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Here’s another great resource if you’d like to learn more about saddle fitting, Dawn’s Saddle Blog at Olson’s, and I’ll tell you a couple of reasons I feel especially confident in recommending it.

1. Blog author, Dawn Anderson, is totally passionate about her own learning and training on this topic. She’s already pursued some of the highest quality education available, and isn’t slowing down one bit. In the years to come, I have no doubt she will be one of the top experts in the field.

2. Thanks to the integrity of both Dawn and her employer, Olson’s Tack owner Mike Akers, Dawn’s income is strictly salary, with no perks from commissions on saddle sales. This means that when helping clients assess saddle fit, Dawn can be completely unbiased toward which saddle to recommend, or even whether to sell you a saddle at all.

So be sure to check out Dawn’s Blog!

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Here’s a little history of saddle evolution, as summarized on the RP site.

I didn’t mention yet another reason I’m happy to promote info on the RP saddles. Here’s the policy of the company, they won’t sell you a saddle without you spending two weeks trying it out. This trial period is free, but you do need to pay for shipping if necessary. (You can lease it for longer if you need more time.)

I believe more companies are taking this or a similar approach these days, as more people are learning more about the science and art of saddle fitting. Never buy a saddle without a trial period, unless you’re willing to accept the risk that you may be stuck with a saddle that doesn’t fit, and have to resell it yourself. And remember, very importantly, that your horse may not tell you the first few days if it doesn’t fit. If the pressure spots aren’t too severe, if your horse is stoic, or if the pressure points are in different spots than the previous saddle, it may take a week or two of riding for soreness to show up.

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Prince-a-roo is our family’s ever-young gelding, 1/2 Morgan and 1/2 Connemara, now 8 years old. He recently had an appointment to recheck the fit of his ReactorPanel Saddle. Saddle fit is a critical topic for all riders to understand something about, and very importantly, to have some awareness of what you don’t know along with that which you do learn along the way. In other words, I hope you realize that just because you don’t know that your horse’s saddle doesn’t fit, please don’t assume that it does fit. Make sense? Maybe it does, or maybe it doesn’t and it’s just not that obvious.

I had ridden Prince sporadically over the last couple of years since his saddle was fit for him. (It’s an adjustable saddle, custom-fit but not custom-made.) He had changed, and I had made some adjustments myself to the saddle, so I was thrilled to get a chance to have the owner of the RP saddle company check it out in person when she was in town recently. I knew I also wanted to have a test ride with a Port Lewis Impression Pad (see next paragraph) at the same appointment. I’m happy to report that the fit looked good, so we went right to testing it with the impression pad, and the results were essentially perfect, zero see-through spots and only one small area of slightly thinner orange-red goo. Yay!

I did not take my camera with me to photograph Prince’s results, but you can go to this site to see a photo (scroll down for it) of an impression pad result from a random test with another horse/saddle. It shows you how the red goo inside the pad squishes away from the areas of higher pressure, leaving some clear areas. With less serious pressure points, you see areas where more light shines through thinner goo when held up to the light. This is a wonderful tool to use to really know what your horse’s back is experiencing when you ride. Because you do test it with a ride, not just standing in the aisle way as saddle fit is so often checked. (And my suggestion is that if you’re part of a group such as a club or a boarding facility, you look into having everyone pitch in a few bucks and buy one to share!)

Since a well-fitting saddle is so critical to the health of any riding horse’s back (no matter how often they get massaged), I will do the next couple posts on the same topic, so stay tuned….

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Here’s a great Q&A article from theHorse.com. Veterinarian Dr. Joyce Harman, DVM, MRCVS, offers her response to a question about asymmetrical muscle development and how it can relate to both movement and saddle fitting issues.

And be sure to note her comments in the last paragraph, “So what can you do about this asymmetry?”!

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My three horses, Kiona, Rainbow and Prince, just had their spring appointment with Veterinary Equine Dentist Dr. Richard Vetter, DVM. (His website is very informative, check it out!) About 10 years ago I learned something about the difference between a dental specialist versus a general practitioner vet doing dentistry (floating teeth). Ever since having my eyes opened to this contrast, I make it a point to have my horses see a dental specialist at least every two years, and generally every year (or more often if necessary). (In fact, before this week’s appointment it had been two years, and now I regret waiting that long. That is, they’ve been checked by other vets every six months, and even floated some, yet were still overdue for the level of care that a specialist can provide. I know this not only because of what Dr. Vetter could show me in their mouths, but also by Rainbow’s difficulty chewing recently, Kiona’s sores inside her cheeks, and the limited side-to-side range for chewing/grinding for all three horses).

For the “inbetween” appointments, in my case usually for the fall shots for example, or perhaps at a chiropractic appointment, I certainly appreciate any vet taking a look in their mouth to check on them. General practitioners are very capable of basic care, of course, but how can they be expected to do any more than this minimum without the time and training devoted to teeth as a specialty? Would you rely on your doctor to take care of your own teeth? Waiting for sharp points and sores on the inside of the cheeks to do some floating is like waiting for your horse to go lame before doing preventative care for their muscles and joints, like massage or chiropractic care.

Using massage as an analogy here is especially appropriate because of the close connection between a horse’s teeth and their musculoskeletal system. Problems with the teeth, whether pain issues or problems with the symmetry and range of motion for how the top and bottom teeth meet and move, can have very direct consequences for your horse’s ability to move correctly, athletically, and comfortably. Again, I invite you to check out Dr. Vetter’s website, because you’ll find lots of information there about these topics!

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Dr. Deb Bennett, Ph.D., author of several books including the wonderful series, Principles of Conformation Analysis, is also the founder of a great website, Equine Studies Institute. Check out especially the “Knowledge Base” area of the site. As described there, “This section of the ESI Website is intended to grow as readings are added yearly. The central theme is the “natural history” of rider and horse. This takes in anatomy and biomechanics (both human and equine), zoogeography, evolutionary history, and developmental biology.”

I had the opportunity to take an anatomy class from Dr. Deb several years ago, and to say she’s a wealth of knowledge is a gross understatement!

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We’re lucky to have right here in Western Washington a state of the art equine rehabilitation facility called Pegasus. Technology and services include not only swim therapy and an underwater treadmill, but even hyperbaric oxygen therapy, whole body vibration therapy, solarium, and more. You can find a video tour on the website, which is beautiful to watch, but having been on a tour myself, the video doesn’t remotely do justice to the services offered, and the difference they make for injured horses. (Though if you watch long enough, you will see a horse in the pool, and one entering and exiting the hyperbaric chamber.)

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