Fitting Gaited Horses Is An Art!
If you were going on a long hike, carrying a heavy backpack, what would you prefer to wear on your feet: wooden shoes, or well-made, flexible soled hiking boots with padding for the soles of your feet? Since the answer to this question is so obvious, I can't help but wonder why so many of use took so very long to realize the same principle holds true for our horses . . .
The best trail saddle will allow complete freedom of movement, which is important for any horse, gaited or non.
So you're having saddle fit problems with your gaited horse? I can sympathize. Several years ago I had a good horse go 'broncy' on me. It turned out to be a saddle fitting problem-and I had just invested what was, for me, a small fortune in a new 'gaited horse' saddle. Because I'd invested so much money, and also because the saddle was comfortable for me, I decided the problem was with the horse. It took me several months to acknowledge the real problem-and even then, I tried to 'fix' the problem with padding, rather than make a realistic assessment and start over with another saddle altogether. That is the event that originally started my study into saddles and the gaited horse. The great news is, all my products work great on gaited and non-gaited horses. The best trail saddle will allow complete freedom of movement, which is important for any horse, gaited or non.
As I studied out how to fit my gaited horses, I began to realize this was a much more complicated process than anticipated. Since then I've fit many, many horses, and have learned much in the process. One of the first things I learned is that my experience wasn't just a fluke: just because a saddle is touted as a 'gaited horse saddle' doesn't make it a good saddle for most gaited horses. The second thing I learned is that most people honestly don't know when their horse is uncomfortable. If it acts up, they think it's a behavioral problem. If it fails to gait, they assume it just doesn't possess a good natural gait. It rarely occurs to them that the only way a horse can communicate discomfort is through its action, or inaction.
Fitting gaited horses for saddle is almost as much art as it is science. A rigid tree rarely is a good fit. Even when it seems to fit like a glove when the horse is standing still, the horse's back and shoulders change dramatically as its gait action is transferred up through its loins and back. This is true whether your horse is ambling, fox trotting, run walking--or whatever. (A rare exception: a low slung walky rack horse may have very little action through the back.) You might liken this to trying on a pair of shoes: they might seem to fit perfectly when you're standing still, but be uncomfortable as (heck!) once you actually start to walk in them.
Gaited Horse Action Presents Special Challenges
When a horse is gaiting, every single foot moves independently of every other foot. This requires an unusual degree of flexibility across the back, loins and shoulders. If a saddle has no flexibility, then the back action is restricted, and so is the gait (to say nothing of associated discomfort to the horse). Because of this, the only good way to know if a saddle fits the horse is to actually put it on the horse and watch/feel how fluid he is in motion. When a horse goes from an uncomfortable, rigid tree saddle to an appropriately made flexible tree saddle, the change is amazing!
The Gaited Horse Seat an Important Consideration
The last couple of years I had a number of customers work out of a particular brand of flex tree saddle. It did actually fit the horses quite well, and was comfortable. But there were important issues I needed to see addressed. What was the use of fitting a gaited horse to a saddle, unless the saddle really did help the rider get, and keep, the horse in gait? Like most western saddles, the saddle we were using most placed the rider too much in a 'trotting horse stock seat equitation' seat. I had to try to teach the rider how to ride in a way that was contrary to the seat of the saddle, which certainly doesn't make for comfortable riding. I wanted to see my riders with less stress on their knees, slightly behind the vertical on top and with their foot slightly forward of the vertical. (I do mean slightly!) Rather than sitting on their (excuse the expression) crotch, I wanted them to have more weight on the lower end of the buttocks, slightly tucked. Some folks call this the 'balanced saddle' seat position. Saddle seat riders have known for generations that this is the kind of seat required for a gaited horse.
While this seat may take a short while to adjust to, once you do you'll feel better balanced and more secure, and there will be less stress placed on your ankles, knees and hips. I'm convinced that our gaited horses move better under this kind of seat--and it's nearly impossible to obtain and maintain in a typical stock saddle, especially for women.
Creating a Saddle with NO 'Pressure Points'
Another problem was that if the saddle was even a tiny bit 'off' in fit, then the action of the horse's back caused pressure points and soring. Fat saddle pads only made the fit too tight, and the problem worse. Since few saddle trees can fit every horse absolutely perfectly, it became apparent that we needed some kind of proven THIN cushioning material to prevent pressure spots, while at the same time allowing the rider to have close contact.
I found this wonderful material in the open cell pressure cushioning that we've added right into the saddle bars of my 4-Beat saddle. The padding was originally produced and marketed for mattress tops for bed-ridden patients, to prevent pressure sores. I liked the material so much that I also included it in the seat, for the rider's benefit. (I even use a pad of it on my office chair!) It's somewhat like a durable, permanent bubble wrap material. While this padding is extremely expensive--a saddle pad with this material inside costs $350+--we're buying it wholesale, in sheets, to keep costs down.
This is how I designed the Imus 4-Beat ® Gaited Saddle that will absolutely never cause pressure soreness. This last point is nearly as important as the first (flexible tree, remember?).
Another important item (or perhaps it's two): not even a very good 'average' sized flexible tree will fit all gaited horse conformation types. There are also a number of people who prefer different features in their saddles: horns, no horns, fenders, stirrup leathers. . .or any combination of these. How could we, a small operation, build saddles to suit our customers' requirements? In this case it turned out that being small is an advantage. We are setting up our saddle sales page in such a way that you can essentially build your own saddle to your own unique specifications. When you go to Build Your Own Saddle, you are presented with several options: color, configuration, border types, cantle options and more.
Comfortable, Close Contact, Unsurpassable Quality
I realized it wouldn't help to fit the horse if the rider felt uncomfortable. Stiffness in the rider results in stiffness in the horse. This is why I didn't want the rider to have to work at breaking in a new saddle for a year or two before it became soft and giving. So we use Wickett and Craig vegetable, vat-dyed leather. My saddle makers are the finest craftsmen I've ever had the pleasure of working with. CCi saddle makers are so fussy about quality and attention to detail that they even makes me--who wants a perfect product--sometimes feel impatient! The combination of these factors has made for a top quality, comfortable saddle that is unsurpassable for placing the rider in optimum seat position for encouraging gait. What more could you ask for?
I'm taking the time to share all this with you because I've worked enough with these horses to know that you could be in for a very long time of frustration and heartache when you start looking for a saddle to fit your horse. Now you know specifically how, and why, our saddle is the superior choice for gaited horses. Give the Imus® 4-Beat saddle a try, because I've 'been there, done that,' and have instituted every possible measure to make these saddles the best for gaited horses.
Imus 4-Beat ®Saddle Fit Guarantee
In spite of all the choices, we're aware that there's still a chance that the saddle you have built will not fit your horse. This will be rare, but it will surely happen from time to time. When it does, we don't want customers thinking that just because they've made a relatively expensive purchase that they, and their horses, are stuck with the wrong product. Our goal is to get you and your horse in a saddle that is right for both of you.
Once again, we're offering attractive options! If the saddle you purchase doesn't fit your horse, you may return it within 14 days for a full refund of the purchase price. Or if you prefer, we will exchange for an Imus 4-Beat ®saddle that more closely meets your specific needs. You can also watch my gaited horse saddle fitting and equitation video here.
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