick things off, and of course, help keep everything at the farm running. Jordan tells us that without them, she really couldn’t do any of this and is eternally grateful!

Team JLE at the #CapatosGotHops fundraiser. Photo courtesy of Jordan Linstedt.

Starting back in early March, they held a fundraising event that included a live band, a huge silent auction and JLE Team gear as well as #CapatosGotHops shirts. The entire community–about 200 people in all–came out to support Jordan and Capato.

Jordan tells us, “I couldn’t do what I do without all the support. It’s very special to have so many incredible people that support my goals and dreams!” Brands and companies such as Olson’s Tack Shop, Voltaire Saddles, Kerrits, Samshield, Purina, Grand Meadows and so many other brands came together to help Jordan in her journey.

Packing for the #RoadtoRolex

The hardest part about heading to Kentucky for Jordan was leaving her team of riders at home. With a new assistant to hold down the fort at home, she was able to travel a little easier and is grateful to have Meg Finn running things at the farm.

Getting ready to leave also meant having Jordan’s boyfriend Aaron Nilsen help get the new-to-them trailer updated and repaired to be ready for the approximately 3,000 mile journey (each way!), and pack for the three horses going.

Aaron making trailer repairs before hitting the road. Photo courtesy of Jordan Linstedt.

Packing also meant being prepared with some sheets and leg wraps for the horses (and even a blanket for Jordan) from Draper Therapies to keep them comfortable and keep their circulation going for better and faster recovery after workouts, along with of course a basic med kit. Kerrits provided all new riding gear with royal blue accents–Jordan’s color–from its spring line.

Feed and hay for the road were packed, and everything from show clothes to travel gear had to fit in the rig. If you think packing for a one-day or even a weekend-long event is tough, try packing for a two-plus month trip. It’s quite a lot to remember, and to make sure everyone is safe, sound and prepared to compete at the highest levels this sport has to offer.

#RK3DE2017 here we come! Photo courtesy of Jordan Linstedt.

This year, in addition to Capato, two other horses in training with Jordan came along for the experience. Staccato and Destiny ISF along with her dogs Bourbon and Brandy packed up to hit the road on March 16th with Jordan and Aaron.

Following behind them in a second rig was student and groom Ava Cox with her Training level horse, Amigo, co-piloted by her father. Their first stop was 20 hours later in South Dakota where they had to do a little trailer work. Note to fellow travelers: Never leave home without a tool set, air compressor and power tools!

Team LJE on the #RoadToRolex. Photo courtesy of Jordan Linstedt.

The next few days were 15 hours each, with a final arrival at Carolina International Horse Trials.

All Systems Go 

Carolina International was the first stop for Jordan and her team as her and Capato prepped for Rolex. He was very electric in the ring for dressage, and while it wasn’t their best performance, after a long haul out there it was expected that Capato would have the dressage arena jitters.

Moving on to cross country, they had a great bold run and took their time with a goal of a solid completion, which they did indeed earn. Jordan tells us Capato felt bold and eager to find the jumps, and she was excited to move into show jump.

Unfortunately they had a few rails down in the final phase, but it was all in all a good solid first outing for the season. With some time between then and the next show, Jordan has a packed schedule with some of the top trainers to help finesse their show jumping and leave more of those rails in the cups.

Jordan Linstedt and RevitaVet Capato. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

In addition, the two training horses performed beautifully, with Destiny finishing her first Training course and Staccato preparing for his move up to Prelim in the very near future.

Jordan settled into Long Leaf Lodge across the street from Will Faudree for a week of head-down prep and lessons before heading to The Fork, where they finished third in a division of Advanced.

Stay tuned to see where Jordan is headed next and follow her and Capato on their #RoadToRolex. Have photos of them to share? Tag her and Capato on social with hashtag #CapatosGotHops! And check back soon as we follow Jordán and Capato all the way to #RK3DE2017!

Jordan Linstedt and RevitaVet Capato. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

New Year’s Resolutions & When to Stop Riding Through Pain

As eventers, we’re known to be among the toughest of equestrians. We get knocked down, and get back up and back on. We fall off, and climb back up and keep going. We frequently ignore doctor’s orders and are back in the saddle far sooner than any “normal” person would consider reasonable. It’s no joke that we’re a tough breed, but it’s also no joke when you push yourself too far.

If you’re anything like me, chances are your horse or horses have a regular chiropractor, get new shoes on schedule without fail that likely cost more than most of the shoes you own (except for maybe your tall boots you show in), and you pay close and careful attention to how they move, how they feel, if they are off their feed at all, if their saddle fits, if they are experiencing back pain or any lameness, and more. We pay such close attention to our horses, that sometimes it’s a wonder we don’t do the same for ourselves.

Pshhhh … me? I’m fine. I’ll be back in the saddle in no time.

Who hasn’t said those words to a family member or friend after a particularly nasty fall or barn accident or injury? I know more than once, I’ve been back in the saddle far sooner than recommended, or just avoided the doctor’s office all together so that I didn’t get news that I didn’t want to hear, and likely wouldn’t listen to. Until recently that is.


How to get scoliosis 101. Photo provided by CJ Millar.

After years of issues and injuries (I’ve been riding since I was 3 years old) and chronically ignoring doctors for far too long, as this fall season came to a close, I suffered a somewhat minor injury that has me laid up now for the past three months, and maybe another one to two more.

What happened, you ask? Well, we were camping for Halloween at Gettysburg with the horses to ride the battlefield, and my dogs were tied to the horse trailer on tie outs, and managed to wrap around my legs without my noticing until I stood up — and promptly fell down, HARD. So hard, that I managed to bruise a rib and knock the wind out of myself so badly that I couldn’t breathe for what felt like minutes, and was short of breath for the rest of the day.

My friend asked if I needed to go to the ER. I couldn’t answer because I couldn’t breathe, but eventually I sat up and told her no. So what did I do next? Naturally, I tacked up my horse and rode. All day. Of course I took the Robaxin I had on hand (for my horses, of course, in case anyone was sore) and some Aleve, but considering how much pain I was in, this was probably not the right course of action.

Well, you see, years ago in a truly freak accident, while walking to the ring to teach a lesson, a horse a student was warming up on was stung by a bee and bolted. The horse had seen the gate open (I was walking up to it to enter the ring) and charged it. When she got closer, she realized I was there, and was closing the gate. She tried to stop, and when she realized she couldn’t, she tried to jump the 14′ long metal tube gate.

She didn’t clear it. Or me. The impact knocked me (literally) out of my shoes and twisted me in half. I went to the ER, but never followed up with the orthopedist like I was told to. Instead, I was riding — while still on crutches — in a week, just without stirrups to avoid pressure on my twisted achilles tendon and sore back.


What the gate looked like after being smashed between me and a full force galloping horse (left), my foot the next day with no photo editing — yes, it’s really THAT green (center), and me on a horse sans stirrups or helmet a few days later (right) — great decision all around, ugh! Photos provided by CJ Millar.

Years prior, I used to do my own hoof trimmings, and trim some clients’ horses for extra cash. When I had a tumble from a horse that landed me at the doctors, an x-ray of my back showed situational scoliosis. I didn’t even know you could GIVE yourself scoliosis, but apparently you could, and I had. I was told to not trim feet, and take three months off from riding. I stopped trimming feet, and rode the next day.

And a few years ago, when riding a new horse I acquired with a habit of dumping people, he slid out from under me and I landing sitting, jarring my spine so badly that I knocked the wind out of myself and couldn’t move. The horse ran triumphant around the arena, and it took two friends 15 minutes to catch him, and one friend another 10 to help me get to my feet. And get back on.

I rode for another week before the pain was so bad — I couldn’t sit or sleep comfortably — that I finally went to the doctor where he informed me I likely had a transverse process fracture in my spine and needed an MRI and to not ride for three months to let it fully heal. I never got the MRI. I never stopped riding, either.

And these are just three of the standout incidents, although there were many others, such as a fall in my 20s that jarred my spine and head (without hitting my head) that I wound up on anti-seizure medication because a CT scan showed a slight tear in the membrane of my brain. I rode anyway. See a trend?

All these incidents added up to this past Halloween at Gettysburg. I thought that I could, once again, just keep riding. But, after seeing a good friend 10 years my senior go through major back surgery that is keeping her out of the saddle for almost a year — and had her barely walking for several months — I finally sat down and thought, oh no. This could be me.

So, after Halloween, I pulled everyone’s shoes, and did what many eventers do, and give their horses some time off in the off season. Only this time I didn’t just pull the next horse in the rotation in to be worked. I took time off myself.

The good news is that between seeing a chiropractor and acupuncturist regularly (for myself, not my horses!), I am starting to wake up in the morning with feeling in my arms rather than numbness and tingling. I am starting to realize what it’s like to feel good, and not in some sort of pain that I mostly ignore.

And I realized that the first few weeks of not riding were harder than I ever imagined. Not only did I miss it, but as my nerves repaired themselves and the muscles started to regain circulation, it HURT. It hurt more than it ever had before because I had so badly damaged my nerves, that they were no longer sending pain signals to my brain. So as they healed, they told me just how messed up my back was all this time, and it was bad. But, it’s getting better, and I am getting better.

My resolutions this year include starting my horses back in work slowly, from the ground up, and following my own advice. I’ve been going to the gym the past two months, and already started working on cardio and lower body, until my upper body heals and can tolerate strength training.

I resolve to take as good of care of myself as I do of my horses, because it’s only fair to them (and me). And I resolve to keep riding — when me and my horses are sound — and let myself heal when we are not. Because, let’s face it, I want to be riding for many, many years yet to come and it’s not worth sidelining yourself to get in one more ride, just like it’s not worth injuring your horse for that one more cross country run if his soundness is questionable.

So here’s to hoping I’ll be back in the saddle (and back blogging about saddle and girth fit) very soon, for a very long time to come!

Looking forward to getting back in the saddle for more of this, come spring. Cheers to 2017! Have any resolutions of your own to share? I’d love to hear them in the comments below. Go Eventing!

Product Review: Total Saddle Fit StretchTec Girth

A while back after writing the Saddle Fitting Saga series, I promised a follow up on how girths affect saddle fit and how different girths may work for different shaped horses and why. And of course, since then, I promptly hurt my back and finally was forced to take the time off from riding that my doctors told me to take three years ago, and six years ago, and … oh, several times wherein I of course, like a true eventer, completely ignored them.

So here we are, heading into winter and I have a stack of girths to try and a field of horses getting fat. In the meantime, however, my good friend Lauren Schwartzenberger had ordered one of the girths I was hoping to test, but in the dressage version. She purchased the Total Saddle Fit Stretch Tech girth and shared a review on Facebook with her friends, which I asked if I could share on here (since no riding makes it harder for me to blog about … um … riding) and she kindly agreed!

She owns three chestnut mares (I know, she’s crazy, right?) that are warmbloods — one is retired and the other two she tested the girth on. Compliments of Lauren, here’s her review.


Photo courtesy of Total Saddle Fit.

Photo courtesy of Total Saddle Fit.

From Lauren:

The Total Saddle Fit StretchTec girth can be purchased with neoprene or leather backing. Both can be removed and swapped but only the leather backing allows the full stretch of the center elastic at the sternum. I opted for the leather backing as it was more cost effective to purchase it first and later purchase the neoprene separately if the elastic proves to have too much give.

The girth came with a ballcap! I’m a hat person so will probably wind up wearing it around the farm doing chores in the summer. The quality of the girth itself was impressive right out of the box. Nice quality leather, strong stitching, attention to detail and craftsmanship are clearly present in this product.

I purchased this girth because Ella’s conformation encourages her saddle to slide forward and onto her shoulder. This is very upsetting to her, understandably.

Photo courtesy of Total Saddle Fit.

Photo courtesy of Total Saddle Fit.

I rode both Ella and Gratulantin with this girth yesterday and apart from my Thinline pad I haven’t been so impressed with an “innovative product” before!

Ella went first and the saddle stayed in the same spot with substantial elbow clearance and the shoulder was completely free. At all walk and trot work the saddle stayed in its place. When we work on canter lately we use a small cross rail for departures and she jumped it as though it was four feet tall and landed with a buck before continuing on. While the saddle did come a bit forward at her exuberance, it was nothing like before this girth!

Ultimately I need to either shim my Thinline or put a narrower gullet in my saddle, and I think our issue won’t be fully addressed until her shape changes again and she grows (she is 7). Long term she will need a custom saddle — I am starting to compare makes and am leaning towards N2 or Custom for my own preference based on their seats’ balance. Apart from the saddle fit, and because of it, she felt much more comfortable and relaxed.

Photo courtesy of Total Saddle Fit.

Photo courtesy of Total Saddle Fit.

Gratulantin was next and has no saddle fit issues (yay!). Because of this I didn’t expect to notice much of a difference in her way of going — boy was I wrong! She noticed the difference before I walked her down to ride her, looked back breathed in and out and nudged me. She’s definitely one that lets you know what she thinks and really leaves no room for confusion!

Immediately she was forward but relaxed — no tension, just forward. She also had a new bit on so the rest is slightly speculative but I’d say the combination of the Myler 33 Level 3 bit with the nice generous port with independent movement maintained on either side and the Total Saddle Fit StretchTec girth are a win for her! She has a fat tongue and narrow palate and I’ve spent a few hundred on bits this year trying to figure out something to give her tongue a bit of room, this was clearly the right track. I am excited to see what the next few weeks bring with her.

Overall, I’d definitely recommend this girth to anyone who rides dressage or has a monoflap with long billets. I will be purchasing a long girth from them when they offer it with the StretchTec option. With the research out there supporting the need for a piece of equipment like this to accommodate the expansion of the horse’s rib cage while breathing I see no reason to pass it up!

Bottom line: this product lives up to its claims. Gratulantin, Emperatriz, and I give it two thumbs up!

testing the total saddle fit stretchtec girth

Thanks so much Lauren, for sharing your excellent review, and for buying me some time until I am back in the saddle. I am curious to see for myself how the different sized/shaped/contoured girths work for me and my crew, as I am guessing it won’t be a winner-take-all situation.

I have three different horses I will be testing girths on, including a high withered, short backed OTTB with a relatively broad/round rib cage; an Oldenburg that is a bit wedge shaped both front to back and top to bottom with some rather large withers for his breed; and a Dutch Warmblood that’s a lot boxier typical of the heavier warmblood breeds.

It will be interesting to see how my experiences compare, and how the hunter/jumper girths work in comparison to the dressage style girths so that we can be covered in all phases of competition. Go Eventing!

Product Review: Test-Driving Two High Tech Half Pads

Max (left) in the S-Curve by SedeLogic and Cole (right) in the Kingsland Relief Pad on last weekend's hunter pace (photo credit CJ Millar) Max (left) in the S-Curve by SedeLogic and Cole (right) in the Kingsland Relief Pad on last weekend's hunter pace (photo credit CJ Millar)

With the recent announcement of the new Apple Watch, AirPods, and iPhone 7, it’s no secret that we live in a world ruled by technology. So how does that translate to our horses? Sure, there are health monitors for horses, trail tracking and workout apps to monitor progress, and a slew of new technologically advanced things hitting the market every day. But what about saddle fit and half pads? Seeing as how saddle fit and half pads are a passion of mine, you know I had to ask.

Ask, and you shall get answers!

While doing research for my recent articles about half pads (To Shim or Not To Shim and Winning Combinations #betterforbacks), I came across two saddle pads that stood out from the rest due to their outstanding technology, benefit for horses with back issues (both half pads mentioned benefits for horses with chronic back issues such as kissing spine during my research), and reasonable price points (between $200 – $300 which I’d consider standard for a quality half pad these days). While I did mention both saddle pads in the Winning Combinations article, I felt these two pads needed a little more focus to really do them justice.

Let’s start with the Kingsland Relief Pad. I was fortunate enough to meet the Kingsland Equestrian team at the AETA trade show this past August, and they were nice enough to spend quite a bit of time explaining to me the saddle pad and how it worked.

First, the most unique thing about this saddle pad in my opinion, is that it comes in various densities for different shock absorption properties, without changing the thickness of the pad. Yeah, guys! That means that if you need one density for dressage, and a different density for jumping (any eventers out there?), the thickness of the pad won’t change so you don’t have to worry about bulk and your horse’s ability to feel your aids through the saddle. Pretty cool stuff!

Kingsland Relief Pad High Tech Half Pad

The density of the pad is adjusted by riding discipline and rider weight to provide exactly the level of shock absorption you need. Photo by Kingsland Equestrian.

The saddle pad comes in a lovely box with a chart on the back that helps you determine which saddle pad is right for you based on your weight plus the discipline you ride. This allows you to select the right density saddle pad based on what you need — more for jumping, less for flatwork.

The other nice thing is that you don’t necessarily need to always go up in density — they explained to me that “more is not more” as the half pad is made to work with the type of shock absorption you need, specific to the task at hand. So you’d need less shock absorption for dressage than for jumping cross country and the saddle pad is made accordingly so that you always have the right amount of cushion + feel for your hose to understand your aids.

Next, this saddle pad is made of an antimicrobial material that can come out of the cover and simply be hosed off and air-dried to keep it clean. It’s woven for breathability, and the cover is easily washable. Even cooler, the cover has a breathable mesh channel so as to give your horse plenty of room in the gullet over the spine, and the pad has some great non-slip grippy lines on top so that your pad stays in place, whatever the terrain.

Kingsland Relief Pad Benefits (photo by Kingsland Equestrian)

Kingsland Relief Pad Benefits. Photo by Kingsland Equestrian.

I tested this pad out in the ring on my OTTB Sky, who is high withered with lower shoulder blades that leaves some space between the top of his shoulders and the gullet. He loved this pad as he is very lower back sensitive, with lots of old chiropractic issues, and also heat sensitive so the breathability was a big plus! When he needed, I was even able to stick a shim between the saddle and the half pad and it stayed put due to the non-slip grip lines.

I also took the pad out on the trails in the Adirondacks, and on our first hunter pace of the season, where I used it on Cole my 8 year old Dutch Warmblood. He’s got some growing and filling out still to do as he is only recently started under saddle, and with the trails of up to nearly 20 miles over steep, rocky terrain in hot humid weather, protecting his back while offering a stay-put breathable solution was a must.

The Kingsland Relief Pad stood up to the test, and was a winner for both horses! Highly recommended for any horse that needs the cushion and conformationally has withers with some room between the top of the shoulder and saddle gullet or for a horse where the saddle is just a hair wide.

The full video on YouTube discusses all of the benefits of the Kingsland Relief Pad and I can personally attest that all of its claims held true out in the ring, the hunt field, and on the trails!

On to the next pad…

The S-Curve Half Pad by SedeLogic was one of the most unique saddle pads I’ve ever tried. It does take a little longer to get set up due to the thermoplastic in the rear of the pad, and while I was skeptical, by the time I was done with my ride, I was a believer!

The S-Curve Half Pad uses a 2-ply cushioning throughout, coupled with a thermoplastic rear panel (one on each side) that allows for custom fitting. It’s washable up to 80ºF, breathable and pressure relieving as well. The most technologically advanced part about this saddle pad is that you take a hair dryer to heat up the thermoplast rear panels and once they are soft and pliable, put the pad on the horse and tack up.

S-Curve Half Pad Saddle Pad by SedeLogic

Tech specs of the S-Curve Half Pad by SedeLogic. Photo by Vitafloor.com.

You then sit in the saddle for a few minutes, and then walk off for another few minutes, allowing the plastic to cool and conform to the horse’s back. We went through this process with Max, my 7 year old Oldenburg gelding, as he has very wide shoulders and is sensitive to shoulder pressure but also learning to jump more consistently which can at times, result in the rider getting jostled around or catching him in the back when he jumps awkwardly. So while he doesn’t have back issues, this was a good pad to test on him because I’d sure like to keep it that way.

Once the plastic cools, you’re ready to ride! The first thing I noticed about this pad was that I actually didn’t really feel any different in the saddle, despite the thermoplastic in there. I expected it to feel rigid, but it still had flexibility while protecting my horse’s back and I was still able to feel his movement and he was able to feel my aids just fine. It offered protection and shock absorption without changing the feel of my ride at all.

s-curve saddle pad by SedeLogic Vitafloor.com

The thermoplastic used is breathable, and also good for horses with specific back issues. Photo by Vitafloor.com.

Next, I also noticed that the unique s-curved shape contour of the front of the pad fit nicely around his shoulders, and the pressure relieving circle also helped free up his front end tremendously, as he is in a snug, properly fitting saddle and his wider shoulders don’t really leave any room for additional padding. I happened to have on my helmet cam, and tried to capture some shots of his shoulder movement while hacking (my apologies for the un-dragged overgrown ring, it’s been a crazy summer!) which shows just how that contour of the pad really fit him perfectly!

Finally, for the SedeLogic S-Curve Half Pad, the thermoplastic can be reheated and adjusted for use on different horses. This way if your horse changes shape, or you get a new saddle or have a new horse to use the half pad on, all you need to do is heat up the back of the pad again and then mold it to the new horse / situation and the fit will be totally changed. Really neat technology, and definitely something that I can see benefitting horses with back issues.

Overall, the S-curve fit him like a glove, but when I tried to swap pads and put this pad on Sky, and the Kingsland on Max, it was no bueno. Both horses wanted their own saddle pads back … For Sky it was easy to see that because of his higher withers, the contour of the S-Curve didn’t hit the right spot on his shoulder, and the Kingsland was just a shade too restrictive on Max’s shoulders.

Our Equine Chiropractor, Dr. Leah agreed saying, “I like how the S-Curve gives Max the freedom under the saddle to really reach with his shoulder. For Sky, I really am impressed with how the Kingsland offers the shock absorption he needs for his lower back which has been an ongoing problem area for him.”

The moral of the story? Every dog horse has his day half pad. In all seriousness though, every horse is different, and sometimes it is a matter of trial and error to determine what works best for each individual horse and saddle combination. Hopefully this series of articles has helped guide people to find the types of pads that may work best for their horses based on the various testing I’ve done and all of the scenarios I’ve put these half pads, horses, and even my friends through!

Next up — how girths affect saddle fit. (Really? Is that a thing? Apparently that’s a thing.) Ah, there’s always more to learn!

Go Eventing.

Winning Combinations: Saddle Pads That Are Truly #Betterforbacks

Max in the all new S-Curve half pad by SedeLogic. Photo credit CJ Millar. Max in the all new S-Curve half pad by SedeLogic. Photo credit CJ Millar.

After testing shimmed saddle pads (To Shim or Not To Shim blog), I moved on to half pads focused on shock absorption and back issues. I have so many horses that finding a saddle pad that works for all their different needs really was more of a challenge than I origianlly thought. So for this round we pulled out another set of saddle pads and another bunch of horses along with my trusty equine chiropractor Dr. Leah for even more feedback!

Here were the saddle pads tested this go round:

I’ll admit that while the shimmable pads were a must for me to adjust saddle fit, I had several horses that I was really excited to try out these half pads on that the saddle already fit really well. You could say that finding the right fit + comfort + cushion for my horses has become a bit of a passion of mine.

ECP Saddle Pads

ECP has a great selection of saddle pads that offer both non-slip and air flow features. Photo courtesy of CJ Millar.

We started with the ECP pad on my high withered OTTB Sky, because I have a friend that uses one and swears by it, and Sky sweats a ton, so I am always looking for a way to keep him comfortable without causing excessive heat under the saddle. Underneath all the half pads, I’ve been using my Draper saddle pads for the most part, due to their wicking properties and circulatory benefits, but even so, my one horse overheats very easily. He is also sensitive backed, so a great candidate for this test.

The ECP pad did pretty well for him; however, he tends to need a shimmed pad, so I could either use both together or a thicker under pad until his official saddle comes in (right now he’s in a medium tree County Solution but should be in a medium narrow). He did stay noticeably cooler in this pad, but he was still pretty sensitive to the touch in his lower back when we were done.

To get a better feel for the pad, I also used it under the lunging surcingle as he’s very sensitive skinned as well. In this case, I noticed that he didn’t get rubs from the surcingle, and he wasn’t nearly as sweaty as he would be with a normal half pad. Excellent! So while this wouldn’t work for him on its own right now, it definitely did what it promised — has shock absorption properties with great cooling benefits so I would absolutely recommend this for a horse whose saddle fits well but tends to get hot and needs a little more cushioning underneath.

Next I tried the other pads on array of horses and found that each horse had different preferences. Max, a 7 year old Oldenburg, was a great sport in the ring as we tested all three SedeLogic saddle pads, the EquineLux, and the Kingsland on him.

The 1-3 Ply SedeLogic fit him well, as he really doesn’t need saddle adjustment, and the added padding under the back will be very useful as he learns to fox hunt this fall and spring when we are out for several hours and I want to be sure he doesn’t get sore. The 2 Ply SedeLogic wasn’t a great fit because his saddle already fits well and it was just a hair too thick for his somewhat broad shoulders. The EquineLux offered great non-slip qualities but with the foam inserts, was too thick, and without, it was just a plain non-slip pad which he doesn’t really need. The Kingsland I had high hopes for, but alas, it was not to be. It was just a little too thick for him and he was uncomfortable in the shoulders.

We eventually settled on the SedeLogic S-Curve, which we saved for last due to the added 10 min or so to heat it up and get it set. And the result was totally worth it!

Comparing the SedeLogic 2 Ply (left) to the S-Curve (right)

Comparing the SedeLogic 2 Ply (left) to the S-Curve (right). You can see the space for the shoulder blade to move freely under the saddle with the S-Curve. Photo provided by CJ Millar.

Interestingly enough, while the saddle pad takes a few minutes to heat up the thermoplastic and then a few more minutes of just sitting on the horse and then walking to let it conform, the process wasn’t nearly as cumbersome as I expected, and you only need to do this before your first ride with the pad.

And the results were amazing! The cutout in the shoulder gave him a lot more room to move and his stride was noticeably longer. His back was protected and while he doesn’t traditionally have back issues, I could feel that even if I shifted around up there, the shock was nicely distributed to minimally impact his ability to move forward with a large, flowing gait. Even more amazing was that they use a special thermoplastic in the pad that is breathable so it didn’t cause Max to increase in his sweating at all — which was a concern since some thermoplastics are not breathable and can retain heat.

I almost wished I had a horse with back issues that I could test this on (almost…). It was such an impressive saddle pad that I feel I can’t really do it justice here with so much to cover, so stay tuned for a feature on High Tech Half Pads where I can explain more about what makes this saddle pad so great!

Kingsland Relief Pad

The Kingsland Relief Pad has some really cool features! Photo provided by CJ Millar.

After figuring out what was best for Max, I pulled out Cole, my 8 year old Dutch Warmblood gelding. He’s green, unbalanced, learning how to really move with a rider, and was also being dragged out on my upcoming camping trips. We found that the SedeLogic 2 Ply did best in the ring as he still has some growing and filling out to do, had the room under the saddle for this to fit comfortably, and it provided such great shock absorption that it allowed him to figure out his balance without being hypersensitive to every single little movement I made on his back. It definitely went in the trailer to come camping!

Out camping, Cole used a combination of the 2 Ply SedeLogic on shorter rides, and the Kingsland half pad on longer rides. Between the two, we found that in extreme conditions (90+ degrees and 80% humidity over 10 – 18 miles of trails in the mountains per day!) the Kingsland offered better breathability and non-slip features on top of the shock absorption. Thickness of the 2 Ply was a hair less than the Kingsland, so the 2 Ply would be my choice in the ring or at home while the Kingsland would be my choice out on trails as well as jumping larger fences where the saddle may move more.

Yes, we really went down that hill...all the way down! (photo by CJ Millar)

Yes, we really went down that hill… all the way down! Photo by CJ Millar.

While camping, my friend had an issue with her horse’s saddle fit, and the EquineLux pad came to the rescue! It took up the space she needed to give her mare a better fit, and stayed put on the extreme up-and-down mountainous terrain we covered and they both finished the day happy and sound. Our other friend took the opportunity to snatch up the SedeLogic 2 Ply for her horse, a high withered TB with very wide shoulders and good topline, and it also provided some great benefits. Because it was slightly thinner than the Kingsland, her horse had more shoulder room than with a thicker half pad, and again still offered amazing shock absorption on the hills, so in her case the 2 Ply SedeLogic was the winner.

Back home after a week on the trails, I pulled out all of these saddle pads for one more go-round on back-sensitive Sky. Unfortunately, Sky didn’t fit with the medium tree saddle and any of the special pads that focus on backs by SedeLogic or EquineLux, so we passed on riding in those. However, we got lucky with the Kingsland Relief Pad and this came out our big winner. Because of the slightly thicker components, coupled with the amazing breathability (a must with his heat and sweating issues), we were able to actually ride without a shimmed saddle pad in the medium tree! In Sky’s case, he tends to have higher withers and a narrower space on either side, widening into his shoulders so even when he does have a saddle that fits better, the Kingsland will be his big winner. And like the SedeLogic S-Curve pad, it is way too technologically advanced to do justice here, so I’ll include both pads in the upcoming High Tech Half Pads feature.

the Kingsland Relief Pad worked great in the mountains

We also climbed to the top of the Vista – and the Kingsland Relief Pad stayed put both up and down the massive climb to get to this amazing view! Photo by CJ Millar.

To make it easy, I’ve summarized my top picks for saddle pads between here and the original To Shim or Not To Shim blog along with the types and conformation of horses they seem to work best on. Enjoy!

Quick Half Pad Guide:

  • Total Saddle Fit Six Point Half Pad — great for horses that are changing shape, need adjustability and customization underneath their saddle, or are between tree sizes, recovering from injury or rehab, and basically any situation where you need a customized saddle pad to adjust how your saddle fits. Amazing pad with everything you need to assure your saddle fits every time. Retail price $179.95.
  • EquineLux BufferLux half pad with pockets saddle pad was great for horses that are a little higher in the spine without having any one sensitivity issue or back pain problem, but still need added cushion. The non slip grip was superior for going up and down steep hills, and would also be great in a hunt field. Great all around pad at an affordable price point ($120 retail price).
  • Air Ride by ECP half pad — great for under lunging tack, or for a horse where the saddle fits, but they are heat sensitive and just need a little more shock absorption. Great for in and out of the ring, and a super price point at just $55 that makes it a must-have in the barn.
  • The SedeLogic half pads which included:
    • 2 Ply Half Pad — excellent for a horse with a little room under the saddle but not so much as to need shims, that is also sensitive throughout the back. Great for long/hard riding, jumping, and also flat work where you want to make sure that the horse can still feel your seat but not cause any back pain. Ideal for everyday use. Also comes in a 1 Ply option for horses that have less space under the saddle but still want that great shock absorption. (Retail price $185 – $240 depending on saddle size.)
    • Orthopad Half Pad which is the 1-2-3 ply from front to back for horses that need less in front and more in back is wonderful for horses that need added cushioning or lift in the cantle, or if your girth causes your saddle to pop up in the back over fences (check your girth style and fit — that will be another blog still to come!).
    • S-Curve Half Pad with customizable thermoplastic is excellent for horses with a well fitting saddle but back issues, lower back pain, old injuries, chiropractic issues, and more. Great freedom of shoulder movement with amazing back support. Retails at $265 – $279. Worth the added time to set up, and you can reheat it and reset the plastic for different horses or if your horse changes shape again. Best fit available for broad shouldered Warmbloods that have chronic back issues such as kissing spine.
  • Kingsland Relief Pad was the winner for my OTTB with high withers that usually needs a shimmed pad and is as back-sensitive as they come, while also being heat sensitive. This pad comes in one thickness with different densities based on your weight and riding discipline so that you always get what you need (and more is not always needed). Also worked great on my developing Dutch Warmblood out on trails and offered solid non-slip grip in an easy to wash cover. Retails at $249.

Happy riding! Have a saddle pad you love? We’d love to hear your story about what half pads you find are #betterforbacks for your horses in the comments below.

Saddle Fit Struggles: To Shim or Not To Shim, That Is the Question

I’ve been following all of the equestrian sports in Rio and paying close attention to saddles and pads as, of course for me, the saga continues. Just when I think I’ve found saddles and trees that fit my horses, I realize that I own too many horses to fit in just a few saddles. But, like most equestrians, we can’t realistically afford a custom saddle for every single horse we ride (even if we do aspire to the Olympics someday). So what to do?

saddle pad fit

Tyler says Rio Schmio. He already has a CSIO5* FEI record. Sheesh Tyler, not all of us are as accomplished as you are! Photo courtesy of CJ Millar.

Of my current competition and riding horses, I have two that needed a medium narrow County Solution and two that needed a medium County Solution, with another one not yet in work (that starts in fall) and a growing Dutch Warmblood that will both be somewhere in between as they re-muscle and develop. Great. Just as soon as you think you’ve found something that works, you find that you still need to make adjustment.

Now of course if I was “normal” and “just owned one horse” (wait, what?), then I could have my saddle fitter come out and adjust the wool flocking to fit that one horse and re-flock whenever needed for less than a few hundred dollars. Not bad, right? Oh wait, except I own more than one horse. A lot more than just one horse …

So back to the drawing board we go. At least I knew a saddle that worked, and while waiting to finalize my order, I have a demo to ride in that is a medium tree. With shims, I had a Mattes pad and custom County foam shims that made it work for nearly all of my horses for the time being.

While not ideal, and shims can, over time, create issues, when you have horses that are changing or in between tree sizes, or you simply need to ride various horses and have a freakish leg that only fits your saddle, shims can be a blessing. I set out to do some research to learn about the different types of shims and corrective pad options and how they all work. Then I asked (bribed with dinner) my fabulous chiropractor to come back out and evaluate the saddle fit from the ground both with and without a rider.

The saddle pads that stepped up to the challenge were:

I had a few other saddle pads to try as well such as the all new super high tech SedeLogic, which provided three very unique pads, and a few other fan favorites, but I set those aside to test in a second group focused on shock absorption rather than saddle fit and correction and shimmable pads. I also had an EquineLux pad to test that had pockets for shims, but since it was just one big pocket and the shims didn’t really stay put as well, it got bumped into this group as well.

First, we started out by taking off our shoes, and standing in the concrete aisle on all the pads to see how they felt to us. The Mattes was firm with wool, but softer with foam shims in place. The Cavallo pad was stiffer, and the Total Saddle Fit pad was soft and fuzzy but not as cushiony as some of the others. Our favorite was the ProLite with the gel shims because we could bounce on it and still not feel the hard concrete underneath.


Standing on the saddle pads in the barn aisle to see which felt best to us. Photo courtesy of CJ Millar.

Next, we dragged good ol’ Tyler, who we never quite did figure out in the original saddle fit series, and he got an adjustment and then we went out to the ring, saddle pads in tow. Since his first adjustment with Dr. Leah (read more in Fitting Follow Up and then how we finally found our gallop) he was starting to move forward under saddle. The Mattes with foam shims seemed to do the trick so we started there and got more of what we did our last ride: nice, easy-going, free-flowing shoulder movement.

We then looked at the Cavallo pad, and even though the foam compresses, there was no way we could make that work, unfortunately. It was just too thick and bulky, and Tyler gave me a very clear “no way” when I tried to girth him up. On to the next pad…

The Mattes with traditional felt shims was up next. It was the same pad, we just swapped out the shims, but man did they make a difference! The felt was harder and offered less give than the foam, and Tyler was more reluctant to move forward. Even more interesting was that it made the seat of my saddle, which was a soft seat model, feel hard. To make sure I wasn’t losing my mind, I made my friend get on and both she and Dr. Leah agreed. The felt shims weren’t as comfortable for the rider or the horse as the foam ones. Interesting!

Total Saddle Fit Six Point Saddle Pad

The Six Point Saddle Pad by Total Saddle Fit had the most customizable shimming options of all of the pads we tried.

We then tried the Total Saddle Fit pad. This one needed two sets of shims, and while it was a little confusing at first to figure out which shims went where (there are six pockets!) we figured it out. The wool was super soft and I loved it, but the test was to see how Tyler reacted. It was a tie with the Mattes with the foam shims. He moved equally as well and willingly as in the first pad. Hmm, very nice, and the bonus was if he — or any horse — changed size or shape, the Total Saddle Fit pad had more pockets so you could more easily customize the shims. Definitely a plus!

Finally we tried the ProLite. This was our hands down favorite for us, but the big question was how did the horse feel. Under the saddle, it was the opposite of the Total Saddle Fit pad. Where the TSF pad was slim, the ProLite was bulky and extended out of the underside of the saddle panels. We removed the thicker of the gel shim sets — it comes with a thick and a thinner set — and tried again. But, alas it was still too bulky.

While it felt weird to me and there was definitely a bit of a disconnect between me and my horse, I wanted to see how he felt so I urged him forward. He went, and while he was willing, he was not nearly as free in the shoulder as he was in the Total Saddle Fit pad. And even more interesting, he was having as much a hard time feeling my seat aids as I was in feeling his movement in his back. So the great cushion that we loved to stand on, on the ground, translated to too much cushion on the horse — who would have thought?

Then just to make sure I wasn’t crazy or biased, I went back to the Total Saddle Fit and the Mattes and swapped them out a few times with the same results. Tyler loved both, and I love the added adjustability of the Total Saddle Fit’s multiple pockets. I did end up using two sets of shims for the Total Saddle Fit, compared to just one set of the foam County Mattes shims, but I liked that again it offered even more adjustability than the other pads had.

At the end of the day, the Total Saddle Fit half pad won. Keep in mind, if you need larger shims, their full A/P Jump pad has larger shims and pockets, and the detailing on that pad is just beautiful! The reinforcements where the girth goes, the stitching, everything really is top-notch, and I was reluctant to send it back, but I use primarily Draper saddle pads for my horses because of their beneficial properties for circulation, and the half pad made more sense. I am such a creature of habit! I did, however, finally give up my 14-year-old Mattes original half pad that had seen better days and retire it to be replaced with the Total Saddle Fit Six Point Half Pad which I now love.

Total Saddle Fit and Draper Therapies Saddle Pad

Tyler sporting his Total Saddle Fit Six Point Pad over his favorite Draper Therapies saddle pad

It’s also good to remember that every horse is different, so what works for my horses may not work for yours. Testing out all of these pads gave me a great idea of what my horses prefer that works with their saddle. I could see how some of the other brands would also work depending on a horse’s needs, and if a horse was incredible back sensitive, for example, the ProLite may help keep the horse from feeling the rider’s seat, which in that case could be a good thing, especially if they were recovering from an injury or back issues. But when it came to adjustable shimmable saddle pads, Total Saddle Fit was the winner!

Next up: A test of saddle pads for shock absorption on my horses that are not between saddles sizes. I’m excited to learn more as we event and fox hunt and go to hunter paces, as well as take super long trail rides and camping vacations with my horses. We did over 40 miles the other weekend on vacation up and down the Adirondacks and into the Hudson River and are heading back next week. Check back to soon to find out which saddle pad won out in those conditions and more!

#TeamWool vs. #TeamFoam: And the Winning Saddle Is….

#TeamWool, hands down.

In case you’re new to the series, this all started when my retired FEI horse refused to move forward under saddle and I decided to research saddle fit options, which kicked off my #TeamWool vs. #TeamFoam series. County Saddlery was nice enough to help out and provide approximately a million (OK, maybe something like 20 but it sure felt like a million) saddles for me to sit in and try on my various horses. With the help of fitter Allison Meyer, we spent a full day testing saddles on five horses as the saddle fit saga continued.

Once we narrowed it down to what would work, we had a chiropractor out, took a demo out on a hunter pace, and had a fitting follow up. Then I hit the road with three saddles: an air paneled saddle, a foam paneled saddle, and a wool paneled saddle, all in comparable tree sizes, to see what other horses liked best. And here’s what I’ve experienced throughout the #sisterhoodofthetravelingsaddles!

MSA Saddle Fitter Ann Mary Bettenson

MSA Saddle Fitter Ann Mary Bettenson showing us about saddle fit. Photo courtesy of CJ Millar.

As I packed up and headed south to Virginia for the Land Rover Great Meadow International, I contacted my friends that own Artemis Equestrian Center, about an hour south of the show grounds, and got their buy-in to let me host a saddle fit clinic and test out my theory on saddles on some of their horses. Master saddle fitter Ann Mary Bettenson was able to join us, and share her knowledge on proper saddle fitting, and we invited some friends and decided to make an afternoon of it.

With three saddles in tow, we were all set for the clinic Thursday afternoon. We started out in the barn where Ann Mary let us compare saddle panels and construction, and the lovely Breezy, a western Quarter Horse that was new to the farm (she just arrived a few days before I did!) stood politely on the cross ties as we looked at different saddle fits and formations.

Next, it was time to ride. Fortunately, despite the heat, Artemis has a huge covered arena so we were able to test ride in some saddles and put the theory to practice. Air panels are supposed to never conform to any one horse, and be resilient to conform to all horses but are known to create bounce (and some horse just don’t like them). Foam panels are known as being good for people who ride multiple horses — like me, which is how I ended up with a foam saddle in the first place — because they never fully conform to just one horse and can mold to each horse for every ride. And wool panels offer the most custom fit, but may need some adjustments in flocking from time to time.

Breezy got to be my test subject, since we didn’t know each other, and she didn’t even really know English let alone have a saddle preference. We started with the air paneled saddle, and she was quite content to be-bop along. She didn’t understand my cue for canter, and we got the wrong lead, but I switched to what I remembered from some reining lessons years ago and she immediately responded, cantering on happily.

Saddle panels do make a huge difference in saddle fit - even when they don't look that different off the horse.

Saddle panels do make a huge difference in saddle fit — even when they don’t look that different off the horse. Photo courtesy of CJ Millar.

Then we put on the foam saddle. She was a little irritated while tacking up but I brushed it off due to the heat (it was in the 90s, even in the shade!) and the fact that she had patiently stood on cross ties while we tried different saddles and now was in the ring repeating the exercise, this time with a rider. Until I got on. Her walk was shorter, and her facial expressions were slightly tense. The trot was choppy and needed more encouragement than the first ride. Then when I asked for the canter, I got pinned ears, a tail swish, two to three strides of awful canter, and a stop. I asked again and she flat out said no. Not wanting to be bucked off the very nice, patient horse, I patted her and returned to the mounting block for saddle #3.

The wool saddle (the same County I’ve been dragging around for the past two weeks to hunter paces and so on) was the last to try. She was quiet to tack up, and under saddle her walk was similar to the first saddle. Her trot was forward and easy. And then her canter.

I asked for the canter and she elevated into the transition, moving forward with ears up. As we went around the ring, she actually started to reach for the bit, round her back some, and soften her jaw. For an untrained English horse (she was well-trained western), it was a huge acknowledgement to me that she was most comfortable in this saddle. Wow!

After the clinic, the rest of the weekend was spent at Great Meadow International enjoying the competition, mistaking Jessica Phoenix for Elisa Wallace — whoops, go me … hi, Jess! — laughing at Boyd zipping by on a scooter that was too small for him, and chatting with Clark Montgomery’s parents about summer camp in Texas. And then I headed home.

Boyd Martin on a scooter at Great Meadow

Boyd Martin on a scooter at Great Meadow — I was laughing too hard to get a better photo! Photo courtesy of CJ Millar.

The only missing piece was Tyler, the horse that started it all, who I still hadn’t had that a-ha moment with due to ribs being out and him being sore after the chiropractic visit. So I hauled the County Solution out of the car and tacked him up on Tuesday to see what we’d get. The medium tree was still a hair too wide, so I opted for the Mattes pad with shims, and he didn’t try to kill me on the cross ties — that was an improvement!

Out in the ring he started sluggish as usual, but without spurs and just a strong leg, he started to relax at the walk. The trot was more forward than I’d gotten from him before and then we cantered hand galloped. Guys, we hand galloped! Willingly, with ears up, and no threat to buck me off! We even did a few small jumps that included lead changes (that he offered) and ended with another hand gallop around the ring. This was the most forward this horse has ever been in all the times I’ve ridden him. Yay!

Clark Montogmery Loughlan Glen Great Meadow Nations Cup

Clark and Loughan Glen clearing the last fence on cross country at Great Meadow International. Congrats on your win, Clark! Photo courtesy of CJ Millar.

So here’s what I’ve learned about saddle fit:

  1. High quality wool is resilient and can be reflocked as needed (usually 1-2x a year) to accommodate multiple horses.
  2. Reflocking is more affordable than I thought — just $50 — $150 on average (can be $200-$300 for an entire wool change) and it’s done on site, so you’re never without your saddle!
  3. Air panels are OK for some horses on the flat, and while not ideal, not necessarily detrimental either.
  4. Foam can harden over time and cause back pain and saddle fit issues even when the saddle appears to fit properly from on the ground, without a rider.
  5. EVERY County rep is either fully trained or also certified by Master Saddlers Association to ensure that they’re not just about selling a saddle, but about the actual fit to you and your horse. That was super impressive to me.
  6. I actually need two different saddles to work for my horses. Thank goodness they finance!

And that’s how I changed from #teamfoam to #teamwool. Many thanks to Ann Mary for confirming that yes, I do indeed have a freakish leg and need that high forward flap, and to everyone that helped with my research along the way.

So what’s next, you ask? Time to test half pads, and see how they can help — or hinder — saddle fit for those times when your horse is between sizes, or you ride multiple horses and need a quick minor adjustment. Stay tuned as I’ll kick that off in the weeks ahead!

Fitting Follow Up: More In the Saddle Saga Series

In case you’re new to the story, I’m dealing with a multitude of #saddefitissues and working to find a solution for myself and my horses. You can read the first two installments in the saddle fitting series here: Part 1 and Part 2.

After the saddle fitting, I realized a few very important things.

1. My horses all went somewhat to a lot better in the wool saddles than in my other saddles (air and foam).

2. Sky and Tyler both definitely need a chiropractic adjustment because Sky was willing to move forward finally, but still stiff. And Tyler still never had that a-ha moment with saddle fit, so we were back to the drawing board.

3. Even Duke was more responsive in the wool saddle, so I wanted to see how it would actually feel to ride in it for a hunter pace, galloping through fields and over varying terrain and jumps.

Thanks to Allison and the entire County Saddlery team, I had two saddles to use for the time being, and a third on the way. A narrow tree County Solution to use on Sky (and perhaps Tyler), and a medium tree County Solution for use on Duke and Max, and then my favorite, the medium tree County Solution in the H/J flatter seat. All were forward flaps that hopefully would fit my leg, even in the hunt field. But before I did any more riding, a chiropractic visit was in order.

County Saddlery demo saddle

OMG what’s in the box? Another saddle to try? It’s like Christmas!

Based on the recommendations of quite a few friends, I called Dr. Lean Van Blarcom, a certified equine, canine and even human chiropractor that would do a full analysis on my horses. We scheduled an appointment for the following day and focused on Sky and Tyler, my two biggest issues.

She started by looking at saddle fit on Sky on the cross ties, and felt the narrow was likely a better fit than the medium, which was in line with what Allison had said. So we tacked up with the narrow County Solution and we headed out to the ring. We did a little bit of walk, trot, canter, but she immediately pointed out that Sky was weaker in his right hind leg, stiff in left hip, and that basically his entire pelvis and lower back was locked up.

I hopped off, and we headed back to the barn to untack and work on the adjustment. She started with his poll and worked her way along his body down to the tip of his tail. The entire process with Sky took about an hour, as she was incredibly thorough. By the time she was done, she had us walk on the lead, and the difference was tremendous!

Next, we moved on to Tyler. Dr. Leah immediately felt that the narrow saddle was a big no and too tight on his shoulders, and suggested we try the medium. In putting that saddle on, he nearly bit me and was quite agitated, so we went back to the narrow. That also got the same results as soon as I tried to cinch up the girth, which was frustrating because I had just ridden him the other day for Allison.

Dr. Leah Equine Chiropractor

Dr. Leah works on adjusting Tyler

Off with the saddle, and Dr. Leah started to work on him to see if there was something else going on. Sure enough, he had ribs out towards the top/front that explained why it didn’t matter what was on his back — he was flat out in pain. She went on to adjust him and instead of watching him move under saddle, we just did a few walks on the lead to check in on the changes. After she was done, he was better, but still sore and she cautioned me that ribs can be sore for several days after so he may just need some time.

We agreed that riding right now probably wasn’t the best idea, and Tyler was relieved to go back out with his friends. Still no answer on what saddle works best for him, but Dr. Leah was leaning towards the medium tree or perhaps a medium-narrow (the one size we didn’t try with Allison) and suggested I revisit in several days to a week once he was less sore.

So that was all interesting — a week of rest of Tyler and still no clear answers on saddle fit, and a major adjustment for Sky and back to work in a few days. Now, on to the hunter pace!

County Saddlery at Windy Hollow Hunt hunter pace

Duke getting ready in the demo County Saddle for the final spring season hunter pace.

It was the last hunter pace of the season, and Duke was a rock star. The day was clear and sunny, and we met up with our friends to ride out together. We covered just under nine miles in northern New Jersey/Orange County, New York that day in the open hunt division with quite a few jumps, and Duke felt better than ever.

Interestingly, about two miles in as we started to really get into our groove and gallop some fences and fields, I realized my usual stirrup length was far too long. The trial saddle fit my horse so much better that I felt even more wrapped around him than in the past, which also meant my “regular” stirrup length felt too long. Cool!

I checked and he still had plenty of wither clearance, so I upped my stirrups by two holes, and I had better saddle clearance than ever before. YAY! Only now my leg was off the front of the saddle … not so yay. Well, we went for it anyway and finished out the pace, expecting to be fully sore from the stirrup length change. The results were that not only were my legs not sore because the stirrup length was where it should have been all along, but that it confirmed I really did need a high forward flap. Thank you, awkward leg.

action shot of saddle fit while hunter pacing

Action shot! Checking saddle fit while hunter pacing.

So still no answer on Tyler, and now to search for options that would work for me. On to the next phase … the #sisterhoodofthetravelingsaddles as the #saddlefitsaga continues! Next I’m heading down to visit friends in Virginia on my way to the Great Meadow International and Nations Cup with all three saddles in tow: the French foam saddle, the air panel saddle and one of the County Solutions — a medium tree forward flap H/J model.

I’ll be riding several friends’ horses that I’ve never ridden before to see how they all react and will follow up with you guys soon. And then hopefully when I am back, I can get in one final fitting with Allison to see what saddle really works best for Tyler after his short R&R break. Stay tuned for more!

The Saddle Fitting Saga Continues

After a mountain of research, and a lot of issues with my horses (you can read the backstory here), saddle fitting day was upon us. My local County Saddlery representative, Allison Meyer, made the trek out over 2 hours north from where she lives to the far boondocks in the northern tip of New Jersey where my farm is located. My friend Kristen, an amateur Novice rider, was nice enough to ride with me to act as a second opinion to see if there was really a difference in the saddle, regardless of rider.

saddle fitting day #teamwool #teamfoam

The challenge that had always been presented to me in the past was that wool would conform to ONE horse and therefore if you wanted to use one saddle on multiple horses, you needed to get a tree to fit the widest horse on a foam panel saddle that wouldn’t conform the way wool would, while still offering shock absorption to protect their backs.

However, the issues I were having is that my very lovely French saddle with foam panels wasn’t working for any of my horses, and I was really at a loss for what to do. Sure, it fit me well, but at best, my horses moved okay in it. At worst, my harder to fit and more sensitive horses were resistant to working at all.

Tyler, my former FEI international show jumper/eventer was a prime example. He moved beautifully on the lunge, but even with spurs and a crop, would barely be willing to trot under saddle. Having a saddle that worked for no one wasn’t any good, so I decided to revisit wool flocked saddles, and here we were.

And what a challenge it was!

Starting right at 9:30 a.m., we started in the barn with back tracings and then tacked up two at a time and headed up to the ring. First up were Tyler and Duke. Tyler is the Selle Francais who had started this challenge, and Duke is my Clydesdale/Thoroughbred cross who frequently hunter paces, sometimes fox hunts, events and even dabbles in hunters as time permits.

Tyler was hard to pin down. We started in the foam-panel saddle and he was reluctant to move forward, despite a brief lunge session before getting on where he demonstrated his lovely gaits with lots of enthusiasm We then went to wool saddles. A narrow tree was too narrow. A medium tree was too wide. We didn’t have a medium-narrow that fit right.

He preferred the Solution tree for his wider shoulders while still allowing wither clearance to the Innovation tree, which is a little more flared at the ends, and he found that one uncomfortable. He went better than the French saddle which we started in, and each time we got a little closer, but nothing was a real a-ha! moment. The closest we got was the medium tree Solution that he kept offering to canter rather than trot in, but something still seemed a bit off. Better, but not amazed. Made a note of it and moved on.

Duke felt different immediately to both me and Kristen (she’s ridden him before as well), and he was more sensitive and willing to move forward in the Solution tree than the Innovation. He never really cared for the air panels as he’s a big mover, so we skipped that on him and just looked at the other options. That made sense as he’s somewhat high withered, but being part draft, also wide shouldered.

We swapped a few saddles and both Kristen and I took turns and agreed he went best in the Solution 17.5” H/J Soft Seat — not only was he even more responsive than ever through the back to my queues than in my foam saddle, he was less stuck to my leg over fences like he can usually get. I didn’t expect much of a change here, as he’s not that sensitive and of all my horses, I thought my old saddle fit him best, but it was a noticeable difference! Score 1 for #teamwool.

saddle fitting back tracings

Back tracings were an important part of the process to compare the horses’ different back conformations.

Max and Sky were next up. Max is my 7-yer-old Oldenburg gelding who’s a bit wiggly and lazy, and Sky is my uber sensitive OTTB who aspires to rival Laura Grave’s horse, Verdades, in extreme sensitivity to anything and everything possible. (Sky’s been on Prozac. He’s that neurotic. Really.)

Max started in the foam saddle, like normal. Pokey but happy to work. Needing a little crop, but he walked, trotted and cantered easily. We then went to Kristen’s favorite County Innovation, and he immediately moved off her leg into the canter — much to her surprise! No crop necessary. She then tried him in the County Solution and got even more forward (prepared with a proper half halt this time). I hopped on in the Solution, and not only was he more forward than usual, he was also less wiggly. Interesting. Score 2 for #teamwool.

And then there was Sky … because of his sensitive nature, I was the only one to ride him. Two and a half years prior, he damaged both hind suspensories in a pasture accident, and he’s since returned to hunter pacing sound and strong but I’ve been unsuccessful in getting him sound in the ring. Multiple veterinarian opinions, ultrasounds, and all sorts of tests, and nothing showed other than it was all in his head (as far as we could tell).

I got on, and got our usual, choppy trot, as expected. I warned Allison that this may be an exercise in futility as he’s just special. Tried the County Solution since we knew he was high withered, but very broad shouldered and we knew that tree would likely be better than the Innovation since he’d be sensitive to the flared ends and tree shape of the latter. First tried a medium tree with a Mattes pad and we went forward! However, we also bucked every single stride in a circle twice around the ring … still, progress in that he hasn’t bucked in the ring in two years so this was more “enthusiasm” than I’d see in a long time.

Sky CJMillar82 saddle fitting

Sky was only happy out in the field, jumping things like this …b ut the ring was a no go. Until today.

Switched to a County Solution narrow tree and DING DING DING! We have a winner! I was speechless (and that’s rare!). Kristen was floored and said he looked like “the old Sky, the way he used to move before he was injured.” Allison smiled.

Sky dropped his head and stretched, we trotted and cantered in our long-forgotten soft stretchy stride that had recently only been reserved for forward gallops in the hunt field. Gone was the short, choppy, uncomfortable mover.

Well I’ll be … turns out it wasn’t his suspensories (or anticipation of re-injuring them) that caused the choppy gait in the ring after all. It was my saddle. Apparently the adrenaline out in the hunt field was enough to have him focus on the jumps at hand and ignore the back pain and just keep going, jumping beautifully and always just needing a chiropractor after every hunter pace. I now definitely had a much happier horse, and a much better fitting saddle — and all this without the flocking adjusted to him.

And the final kicker was after all of this, we trekked to Kristen’s barn and repeated the exercise on her young Oldenburg. Check out the videos below of her and her horse, first in her French foam panel saddle, then in a wool flocked saddle (he did best in the County Innovation narrow tree), and we even had her trainer Brian hop on (sorry Brian was too tall and we didn’t have a saddle that fit him correctly, but it fit the horse) with even better results. Just WOW!

A huge thanks to Kristen and her trainer, Brian, in being our video subjects so that we could get multiple views with a novice amateur rider as well as her trainer on a green developing horse.


Definitely a bigger trot.


Kristen’s trainer cantering Montana with happy, floppy ears!

We didn’t finish until 7:30 p.m., it was a really long day, but we learned a ton. It turned out that one saddle wouldn’t work for my crew. But two saddles likely would, in the two different tree sizes my guys needed. With twice yearly flocking adjustments, which were far less than I thought ($100 to $200 on average), I could have horses that moved better and were happier, and not need a custom saddle for every single horse.

Allison and the County Saddlery team were nice enough to leave me with 2 saddles to continue to ride in and even test out on a hunter pace, and we focused next on figuring out what would fit my leg — I may need a high forward flap because I am just *that* awkward in the femur — and what Tyler really needed. But more updates on that coming soon, including what the chiropractor had to say about the saddle fit and my boys …

saddle fitting

Ahh, my awkward leg! High forward flap, anyone?

#TeamWool vs. #TeamFoam: The Ever-Elusive Search for Perfect Saddle Fit

I’ve always been #teamfoam because of my experience with various saddles over the years, and the fact that I’ve always ridden lots of different horses throughout my life.

Since I was 21 and just graduating college, until now at 39 years old, the number of horses I’ve owned at a time has ranged somewhere between two and nine (and yes, I know I have a problem). With that many different horses, I just couldn’t afford a different saddle for every horse. Foam panels offered what I needed — something that fit all of my horses relatively well as they ranged from hard-to-fit OTTBs, to short and stocky Quarter Horses, to a variety of warmbloods and cross breeds.

Or so I thought.

It all started fresh out of college when I got my second horse, a high-withered OTTB that was nothing like my childhood Quarter Horse. There was no way they’d fit in the same saddle. Not even close.

After faxing many back tracings and calling saddle companies all over the world (this was 1998 kids, when the Internet was just a newborn), I opted for the best saddle in my budget that would work for both horses: an air-filled panel saddle with a changeable gullet system. I felt so high-tech and on the cutting edge of saddle technology. You could change the gullet, and air panels meant it never conformed to one horse — how cool!

CJMillar82 and her horse Bobby

He was a full hand taller at the withers than his back. If that’s not a hard to fit back, I don’t know what is.

Then over the years, the more we did, the more I realized the air panels really weren’t doing my horses justice and the metal gullet plates were causing more soreness than I had thought. Soon enough, it was time to start adulting and save up for the big purchase: a custom French saddle.

I was excited, nervous and mostly thrilled (I’d never purchased a saddle that cost more than $1,500 before). When I test-rode in the saddles, I found something that not only worked for my horses at the time (the herd had grown to five at this point), but also was able to fit my very awkward leg.

You see, I have an incredibly long femur and very short calf and I’m all of 5’3”, which means I need a short forward flap and child’s leathers. Finding that in an off-the-rack saddle was impossible. As I had also started hunter pacing and riding with the local fox hunt from time to time, I quickly learned that a standard flap was doing me (and my poor horse’s back) no favors as I could barely clear the saddle if I wanted my leg to stay on the flap.

Saddle fit - flap length and fit

The fit of the flap and my overall balance in the saddle made a huge difference in my riding (new saddle at left, old saddle on right).

So I placed the order and waited … and the day finally arrived, the saddle was here! My main and very picky horse immediately bucked me off in it, and then decided it was acceptable. It fit my leg like a glove. And for the next few years it was a total dream. I even wrote an article about why I was #teamfoam vs. #teamwool that was published in the Plaid Horse, and I swore I’d never change teams.

Until now. Almost four years later, my former FEI international show jumper/eventer is finally back to work after a two-year struggle with Lyme disease. We’ve been through rounds of antibiotics and finally tested negative, adjusted his supplements to find just the right mix, and voilá! He’s back to moving like the horse he used to be — he even jumped a 4’ fence to get to the grass on the other side.

So back to work we went, only no matter what I did I couldn’t get the same movement out of him under saddle as I could on the lunge. Then it hit me. Oh no. Bareback was better.

Pulled out the old air panel saddle and he was better still, offering a flying change over a 2’ raised cavaletti just because. Shoot. And when I felt the two saddles side by side, the foam had definitely hardened and the air-filled panels had more flexibility and give. Back to the drawing board…

Tyler show jumper

Tyler back in his prime show days with former owner, Shannon McGrath South of Broad Show Jumpers and Sales.

And so the research on saddle panels began, yet again. I read that foam can lose its give and harden. I learned that it can retain heat. I learned that redoing the panels on a foam saddle can be $500 — or more — and take several weeks until my saddle was returned (ouch!). I started reading more about wool as I knew that air had too much bounce, especially for fox hunting and jumping.

Through lots of posts on social media, and thanks to the urging of a few upper level rider friends (I’m looking at you, Laine Ashker and Bunnie Sexton), I scheduled a fitting with my local County Saddlery rep to revisit the concept of #teamwool. The fitting is tomorrow, and we’ll see what that brings. It will be a lot to take in, as we have five horses to work through, and a lot of saddles to compare. Stay tuned for more in the saddle fitting saga….