Monday, 8 February 2016

My New Saddle. Part 1 - Decisions decisions!!!

Rider: Sally 5'9" 67kg
Horse: Rambo - 18yo Dutch Warmblood Gelding

I have been with Bliss for over 6 months now and I could not ignore the beauty and craftsmanship of the saddles any longer. It's like working in a sweety shop! The feedback we get from customers and fitters always emphasises how well the saddles fit the horses and the difference it makes in their way of going and improves their own position and balance too. I have also sat in enough to know they are blooming' comfortable. I thought it was high time I put my old off the shelf saddle to one side and upgrade to a Bliss.
This gave me the opportunity to share the Bliss saddle fitting and making process with you, if perhaps you are considering taking the plunge.

The Fitting

Armed with an order form, flexi curve and expert SMS Qualified saddle fitter Nikki Newcombe, AKA, 'The Boss', we headed to the yard with a selection of saddles. I had previously looked through the range, which can be done online, and selected the ones that I thought would be most suitable for what I want to do. I have a comprehensive knowledge of the range but in a normal case this would be discussed before hand with one of our saddle fitters. 

I like to do a little bit of everything with my horse Rambo. The saddle will be used for a range of disciplines including hacking, jumping, schooling, and the odd competition. I tend to prefer being airborne but also need a deeper seat for schooling.

We took with us the Loxley Foxhunter, the Loxley Jump LX, the Foxhunter Monoflap and the Jump Monoflap. We started off with the Loxley Jump LX, Nikki checked the fit of the saddle without a pad underneath. Checking how the saddle sat at the front; the clearance and width, then moved to check for any bridging and checking the overall balance. Once we were happy this saddle would be comfortable for Rambo we popped a thin pad underneath and girthed it so I could see how it felt for me. Pictures are generally taken along the way to refer back to if needed. Luckily Rambo isn't far off a Medium Wide.

I tried all of the different saddles (each being individually checked for fit) and retried them repeating a process of Nikki watching me perform circles in walk, trot and canter, viewing from in front and behind to evaluate balance and movement. As I am going to be using this saddle for jumping it was also important that I jumped a few fences to decide on which size blocks for support I needed and which seat I preferred. So after a long game of musical saddles I eventually decided on the Loxley Foxhunter Mono but with a slightly more open seat.

The monoflap option gave me a lovely close contact feel and the Foxhunter is enough depth of seat to school in but with enough freedom to jump larger fences unhindered. We then had to accommodate my gangly legs with a 1" further forward flap. We decided at the 9 o'clock angle as when jumping I ride with short stirrups. The beauty of custom made saddles is that they have the flexibility to be built accordingly that off the shelf saddles don't. I also preferred the Jump blocks, which are smaller instead of the larger Foxhunter blocks.

Then we went back to Rambo's fit. While trying the saddles we noticed a bit of lift in the back of the saddle in canter and then looking at his confirmation decided that the Warmblood tree with flatter angle at the back would be more suitable for him. A higher wither meant that the saddles with an extra deep back gusset had a better seat balance point. As Rambo is going a little grey around the edges we also popped in an extended panel to fill in the slight hollows behind the wither. All of these finer points make the custom made saddle fit perfectly.

We then used the flex-curve to make a template of his shape over where the tree points will sit (and not his whither as I thought!) this will be used to make an exact measurement of T-18 (the last rib) and his horizontal profile from the whither down the spine. These will be recorded for future comparisons. Photos are taken of these measurements which fitters will send in with orders to discuss with Nikki the options regarding panel and trees profiles.

Now the difficult decision on the styling of the saddle, with options of leather, colours, welting, stitching and cantle designs, the possibilities seem endless. The form is likely to sit on my desk for a few days or so whilst I make my decision. I will then update you more as it goes into production - exciting!

Friday, 6 March 2015

2015 Horses Inside Out Conference

The Annual Horses Inside Out conference this year had the title of “Training, Therapy and Performance” and whilst perhaps not as saddle related as last years, it was still an incredibly informative 2 days. You never stop learning in the equestrian world and we were introduced to some new ideas and research that has been completed. On a more personal note I came back enthused to use some of Chris Bartle’s training exercises on my own young horse.

This insightful annual conference is brought together by the anatomy and biomechanics author, artist and lecturer Gillian Higgins. Gillian explained how the muscles are grouped in chains and reminded us of the importance of a strong back in the horse in order to carry the weight of a rider and saddle.   She also demonstrated some useful exercises to help achieve this: backing up in hand or reining back under saddle, the carrot exercise of encouraging the horse to stretch between his front legs both strengthen the back, particularly for horses with sacroiliac issues and kissing spine. Whilst spinning in hand and lateral works encourages a loose back. All highlighting that ongoing maintenance is long term prevention.

The speakers included:

Dr Kathryn Nankervis from Hartpury College, who gave a fascinating insight into “Exercise for the purpose of Rehabilitation” Horses with back pain are often linked as we know to hind limb lameness and the programme focuses on a developing their flexion and not extension, so straight line work is encourage.  A key take home message was that so many horses encounter injury because they are not sufficiently prepared and fit for the job they are being asked to do – so the old saying “prevention is better than cure”.

Dr Colin Roberts presented research from his PHD “Aspects of respiratory function during exercise in the TB”.  The resting heart rate for the horse is 25-45 bpm and this can increase up to 10 fold during strenuous exercise. Whilst not saddle related this was very interesting to learn that when endoscoped it was found that a very high percentage of Thoroughbreds (40-75% although probably occurs in all racehorses in fast work) do ‘bleed’ from stress/pressure in the lungs and not in the upper airway as previously believed. Signs are not apparent until the severity increases and blood is seen from the nostrils. However a nosebleed in a stabled/resting horse should be viewed differently and veterinary advice sought. Unlike muscles, the lung does not respond to training it was shown that fitness reaches a peak where it starts to plateau out considerably. So we are guilty sometimes of asking too much of our horses and over training which in itself can be the cause of injuries. So again a take home message along similar lines that the correct management of your horse helps prevent future issues.

Olympian Chris Bartle gave a very fun and inspiring demo on Polework Training for Improved Performance with the young horse.  The use of cavaletti in different gaits to improve strength and rhythm was inspiring.

Lee Clark presented Kinesio Taping for Horses and Riders, a therapy were you can visually see instant results.  Although this is not new I am sure we are going to see more of this in use in the equine field in the future.

Adam Kemp closed the conference with 2 very entertaining demonstrations on Training Related Performance where it was wonderful to see the development of young dressage horses progressing through to Grand Prix level.

There were many saddle fitters, trainers and therapists from around the world at the conference, which was a great opportunity to speak with other equine professionals from all spheres and continue to develop the ongoing knowledge of saddle fitting.

If you wish to view more of Gillian’s work visit or view a great video on this link