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Made to Measure…


Keith Jenkin, who is a partner in Minster Saddlery, is a Society of Master Saddlers qualified saddle fitter of many years' experience. He has written a number of articles on various aspects and problems associated with saddle fitting. These have been published over the years under the following headings.


However, it should be emphasised that the opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the views of any other person or organisation.


    “A Balancing Act"

    A horse is said to be 'in balance’ when its own weight and that of the rider are carried as an evenly distributed load through all paces. It is the ability of the horse to reestablish his natural balance under the rider's weight that makes this possible. It should therefore not be difficult to appreciate how much more difficult this will be for the horse if the saddle itself is ‘not in balance’.

    It is accepted that the horse is better suited to pull rather than to carry. The horse's back is not constructed so as to be capable of tolerating more than moderate downward pressure. It follows therefore that as soon as a saddle is fitted there is 'potential for a problem1. In other words, it could be said that the professional Saddle Fitter is onto a 'hiding to nothing' since he is required to fit something which should not be there in the first place, onto an area of strictly limited dimensions, since it must fit behind the scapula (shoulder blade) and no further back than the last rib since no weight should be imposed on the loins.


    It is absolutely crucial that the saddle is not positioned too far forward since this will impede the free movement of the shoulder blade causing discomfort for the horse and a corresponding reduction in performance. It will also be impossible for the saddle to sit level and balanced unless it sits in its natural position on the back and behind the scapula. Moreover, a saddle placed too far forward will oblige the rider to sit on the back of the seat imposing their weight on the back half of the panel only. This I believe is the most common cause of many back problems.


    Therefore to check that a saddle is sitting in balance, when viewed from the side, the deepest part of the seat should be in the centre of the saddle positioning the rider so that their weight is evenly distributed over the whole bearing surface of the panel.

    It is sometimes the case that a saddle can be a perfect fit and yet is subsequently blamed for causing back problems simply because it has been placed too far forward, causing the rider to sit on the back of the seat, thereby causing excessive pressure on a small area of the back.

    Saddle design and construction was largely influenced by nineteenth century cavalry officers and it was a Major Francis Dwyer who recognised the importance of a balanced seat. He believed that if the rider's weight was carried correctly over the horse's "centre of motion" this would enable the horse to move freely without interference to its natural balance. This however could not be achieved unless the rider's weight was evenly distributed over the total bearing surface so minimising the possibilities of pressure points. Dwyer argued that the rider would be positioned over the fourteenth dorsal vertebra which he believed to be the 'centre of motion of the horse's body'.

    With the kind permission of the distinguished equestrian author Elwyn Hartley Edwards, I reproduce a diagram depicting the rider sitting perfectly in balance, centrally in the seat and over Dwyer's 'centre of motion’, the fourteenth vertebra. It also appears to show that part of the panel can impinge on the area of the loins. However, even if this is sometimes the case, it is preferable to placing the saddle over the shoulder and out of balance.



    Therefore it is the position of the saddle on the back that is of paramount importance. As I have said, even if the saddle is a perfect fit, if its position on the back is out of balance, the rider's position and the horse's ability to perform will be compromised. Neither the horse nor the rider will be balanced unless the saddle itself is in balance to start with. As an eminent riding master once said "position comes first and everything else comes after".


    “A Dying Breed"

    We count ourselves fortunate indeed to have the services of Edward Lawrence a Master Saddler with forty-seven years’ continuous service in the trade.  He joined Champion and Wilton of London in 1956 and served a five-year apprenticeship with them.  Champion and Wilton were founded in 1780 and had premises in Oxford Street, opposite Selfridges, in London’s West End.  At one time they employed over one hundred saddlers making saddles, harness and other saddlery items and became, as holders of the Royal Warrant, the most highly respected firm in the country and I don’t doubt that many a stately home will still have a Champion and Wilton saddle tucked away somewhere in their tack room.  Obviously, in common with every other saddlery firm, the motorcar decimated their business when the harness side fell away to virtually nothing.


    The saddles they made were true bespoke saddles, hand made in the traditional manner, involving several fittings.  This method has now largely died out by virtue of cost and most of today’s riders are completely unaware that most saddles were made in this way until the middle of the twentieth century.  Nevertheless, our competitors continue to denigrate our made to measure system and we continue to emphasise that we do not pretend that our system is the same as the outdated bespoke method employed by Champion and Wilton and their contemporaries.  Our method is simply an up-to-date process taking advantage of the economies of scale available from the modern Walsall saddle makers’ methods of production.  Still I suppose they would not keep banging on about it if our method were not causing them problems.  I suppose we should be flattered!


    Champion and Wilton were taken over by Giddens, another large London firm, in 1962, shortly after the death of Major William Palmer Wilton who was the last of the Wilton dynasty.  Giddens themselves naturally trained apprentices as did most saddlers in common with every other trade and many boys on leaving school became apprenticed in one trade or another and in consequence resultant skilled tradesmen were plentiful, valued and respected.  Regrettably due to misguided policies by both politicians and industry alike apprenticeship schemes have largely died out.  Instead our government wants half the population to be university graduates many of whom will leave university with degrees in subjects which will not obtain them gainful employment, but will leave them deep in debt.  Meanwhile skilled tradesmen in most trades will become fewer, could it be a case of too many (aspiring) Chiefs and not enough Indians.


    Meanwhile, for the present, we still enjoy the skills of Ted Lawrence whose knowledge of the Saddlery Trade is encyclopaedic.  But in common with most “time served” saddlers, he does not agree with the practice of re-flocking saddles without taking the panel out, a method taught by some saddlery colleges and others where many of today’s saddlers are trained.  In any event it is not possible to remove old flocking from a panel and then re-stuff it without taking the panel out and re-lacing it back in again, but in twenty or thirty years time there will be hardly anyone left capable of doing this job outside Walsall where 99% of all English saddles are made.  Meanwhile because of Ted’s experience and skill we are able to overhaul and renovate second-hand saddles and supply them modified to a template to fit a specific horse and most of our trade in used saddles is uniquely supplied in this way.


    Unfortunately, like me, Ted is no spring chicken and when his skills are in time lost to us they will be impossible to replace.  But not to worry, we will have lots of graduates, many of whom will be obliged to accept employment in occupations where a degree is far from necessary.  Would it not be more sensible for the government to make every effort to encourage industry to reinstate apprentice schemes?


    “A Hack by Any Other Name"

    We all know what it is to go for a hack or to hack to a show or meeting, but how many are aware of all the other uses of the word. It derives from the Norman French "HAQUENAI" which was a word used in medieval times to describe a horse of poor or indifferent quality which could be hired very cheaply. A far cry from the proud and active Hackney breed developed in the nineteenth century from the Norfolk trotting horse interbred with the Arab and Welsh ponies with a bit of Thoroughbred thrown in. This high stepping horse or pony was used extensively to pull the thousands of Hackney Carriages which plied their trade particularly in London until replaced by the motorised taxi still referred to as a Hackney Cab. I can still recall as a boy seeing the pony version tearing around with the driver standing, never sitting, across the cobbled streets of London pulling a cart or trap. Nowadays they are mostly to be seen in the show ring and at one time were also popular as show jumpers because of the powerful development of the hindquarters and legs.


    However the word has many other meanings. You can "hack" your way through dense jungle using a machete. Before the gun was invented troops would "hack" each other to death with their swords. A footballer can foul an opponent by kicking or "hacking" his shins. A journalist of no great merit is known as a "hack". A harsh cough is sometimes referred to as "hacking". The London Borough of Hackney was an area where horses, mostly for carriage work could be purchased. A "hack" can also mean a rack used for animal fodder, a board on which meat is placed for a hawk or a piles of unfired bricks stacked to dry. "Hackneyed" is a phrase used too often. Fortunately to go "hacking" is a very popular pastime among horse people who make up a large percentage of our customers; "long may it continue".


    While passing on this piece of useless information, the derivation of CANTER may be of interest. The busiest coaching road in England was between London and Dover, which of course passed through Canterbury. While to trot the whole way would take too long, to gallop would have killed the horses. Accordingly they developed an in-between pace known as the "Canterbury Gallop" which teams could keep up for the whole ten miles between staging inns, where the teams would be changed and rested for twenty-four hours before being used again. The phrase was shortened to "canter", a pace between trot and gallop with which we are all familiar.


    While putting pen to paper I would like to clear up some confusion caused by an article I wrote some time ago in which I claimed that the use of a numnah or saddle cloth does not change the fit of a saddle. It is often said that a saddle should fit perfectly without the use of a numnah. This is of course true and we always fit a saddle without using a numnah simply because it is easiest to see what is going on. There is however a popular misconception that a numnah will change the fit and comparison is made to the insertion of an insole into a shoe. However this is not a true comparison because a shoe, unlike a horse's back, is an enclosed space and the insertion of an insole will reduce the space within the shoe and make the fit smaller. This of course is not the case with the back of a horse and the use of a numnah will simply lift the saddle off the back. When placing a numnah on the back the underside will precisely follow the contours of the back and will consequently be the same shape as the back. It will be obvious that the topside of the numnah will be the same shape as the underside, and of the back. In other words the fit does not change but is simply moved higher by the thickness of the numnah. I compared this to stacking any number of pieces of angle iron one upon another where the top piece is the same shape as the bottom piece, and similarly I said you could stack any number of numnahs one on top of another where the top one would be the same shape as the bottom one. What I was NOT suggesting was that you can use a pile of numnahs and then put the saddle on top as some people have suggested I did. In fact the final few lines of my article, which my detractors either did not read or chose to ignore, said "it is however advisable to use a fairly thin COTTON numnah to soak up sweat and keep the panel clean and while the use of a thick numnah will NOT change the fit, stability can be adversely affected".


    I hope that clears up that misunderstanding. I believe the confusion arises because when the initial flocking in a saddle compresses the underarch of the tree can come down on the wither and the panel will need to be reflocked to lift the saddle. The use of a thick numnah or poly pad will do the same thing and can be used for this purpose in the short term until the saddler is available and in this sense a numnah will change the fit. It is however the arch of the tree that should be precisely the same shape as that part of the back upon which it will rest. Years ago the process of making a bespoke saddle started with the saddler finding or making a tree which was the correct shape, which would sit on the back as a snug fit, the flocked panel merely serves the purpose of lifting the tree away from the back and providing cushioning and neither the flocking nor a numnah will change the fit of the tree which is of paramount importance. That is why all our own saddles are either made or modified to fit the templates which we take of the horse's back. Horses' backs are changing shape constantly and we are continually taking templates and changing the shape of the tree to accommodate the changed shape of the back, which of course cuts out the necessity to change the saddle. There is of course no way you can change the shape of the tree with a reflock. If the arch of the tree is either too small or too wide then the tree itself must be modified. It is the only satisfactory way to resolve the problem. To summarise, the only thing that will affect the fit of the saddle is the shape of the tree. The numnah has the same effect as the flocking which is both to lift the hard tree away from the back and provide cushioning and to keep the panel clean and unaffected by sweat penetrating the leather of the panel and the flocking within it.



    It has been said that to be born in a stable does not automatically make you a horse. It could similarly be said that to be a tree does not automatically mean that you are covered in leaves. The tree with which we are all concerned is of course the framework upon which a saddle will be built. I have displayed with this article a picture of a modern laminated beechwood tree and a second picture of a similar tree, which has been prepared for the leatherwork to be built upon it.


    Traditionally trees have been made from wood and the trees displayed are made from laminated beechwood. The older pattern tree was shaped by hand from beechwood and was of necessity heavy in order to have sufficient strength. Moreover, it was a highly skilled and time consuming process. However for many years trees have been made from laminated beechwood, or plywood in other words. The pre-formed front arch is reinforced with a steel gullet plate on the underside and a head plate on top. These are riveted together, sandwiching the wooden arch to form a structure of great strength. It is the width of this arch that must be made to fit the horse that the saddle is intended for, varying from narrow to extra, extra wide. The cantle is also reinforced with a metal strip on its underside and all modern trees are sprung by fitting two sections of sprung steel laid along the frame from head to cantle. Quite apart from the benefit of strengthening the tree they allow some resilience, which improves the comfort of both horse and rider. The stirrup bars are then riveted to the front of the tree. In order to prevent damp affecting the wooden part of the tree, it is covered with a muslin scrim to which a glue-based waterproofing liquid is applied, although at least one of the English tree makers has dispensed with the scrim element of this waterproofing process. That completes the tree making process and the saddler can now commence to build a saddle upon it.


    For the past three years at the British Equestrian Trade Association's exhibition which is held annually at the National Exhibition Centre, the Society of Master Saddlers has organised a saddle making competition where a number of saddlers actually make a saddle by hand over a three day period, and it is possible to witness the entire process. You will see from the second photograph displayed with this article that this tree has been prepared by our own saddler to receive the leatherwork and this is the first process that the saddler will now undertake. It can be seen from the picture that the points of the tree, which are the projections of the pommel below the stirrup bars, have been fitted with flexible point endings made from leather which will be more comfortable for the horse if the tree happens to be slightly too narrow. The steel springs have also been covered in leather to prevent any risk of them cutting into the panel and to save any risk of rust. Two nylon webs 2" wide, previously canvas, are strained from pommel to cantle which will put the tree under tension, facilitated by the springs which will obviate any chance of the seat sagging because it will be constantly under tension. The web to which the stirrup leathers will be stitched are fixed over the waist of the tree. The base upon which the seat is built is formed by a piece of tightly stretched strong canvas, fixed around the frame of the tree, which means in effect that the base of the seat is composed of the girth strap webs stitched to the canvas, supported by the web stretched from pommel to cantle. To shape and add width to the seat and to save the rider from feeling the hard edges of the tree leather, bellies are fitted each side of the tree and these can clearly be identified in the picture displayed with this article.


    This then is the hand-made process whereby the tree is prepared to receive the leatherwork. Great skill is required when straining the two webs fixed from pommel to cantle since any inequality will result in the tree being pulled out of alignment. This highly skilled process has remained the same for very many years; the only difference being that staples are now used instead of nails, the seat is now formed using latex foam whereas it was previously serge and flock, latex incidentally being far more comfortable.


    The vast majority of English saddlers use the above method, whereas nearly all saddles made abroad use plastic trees where the above process is unnecessary. In my opinion English made saddles are still the best in the world and are certainly better value for money than anything imported, especially those made elsewhere in Europe. Most importantly English saddlers will make saddles to a detailed specification incorporating variations to width of tree, type and colour of leather, dropped panels and deeper gussets for high withered types and different girthing arrangements for cobs, longer flaps for long-legged riders etc. All at little or no extra charge, whereas imported saddles come as standard and no such modifications are available.


    Hopefully readers will find the above information of interest, especially because the days of the wooden tree are limited and the day will come when only plastic trees will be available.



    As we all know "Bottoms Up" is another expression for "drink up", usually used when we are toasting someone. However you will see from the attached picture that I am referring to the rider's bottom coming up off the seat of the saddle as the rider adopts the "forward seat" over a jump. This picture is a particularly good example of what happens as the rider's weight leaves the seat of the saddle and is transferred to the stirrup bars and knee pads as the rider adopts the forward seat, causing the saddle to pivot forwards. This happens because the stirrup bars are fixed to the front of the tree and the girth straps are also fitted towards the front of the tree rather than centrally. This can clearly be seen from the position of the girth in the photograph.

    I am not suggesting that this is a defect, simply to establish that this happens and why. In any event as the horse bascules over a jump and rounds its back it would be wrong to attempt to fix the saddle solidly to the back since this would restrict the horse's freedom of movement.

    Strangely, many people are unaware that this happens, even those who are instructors. This may be because it happens so quickly it is difficult to spot, particularly with a numnah in place and because the instructor will be looking at the rider rather than the saddle, and it is only if the camera clicks at the precise moment that it happens that it becomes evident. However there is another aspect to this phenomenon which I would draw to your attention since I am often questioned by customers taking delivery of a saddle, either new or a used one from which we have removed all the old flocking and then re-stuffed it. As the girth is tightened the flocking in the front of the panel will obviously compress, whereas the flocking in the centre of the panel remains uncompressed, causing the saddle to pivot, since as you pull the front down, the back tends to lift and the panel appears not to be completely bearing on the back under the cantle. Of course as the rider sits in the saddle the panel will bear evenly from front to back and obviously saddles are designed to be sat in. However when the rider rides in the saddle and goes into the rising trot where Bottoms Up occurs, as the rider's weight leaves the seat it will be evident that the rear of the panel is lifting to some extent, similar but to a far lesser extent to what happens when jumping.

    Put simply, it can be likened to a see saw which rocks about a central point or fulcrum. Think of the centre of the panel as the fulcrum and it will be easy to understand that the saddle will rock forwards as weight is concentrated on one side of the centre of the fulcrum. It is a basic principle of mechanics that when something is fixed and pulled down at one end it will have the effect of lifting the opposite end. Naturally the person buying the saddle is sometimes concerned by this phenomenon, which will become less evident as the flocking is ridden into its working form and also when a numnah is used. It is however NOT a defect and the purpose of this article is to emphasise that this does happen and why it happens so that people are not misled into believing that there is a problem where none exists.



    I recently wrote an article entitled "Overfed and Under worked" in which I outlined the hitherto almost insurmountable problem of pony saddles sliding forward up the neck and I said that no one whether a member of the Society of Master Saddlers, riding instructor or saddle maker had any idea of how to cure this problem. I also said that we were having a saddle made that we thought would overcome the problem. I am now delighted to report that the ALL NEW "MINSTER WHIPPY" pony show saddle has achieved the impossible.


    This unique saddle specifically designed to overcome the "sliding up the neck" problem and aimed at the pony showing fraternity is available in 14", 15" and 16" sizes and all will be made to a template. The saddle will have all over suede seat, skirts and flaps built on a close contact beech wood tree with a Whippy short felt panel. The benefit of the Whippy short or half panel is twofold. Firstly, a felt panel is much thinner than a conventional flocked panel and does not bounce on the back when ridden and it is this bounce which causes the instability which in turn causes the saddle to slide forward. Secondly, with a conventional saddle the flocked part of the panel extends down the underside of the sweat flat which stops the flaps being able to lie close to the pony's flanks. However, a saddle with a Whippy half or short panel does not have a sweat flap as such and consequently the top flaps lie directly up against the pony's flanks giving the rider much closer contact and this in itself helps prevents the saddle moving forward. In addition, we fit four girth straps each side, including point and balancing straps, which pull the saddle down more evenly and bring a greater area of the panel into contact with the back. We also recommend the use of a 5" wide Stubben cord girth that grips the belly and prevents the saddle moving from side to side and gives greater stability generally.


    A well-known firm of London saddlers, Messrs Whippy Steggal and Co of 36 North Audley Street, London W1, invented the Whippy panel. They made the panel in either a felt or flocked version, the felt panel was leather covered while the flocked version was usually serge covered. The panels were previously designed for use with riding or polo ponies to give closer contact and greater stability, although I don't believe sliding forward was a particular problem in those days because seats were much flatter and panels much thinner. In any event no-one had a problem with using a crupper in a time when most horses were under harness where a crupper is always used.


    Whippy Steggal's premises in North Audley Street were bombed in 1942 and shortly afterwards the firm was taken over by Champion and Wilton whose London premises were nearby. During the early part of the twentieth century many pony saddles were made with Whippy panels but this practice seems to have died out. However, we are pleased to re-introduce the panel for use in our new Minster Whippy pony show saddle which we are sure will be greatly appreciated by the showing fraternity. This saddle was designed by Keith Jenkin, who is a Society of Master Saddlers qualified saddle fitter, in close co-operation with our colleague Ted Lawrence master saddler, late of Champion and Wilton, whose historic knowledge of the saddlery industry is truly encyclopaedic.



    If you ever have occasion to ride bareback, it will soon become evident that you will be obliged to sit in the deepest part of the hollow of the horse's back. In a very well made horse this will be over the fourteenth dorsal vertebra, sometimes referred to as the centre of motion of the horse. However, even if the horse does not have perfect conformation in this regard, the fact remains that you will always finish up in the deepest part of the back. Very few people appreciate, however, that no matter where upon the back you position the saddle, you will always be forced to sit in the deepest part of the back either with or without the saddle under you. What some riders seem to disregard is that you should sit in the centre of the seat of the saddle, neither too far forward, nor too far back, but dead centre. This will only be possible if the deepest part, or centre of the seat of the saddle is positioned centrally over the deepest part of the back. Put another way, draw an imaginary line through the centre of the seat of the saddle and another through the deepest part of the back, then position the saddle on the back in advance of the withers and then slide it back until the two lines converge. The saddle will then be in the centre of the back and the rider will be positioned in the centre of the saddle. No part of the saddle will impede the free movement of the shoulder, nor will any significant weight be imposed upon the loins. If this principle is followed I believe everything else will fall into place.


    However things are never that simple. High withered, thoroughbred types present their own unique problems that must be dealt with. There is a significant difference in height between the top of the withers and the back of this type of horse which results in the front or pommel end of the saddle being forced upwards resulting in the back or cantile end of the saddle sitting too low on the back and preventing the rider sitting in the centre of the seat. The remedy for this is to make the panel deeper at the back, by making a deeper gusset, sometimes called a Dutch gusset, which will bring the saddle and rider into balance. Even so this is not always possible in extreme cases and it will then be necessary to use a rear riser pad.


    It was Major Francis Dwyer, a famous nineteenth century cavalry instructor who said "the saddle in the centre of the back" and "the rider in the centre of the saddle" should be the guiding principle in determining correct saddle fitting. "Spot on" would you not agree?

    While on the subject of pads or numnahs, it is often said that a saddle should fit perfectly without the use of a numnah. While this is true there is a popular misconception that a numnah will alter the fit of a saddle and comparison is made to inserting an insole in a pair of shoes. However, this is not a true comparison because a shoe is an enclosed space and the insertion of an insole will reduce the space within the shoe and make the fit smaller. Whereas placing a numnah under a saddle simply lifts the saddle off the back. You can pile any number of numnahs one on top of the other and the top numnah will have the same profile as the bottom one. Think of stacking chairs or stacking pieces of angle iron one upon another, the top piece will be the same shape as the bottom piece and since we are not dealing with an enclosed space, as with a shoe, the fit is not affected. It is, however, desirable to use a fairly thin cotton numnah to soak up sweat and to keep the panel clean. Never use synthetic materials that will cause the horse to sweat. However, while the use of a thick numnah will not affect the fit, stability can be adversely affected.



    It is generally accepted and taught by the British Horse Society, The Pony Club, the Society of Master Saddlers and others that when fitting a saddle the panel should not extend beyond the last (eighteenth) rib in order that no weight is imposed upon the loins. In theory this is a very laudable aim since the area most capable of bearing weight is the rib cage, which of course ends at the last rib. However the second main principle which is taught, is that no part of the saddle should impede movement of the shoulder blade, enabling the horse complete freedom of movement. Consequently the area upon which it is permissible to locate the saddle will extend from a point approximately 2/3 inches behind the back top angle of the shoulder blade to the point where the last (eighteenth) rib joins the vertebral column.

    This is the stated aim, which in theory is the most desirable object of the exercise. Regrettably it is my experience that it is not possible to get behind the shoulder without part of the panel extending beyond the last rib because there is not sufficient room to achieve this. What is essential however if the horse is to move freely is to leave the shoulder blade to move unimpeded. It, therefore, comes down to a choice and it is my opinion that the lesser of the evils is to accept the inevitability that a small part of the panel will in fact of necessity extend beyond the last rib.


    In any event it is essential that the saddle sits in balance, otherwise neither the horse nor the rider will be in balance. My definition of balance is "to position the saddle on the back in such a way that the rider will be forced to sit in the centre of the seat of the saddle so that their weight is evenly distributed over the panel from front to back". In order to achieve this it will be essential that the centre of the saddle is positioned directly over the deepest part of the back. A horse has eighteen pairs of ribs and the same number of dorsal vertebrae, the first thirteen sloping backwards, the fourteenth UPRIGHT and the last four sloping forwards. In most horses the fourteenth vertebra is also located in the deepest part of the back and I would ask you to study the skeletal diagram displayed with this article, particularly the inset portion which shows the saddle located in the centre of the back, where the centre of the seat is located directly over the deepest part of the back and over the fourteenth dorsal vertebra, enabling the rider to sit in balance in the centre of the seat of the saddle. However, it can also be seen that it is only ribs sixteen, seventeen and eighteen which can support the back half of the panel. The part of the panel which will be in contact with the back will measure 19"-20" with a 17"/18" saddle and since the centre of the panel is located over the fourteenth vertebra, ten inches of the panel must be carried by the last three ribs and it can be seen from the diagram that this is not possible and that the last few inches of the panel will of necessity extend beyond the last (eighteenth) rib.


    However it is my belief that no significant problems will arise from a small part of the panel extending over the loins. Firstly this is superimposed weight and secondly the greatest depth of flocking is contained in the back of the panel, which will absorb part of the pressure. Certainly if it is accepted that it is impossible to get both behind the shoulder but not beyond the last rib, the lesser of the evils is to leave the shoulder unimpeded.


    It was Major Francis Dwyer, a famous 19th century cavalry officer, who said "the saddle in the centre of the back and the rider in the centre of the saddle should be the guiding principle when fitting a saddle". He called the fourteenth vertebra "the keystone of the arch" and if you think of the back as an upside down arch, the fourteenth vertebra would indeed represent the keystone, which of course is always the top stone of the arch. It is of course not possible to see the vertebrae, but you will see from the illustration that the fourteenth is located at the deepest part of the back, which is where you will be obliged to sit in any event because of the law of gravity.


    It is a well known fact among saddle fitters that the vast majority of riders place their saddles too far forward. I believe this it taught by the BHS and Pony Club in an attempt not to impose any weight on the loins, ignoring for unknown reasons that in so doing they will be impeding the free movement of the shoulder and forcing the rider to sit on the back instead of the centre of the seat and out of balance. Interestingly the "Riding Seat" style of riding using mostly American bred "gaited" horses such as the "Tennessee Walking", "Saddle Bred" and "Morgan" types where riders use the "Lane Fox" flat-seated style of saddle with a very cut back head enabling them to purposefully sit directly over the loins. This of course goes against everything previously taught but it works for them apparently without any ill effect on the horse.

    Very confusing this saddle-fitting job?!



    I am sometimes asked why the rear or cantle end of the saddle tends to lift off the back at the rising trot. This question normally crops up when a saddle is first delivered and before the saddle has been ridden in. Some customers even insist that the saddle does not fit properly, usually because of advice received from a riding instructor or "experienced and knowledgeable friend" and I find that many riders, including instructors, don't know why this happens.


    To understand this phenomenon, I would ask you to take note of the position of the girth straps which are fixed to the tree approximately a quarter of the distance from the front of the tree and not centrally. Consequently, as the girth is tightened, the saddle is being pulled down at the front and not centrally, resulting in the flocking under the girth compressing. The saddle will pivot on the uncompressed flocking in the middle of the panel with the result that the panel will tend to lift off the back, because the saddle is fixed off-centre at the front and NOT at the back. Consequently at the rising trot, when the rider's seat leaves the saddle and weight is transferred to the knee pads and stirrups, the saddle will tend to leave the back at the rear, especially when the saddle is new and before the flocking has compressed to its working form.

    This can be seen in its most extreme form when jumping and as the horse bascules and the rider adopts a "forward seat", the weight leaves the saddle completely and all the weight is transferred to the knee pads and stirrups, the saddle will leave the back by several inches. The same thing happens to a lesser extent at the rising trot. The next time you girth up your saddle try lifting it at the front or pommel end and you won't be able to. Now lift at the back and it will come up easily. This is because the saddle is fixed at the front and not at the back. Please understand that I am not describing this as a fault, simply that if one realises that this happens and understands why it happens you won't be misled into believing that something is wrong when it does happen. In any event it would be undesirable to fix the saddle solidly to the back because this would restrict the horses freedom of movement, particularly when jumping. The next time you watch someone riding cross country, when the rider stands in the stirrup with their weight taken on their knees, it will be evident that the rear of the saddle is floating to some extent. In these circumstances the rider's weight is concentrated entirely on the front part of the panel and this could cause a problem. Fortunately a cross country course only takes ten minutes or so to complete, before any serious damage can occur.


    Finally, however, I would emphasise that it is of paramount importance that the arch of the tree is exactly the same shape as the part of the back upon which it will rest, which is just behind the shoulder. Too narrow and the points of the tree will dig in or pinch. Too wide and the underside of the tree will a) come into contact with the wither and b) force the back of the panel to leave the back excessively at the rising trot and this, of course, is a defect. That is why all our saddles are made to a template, including second hand which we modify to fit.

    It would be well to remember that up until the 20th Century when the Great British proletariat had the temerity to forget its place in society and started riding for pleasure, riding in Britain was almost entirely the preserve of the upper classes and the military. At that time most horses ridden for leisure purposes were involved in hunting and at the end of the season were turned away for the summer months.

    Obviously, when they were brought back into work they were a totally different shape than when turned away and it was the saddler's job to modify the flocking and if necessary the tree, to accommodate the change. In fact, nearly all saddles were checked on the horse and modified as necessary twice a year. Our saddler, Ted Lawrence, who was apprenticed to Champion and Wilton of London in 1956 was involved in this work and recalls it very well.



    The British native breed pony in its natural habitat needs to travel large distances to feed. Their habitat does not contain lush pastures; they get no hay or concentrates of any kind. They are therefore fairly lean. By comparison when purchased as a child's riding pony they become a pet and are generally speaking loved, spoiled and overfed. Because of their susceptibility to laminitis they are often kept in small paddocks or stables. Consequently they are almost without exception overweight and this combined with their natural sturdy conformation means that the vast majority of saddles need to be extremely wide and because of the surplus fat carried on their flanks the scapula is buried and the saddle goes up the neck as soon as the pony is trotted up and certainly when cantered or galloped. This problem in earlier times was overcome by the use of a crupper and owners accepted this as a necessity, particularly in a time when many horses were used in harness where a crupper is always used.


    However, many present day pony owners refuse to contemplate the use of a crupper and expect their saddle fitter to provide a saddle that does not move and this is extremely problematic if not downright impossible. There are of course "impact or stay put pads" which can help but which are not always successful. Moreover modern saddles are more susceptible to sliding forward than saddles made in the first half of the 20th Century.


    The typical English hunting saddle does not move at all (see illustration). It will be seen that this type of saddle is flatter in the seat and has a very thin hard panel. Conversely, modern saddles have become much deeper in the seat and with much thicker panels containing a considerable depth of flocking, which although more comfortable for the pony is consequently much more unstable than the older style saddles. It is almost like having a saddle on springs, which will bounce around all over the place, particularly when new and before the flocking has compressed. In order to redress this situation we are now asking saddle makers to flock pony saddles very softly so that the panel will flatten out and spread over the back as quickly as possible and we find that when this happens, usually over thirty or so hours of use, the saddle will become stable when the bounce has gone out of the panel. To help this process we use point and balancing straps together with a Stubben 5" wide cord girth that will grip the belly and stop the saddle slipping from side to side. No rider sits perfectly central and no horse or pony is perfectly symmetrical and consequently on round animals a saddle will often tend to go over to one side or the other but no rider will ever accept responsibility for this and will invariably blame the saddle, however when delivered the vast majority of English saddles are symmetrical.


    So what is the answer to this problem? The fact is that no one I have met in the trade seems to know. We believe, however, that a saddle with a thin half panel stuffed with felt instead of flock, flatter in the seat than present saddles, fitted with point and balancing straps could do the trick. We have in fact recently persuaded a saddler to make a saddle to this design and we are confident that this will be the answer to the problem


    The same problem is often experienced with cobs and we have their saddles made the same as pony saddles with point and balancing straps and soft flocking. The reason why the problem is not so widespread is that cobs are often mainly used for hacking and do not in the main engage in such active riding as ponies and their younger, uninhibited riders.


    It should also be borne in mind that until the nineteenth century at least 95% of all horses were working as draft animals and were the only form of transport man had. Only a very small percentage were used for pleasure, mainly by landed gentry for hunting.

    Nowadays 95% are used for pleasure, many are only ridden a few times a week and the only horses and ponies that do a day's work are used in riding schools and it is significant that very few problems are experienced with school horses.


    Consequently the majority of all privately owned horses and ponies are overweight because of their lifestyles in the same way that many of today's children tend to be overweight because of their sedentary lifestyles. We very often find that a saddle which was previously stable starts to slide up the neck as soon as the horse puts on condition which often coincides with the availability of spring grass. Therefore it is evident that if horses and ponies could be exercised more and fed less saddle fitting would be a lot easier, it is certainly acknowledged that more damage is caused by over rather than under feeding, could it be we are "killing with kindness"?



    Are you I wonder of sufficient seniority to remember when it was only possible to buy saddles in widths restricted to "narrow", "medium" or "wide"? These days one wonders how it was possible to accommodate all the various riding horses restricted to such a limited range. The reason why is simply explained because the vast majority of horses selected to be ridden were of a type that could be accommodated by these widths. Before the twentieth century the vast majority of horses were used in harness, certainly far more than those used for riding. This was because riding for pleasure was restricted to the gentry and the military. Certainly, working class people could not afford the expense of a horse and were obliged to travel by shanks's pony. However since the middle of the twentieth century a huge change has taken place. Riding for pleasure is no longer the exclusive preserve of the gentry and while they are still very much engaged in equestrian sport, for example, every member of the Royal Family are expert riders, the fact is that these days most horses are owned by middle and working class people. However, unlike the gentry who are sat on a pony almost from birth many people come to the pastime later in life and therefore are not as confident as someone who started as a child. This is of course true of any sport; to be really good, it is essential to start really young.

    Possibly because they lack confidence to some extent horses are chosen that years ago would be used in harness, namely cobs and other heavy breeds. These animals are without exception extremely wide, mostly without withers and are round like barrels. This type of horse presents very challenging problems for the saddle fitter. Firstly it is virtually impossible to buy a saddle from stock that is wide enough to fit such a horse. Since all our saddles are made to measure we are constantly being contacted by people who, having acquired such a horse, find it virtually impossible to obtain a saddle which is wide enough to fit. While it is not a problem to persuade the Walsall saddlers to make a saddle on a tree that matches the very, very wide template taken from the horse which we send them, when they are delivered, despite the fact that they fit perfectly, the problem sometimes arises whereby the saddle slides over to one side, usually to the right.


    Providing the saddle is symmetrical, i.e. the tree is not out of alignment, or the panel unevenly stuffed, a very rare occurrence This is NEVER the fault of the saddle or the way it fits and can always be traced to the particular conformation of the horse or the riders inability to ride centrally and in balance and very many riders have a tendency to favour one side or another. Additionally of course few horses are completely symmetrical. Therefore years ago, when virtually all horses selected to be ridden were narrow, medium or wide, saddles would slot on the back rather like a clothes peg and had no tendency to move from side to side, whereas with a horse that is shaped like a barrel, the only thing to guarantee the saddle remaining central is the rider's ability to ride centrally and in balance and any tendency to sit off-centre will result in the saddle moving the same way as the rider is sitting. We employ several devices to rectify the problem but depend very much on the rider's co-operation.


    Some riders, but happily not too many, refuse to accept that the problem could possibly be the shape of the horse or the way they ride. It is easier to blame the saddle, particularly if it has been made to measure. If it moves to one side they will claim that it does not fit properly, which is not true. All we can do as saddle fitters is to fit a saddle that is symmetrical and with the arch of the tree the same shape as the horse. Normally, when the saddle is delivered and is ridden in, the customer is very happy with the fit and the comfort of the saddle and it is only when the saddle begins to go over to one side that some will claim that it does not fit properly. Normally they move to the right side. I am not certain why this should be, but it could be because most people are right-handed, or because horses are mounted and led from the left side. In any event there are various stratagems we can employ to correct the problem. Firstly we always fit point and balancing straps on very wide saddles. We also use Stubben 5" wide cord girths which grip the belly and help to prevent the saddle from slipping. Certainly an elasticated girth must never be used. Stay pads are available and can help. In extremis we remove all the original flocking from the panel and re-stuff it very softly so that it will flatten and spread over the back to give maximum contact. Unlike thoroughbred types a cob normally has very little wither, neither does it have a prominent vertebra like a thoroughbred. Therefore a relatively thin or close contact panel will not cause any part of the tree to come into contact with the back, and in 90% of cases the problem is in this way cured. Of course the longer you use the saddle so that it beds into and has taken up the shape of the horse's back, the less likelihood there is of the saddle moving.

    Having regard to the foregoing the reader will hopefully appreciate that we have great experience with the problem and have given a lot of thought to various methods we can employ to rectify the problem. Strangely, although nearly all native breeds of pony are similarly just as wide, we almost never have a problem with the saddle moving to one side and I believe this is because children have a better natural balance than adults who have come to riding later in life. The huge problem with ponies is saddles sliding up the neck, but that is another story altogether.


    Finally as I have said we do need the customer's co-operation, patience and understanding of the problem. Anyone who chooses to ride a fat, round horse that in earlier times would have been driven and not ridden, must accept that they could have a problem with the saddle. The problem is, I suppose, because very few horses are driven these days. What can we do with the thousands of docile and tractable cobs if they are not ridden? I accept that it is the responsibility of the saddler to devise methods of keeping the saddle in place. I doubt whether western saddles have the same problem. "There's a thought"!!


    Cobs are short and wide, like me, and many are handsome. I say no more!!



    Many riders will have heard of Captain Federico Caprilli, the brilliant Italian Cavalry Officer who introduced the 'forward seat1.


    He was appointed senior instructor at the Italian cavalry school of Pinerolo, and although he died tragically in 1907 at the relatively young age of thirty-nine from a riding accident, his influence on the whole concept of cross country riding and jumping was immense. He realised that the whole role of cavalry was changing in that it needed to move quickly across country which involved crossing ditches, fences and banks, water and whatever other obstacles they encountered. This of course necessitated a degree of jumping which had hither-to been largely unnecessary for cavalry formations. The forward seat solved the problem and although resisted by most of his contemporaries is now accepted and no-one today would consider jumping a fence leaning backwards, which was the accepted method pre-Caprilli.


    The reason for this preamble is not that I seek to give an equestrian history lesson for which I am not qualified, but to question the result of the forward seat on saddle design. Although the forward seat has totally revolutionised the method of riding, the basic design of the saddle has not changed for several hundred years and has taken no account of the totally different imposition of the rider's weight on the horse's back, especially when riding across country where so much time is spent leaning forward and standing in the stirrups. Because of the position of the stirrup bars, which are fixed at the front of the tree, it is not difficult to appreciate that the rider's weight will be imposed on that area of the panel that lies behind the scapula and on to the trapezius muscle, probably no more that approximately 20%of the area of the panel. It is only when the rider is sitting in the saddle that the weight is evenly distributed over the whole area of the panel.


    There is in fact a great deal of photographic evidence depicting the rear end of the saddle completely leaving the horse's back when the rider is standing in the stirrups, and while this is not constant or permanent, it proves that little or none of the riders weight is carried on the rear 75% of the panel when the rider is standing in the stirrups. This state of affairs is further compounded by the position of the girthstraps which are fixed approximately a quarter of the distance from the front of the tree. As someone who has been fitting saddles on a daily basis for some years, it is evident that when girthing up a new saddle there is a tendency for the rear end of the panel to lift off the horse's back. This is because the saddle is girth up 'off centre'; consequently as the girth is tightened the new uncompressed flocking under the girth compresses, resulting in the panel pivoting on the uncompressed flocking in the waist of the panel. As the saddle is 'ridden in1 the flocking in the panel compresses to its working form and the lifting will be less evident, nevertheless, when the rider's weight is lifted from the seat and transferred to the stirrups the rear of the saddle will lift because it is fixed at the front and pivots about the centre.


    While I do not pretend to have the answer to the problem (if indeed there is a problem), I thought it worthwhile to establish what effect the forward seat has had upon the distribution of the rider's weight on the horse's back, since I find that many experienced riders, instructors and certainly saddle makers appear to be unaware what is happening.



    Could it be that the forward seat introduced by Caprilli should have resulted in corresponding modifications to the design of the saddle in order to take account of the Caprilli method of riding? Whereas for centuries the rider's seat rarely left the saddle, that is no longer the case and many saddles were held down by straps fixed to both the front and back of the saddle, the McClellan saddle used by American Cavalry and being itself a derivative of the Hungarian Light Cavalry is one example.


    Finally I would hasten to add that my purpose is not to instruct, merely to question, in the hope that the debate ensues.



    For as long as saddles have been in use it has been recognised that the underside of the saddle should be as near as possible the same shape as that part of the horse's back upon which it must sit. Why then are some saddles produced with panels that have profiles which appear to totally disregard this principle? Very often, such saddles are otherwise of excellent quality both in materials and workmanship, but do not incorporate gussets in the panels with the result that the last four or five inches under the cantle does not bear the back. When one considers that this is the widest part of the panel the result will be that the part that does bear will be exerting considerably more pressure than would be the case if the whole area of the panel is made to bear weight evenly.


    Before this century saddle design was largely dictated by the military and from an examination of the universal pattern trooper saddle which is still in use, it is evident that the objective of the designer was two part. Firstly the seat was relatively deep to keep the rider from falling off and secondly, the wooden bearers or bars which sit either side of the vertebrae were made so as to conform to the shape of the average horse's back in order to avoid saddle sores. Because the saddles were of standard shape and sat on folded blankets, success in this regard was highly variable, but at least the principle was sound.


    I believe that some time last century hunting people complained that traditional saddles were too restricting when riding across country and particularly when jumping, which resulted in the introduction of the flat seated hunting saddle. Because the underside of the tree was shaped so as to follow the line of the horse's back the panel was approximately the same thickness throughout its length. The topside of the tree or seat was then padded with flock, serge and leather so as to support the rider with a minimal degree of comfort. Because the seat was relatively flat it was possible to fulfil the uniquely dual role of the saddle which is to fit both horse and rider on the same framework.


    However the second half of the century has seen a dramatic increase in dressage riding with the consequent introduction of the deep seated German dressage saddle. Simultaneously horse riding has changed from being solely the pastime of the upper classes to a sport without social barriers resulting in large numbers of part-time riders who undoubtedly found that the security provided by the deeper seat gave them added confidence.


    Saddle makers responded by making deep seated saddles on banana shaped trees and because the panels largely followed the shape of the tree they began leaving the horse's back at the cantle end. Eventually most saddlers began to incorporate gussets in the panel under the cantle in order to enable the panel to follow the line of the horse's back and those that did not produce panels that bear no relationship the horse's back.


    However, I find that some large horses, usually Warmbloods or Thoroughbred Irish Draught crosses have withers that are so much higher than the back, that normal saddles are high at the pommel, even with the minimum clearance under the arch. Most saddlers will make deep gussets; even so it is sometimes not possible for the saddle to fit level and balanced. Understandably saddlers are reluctant to make



    panels which are excessively deep at the back and I know that some people have serious misgivings about relying on wedge shaped panels in order to stay in contact with the horse's back, since they believe that the variable depth of the flocking in the panel may result in a variable degree of pressure on the back throughout the length of the panel.


    My local pub in Minster here is The Saddlers Arms' and displayed on the wall of the saloon bar is and army officer's saddle of some antiquity and each time I see it I wonder if it is not superior in design to the modern saddle; the bars are padded but are of equal thickness from front to back. The seat is deep but has no effect on the shape of the bars. I realise it is not close contact but neither is a saddle with an excessive depth of panel under the cantle. Only a relatively flat saddle which can have fairly thin panels can achieve close contact. Have you ever noticed pictures of our top show jumpers using expensive close contact saddles with layer of thick numnahs under their saddle?


    Some saddlers produce saddles for endurance riders that have "fan back" panels that appear similar to design in the military "Universal Pattern" saddle. Frank Baines1 Endurance Saddle and Thorowgood's Rambler and Trekka Saddles are examples and the Roe Richardson Reactor Panel saddles are basically a development of the military saddle using modern materials. The difference between this type of saddle and conventional saddles is that they don't rely on wedge shaped panels to achieve a balanced fit. While I don't know enough to have an opinion as to the efficacy of these saddles they do at least treat the requirements of the seat and the panel separately.


    It is I believe accepted that saddle makers with notable exceptions don't fit saddles; nevertheless tree makers naturally produce what saddle makers specify. I realise that innovation is expensive and has no guarantee of acceptance by the riding public, however I wonder of it would be possible to design a tree that would obviate the need for a wedge shaped panel which is currently necessary to compensate for the banana shaped tree which in turn produces the deep seat. Such a tree would make it far easier to accommodate the needs of the larger horse with excessively high withers.


    Could it be that the Society of Master Saddlers with its blend of saddlers and saddle fitters is uniquely qualified to examine and possibly influence saddle design?


    Finally, I hasten to add that my purpose is not to offer instruction for which I am not qualified; merely to question in the hope that debate ensues.



    Riders are becoming increasingly persuaded that it is essential to have a saddle professionally fitted and very few reputable saddleries are happy to sell a saddle off the peg without ensuring that it is properly fitted. There are inevitably exceptions involving saddles sold on the Internet and in sales. I have a young customer who queues up all night outside one of our larger saddlery competitors to purchase saddles at half price. Of course when she gets home they don't fit. Because she has more front than Buckingham Palace she asks me to modify them to fit and for the past three years I have agreed to do this (am I a mug or what?). The fact is the yard where she works are good customers and the owner is a very nice lady.


    The problem mainly arises with used saddles, since very many of these are purchased from other people in the yard who have saddles to sell cheaply. Most of these are simply plonked on the poor horse's back and the purchaser very often has no idea whether or not it fits. Consequently very many horse backs are being abused by ill-fitting saddles. Sometimes the horses gets so fed up with the discomfort that they decide to tell the owner what they think about the abuse they are being forced to endure. This can take the form of trying to bite or kick the person who is putting on the saddle. Sometimes they run into the corner of the stable as soon as they see the saddle; at the very least they object as soon as the girth is tightened. This behaviour is often explained as the horse being cold backed, which is of course nonsense. Eventually the owner will get the message and only then will they call in professional help. The fact is that all saddles need to be professionally fitted whether new or used.


    I believe that we are quite unique in our method of selling used saddles since we always make a template of the horse the saddle is intended for. Our saddler then takes out the panel, removes all the old flocking and re-stuffs the panel with pure white lambswool. He makes a template of the actual tree which he compares to the template of the horse. In the event of any discrepancy between the two then the tree will be modified to fit the template we have taken of the horse. Any defective girth straps are replaced and any other necessary repairs are carried out. The saddle is then cleaned, re-dyed and treated with hide food and when the saddle is finally fitted we are confidant it will fit perfectly. It is vitally important that the flocking is changed when a used saddle has bedded into and taken up the shape of another horse's back, since it will never satisfactorily bed onto a new horse's back without causing some discomfort. This is similar to wearing some second-hand boots. I recall that when I was in the army (many years ago) new boots took some time to break in and blisters had to be suffered in the meantime. Later when I was farming I would buy second hand Army Surplus boots and these took even longer and caused even more blisters until they eventually moulded to my feet and a similar situation arises with the existing flocking in a used saddle unless it is changed.


    When we deliver the reconditioned saddle the customer will ride in it and if they are happy the sale is concluded. There may of course be others that adopt a similar procedure but if there are, I don't know who they are. At least when we sell a used saddle we are confident it will fit and that the horse will be happy and any evasive habits it may have previously exhibited will soon be abandoned.


    We are constantly being asked to check the fit of saddles as we travel round to the various yards in our area. Almost without exception they are of a poor fit and this is confirmed when we compare the template of the horse to the template of the tree. Of course we modify the template of the tree to fit the template of the horse and re-stuff the saddle while the panel is out and when the saddle is returned and fitted I swear that the horse smiles his or her thanks.


    However I never cease to be amazed when a horse is purchased for a considerable sum of money and then a saddle is purchased often as cheaply as possible, and then not professionally fitted. Fortunately most riders are now coming to realise the false economy of this practice. More and more I find that people realise that the comfort of their horse must be the foremost consideration and that abuse of the back must never be tolerated. A horse will never be a willing partner while suffering discomfort.


    Before the internal combustion engine the horse was an indispensable part of man's existence. They pulled carts, carriages, ploughs and went to war. They were not pets as they are today, but existed to serve man's every need and they were largely treated as expendable and ill treatment and neglect was not uncommon. During the Napoleonic Wars of the nineteenth century care of the many thousands of horses employed by both the British and the French armies was appallingly low. During the Boer War the British lost over 300,000 horses out of the 500,000 they had in theatre and very few of these were killed as a result of enemy action. The French if anything were worse. Napoleon lost 30,000 horses in his abortive attempt to capture Moscow and it was well known by British units that it was possible to smell French cavalry at great distances because of the stench from suppurating sores caused by ill fitting saddles and other equipment; huge wastage was accepted as a fact of life. Even during the 1914-18 Great War French and German cavalry could only field about one third of their strength at any given time. During one campaign a British Cavalry unit was ordered to ride its horses to death if necessary in order to reach its objective on time. Fortunately the British army eventually learned better and from the start of the twentieth century maintained most excellent standards. It was Captain Louis Nolan, an excellent professional cavalry officer who believed that it was possible to get more out of a horse through kindness and consideration that through force. He was hugely influential along with a few like-minded colleagues in bringing about this change of policy. Unfortunately his career was brought to an untimely end because he was one of the first to be killed during the "Charge of the Light Brigade". These days most horses are owned by lady riders who love their horses dearly and wouldn't cause them discomfort for anything. Regrettably many of their much loved friends suffer discomfort due to ill-fitting saddles because their owners are unaware that this is happening.


    Therefore if there is any question as to the fit of a saddle, get it checked by a professionally qualified and experienced saddle fitter without delay. Quite apart from the comfort of the horse you will save the fees of the vet and/or the "back person".



    Many of you will have seen our regular advertisements offering, "Made to Measure Saddles". We are aware that some of our competitors will claim that our made to measure offer is not genuine. Therefore we would take the opportunity to point out some relevant facts in support of our policy in this regard as follows:


    Consider how many saddles a saddler would need to stock in order to cater for all the various types of saddle he is required to supply.


    1. Firstly there are basically five types of saddle namely (a) General Purpose, (b) Dressage, (c) Working Hunter, (d) Cross Country and (e) Close Contact Jumping.


    2. These all need to be supplied in at least seven width fittings from narrow to extra wide.


    3. In sizes varying from 15" to 19".


    4. In colours varying from black or brown and various shades of tan, to suede, schrumf, plain leather, seats and knee pads.


    5. Colts need a different girthing arrangement from standard; thoroughbred or warmblood types may need dropped panels or deeper gussets to achieve balance and people with long legs may need longer flaps.


    Having regard to the foregoing just think what sort of vast stock would be necessary to cater for all the various options that may be called for by your customer. Not to mention that some may also demand a specific manufacturer.


    With our "genuine" "made-to-measure" system we can cater for every one of the various demands of the customer and the needs of all the different types of horse we are called upon to fit.


    We find that nearly all the Walsall saddle makers are prepared to make saddles to accommodate all the variations in specification from width, length, colour, type of panel and girthing arrangement that we demand of them, usually for no extra charge.


    Agreed we need to make two visits and the customer must wait a few weeks, but we believe that this is a minor disadvantage when set against the benefit of getting precisely what you want and a saddle that fits both the rider and the horse to perfection.


    We recently supplied a 17" GP saddle made to template with a brown suede seat and knee pads, with a dropped panel, with deeper gussets, with a London Tan panel and with a 1" longer flap. It is certainly not possible to stock anything with such a precise specification.


    We therefore believe that "made-to-measure" means what it says and certainly the rider is provided with a truly customised product at a reasonable price.


    We appreciate that our method is not the same as the traditional bespoke saddle made by your local saddler. This practice has very largely died out by virtue of cost; in the same way that local bespoke tailors have been replaced by off-the-peg, mix-and-match suits which offer superior quality and value for money associated with "economies of scale". This does not mean that our method is not a genuine made-to-measure service, simply that it is an up-to-date, cost-effective method taking advantage of the "economies of scale" available from the highly organised, modern Walsall saddle makers.

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