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SADDLER'S NOTES +SADDLE FITTING GUIDE

ENGLISH SADDLER'S NOTES:

....Saddle Market report for February 2011...

....Our very high ranking in most major global Search Engines, such as Google.com, means we continue to receive hundreds of inquiries from 'english riders' and worldwide every week, who are thinking about buying a new saddle. It is great to know that the sport of horseriding (English... the proper way!) remains so popular and growing at a fast rate in many countries of the world. The discipline of Dressage, such an elegant and demanding form of riding, is especially growing in popularity, as we continue to receive more and more buyer inquiries for the best quality European dressage saddles, which retain their much deserved top of the market status.

....Demand for top European brands generally remained stable during middle of 2010, and seemed to increase during the last quarter of 2010, despite the economic downturn in the retail trade, much reported by the media. However, we feel that European manufacturers misread the global situation somewhat and cut-back production unnecessarily, as Asian and Australasian markets have been very buoyant and we have had difficulty finding enough new saddles from top Dealers in Europe for the many buyers out there. Markets in the UK and Europe have seemed quiet in early 2011, again mainly due to a lingering recession. Many riders have been selling off unwanted saddles, thus making prices on the secondhand market lowering noticeably, with the exception of certain 'high end' brands.

....There have been some great new models launched in 2010. One of the latest model to appear from Europe is, in our opinion, one of the most innovative designs to be produced for several years, in a trade where new innovations are rare and often short-lived. We are talking about the superb Prestige D1 Dressage Saddle, which is hand-made by Italy's top saddlemakers at their smart, modern headquarters in Trissino, Northern Italy. This saddle, which is available in 2 styles of leather, has been carefully designed with the help of a top International Dressage rider. An interesting video showing the facets of this saddle and a demonstration by a top dressage rider, can be found on the PrestigeItaly.com website. We highly recommend you watch the video if you are interested in the art of dressage riding, as it demonstrates how some old preconceptions about saddle fitting can be reversed. We have had many great reports about this model from Dressage Trainers, and we are getting regular requests on the best way to buy one.

....Another new model which has stimulated great interest from overseas buyers recently is the new Kieffer Paris dressage saddle.

Kieffer seem to keep well ahead of the market with new designs and variations. The Paris is a great-looking 'high-end' dressage saddle offering many clever features...well worth looking at. The latest new Kieffer model, the Kieffer Esperanza is a 'classically' styled dressage saddle finished in black/brown leather and available with matching bridle, which is now a regular feature of the Kieffer range.

....The leading French saddlemakers seem to be retaining and increasing their popularity in the USA and Asian markets despite the gloomy economic forecasts... and we can detect no fall-off generall in the demand for high-end saddles. Demand for Devoucoux, Butet, Antares, CWD, Delgrange saddles appears constant, and amongst the English brands, only Albion, Black Country and Cardanel seem to be keeping their brands high-end in the perception of overseas riders.

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....Adjustable Saddles ...

....More and more we find ranges of saddles built on advanced synthetic saddle trees are being requested by discerning saddle buyers, giving the opportunity of simple and safe width alteration when changing horses, or drastic change of shape. Top saddles with this feature are currently offered by Kieffer, Prestige and Passier... and we can fully endorse the design, quality and versatility of all these saddles.The technology is now well tested, and proves to be reliable and effective. It must be pointed out that an Authorised Dealer needs to carry out any adjustment to these saddles, but Dealers with the correct training and equipment are becoming easier to find all the time, as this type of saddle becomes increasingly popular. Albion Saddlemakers have spent much time and money developing a dressage saddletree which can have the front section replaced in different width fittings, although we understand from Saddlers that the procedure is somewhat tricky and expensive.

....PLEASE NOTE: Whilst it is suggested by some saddlers that traditional wooden-tree saddles can be width-altered using special equipment, which basically comprises a fairly crude, hand-operated hydraulic ram, we would not recommend this, as the steel used to strengthen the front arch of the saddletree can easily be weakened by over-bending, and the securing rivets are weakened to the point that they can come out. TRADITIONAL WOODEN SADDLE TREES WERE NOT DESIGNED TO SUFFER THIS ABUSE !!

....We have noticed in recent months a considerable increase in the popularity of the new Kieffer saddles with their 'EXCLUSIV' saddletree. This new feature offers the owner the facility to have the tree width of the saddle easily adjusted by their Dealer, without the need for the infra-red heat treatment process normally needed for the regular Kieffer PPH saddletree. This saddletree also has Kieffer's 'Medico' seat, which they claim "relieves the spine and seat muscles of the rider". Most new Kieffer saddles are now offered with this option, and it is suggested that this option may soon be a standard item. Now Kieffer Saddlemakers are offering their new innovation called Easy-fit, which Kieffer claim "automatically adapts to slight changes in the horse's shoulder area". This option is available on new Kieffer saddles, and is not retro-fitted to existing saddles. Another ingenious feature from this leading European Saddlemaker.

....A new company coming to the UK/European market is Laser Saddles,... although based in the USA, where they are very popular, their saddles are traditionally manufactured in England, using the finest leathers and craftsmanship. Their main innovation is the use of their Varilock adjustable tree system, which allows the rider to adjust the width of the saddle at will, using just a simple 'key' system. Their latest 'Amulet' dressage saddle is a superb design, offering also 'double vee' billets, and lined with Ultra ThinLine in the seat and knee pad area for the Rider, and ThinLine in the panels (against the English leather) for the horse. This is a dressage saddle to be taken very seriously....email us for more details if you are interested.

....Another new range of saddles offering an adjustable tree width system, is from Kent & Masters... a full range of good quality English-made saddles in all styles and disciplines, using a synthetic saddletree with replaceable gullet plates in various widths. These saddles are all very reasonably priced, and can be a great solution for everyday riding needs. Can be converted easily by the rider. Aain, you can email us if you would like more information about the availability of any of these saddles.

VISIT OUR NEW PRODUCTS WEBPAGE TO READ MORE ABOUT THESE SADDLES

....There are many high-quality saddles currently on offer from UK saddlemakers, Albion, Ideal, Barnsby, BlackCountry, and we are always happy to offer advice to private buyers and to Saddle Retailers, in search of the best value and quality currently available from European Manufacturers. For example, we endorse the new range of Dressage Saddles available from the small, but long established company, Cardanel Saddles Ltd, in Walsall, England. A small, but devoted workforce of Master craftsmen produce new dressage saddles of an exceptionally high standard, designed with an 'eye' to the latest needs of the modern dressage rider. You can see some details of their product range here

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'ENGLISH SADDLE' SIZES & SADDLE FITTING GUIDE

....The correct method of measurement for an 'English' saddle is different from the method used for a 'Western' saddle. We find that many US riders often specify their saddle size as smaller than really required. For example, a Western 15" saddle equates to a 17" English saddle.

The image of the saddle shows from where you should measure your 'English' saddle. Take a straight line from the saddle 'nail' (A) to the centre of the cantle (B)....this will give you the actual tree size of your saddle. Generally most sizes below 17" are for Junior riders or very small adults. 17" and 17.5" saddles are the most popular sizes, with 18" and above being more suited to the larger rider. The width of a saddle is usually denoted by the letters N (narrow), M (medium), W (wide) and XW (extra-wide). These graduations can also be shown numerically by the numbers 2,3,4,5. Some English saddle tree manufacturers will make trees in MW (medium-wide) and NM (narrow-medium) graduations, whereas other European trees may come in centimetre graduations, which can be confusing as different manufacturers use differing means of measuring tree widths. For example, Prestige offer width fittings from 28cms to 37cms.,Stubben offer width fittings from 27cms. to 32 cms, and Amerigo define their width fittings as +/- half a centimetre either side of Medium. Many of the most expensive French Close-Contact saddles are generally only made in a 'regular' medium tree width, with the possibility of a Narrow or Wide option. In England most saddles are manufactured on a BS6635 English tree, which is normally hand-made using laminated beech wood and steel, and guarantees a high standard of quality and strength.However, Synthetic saddle trees are becoming increasingly popular (Bates, Kieffer, Prestige, Passier are all examples), and these now offer great strength, reliability and total symmetry (See Saddlefitting Notes below). If you are in doubt about the sizings for a particular brand, email us, and we will try to help. With most high-quality jumping saddles there is an option of flap sizes to suit riders of differing heights and leg lengths. French saddlemakers usually offer flap sizes denoted by the numbers 1,2 and 3, sometimes with intermediates; whereas English jumping saddles may have simpler regular/short/forward/long options.Most top-quality dressage saddles will also offer short, regular and long flap options. Again, you can email us for advice.

FINDING THE CORRECT FITTING SADDLE

....When you have determined the style of saddle you require, it is necessary to choose the size seat, tree width, flap size and colour. The seat size is determined by the size of the rider (see notes above), and by the size of the horse. The length of the horses back does also affect the optimum saddle size, and the correct choice is essential to remove any possibility of undue pressure on the wrong areas of the horse's back. If your saddle is too long it will sit too far back and, if resting on the horse's loins, will cause pressure, causing discomfort and inhibit free movement. The rider must also be placed centrally in the saddle seat to allow perfect balance, and free movement, and to maximize the bearing surface on the horse's back.

The 'balance' of your saddle is equally very important. You should sit centrally and comfortably, at point E on the diagram, the lowest point of the seat, with your knee comfortably placed on the kneepad, just below any kneeblock which may be fitted. A correctly fitting, well balanced, saddle should show a difference of under one inch The height point of the pommel of the saddle should always be slightly lower than the highest point of the cantle of the saddle. It is most important to realize that breeds of horse can vary considerably when it comes to finding the most suitably shaped saddle. Here we can help...we have qualified English saddlers who can advise you, and direct you towards the best saddles for your needs. When you have decided the size seat you need, you then need to assess the width fitting and flap size. Actual width fittings do vary, depending on the country of manufacture of the saddle...see our notes above. PLEASE NOTE...It is not possible for a rider to measure the exact tree width of a saddle, as the width relates to the dimensions of the bare saddletree before it is upholstered.See notes above in first paragraph.

....These are the key features which must be adhered to when assessing the saddle fit to the horse's back:

1. There should be no restriction of the horse's shoulder blade when in movement... the points of the saddle should sit an inch or two behind the shoulder blade to allow for it's rotation.

2. Discomfort and restriction of movement will be caused by the back of the saddle sitting behind the last rib. The weight of rider and saddle cannot be supported beyond this point on the horse's back.

3. Front arch of the saddle should have adequate clearance over the withers, and not be tight laterally so as to 'pinch' the withers. As a rough guide, with a seated rider there should be at least 2 fingers' width vertical clearance between the horse's wither and the underside of the arch of the saddle.

4. The central gullet of the saddle panel (underside) must ALWAYS maintain sufficient clearance above the horse's spine. Not having full clearance here can have dire consequences to the comfort and well-being of the horse, as sores, bruising, discomfort and, at worst, damage to the vertebrae can be caused by direct pressure here.

5. Any pinching of the spinal areas of the horse's back caused by a 'too narrow' gullet can also cause soreness, soft swelling and discomfort which will again detract from the horse's ability to move freely and happily.

6. You need to be sure of all the points listed above, and that the saddle sits comfortably with an even bearing surface at the front and the rear, and that the balance of the saddle is correct (as detailed above).

REMEMBER ...a sore and unhappy horse will never perform to it's best ability!

....It is important that you obtain proper advice about the fitting of your new saddle. Many of our European Dealers will be happy for you to send a template pattern of your horse's wither so that they, or their Saddler, can advise you with regard to the correct fitting.....

MAKING A TEMPLATE OF YOUR HORSE'S WITHER

....This is easily done with a piece of bent wire (approximately 20" long), or a flexicurve (bought from an artists shop or stationers). All you need to do is bend the wire/flexicurve over your horse's back, just behind the wither, at the point where the front of the saddle will sit. Make sure it is pressed firmly to shape...then transfer this pattern to a suitable piece of paper (A4 sheet is preferable for faxing). This can then be sent by fax or email to our Qualified Saddler, or to the European Dealer we recommend, so they can assess and confirm the fitting you require. If it is possible to take some pictures of your horse's back, with a digital camera, and email them as well, this will allow the saddler to give an even better appraisal of your horse. Flap size, if offered by the particular manufacturer, can best be advised by the Dealer for the particular brand, as these sizings do vary somewhat between brands. Most of the prestigious French brands have quite a complicated flap sizing system...email us for help.

GENERAL SADDLE ADVICE

....Learn to recognize changes in your horse's shape. This will be related to his age, the amount of work he does, and his feed management. Any changes may seem inconsequential to you, as you see him every day, but over a period of time these changes may substantially affect his saddle fit. Have your saddle checked regularly by an experienced saddler.

....Make sure the flocking of the saddle stays soft and smooth. Any irregularities, lumps and unevenness on the underside of the saddle must be corrected by your saddler, so as to prevent any undue pressure on your horse's back. Pressure points can easily occur on your horse's back if this is not done. Also uneven flocking can cause your saddle to sit to one side, which can also cause problems to your horse's back. A Close-Contact saddle is generally padded with latex foam, which retains its shape, and does not need regular maintenance. However, this type of saddle should be regularly checked by your saddler to ensure optimum fit, but this type of saddle is difficult to alter, so must be carefully fitted to a new horse..

....When you are spending a substantial amount on a top quality hand-made saddle, which is built to last a lifetime, make sure you take care to store and maintain the saddle in the best possible way. Do not store your saddle in a hot dry atmosphere, as this will dry out the leather, causing it to loose it suppleness and lasting qualities. Regular use of a good brand of saddle cleaner will help the leather stay supple, and improve its longevity. Check stitching of, especially, girth straps regularly for maximum safety, and if you have a fall, always have your saddle tree checked by an experienced saddler, as a saddle with a broken or fractured tree can cause permanent damage to your horse's back. Make sure to store your saddle on a quality saddlestand, carefully designed for the job...

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