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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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This and the next post feature resources from ReactorPanel Saddle Company. I will then also included some posts with other excellent resources. Yes, I do have a slight bias toward RP saddles because I own two myself, one for each of the horses we ride (with a saddle). I’ve tested both with the Port Lewis Impression Pad, and both show no pressure spots, which is pretty remarkable, as you know if you’ve ever tested any saddles yourself. That said, RP saddles are not for everyone, nor for every horse, and any saddle that fits both horse and rider is just great!

So this post is to highlight a series of YouTube videos from the RP company, and the one I suggest you start with even if you have no interest in RP saddles, is the one looking at a horse’s conformation through the eyes of a saddle-fitter….
(Note: At the end of the video, across the bottom of the screen you’ll see additional RP videos you can click on to watch.)

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….

Please take a few minutes to share your challenges, concerns and wishes as an animal care-giver/owner. Your responses will help in developing support!

Click here to help with this survey.

I’ll share results in a future blog post.

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?”!

Here are a few tips to keep any stretches you do with your horse safe and effective.

  1. Have a sense of what muscles you are stretching and why before you begin. Unless the muscles across one side of a joint are initially tighter than others across the same joint, you may create an imbalance over time by only stretching one group.
  2. Apply stretches slowly! This way both you and your horse have a chance to feel when it’s time to stop before the range of motion is taken too far. If muscles are overstretched, a necessary but counter-productive guarding response occurs, or worse, a muscle or tendon may be injured.
  3. Gently jostle your horse’s leg or neck before applying any stretch. This will help muscles relax, reducing initial (and maybe unnecessary) guarding responses.
  4. Do not hold stretches for more than 1-2 seconds, but rather keep the joint moving slowly in and out of a comfortable, easy “stretch,” repeating several times rather than one long stretch. The range of motion will (usually) increase a little with each repetition, and you will avoid many potential pitfalls of the longer static stretches. The longer stretches require much more skill and experience from both you and your horse to be done well.
  5. Use either massage or exercise to warm muscles up before doing stretches. This will reduce the chances of causing a strained muscle, though even a warmed-up muscle must be stretched appropriately for safety.

Don’t assume stretching is always good for your horse! Depends on how it’s done, when it’s done, and how often, just to name a few obvious factors. (And yes, there are potential benefits to stretching, just some potential pitfalls as well.) In my book I teach a good alternative to stretching for the limbs, which is to use a combination of jostles and circles to help muscles relax and stimulate joint fluid.

I also believe that massage provides a much more efficient and effective way to improve range of motion. It can melt adhesions that may be restricting joint movements, and can also lengthen the collagen fibers (and their orientation to each other) within the connective tissue. Theoretically this is what stretching does also (one of the benefits), but only if the stretches are held for a length of time. (Some say at least 90 seconds for this to happen. Try telling your horse that as you’re trying to hold their leg in a stretch!)

So here are two links, one to the research article itself (the abstract and access to more), and another link offering a good summary of the research.