Need recommendations: dressage saddle for 4.5 year old FSH

So many kind folks have given me advice and support in my “Talk me down! (maybe)” thread, and part of that advice was to figure out a better saddle for my 16.2hh+, 4.5 year old Friesian Sport Horse. I’ve been riding him (all of, like, 3 rides now) in my 30+ year old KN, but an upper-level dressage friend who did an eyeball fit assessment of my saddle on him said it’s likely pinching him behind his shoulder blades. She suggested adding a half-pad with shims for the next 5 months until the saddle fitter visits our area (western Montana) in March or April.

Obviously, he’s going to be growing and changing a lot in the next couple years, and so I’d like to get a saddle that:

  1. Has thigh blocks for me (his gaits are big, and he’s still finding his balance, and I’m not used to riding either one)
  2. Is relatively inexpensive so I can buy, use, and re-sell as his shape and our needs change. I’m fine with buying used or synthetic – main things are a good fit and security for me.

Advice in my other thread was not to wait the 5 months, because of the risk of making him sore (I don’t want him to dislike the work!). Seller was riding him in a Schleese HK 17.5" medium wide. I do not know if that saddle actually fit him or not. I’m adding some photos of my saddle sitting on him, FWIW.

So – recommendtions? fire away! and, as always, I am deeply indebted to the wealth of expertise and generosity of all of you in this forum!

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Your saddle looks too narrow and adding shims/pads is not going to make it less narrow, rather will make it even tighter. Looking at the pics, and using the first one, I drew lines to give you an idea of where to look. They aren’t completely accurate because the angle of the pic is a bit too “side on” rather that straight in from the front, but you can see how the two lines get narrower when they should be parallel.

A used HK shouldn’t be too hard to find. A quick Google search yields several.

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I know nothing of Schleese saddles so I have a question for anyone who does… Do the fitters use a press to adjust the width of the head?

If they do, you need to be a bit wary of width descriptions, as they can have some variation.

Sorry to throw another “thing” to think about into the mix, OP!

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This does not fit. Too narrow or the wrong shape left to right in the shoulder. You need something for a wide horse with a broad shoulder, but nothing about this guy is screaming hoop tree (lucky you). The pics you’ve taken of the panels are at an angle, so I can’t be sure, but they look to be an okay shape for his wide back. Do you also have a picture from the side, where you are standing at the girth?

Because Friesians were bred to be cart horses, they can be difficult to get them working over their back. As such, they usually have banana-shaped backs, especially when they are young or haven’t been in work and lack strength. I just peeked at the other thread again-- I would say your guy has a relatively curvy back, back to front. So I would not try the English saddles made for big, flat warmbloods (Trilogy, Albion, those types). Unfortunately, those are the ones I know best, so not too many recommendations here.

Schleese are known to follow some, er, “unconventional” rules of fitting. So buyer beware if you have them fit it instead of an independent fitter. A while ago there was someone around here who sent someone pics of their horses back and measurements from a wither tracing and the saddle fitter recommended something with great success? Is this reminding anyone of anything?

Also! This guy is so young, be ready to buy something new in 6 months!

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Yes, Schleese does press saddles but I think that adjustment has to be fairly subtle or else distort everything. And all wool saddles are subject to the whims of saddle fitters too, so the flocking may need to be altered.

Your friend told you to shim an already too tight saddle and then ride in it for another five months before getting a professional assessment? I’d smile, nod, and immediately disregard anything they say about saddle fit ever again. That’s really junk advice.

Your current saddle is too narrow. Pelham saddlery isn’t perfect but they or Trumbull mountain work off of tracings and should be able to get you something that’s wider and better suited to his back.

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Also, Ann Forest at Equestrian Imports is excellent at long distance fitting and making good suggestions.

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I am glad you are considering a new saddle. :wink: I think to start I would measure the gullet width of this saddle just above the stuffing and then add an inch of width as a starting point of what to look for. Without a side view it is hard to tell if the saddle is sitting level, but I suspect that since it is too narrow up front, the cantle is sitting low and moving the balance point back, which is likely a big reason why it didn’t feel as good to you.

This is an excellent video on taking detailed wither tracings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhipknaocDg

In the past I’ve taken the front tracing and shrunk it down to a few inches wide and cut it out. Then I find photos of saddles for sale taken from the front to show the tree angle - adjust the photo size so you can compare the width and angle to the wither tracings. Of course there is still an issue of the scale not being correct, but it can give you a better idea of what sort of tree angle and general shape you are looking for.

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@GraceLikeRain, @Unfforgettable, and @outerbanks77 – thank you for the detailed recommendations!

And for other potential respondents, let me clarify/emphasize a couple things:

  • Thanks to the advice in my other thread, I don’t want to “just shim a pad” for the next 5 months…hence my request for saddle recommendations
  • I also realize I’ll be changing saddles several times as he develops…hence the desire for something relatively inexpensive and easy to resell
  • Although the seller was riding him in a Schleese HK, she only had him for a month (she buys horses at auctions, puts some training into them, and resells) and I have no idea whether her saddle actually fit him or not.

I don’t have a picture from the side, nor did I take photos from directly to the front – my apologies.

Off to go research wither tracing!

If you take more pictures of your saddle on him, try setting the saddle back further an inch or two. From these pics it looks like the saddle is right up on his scapula.

My boy was considered extra flat backed by Hastilow. Some of the British brands are less flat than others. For example my horse is too flat backed for a Thorowgood or Kent and Masters.

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In a similar vein, if you can do a wither tracing & then send it to a decent saddler who deals in second hand saddles they should be able to help. To help with the sizing information always put a scale in the drawing so that if sending via email there are no errors in translation, simply draw a line with a ruler and mark the scale on it.

Definitely don’t shim a too tight saddle, as is often quoted it’s like wearing extra thick socks in too tight shoes.

ETA replied to outerbanks77’s post as that is a really good video :smiley:

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I can relate to the frustration. When I got my new guy a year and a half ago, he needed and XW fit, and I sent my Prestige D1 off to have it adjusted wide enough. Then he grew, and his withers showed up. That saddle wasn’t going to work anymore. I hate trying to find saddles (I live in saddle fitting hell…nobody within several hours) and even more, I hate spending half my saddle budget on shipping and trials. I decided to go for something that could continue to be adjusted, figuring that while his musculature still will change, he was mature enough to settle on one saddle that could be adapted.
I ended up with an Albion Revelation (used, new was way out of my reach). The head of the tree can be changed, and the panels are on rails and can also be changed out if need be. I’m getting ready to send it off for adjustment while the beast is on his winter hiatus.

I’d suggest using a fitter that isn’t a brand rep, and has a good selection of different saddle brands.

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Thank you for posting your experience! I also live in saddle fitting Timbuktu – there’s just one that comes to our area, once a year, and I’ll have to haul an hour to the stables he visits simply to get a fitting. I can only hope he’ll have different saddles to try!

And, like you, my guy doesn’t have any withers yet either. The challenges of youngsters… :crazy_face:

Some possibly helpful info: https://www.pelhamsaddlery.net/fitting.html

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Thank you!

Just an AA here…

My “propane tank” Connemara-Appendix cross has done well in a Fairfax Cob Dressage (also available as a Thorowgood or Kent & Masters). It has adjusted well as he developed (via my saddle fitter).

RE: using a tree press to adjust trees: It is my understanding that a molded tree can only be adjusted one size, up or down. Additionally, that tree should only be adjusted one time. Further adjustments may affect the durability of the tree. Given the now availability of tree presses and saddle fitters…I would be very cautious of any molded tree, ensuring the tree matches the stamped size or get a history of tree adjustments. YMMV

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I suggest you look into TreeClix as a way to get the adjustability you want in a wide range of saddles. There is a list of saddle makers at their website here:
TreeClix on your saddle? - TreeClix

LOL!! Another poster in my original thread said she was in “school bus land” with her horse. I guess we’re probably headed to large industrial shapes as well…

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Have a look at Andrea Hicks Saddlers, possibly too niche to have cracked the American market but some interesting blog posts on fitting for the wider horse.

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Lovett & Ricketts, Black Country, Kent & Masters alll have hoop trees all available used for not a large sum. I personally love the serge panels available on some of these saddles as does my horse. For reference, here’s a picture of his chonkiness. You can see how his saddle fits by the sweat marks and in action.

Tio may 2020 on lunge

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