Subscribe: Saddle Fitting - The Inside Journey
Added By: Feedage Forager Feedage Grade A rated
Language: English
back  fit  fitter  fitting  good  horse  long distance  long  saddle fitting  saddle  saddles  things  time  tree  work 
Rate this Feed
Rate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feed
Rate this feed 1 starRate this feed 2 starRate this feed 3 starRate this feed 4 starRate this feed 5 star

Comments (0)

Feed Details and Statistics Feed Statistics
Preview: Saddle Fitting - The Inside Journey

Saddle Fitting: The Inside Journey

Real life adventures in saddle fitting at Panther Run Saddlery

Last Build Date: Wed, 21 Mar 2018 11:18:52 +0000


Differences of Opinion (Fits With Shims)

Sat, 31 May 2014 14:02:00 +0000

"My saddle fits every horse I put it on!"

If there's a phrase that triggers my eye-roll reflex, it's this one.  Any guesses as to how many times I hear this?

Let's just say, "Lots."

And guess what?

It doesn't.

Ok, so maybe my definition of "fit" is a bit different than the average person's.  I want a saddle to fit correctly without having to use anything other than a thin cotton pad.  No shims, no sheepskins, no foam, no air, no foregirth - just a thin cotton quilt.  It can't slide forward or slip back, or wobble from side to side, and it  has to allow the horse and rider to do their jobs effortlessly.

The last time someone told me this, she put a thin cotton quilt on the horse, then added a thick sheepskin pad, then a foam pad, and finally a rear riser pad before placing said miracle saddle on top of it all.  She climbed aboard and perched up there, commenting, "I have to be really careful about maintaining my balance, but look how well it's fitting!"

Frankly, when you get that much padding between you and the horse, "saddle fit" becomes a moot point.   It's like a person who's a size 4 trying to make a pair of size 10 pants fit by wearing multiple pairs of long underwear, or someone with a size 8 foot trying to make a size 6 shoe fit by lopping off the toes.  While you may be able to make said clothing work, you really can't say it fits.  Throwing multiple pads under a saddle isn't making it fit, it's just putting more junk between your saddle and your horse.

Yes, there are saddles like the Balance and the Parelli that are supposed to be shimmed, and while I understand the theory, I'm still firmly of the opinion that a saddle that truly fits doesn't require the use of shim pads.  They talk about focusing on active fit rather than static fit, and I'm on board with that ... but I still think that can be achieved without shims or corrective pads.  They talk about the way a horse's back changes when they work, and how a saddle needs to allow for that.  Again, I'm all over that ... but it can be done without extra pads/shims.

Now, I understand that some people need to make a saddle work for more than one horse, and I understand that there are horses that, for various physical reasons, do require shims and/or pads as a band-aid.  I'm ok with that.  I use shim pads from time to time myself, when horses are in transition; it's a boat load cheaper than repeated flocking adjustments, it's far more convenient, and it can save the integrity of the flock.  It's also a good answer if you're trying to fit two similar horses with one saddle, and while it's a good fit for Horse A, it's just a tad too wide in the tree for Horse B.

Anyone who's read much of this blog will understand that if a saddle truly doesn't fit, there's no pad in the world that will make it fit.  That same anyone will also understand that it's my belief that there's no one saddle that can be adjusted to fit every horse perfectly throughout its lifetime.  (Even the WOW saddles, which are completely modular and can have the panels and even the tree changed out, fall into this category.  If you're switching out the tree and the panels, you're essentially building a completely new saddle, aren't you?)  And that Miracle Saddle that fits every horse perfectly only exists in Brigadoon, sitting in the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, with all the honest politicians.

A Word About Widths

Sun, 11 May 2014 16:58:00 +0000

"My saddle fitter said my horse needs a wide tree.  So I got her one, but it sits too low and hits her withers."  "My saddle fitter said my horse needs a medium tree.  So I got her one, but the saddle is sitting really pommel-high."  "My saddle fitter said that because my horse has really big withers, he'll need a narrow tree."I hear this sort of thing way more frequently than I'd like.  Tree width is the very first thing most people think about when they talk about saddle fitting, yet many people don't understand that it's only one part of the fitting picture.  Yes, the correct tree width is important, but tree type, tree shape, panel configuration and billet configuration are equally important, and all but the last have an effect on width.  But people always start with, "My horse needs a medium/wide/narrow/extra-wide tree ..."So let's break this down.  First, whether a tree is given a designation like medium or wide, or whether it's given a centimeter measurement, the measurement is taken pre-construction, on the bare tree.  If the tree is measured in centimeters, the measurement is taken between the ends of the tree point.  If it's a UK-made saddle, it's given its width designation based on the angle of the pommel arch, as follows:Narrow:  75°-84.9°Medium:  85° - 94.9°Wide:  95° - 104.9°Extra-wide:  105° and upSo, all medium tree saddles made in the UK are the same in the width department, right?No.Why not? Reason one:  Tree type.  If a saddle is a wide standard tree, it's not going to fit the same as a wide hoop tree, since the hoop tree has the extra breadth across the top of the pommel arch. Reason two:  Head height.  A medium width high-head saddle may work beautifully for a higher-withered horse, but will probably perch on a horse with a lower wither.Reason three:  Tree point length.  Long tree points fit less generously than short tree points.  In the graphic below, the ends of the "tree points" are the same width apart, but note how much more room there is with a shorter point.Reason four:  Panel configuration.  A wither or full front gusset will reduce a saddle's width.  A K or trapezius-type panel, which can be a lifesaver on a horse with divots behind the withers or real "steeple" withers, can make a saddle perch on a propane-tank back.  Where the panels are sewn into the pommel arch makes a difference, too; that's why Passier's Freedom panels (which are sewn in lower in the pommel arch than their standard panels) are a good choice for a horse with a lower, muttony wither.  (I rode the Great Red Menace in a Passier GG for years; she wasn't quite a hoop tree candidate but was broader than a regular tree would easily accommodate, and this "compromise"- especially in conjunction with the shorter tree points on the Passier - worked well until she got older and widened into a real hoop tree horse.)  Horses with bigger withers often need the panels to be tied in higher in the pommel arch (but not so high that they press on the lateral aspect of the spine).Reason five:  What's in the panels.  Foam panels are thinner than wool panels because they have better cushion; an inch of foam offers much more cushion than an inch of wool.  Foam panels offer a closer "feel" but don't usually offer much in the way of panel modifications (though some saddle companies, like Beval, are starting to pay more attention in this area).  I don't think they're usually a good choice for a horse with a big wither, since the panels are often too minimal to support the saddle in proper balance on a horse with that conformation. These panels can work well on the table-backs, though; Andy Foster's Lauriche saddles are all foam-paneled, and I've seen many of them work beautifully for the propane-tank builds.Wool panels, on the other hand, are bulkier, and the amount of flocking in the panels can make a pretty substantial difference in the way a saddle fits. [...]

Put the Irons Down (Location, Location, Location)

Sat, 12 Apr 2014 21:11:00 +0000

PUT THE IRONS DOWNRecently, I received a saddle from a lovely woman I had worked with in my previous saddle fitting life.  I'd sold her her saddle (long-distance), and adjusted it regularly for her (again, long-distance) whenever it needed attention, and things had always gone well.  The last time the saddle had needed attention, however, she didn't know I'd started my own business, and wound up working long-distance with another fitter.  She sent fitting evaluation photos, and the other fitter said the saddle was sitting pommel-high, but the issue could be resolved by removing flocking from the front.  So Customer sends her saddle in and has the work done.  When she gets the saddle back and tries it the first time, her mare is reluctant to move forward.  Eventually, the mare just flat refuses to move forward when saddled.  So Customer finds me via Google, emails, and asks if I'd take a look.I also ask for fitting evaluation photos.  When they arrive, I see that yes, the saddle's sitting pommel-high ... but it's also positioned too far forward.  This conversation ensues:ME:  Are these the same photo you sent to the other fitter?CUSTOMER:  Yes.M:  Did the other fitter say anything about where the saddle was sitting?C:  No, she just said the saddle was sitting pommel-high, and that taking some flocking out of the front would fix it.M:  Well, it is sitting pommel-high, but I think it's sitting that way because it's about two fingers' width too far forward.C:  Oh ... Why didn't the other fitter mention that?M:  Not sure.  Perhaps she didn't notice.  But go ahead and send your saddle and a template.  I'm sure I can straighten things out.Now, let me pause to say that taking flocking out of a saddle is a miserable bitch of a job, not one I enjoy in the least and one I will run uphill to avoid unless there's no other recourse.  To say that it's hard to do well is a huge understatement.  Fortunately, it's rare that I have to do it unless the saddle is grossly overflocked, and in that case, a total strip-flock is usually needed (and in that case, I don't mind removing flocking at all).  Sometimes taking a whisker of wool out can improve things, but if a saddle's sitting pommel-high (at least, if it's doing so when the saddle's in the right spot), I've found that it's rarely the correct fix.  And taking flocking out when the wool has compacted tightly isn't what I'd call a good idea, as it's going to be hard to remove wool without getting into the bedding layer (the one closest to your horse, which shouldn't be disturbed when adjusting the flock).  Finally, doing so on a serge-paneled saddle, which will allow every lump, bump, divot and deviation to be felt minutely ... well, that's really, REALLY not a good idea.So the saddle arrives, I prop it in my lap and do the ritual-habitual touchy-feelie of the panels. There are huge divots in the panels that start at the tree points and go back past the stirrup bars; the other fitter must have removed WADS of flock.  So much has been removed that I can literally (and I do mean "literally") feel the tree through the panels.  What little flocking is left in the area is balled up and lumpy - no WONDER the poor mare didn't want to move!  If I can feel the tree, what must it have been like for her with her rider up?I cannot believe that anyone who calls themselves a fitter would think this was a good job or the right solution.  I am flabbergasted.  I am gobsmacked.  I am mad.  I compare the tree width to the template that Customer sent, and they match up perfectly.  So the whole "pommel high" thing wasn't about saddle fit - it was about saddle position. One of the most basic things a fitter should check. I put the saddle on my bench and head for the computer, being very raptor-y and snarling and swearing a blue streak about people who have no business working on saddles and[...]

Rolex and Other Updates

Sun, 30 Mar 2014 19:19:00 +0000


Guess who's been asked to go to Rolex?

Yup.  Me.  WOOT!

Nikki Newcombe asked me if I'd be interested in coming down to help out at the Bliss of London / Loxley Saddles booth, and since I've never been to Rolex, I jumped at the chance.  I'll be arriving on Friday, and will be there all weekend, and I'm way, WAY excited about it!  If you're going to be there, please stop by and say hello.


In late January, I came down with what I thought was the garden-variety flu.  However, after a week and a half of running a fever, having chills and feeling as though I'd been beaten with a club, I developed the worst respiratory sickness I've ever had, and - the rotting cherry on top the whole miserable sundae - I lost my voice for over a month.  Long story short, I was so sick I couldn't even sit in front of the computer for more than 3 weeks, so I'm playing catch-up like a mad bastard and some of my plans have fallen flat.  Unfortunately, one of those plans was the saddle fitting clinic I'd hoped to do April 11-13 this year.  I'm rescheduling it for later in the year - probably late summer or early fall, depending on availability of the venue - and will update you all as plans develop.  If anyone has a preferred range of dates, please let me know, and I'll see what I can do to accommodate.

Fitting Assessment Photos and Conformation Shots (Throw Me a Bone)

Mon, 06 Jan 2014 21:20:00 +0000

When I'm doing long-distance fitting, I require quite a bit of information from you, my customers.  Since I can't get my hands on the horse and saddle, you have to provide a lot of input and answer dozens of questions.  You also have to provide clear, informative photos so I can see the horse I'm trying to fit, the way the saddle fits the horse and the way the saddle fits the rider.However, it's come to my attention that there without being able to see exactly the photos I require, a lot is left open to interpretation, and I sometimes get some fairly useless (though sometimes quite interesting) photos.  So in an effort to provide clear, concise guidelines, here are the photos I require ... and a sampling of the photos I don't.First, a conformation shot of your horse.  All I need to see is the whole horse, weight on all 4 legs, on level ground, head in a normal, relaxed position (no Drama Llama photos, please!) against a fairly plain, contrasting background (no fleabitten greys against dirty snowbanks, and no dark bays against the opening of the run-in shed).Here are some examples of useful conformation shots:If I'm assessing saddle fit, I also need a conformation shot of your horse, but with the saddle on:And a photo of the tree point in relation to your horse's back:I'll also need to see the same photos, but with the rider up:Pretty easy.  Remember that it's best to take photos outside when possible, and if the day is overcast, even better - you won't have to worry about shadows obscuring some vital bit of information.  Choose a time when your horse won't be fretting about being fed or being turned out, and when you aren't stressing about getting to work on time or getting home to help the kids with homework. If they aren't exact matches, don't worry - I can probably get the info I need from them as long as you come pretty close.Now, here are some photos that are of absolutely no help whatsoever.  Please don't send photos like these.  Please, just ... don't.It's a horse's back.  That's about all I can tell."Against a contrasting background" also means no dark bays, blacks or liver chestnuts in dark indoor arenas.Is this horse standing downhill, is the camera tilted, or is s/he very croup-high?The Red Menace in her "Drama Llama" guise, standing hip-shot, making her back look even more dropped than it really is.The pommel clears the withers, but since I can't see the tree point in relation to the horse's back, I can't tell whether the tree width is correct or not.It's a saddle.  On a horse.  With a white pad under it.  That's all I got.Remember, all you have to do is come close.  If you send me the info I need, the saddle fitting process will be a lot less time consuming, expensive and frustrating.  And as an added bonus, your photo will never be featured in a rogue's gallery like this![...]

The First Year

Tue, 24 Dec 2013 16:36:00 +0000

Well, I'm pleased to report that Panther Run Saddlery has finished its first year in pretty damn good trim.  In spite of a few nay-sayers, and a few who did their best to throw a monkey wrench into the gears (as Ma used to say), things have gone far more smoothly than I expected, and I have a viable business on my hands.  This is thanks to a huge amount of support from some pretty amazing people:  friends and family, colleagues and fellow fitters, my Constant Readers, saddle companies, and - especially - my customers.  You all have kept me focused and moving in the right direction, and you've proved that continuing to do business "The Edie Way" is the right path to follow.  "Thank you" seems inadequate, but it's all I can say.

So here's wishing you all the peace that this season is supposed to bring, joyful holidays (whatever you celebrate), and hoping your New Year is as good as 2013 was for me.  Looking forward to an even better and busier 2014. Onward and upward!

Having a Fit: Hoop Tree Vs. Standard Tree

Fri, 22 Nov 2013 18:12:00 +0000

As often happens in my life, things seem to come up in bunches.  The latest "bunch" has been Broad Horses and the Saddles That Fit Them (or Don't).  I've gotten several templates lately that look as though someone traced a propane tank.  My last fitting jaunt included 5 horses at 2 different barns who also fit the "propane tank" profile.  And just recently, I was asked by the The Arabian Sport Horse magazine to expand on an article I'd written for their April/May 2013 issue on the particular challenges of fitting the Arab sport horse. Since I was given free rein as far as subject matter, I latched onto hoop trees, since they seem (to my great surprise) to be little known and even less understood.  Since I'm WAY overdue for a new blog post, I thought I'd do a "warm-up" post to get ready to write the article.If you've read my blog much, you're probably pretty familiar with the hoop (aka Freedom head, Dome, FWB) tree.  If you're not familiar with that type of tree, you can read this post to get the basics about them.  They're designed to "sit down" on a wide back and a lower, broad wither.  On horses with that conformation, a standard tree with an "A" shaped head will perch and be laterally unstable, even if it's the right width.  As a result of this low-profile fit, one of the comments I often hear about hoop trees from fitters who aren't familiar with them is, "It doesn't fit.  It sits too low in front - there's not enough clearance; I can only get one finger in under the pommel when the rider's up."Here's a shot of a well-fitting standard tree (note that the angle of the tree point and the angle of the horse's back - both marked in yellow - are pretty much parallel): And another:There's a good amount of clearance between the underside of the pommel arch and the horse's withers - probably close to the "textbook" 3 fingers' width.Now, let's look at a hoop tree:And one with the rider up:Quite a lot less clearance, right?  Note that the tree point angles are parallel to the horse's back, and note that the underside of the pommel arch is clearing the withers.  Hoop tree saddles are supposed to fit this way.  When fitting a hoop tree, we use the term "adequate" clearance - this means that the balance of the saddle is correct, and that at no time does the saddle come in contact with the withers/spine. The fitting basics are still the same, no matter what tree type the horse requires.  You want The Heavy Seven (plus the billet configuration) to check out ... you just have a little less room under the pommel arch.I know it may be unfamiliar to some folks, but it's ok.  Honest.[...]

Saddle Fitting Course - What We'll Cover

Thu, 24 Oct 2013 17:08:00 +0000

Thought you all might be interested to see a rough outline of what will be covered in the saddle fitting course April 11-13, 2014.  There will be "classroom" theory as well as hands-on work, so come prepared with horse-friendly clothes and shoes (and be prepared for mud ... or snow ... or hot, sunny weather ... or all at the same time; you never know what a Vermont April will bring).  If there's anything you'd like me to cover that isn't listed here, please let me know.Basic overview: why saddle fitting is being noticed, why it’s important.  Two schools of thought:  UK/SMS vs. “Continental”/Forward Balance.  Why each works … or doesn’t.  1) What we try to accomplish when fitting a saddle.  2) Identify types and subtypes of English saddles:  cc (equitation, jump, xc), dressage, ap, trail/endurance            Uses and focus of eachFit for the rider; how seat depth, blocks, flap length/set affect fit and purpose.3) Identify parts of the saddles4) Identify types of panels5) Identify types of trees (synthetic, spring, hoop/freedom head); purpose of the tree6) Identify types of flocking, pros and cons of each.7) Parts of the horse; identify major muscle groups 8) Why correct fit is important. See #1.How conformation effects fit.  Different conformation challenges (big withers, croup-high, broad back, etc.) and which fitting options work best for each. 9) Where the saddle should sit, why proper placement is important.  10) Discuss how to check for back soreness; basics of how to evaluate movement.11)    Checking static saddle fit – 7 Points including billet placement.  Cover finding rear edge of scapula and T18.12)    Checking active fitA)    Cantle popB)    Lateral rollC)    Pad slipD)    Watch horse and rider – ultimately, it’s up to them.13)    Taking a template14)    Taking a conformation photo  15)    Gadgets:  Port Lewis impression pad, casts, correction pads, pressure pads, etc.Q&A sessions at lunch and end of each day.[...]

April 11-13: Saddle Fitting Course

Thu, 17 Oct 2013 15:46:00 +0000

Well, I've certainly been threatening long enough (since 2012, according to this), and it's finally come to fruition (WOOT!!).  April 11-13, 2014, I'll be teaching the long-promised saddle fitting course.  It will be held at the Pullman Farm (former location of the shop where I used to work), 969 Trumbull Hill Rd. in Shaftsbury, VT.  It will start with a meet-and-greet and course overview on Friday evening (times TBA), and will run from 9:30-4 (approximate) on Saturday and Sunday.  The course will cover all aspects of English saddle fitting including saddle types, foam vs. wool, tree types, panel modifications and the conformations they suit, equine anatomy and gait analysis as well as fit for the rider.  The course will NOT teach repairs and flocking adjustments.  Cost is $550.00, which includes lunch/snacks, tools for taking a template and all course materials.  The course is limited to 6 people, and there is a non-refundable deposit of $200 required by Jan 30, 2014 to hold your spot.  There will also be an "on deck" list in case someone drops out.  There are numerous affordable lodging and dining options within 10 miles of the farm.  If interested, please email me at  Looking forward to this!

All You Have to Do is Ask

Mon, 02 Sep 2013 15:45:00 +0000

One of the nicest perks of being a saddle fitter is helping horses and riders find the saddle that works for them.  Another great perk is having a network of other fitters and saddlers with whom to collaborate, exchange ideas and geek on about saddles for hours.  That sort of support and mutual respect is a rare and wonderful thing; I really enjoy being able to ask questions of Wiser Heads, and in return offer whatever info I can.

In the past, I've had other fitters ask to use info and photos from my blog in projects they were doing, and I've always been happy to share, and frankly pretty pumped that folks found my info share-worthy.  I had lots of great mentoring when I began my saddle fitting journey, and I still have great mentors - so I like the idea of being able to pay it back (or forward).  And besides, it's just the kind and right thing to do.

So when it's brought to my attention that people are lifting stuff (and sometimes lifting a LOT of stuff) from my blog without asking, I start leaning toward the bitey side of my personality.  Even if they give me credit, using stuff without permission really isn't legal, and it's also downright rude (which to my mind is the real offense).  Again, I'll mention the little tag (which I know no one ever reads) at the bottom of the blog that says, "All content copyright Kitt Hazelton / Panther Run. Use and reproduction by permission only." 

Perhaps I'm being very naive here.  I know that putting stuff up on the Internet is the equivalent of throwing your valuables on the front lawn and thinking everyone will be honorable and not take anything. But my luck's been pretty good so far, and I'd like to think that things can continue that way.  So if you want to use any of the content on this blog, just ask - that's all you have to do.  I won't growl or bite or refuse - as I said, I like knowing that people find my blog useful.  But lift stuff without permission?  You'll see this side of me:

Video Tutorial: How to Take a Template of Your Horse's Back

Mon, 29 Jul 2013 03:01:00 +0000

The "how to take a template" video is done and up for public viewing!  Huge freakin' kudos to:  1)  My husband Hasso for his professional guidance in piecing this project together, for shooting and editing it, and for his ability to psychically interpret my harum-scarum gesticulating, barking, hooting, and random input.  2)  To Jessica van Eyck of Northshire Farm and her horse Wanted for all their help, and for providing such a lovely location for shooting.  I cannot adequately express my thanks.  You folks freakin' rock.


allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' FRAMEBORDER='0' />

Fitting from Afar

Sat, 20 Jul 2013 21:03:00 +0000

As we advance in life we learn the limits of our abilities.Henry Ford Today's post is brought to you by yet another bulletin board comment ...This time, I ran into Someone, who was sharing her sad tale of a less-than-optimal experience with long-distance saddle fitting.  Since the fitter closest to her was about 4 hours away, Someone opted to try working with a fitter long-distance.  It turned out that Someone's horse had some challenges that required a few fitting modifications.  So, Someone ordered a bench-made saddle ... but the fitter with whom she was working failed to recommend a fitting option that the horse really needed.  As a result, the fit wasn't quite right, the saddle required shimming to be usable, and since it was a "special" order, the fitter wouldn't take it back.  A bad situation, and frankly, one that would probably leave a pretty stinkin' bad taste in my mouth, too. (NOTE TO FITTERS:  Yes, we ALL make mistakes and miss stuff.  I've screwed up [and I'm sure I will do so again in the future], and all of the fitters I know have screwed up, and any fitter who says they haven't screwed up is either: a) lying, b) delusional, c) very, very new to this business or d) all of the above.  But damn, people, if it's your mistake, put on the Big Person Pants and take your medicine.  Make things right.  I'd be losing sleep if Someone was one of my customers.)Inasmuch as I cringe to the very bottom of my saddle-fitting soul whenever I hear about nightmares like this (and I hear them far more often than I'd like), I applaud Someone for having the guts to speak out (and congratulate her for doing so with far more civility and tact than I'd have been able to muster, though that's damning her with faint praise); I think it's vital that these experiences are put up for public viewing.  It can stand as a cautionary tale to other folks, and hopefully keep them from going through the same thing. But there's another side to this.  As I said earlier, this sort of thing makes me cringe - for several reasons. 1) I don't like hearing that people have bad saddle experiences, period.  It just doesn't have to be that way.2)  Long distance fitting can be done successfully, and it can be a positive experience. 3)  This is precisely the sort of issue than makes it tough for folks to believe in fitters who can do long-distance fitting successfully.  Fitters like Ann Forrest ... fitters like Nancy Okun ... and yes, dammit, fitters like me.It takes years to become really good at saddle fitting, and even longer to become good at doing it long-distance ... and not everyone can become good at it.  I know a lot of excellent hands-on fitters, but only a few who have the ability to do long-distance work.  In addition to all the things you need to know for hands-on work, there's a litany of additional skills you need in order to excel at long-distance fitting.  You must be able to read a template and look at photos and listen to a customer's needs and likes and put it together successfully.  You have to be able to evaluate a horse's conformation and level of training and make some guesstimates about the way s/he will move and carry him/herself.  You have to be able to eyeball a rider and decide what fitting options they may require.  You have to ask the right questions and request the right information from the customer.  You also have to have an eye for it, a knack, a certain spatial sense - and that's not something everyone has.   You customers have a truck load of responsibilities as well, and a long-distance fitter needs to let you know what they are and if you're getting them right.[...]

Bye-Bye, UDBB

Sun, 14 Apr 2013 23:29:00 +0000

Cruised by the Ultimate Dressage bulletin board, and saw this message:

"This site is being closed under current management. It has been a long run, and there where some good times, but my mind and heart are no longer in this effort. I have not found an easy exit strategy over the years, so it will just come to shutting down, un-announced.
"If you would like to inquire about purchasing the domain name and/or forums as they existed on 4/13/2013 please contact directly.
"Mark Susol,"

Wow.  I'm completely floored.  Information, misinformation and speculation about the why and wherefore behind this are rife and easily found all over the Internet, but whatever the cause, I just find it a sad passing.  The UDBB was one of the first ways in which I became known in my own right rather than just as the shop's fitter; it introduced me to some very fine fellow fitters and more than a few customers, and helped me get the news out about my own business.

It would be nice if someone purchased the domain name and forums and continued with them.  But Mark Susol really helped me out through the UDBB (though he probably didn't know), and I really appreciate it.  I hope things turn out well for him, and that someone can help him out the way he helped me.

LONG-OVERDUE UPDATE:  I'm thrilled to say that the UDBB was resurrected shortly after it was closed.  I don't know all the ins and outs, but to whomever stepped in and took over, THANK YOU.

Closing and Opening: Contact Info

Fri, 12 Apr 2013 17:44:00 +0000

“The difference between school and life? In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.”  - Tom Bodett

As many of you already know, I've had to open new email accounts due to some rather serious security issues with the old ones.  This has caused a lot more work than I was anticipating, and has made me all Bitey-Raptor-ish most of the time ... but I have everything in order at last.  So now it's time to close the old accounts, shake off the old crap and move on.  I've been hesitating, because some people are still contacting me that way, and I don't want to miss anyone's correspondence.  But I've settled on a termination date:  April 30. If you need to contact me, the new email address is  You can also reach me through this blog, or through the Panther Run Saddlery web site.

Out with the old, in with the new!

Whose Blog is it, Anyway?

Sat, 02 Feb 2013 21:35:00 +0000

In the hustle of trying to get Panther Run Saddlery organized, I haven't had time to add to (or even stop by and check on) this blog ... and I find I really miss it.  So I made some time today to check my stats, which I haven't done in weeks.  When I went to one of the referring sites, I found a very nice blog and a post extolling (and rightly so) the many virtues of Black Country saddles.  There was also a very nice bit about Trumbull Mtn. and "their" blog, Saddle Fitting: the Inside Journey.  

This isn't the first time I've encountered that misunderstanding, and in the past, I've usually let it slide.  But now that I'm no longer employed there or affiliated/associated with the shop in any way, "I want to make one thing perfectly clear:"  this is not their blog.  It's mine.  "All content copyright Kitt Hazelton / Panther Run."  It's right there in the footer (which I do know that few people ever read, but ...).  So I hope this will clarify things once and for all.  My blog.  Mineminemineminemine.

Ok, now that I'm done barking and peeing on trees and fence posts and scratching up the ground, let's talk about what's going on now.  I have replaced the bulk of my important saddle work tools (there are a few left to buy, but the meat-and-potatoes tools are here).  I have Albion saddles.  I have Duett saddles.  I have a couple Bliss of London saddles, and am their dealer for the northern New England area.  Loxley saddles are on order, and I'm expecting them sometime around Valentine's Day.  I'm accepting selected used saddles for consignment.  I have saddles in for repairs, and I have customers sending me templates (some of them are customers from my days at the shop, and I can't adequately express how much their loyalty and faith in me means).  I just had another article on saddle fitting published in TrailBlazer magazine, and I have to finish an article on saddle fitting for the Arabian sport horse for  I have the budding Panther Run Saddlery web site in the competent hands of my "web guy" (we had to move the hosting site and do some technical stuff that I'm just not confident about or capable of doing myself).  I'm busy, and things are moving ahead and looking pretty promising.  It's a crazy time, and not a particularly easy time ... but from what I understand, that's pretty much the norm for the situation.   Being a one-woman show is way different from the way I worked for 14 years, and sometimes I think I'm crazy to be doing this at my age ... but the thought of not doing it isn't something I can contemplate.  So onward and upward.

Panther Run Saddlery (Coming Soon)

Mon, 19 Nov 2012 14:07:00 +0000

It's a work in progress (the site isn't live yet, but I'll let you know as soon as it's up).  I'll be offering the same services as before: long distance fitting using templates and photos, barn calls, sales, consulting, and reflocks/repairs.  I'll have mostly new saddles at first, though I'll be doing consignments as well.  In the meantime, please feel free to "like" Panther Run Saddlery on FaceBook!

The More Things Change ...

Sun, 11 Nov 2012 18:45:00 +0000

The shop at the Pullman Family Farm, summer 2012This year has brought some pretty dramatic changes to my life. This summer, we had to put our dear old Tanka dog down due to the infirmities of old age.  Then, Edie passed away on Sept. 20, and my brother-in-law Chris passed away 15 days later - oddly, from  the very same cancer Edie had.  And on Oct. 26th, I learned that as of November 30, my time with Trumbull Mountain Tack will be over.The owners have decided to move the physical location of the shop closer to their home - understandable, since their commute is about 60 miles one-way.  However, the new location they've chosen puts the shop 60 miles away from me. That would mean that my 40 mile round-trip commute would morph into a 120 mile round-trip commute ... and that ain't gonna happen.  Not for me, and sadly, not for my co-worker Nancy Okun, either - her commute would actually be 12 miles longer than mine.  So as of 5 pm on Nov. 30, after roughly 14 years with Trumbull Mtn., it's officially good-bye.Change is unsettling, no question - but after the first terrifying, stomach-dropping shock, it often turns out the be just the kick in the ass that was needed.  Since Edie sold the shop in 2009, things have changed significantly; I've become increasingly restless, and have spent more and more time contemplating the possibility of "going independent" and running my own business ... and if this isn't the universe telling me that now's the time to do just that, I miss my guess. In the years I worked with Edie, I learned about saddle fitting, repair and design ... and I also learned her particular business philosophies, practices and ideals, those specific ingredients that made a little tack shop up over the indoor arena 3 miles off the main road in a town of less than 4,000 people the go-to place for saddles and fitting.  So I'd say that I have a very successful business model to use.  I've also met some outstanding folks in the saddle business who've helped and taught me: Nikki Newcombe, Ann Forrest, Nancy Temple, Patty Barnett, Rob Cullen, John, Gemma and Cassie Hartley, Frank Baines, Victoria Coleman, Mike Scott,  Brita Rizzi and Louise Palmer, to name just a very few, and since they've heard the news, they've been even more kind and supportive.  And since the change has become public knowledge in the saddle world, Nancy and I have had three people very kindly approach us with offers to rep saddles, and we're going to take them all on.  I'll still be taking saddles to barns and traveling to do adjustments; I'll also be working long-distance with templates and photos, and I'll still be writing this blog, same as ever.  I'll also be setting up my own web site, which will have fitting info and - new feature - videos.  In deference to the fact that I need a regular income, I will have to find a "real" job, at least for a while, but my focus will be on getting back into saddles full-time as soon as possible.  I truly love doing this, and don't see any reason I should quit.[...]

Crazy Little Thing Called "Sandy"

Mon, 29 Oct 2012 13:01:00 +0000

In case any of you have spent the last few days away from any sort of news or social media, the northeastern US is supposed to get hit with Hurricane / Tropical Storm Sandy.  The forecast says it will come in from the east, make landfall around New Jersey later today, and run into a winter storm coming in from the west, creating a "Frankenstorm" that could leave the entire northeastern US battered.  Although the main part of the storm isn't supposed to hit Vermont (or even come very close), this is a very big storm - by some accounts, more than 900 miles across - and we're supposed to get high winds, heavy rain and probable power outages.  The wind's beginning to pick up as I write this, and the sky was an eerily beautiful pink/purple at dawn:While this storm isn't supposed to create anywhere near the havoc that Irene did last year (though we escaped that totally unscathed, except for an unexpected day off from work due to the roads being flooded), it's still best to be prepared, especially since there's a horse involved.This entails things like stockpiling about 4 days' worth of water in the horse barn (we have ample water available from the brook below the house, but it's a serious undertaking to get jerry cans up 100' of very steep incline).  We also made sure we have enough hay and grain, and double-checked the fence line.  While flooding isn't a huge concern - we're at roughly 1500' here - the horse barn is at the foot of a hill, and has been known to have a little stream running through it during wet times.  I ditched the paddock and around the barn as best I could; we had plans to have someone come in with a bulldozer this summer and do the job right, but it never dried out enough - and there's so much clay in the soil here so that big machines will slide downhill under their own weight.  I did NOT want a bulldozer pushing my pole barn off the cement piers! The real concern for us is wind.  We're in the woods, and while the local power company is pretty good about keeping the lines clear, trees do take them out on a fairly regular basis - so being prepared for outages is routine.  We have a wood stove in one end of the house and a fireplace in the other, and about 2 cords of wood at the ready (for those of you who aren't familiar with that measurement, a full cord of wood measures 4'x4'x8').  We have flashlights and lamps (both kerosene and battery), lots of non-perishable foods (for humans, dogs and cats) and plenty of warm clothes and blankets.  We park the cars in as open an area as we can - as you can tell from the photos, we have some very large locusts and maples on the property.  Falling / flying limbs can take out a windshield pretty easily, AND they can take out part of a fence quite effectively, too.  So the mare gets an ID tag braided into her mane just in case - it's a metal key fob; I used my Dremel tool to engrave it with my last name, location and phone number. And now we wait ...[...]


Fri, 21 Sep 2012 13:18:00 +0000

Reggie and Edie Tschorn
Yesterday, the world was diminished.  Edie Tschorn, my mentor, neighbor, former employer, friend and hero passed away, eleven months after being diagnosed with brain cancer.  She was one of the kindest, most giving and open people I've ever known, and while I will miss her more than I can ever convey, I was truly blessed to have had her in my life.  She's the reason I became a saddle fitter, and she had more influence on me than she probably knew; the good bits of me became better and brighter with her guidance. She encouraged me to start this blog, and encouraged me to keep going with it, suggested subject matter and often proofed the posts before I published them.  She helped me with pretty much every facet of my life, professional and personal, and did it with grace, tact and good humor, even when I was being my usual pushy, reactive, bull-headed Aries self.  (She once said to me, when we were working through a particularly difficult and potentially explosive issue with my difficult and potentially explosive mare, "I think I know you well enough to say that you and your mare are an awful lot alike."  Few people in this world could have said that to me at such a time without getting the rough and profane side of my tongue, but Edie did, and made me laugh about it, too.)

As often happens when my deepest heart is touched, it's hard for me to find the words that really express what I'm feeling.  Edie touched so many lives and mentored so many people, young and old; her hand and her heart were always open, she always had a moment for you - even when she didn't - and she never failed to find the right thing to say or do to make you feel good.  There are so many things I could say about her, so many things she did, so many examples of her wonderful nature, but I think the one thing that really sums Edie up is this:  At the end of every day in the shop, before we walked down the stairs and out the door, no matter if we'd had a herd of PITA customers and been gold-plated assholes that day (and there were times when I know I truly excelled at that), she'd say, "Thank you."

Where's the Horse?

Mon, 20 Aug 2012 14:11:00 +0000

I was reading through the Chronicle of the Horse's 75th Anniversary issue (yes, I'm a month behind on my magazine reading, as usual) and came across a saddle ad. This ad is for a saddle that we used to sell back in the long-ago; the quality of the leather is lovely, the saddles are very pretty, and they're quite haute couture as far as saddles go.  The ad  reads:  "Your horse can do amazing things when he is free to be himself."  It goes on to list all the amazing things your horse can do ... until you're in the saddle.  "You must be perfectly balanced so your horse is free to be his incredible, athletic horsey self."  Advertised saddle, of course, will accomplish that task.  "We start by finding the right seat for your center of balance.  Then, just like our bridles, we finish it off with full grain leather that feels like butter, and extraordinary attention to detail."And not one sentence - hell, not one word - about the horse.  So I went to the web site, thinking I might find more info about fit for the horse there.  Hmm.  On the home page, it says, "Most saddle makers concern themselves with fitting the horse.  We believe that's not enough!"That led me to believe I might find more about fitting the horse somewhere on the site,  Fitting the horse might not be "enough," but it's something ... right?  So I went to the "saddles" section.  And I found out that they offer different seat sizes/depths and flap lengths/sets ... and medium and wide trees.  So I clicked on their "Saddle Fitting" chart, thinking that might have some info on fitting the horse ... and again, found lots of info on flaps and seats, and medium or wide trees.  Finally, down at the bottom of that page, I found a link to "saddle purchase form".  That must have something about fitting the horse ... right?Wrong.  It shows a silhouette of a person and where to take the measurements needed to fit the rider.  You enter your height and weight, and you choose the model of saddle you want to purchase ... but it doesn't say jack-all about fitting the horse.  Not even tree width.  There is a little space at the bottom of the form for "Additional Comments", so I guess you could put something there.Now, as I said, these saddles are lovely pieces of work, and do fit some horses very well.  And yes, fit for the rider is of great importance ... but if tree width is all that's considered for the other half of the team, that's only part of the picture.  I'm straining my middle-aged memory regarding any horse-fitting options that may have been offered on these saddles back when we carried them, and I can't recall any.  They might have had some ... and they still might.  But if so, wouldn't you think they'd say something about it in their ads, or at least on their web site?  For all of their lovely leather and craftsmanship, these saddles are, to my mind, along the lines of the changeable-gullet and adjustable tree saddles:  they only address one of the horse's fitting needs, and that just isn't enough.[...]

Great Expectations

Fri, 17 Aug 2012 12:38:00 +0000

Given the present state of the economy (can you tell that's been on my mind quite a bit?), a lot of folks are finding their "discretionary income" either severely minimized or almost non-existent.  So understandably, used saddles - always popular - have become even moreso in the last few years.We check our used and consignment saddles very thoroughly when they come in (along the lines explained in this post) to make sure they're "serviceably sound for intended use" (as my vet used to say when doing a prepurchase on a horse); we note any cosmetic issues the saddles may have, and rate their condition anywhere from "fair" to "excellent/demo".  Lately, though, we've had a few people who didn't quite seem to know what to expect from a used saddle ... so I thought I'd clarify.1)  IT WILL SHOW SIGNS OF USE.  Unless you're lucky enough to find a second-hand saddle that's only had a few rides (which does happen from time to time), you will see "used saddle" marks.  These can range from slight rub marks from the stirrup leathers and buckle marks on the billets (for the "excellent/demo" designation) to curled jockeys, faded dye, dings, nicks, wrinkles, tooth marks, scratches and scrapes (for the "fair" designation).2)  IT MAY SHOW SIGNS OF FORMER OWNERSHIP.  These include things like a cantle plate (or holes in the cantle where one used to be) or a name or number engraved on the stirrup bar or stamped/burned into the sweat flap.  These things don't affect the fit, usefulness or condition of the saddle, but be aware that your saddle may be adorned with something like "Wind Hill Andalusians" or "Cindy Lou Smith 123-456-7890" somewhere.3)  IT MAY SHOW SIGNS OF WORK OR REPAIR.  These signs are sometimes fairly subtle:  a well-used saddle may have spandy-new billets or shiny new falldown staples or saddle nails. Some saddles may have mismatched saddle nails, saddle plates or notations stamped into the sweat flap - both are common signs that the tree has been altered at some point (though just how it's been altered may be unearthed only by taking the saddle apart, since some saddlers will note their work on the tree).  It may have extra dee rings or a crupper bar, or the billet configuration may have been altered.4)  THE FLOCKING WILL PROBABLY NEED TO BE ADJUSTED.  I don't touch the flocking on consignment saddles unless the consignor requests it, or unless it's so flat/hard/overflocked that it won't realistically fit anything (and then, I check with the consignor before I make adjustments).  I've had people say, "Well, the tree width and everything else looks good, but it's sitting so low ..." When I say that the issue can be corrected with flocking, I'm often told, "But this is a used saddle - that should already have been done!"  I explain to the customer that it probably has been done, but it will need to have the flocking adjusted to their horse ... just as a new saddle would.5)  REPAIRS WILL NEED TO BE MADE AT SOME POINT.  "Used" saddle.  Think about that.  It's like "used" car ... sooner or later, some part is going to go and will need to be repaired or replaced.  With saddles, thankfully, there aren't as many parts to go blooey, and repair/replacement probably won't be quite as expensive ... but yes, you'll need to have the billets replaced at some point, and - as stated above - the flocking will need to be maintained.  Other minor issues may need attention: &n[...]

Interpreting the Template Revisited

Sat, 11 Aug 2012 19:46:00 +0000

Long-distance fitting requires a fitter to rely heavily on the use of the template.  How each fitter interprets the template, however, can vary.  Case in point:  we received this tracing a while back:The fitter who sent it noted that the horse needed a narrow or medium-narrow tree.  To my eye - and according to the templates we use - the horse was on the wider side of medium.  I sat for a few moments and compared the different templates to the tracing, trying to see how the fitter had come up with medium-narrow to narrow when I was seeing a generous medium.  And after a little thought, I figured it out.Here's the angle I measured to determine tree width:Here's the angle the other fitter was using:Here's the difference:The original fitter was measuring the width too high - too close to the spine - and basing the tree width on the atrophied muscle.  Obviously, a saddle that fit based on that criteria would have been too narrow, and would have made the atrophy worse.  The assessment I made was based on the muscle that ought to be there (and that would be there with the help of a properly-fitting saddle), with an eye toward getting the frame of the saddle correct and "filling in the dips" with a modified panel - in this case, a wither gusset and a K panel to increase the bearing surface down the mare's quite prominent wither.  We ordered a saddle with a "medium +" width - wider than a medium but not quite a medium-wide - because the owner wanted to use a sheepskin half pad for a little extra cushion, and to make up some of the width.  The saddle fit the mare really well, and it came back to me about 8 weeks later for its first flocking adjustment.  At that point, the owner no longer needed to use the sheepskin half pad to make the saddle fit well.  And - happy ending - about 6 months after that, the mare had developed so much muscle that we had to send the saddle out to have the tree widened.  The mare's going great guns, and the owner is thrilled. [...]

A Look Inside at Frank Baines Saddlery

Fri, 25 May 2012 19:03:00 +0000

I found a fun blog post on Frank Baines Saddlery just recently.  Not written from a saddler's / saddle fitter's perspective, but worth a look anyway.  Enjoy!

Paddling Like Mad ...

Tue, 03 Apr 2012 01:41:00 +0000

... and barely keeping my head above water!  Apologies for the lack of saddle-fit-focus posts recently; I've been slammed with a flood tide of customers and saddle work and just haven't had time to do more than post notices on stuff others have been doing.  However, I have another post in the "adjustable tree/changeable gullet" line brewing.  We've recently gotten the Kent and Masters and Fairfax saddles in.  These are from the minds that brought us the Thorowgood T4, T6 (now defunct) and T8; their "conformation specific" models - the Broadback/Cob, the High Wither and the Standard fit - have proved to work pretty well for their intended type, so we're hopeful that the trend will continue with the K&M saddles.  I'm trying to schedule a time when my co-worker Nancy and I can get the saddles on some horses and evaluate them with a rider up ... hoping we'll be able to get in the saddles as well, to get some first-hand feedback.  We've heard from a couple different fitters who've had the opportunity to do just that, and are hoping to correlate what they've told us with our own experience.

Another post in the offing will be about treeless saddles and the proper fitting thereof.  This will be written by a fitter who actually FITS treeless saddles, rather than selling them left, right and center as the cure-all for every horse for every saddle fitting ill.  I've really enjoyed chatting with this fitter, and am looking forward to getting her post so I can share the real info on fitting treeless.

I'm also working on a post about a visit from Brita Rizzi of Dynamic Equine Saddle Fitting (which happened last summer, to further prove how freakin' far behind I am!).  She brought her pressure-sensing pad and demonstrated how the feedback can be used to assess saddle fit (and rider, and horse) issues.  It was absolutely fascinating, and is one of the better diagnostic tools I've encountered.

In other news: still working on the outline for the saddle fitting class.  That's almost done, and I'm tossing around dates for the first class.  Also nursing the mare through the last stages of a heel bulb abscess so I can get her out and get her somewhat fit so I can find another saddle for her.

As always, thanks for reading.  Stay tuned!

Behind the Scenes

Tue, 27 Mar 2012 12:44:00 +0000

I've featured info on what goes into the saddle making process, but did you ever wonder what goes on at the other end?  Here's a fun look at what goes into those glossy, slick saddle ads, courtesy of Bliss of London:

allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' FRAMEBORDER='0' />