So you’ve purchased a new-to-you ex-racehorse (or, you’re shopping for one at this week’s Thoroughbred Makeover!) and are eager to get kicking along toward a partnership to end all partnerships – or something like that.
But when you go to put your tried and true jump saddle on, you feel yourself deflate a little on seeing how…poorly…it fits your new horse.
It gets better though. OTTBs, like all horses who are developing new muscles, go through immense changes as they train for their new careers, whether it involves eventing, dressage, jumping, or just hacking out through the woods. As their bodies change, so will the fit of their equipment – and a shrewd owner should know what to look for to ensure their horse’s body can function at its best, without impingement from its tack (if you don’t, don’t word – you can find CommonWealth Saddles’ Simple Saddle Check tips here.)
The bottom line when it comes to your tack is this: it shouldn’t be obviously felt when you ride. You shouldn’t be grasping for grip on your saddle’s panels. You shouldn’t have to work against your saddle, against being tipped forward or thrown back – it should just be balanced, and let you do your job, and help your horse. Similarly, your horse should also be able to move freely without tack getting in the way. Yet, too often we see horses manifesting pain or discomfort, much of which can easily be attributed to poorly fitted equipment.
Dr. Sue Dyson, an equine lameness expert and veterinarian, recently released the trailer for her forthcoming documentary, “The 24 Behaviors of the Ridden Horse in Pain”, which stands to really call us out as riders and horse owners. Is the behavior we see “normal” – “oh, he’s just grumpy” or “she doesn’t really like it when I put my leg on, and she lets me know” – or is it telling a deeper story?
In partnership with CommonWealth Saddles, which in addition to selling high-end, quality saddle brands such as the French Meyer Saddles, prioritizes horse owner education in terms of how tack fits and what to look for when searching for a new saddle, we’ll be bringing you more columns just like this. To kick things off, and just in time for the 2022 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover where you can visit CommonWealth Saddles/Meyer Selles at booth 30 inside the Covered Arena yourself in the trade fair all week, here are a few tips for OTTB (and, really, all horse) owners to keep in mind:
Knowing how your horse’s body works will help you better assess your tack’s function.
Just as with our own bodies, understanding the working of each limb and muscle group as a part of the whole helps us know how to find the root of any pain or issues we’re having. Spend some time understanding the biomechanics of your horse’s body. How does each muscle relate to the next? When pain manifests in behavior, it’s often the “end of the rope”, meaning the root cause is probably somewhere else.
Understand that your horse’s body will change over time.
The thing with investing in a saddle is that you’re, in some cases, sort of…stuck. Not every saddle has the ability to be adjusted or reflocked, or to be customized in the first place. While not every budget can accommodate a custom saddle, it’s still important to understand that one size does, definitively, not fit all. Finding a good bodyworker and saddle fitter to incorporate into your maintenance program can go a long way to help your OTTB feel her best as her body changes.
Not all saddles are created equal.
Sure, this is a known fact. But as marketing becomes more clever and companies grow, it can be hard to weed through the chatter and find real quality that puts horses first. When researching a new saddle fitter or manufacturer, take a few things into account: does the rep prioritize helping your horse (and you!) feel their best, or are they only wanting to push a sale? Does the company have quality customer service? Do people like you and horses like yours use these saddles? Who does? Marketing is essential, but seeing who rides in a certain saddle is often more telling. Like any major investment, research is key. Take your time and find the right brand for you, not just what’s trendy.
When it comes to saddle shopping, knowledge is power.
Professional saddle fitters are experts in understanding a horse’s body. Finding one that has experience fitting OTTBs –– someone who understands the changes their bodies will undergo and the idiosyncrasies often found on ex-racehorse bodies — can be invaluable during the saddle shopping process. Many fitters will take more of an empirical approach to fitting, choosing to first understand the horse before suggesting a saddle.
Courtenay Brown, an amateur eventer based in Florida with her OTTB, B.A. Messenger, says CommonWealth Saddles made a huge difference in her most recent saddle shopping experience. “Finding the right saddle for me and my OTTB felt like a never-ending quest until I started working with CommonWealth Saddles,” she said. “Their knowledge about fitting and biomechanics, and their wide array of saddles for us to try, made for an evidence-based approach to finding the right saddle for both of us.”
Whether you’re shopping for a new saddle for the first time or are looking for a way to help your OTTB feel better in her body, companies like CommonWealth Saddles are here to help. If you’re competing at or otherwise attending the Thoroughbred Makeover this week, be sure to stop by and see Rose Schwinghamer and Lyndsey Gruber-Chatfield at Thoroughbred Makeover (booth 30/Covered Arena) this weekend!