The Right Saddle Makes All the Difference

Continuing with one of my previous posts’ themes of absolutely hemorrhaging cash, Nautica got a little wardrobe update.

We got a new saddle.

It’s a bit of a late Christmas gift to myself—as was the trailer—or that’s what I’m calling it anyway, whatever it takes to justify my recent life choices… While I’m making sure to have the saddle fitted to Nautica, this is definitely a “me” upgrade. My older Bates Isabell was a very nice saddle and it was exactly what we needed at the time we started, but as I have changed as a rider from “novice eventing test-A” over to dressage-dressage, my preferences for saddles have changed.

While Nautica and I are still very obviously a training level team (dressage training level that is, not eventing, where we would be classified as pre-pre amoeba; see below) we like to think that we will one day see some of the more advanced levels. It has come to my attention that beyond training level, posting the trot is generally frowned upon, not to mention a test error.

It seemed my Bates saddle was hard for me to sit in. I had begun to notice that I was experiencing a subtle but persistent lower back pain both during and after my rides. It started almost unnoticeably, but the more really sat down in my gaits the worse it got, to the point where I was guarding my back muscles and collapsing at the waist both in the saddle and on the ground post-ride. My physical therapist even made the observation that the tightness in my lumbar muscles was extreme and making it difficult for me to correctly perform my shoulder-strengthening exercises.

Obviously, there was nothing wrong with the saddle itself; if it’s good enough for Isabell Werth, it should be good enough for me. Unfortunately, my specific Isabell saddle didn’t fit my needs any longer.

I recently found out that when sitting my trot I like a larger knee block. My 17″ Isabell, while a decent fit with the thinner blocks applied, was too snug for my long femur with the large ones on. My knee was nearly coming past the front of the saddle. Similarly, since sitting my gaits more, I learned I didn’t like how my “points of contact” came to connect with the saddle’s twist. To put it bluntly, it made my crotch hurt. I later learned from my saddle fitter, that the twist of the Isabell, while technically a narrow twist made for women riders could be slightly too wide for my particular hip conformation. It was time to upgrade.

Bring in the new saddle!

In the midst of figuring out all of my various issues, I had a chance to try a friend’s saddle. Cue the clouds parting to reveal a bright sunbeam accompanied by angelic music… It could have very well been either the saddle or the fact that I was riding a much more finished dressage horse than Nautica, but suddenly I could connect my butt to the horse and sit my gaits like a normal human being and not a hunchbacked jack hammer.

There’s nothing more enlightening to the fact that you have pain than unexpectedly not experiencing it. Unfortunately, just like in the case of Nautica’s preferred Neue Schule line of snaffle bits, unless you’re fully ready to sell your soul—or at the very least, your least favorite kidney—to buy it, don’t try it.

So I determined I needed a Custom Saddlery Wolfgang Solo model saddle with the short, external block.

After trying about a dozen similar saddles via a very patient and knowledgable independent saddle fitter, not liking a single one of them, despairing over what’s left of my budget post-trailer purchase, and concluding that I was too poor to even come within range of what I needed, I resigned to suffer for my art in the Bates until the just-right “unicorn” of saddles came along. I mean, what true horse person doesn’t go into a complete existential spiral at the slightest riding-related inconvenience? I sulked for a bit before talking myself back down from my irrational ledge and doing some research.

By some miracle, after only a few weeks of searching I found the exact saddle I needed. Never underestimate a budget equestrian’s FBI rider-product stalking skills. Or their haggling skills for that matter. (“Hello, I noticed that you were selling this saddle through x-site. Would you consider _? I promise I’m not some random psycho off the internet…”)

Showing off his new saddle

So, I ended up with a Custom Saddlery “off the rack” Wolfgang Solo in demo condition for near-within my price range. Since riding in it for the past two weeks, it seems it has made all the difference. I feel as though my overall position and the effectiveness of my aids have improved, and most of all, I’m not in pain! I think it is absolutely worth the fact that my primary source of nutrition will be entirely grain-based for the next few months.

Creating more “jump” in our canter

Watch out, Rolex!

Nautica wants everyone to know he has more tricks up his sleeve than just lateral work and 20-meter circles. Watch and read about our recent ventures in stadium jumping below! (No one tell him they were only 4″. It was my way of sneaking some raised cavaletti in. 😉)

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