I dreamed about this last night. I watched youtube videos about western saddle fit for HOURS. How can this be so hard? I can fit english saddles without breaking a sweat. I figured a saddle was a saddle and that I'd have enough basic knowledge to fit this saddle with at least some confidence. I can tell if an english saddle is good within a couple of minutes. Wither clearance, shoulder angle, rocking, bridging, balance. Done. I should be able to do that on a western saddle, surely.
Let's discuss some details of western saddles I never realized.
One: No flocking. I never really realized that there is no flocking on a western saddle. That means the little tweaks and adjustments I'm used to are impossible. Instead, you use your saddle pad. That 1" saddle pad that feels ridiculously thick? It's taking the place of the 1" + of flocking under your english saddle. Your saddle pad is a crucial part of the saddle fitting equation. Uhhhhhh, what? My english saddle brain is spazzing out. Theo's jump saddle is so well fitted I could use it with no pad at all and a loose girth with no real problems. It's not going anywhere. Now I'm learning about getting close and then fine tuning with the right saddle pad.
Not a good pad, likes to try to escape
Two: Saddle pads are not frivolous and easily changed. These things are beefy and do not fold or bend easily. They are expensive. They don't go in the wash. You don't collect a dozen just 'cause. You have a saddle pad that is broken in to your horse's back and saddle. You use that pad. Done. You might put a show blanket on top for fancy occasions, but it's very thin and just for show. My brain hurts.
New (expensive) pad
Three: Western saddles are long. So long. Usually the whole 'not off the last rib' thing is something I don't have to worry about too much. That is no longer the case. My short backed horse is a problem in this dimension. I have a 16" saddle and I'm watching his loins very closely. I'm having a lot of trouble with pulling my saddle too far forward because I'm so worried about how long it is. And directly related to this, where the hell is the front of my saddle? I know its that concho, but I cannot seem to get this thing settled right where it belongs.
Pretty sure this is shoved right up on his shoulders
Four: Freaking heavy = difficulty in checking the fit. It's actually really hard to work my hands up under there to check for clearance and bridging. Is it evenly squashing my hand the whole way? I dunno, I lost blood flow to my fingers up at the shoulders. It's also really hard to get my pad up into the gullet because it's also heavy and trying to lift the whole rig on a 16h horse is enough to make my bad shoulder send up distress flares. I need a stool. I wish I was joking.
Booty shot (using a stool)
Five: Flex tree means the cinch loosens after mounting. The saddle settles bit more when I climb on. I can't figure out how to tighten my cinch from the saddle. You can see where this would be problematic. Slipping saddle pads are my life right now. And when I tighten it up enough to keep my pad sorta in place? Theo hates me and I end up with it tight over his shoulders (also see point number three about putting it too far forward because I'm worried about his loins).
Seriously, how could this thing ever be tight on his shoulders?
I still haven't made up my mind about this saddle. I have a new saddle pad on the way to see if having a nice, thick, wool felt saddle pad fixes the slipping issues. Theo's back is pain free and he's moving well, so I'm not too worried about him for these test rides. I carefully palpated his back last night after riding and he just made happy faces and dozed, enjoying his massage. I'm worried that I'll sink a bunch of money in a new saddle and then a month from now find out it's making him lame. Because that's how these things work. And there are no western saddle fitters in my area at all.
Wither clearance? What's that?
In an attempt to preserve my sanity, I'm taking Theo, his new saddle, and his new pad to my Saturday clinic early so I can have multiple western riders help me out with determining whether or not this saddle is okay for him. My friend from my drives to SC with the princess is now the barn manager for this facility, so she's offered to pull out a bunch of pads and help me. By all accounts, the saddle sits too low over his withers, but it's got the right angle for his shoulders. I get on and off, it doesn't move. No rock or roll or slide. Walk, trot, canter, it doesn't move. I ride with or without stirrups without a problem. Not very good at cinching my girth yet, saddle doesn't move. Saddle pad disappears, but the saddle stays put.
The more narrow saddle fit his withers better but was pressing in on his shoulders (too narrow an angle, didn't follow his shoulders).
Medium tree that I took no pictures of because I was convinced it was too narrow
I've also sent an email and a million pictures to the saddle expert I've been working with. That poor woman will be earning her commission the hard way on this sale.