I’ve just returned from a busy visit to England, where I had the pleasure of meeting with some fantastic saddle makers and equine professionals.
“Saddlers Country, Walsall England…”
The adventure started in Walsall, my second visit to ‘saddlers country’ this year. Walsall is a very old town with lots of character, but given the typical English weather and December temperatures, it seemed impossible to escape the damp chill feeling. I would never have imagined so many saddles found all over the world originated from this small and worn old town. Then, you step into a saddler’s workshop and you instantly forget about the bleak, rainy streets outside. Your eyes are immediately welcomed with rows of saddles in various stages of production, raw materials, lines of trees and patterns of familiar shapes such as flaps and thigh blocks. Watching saddles in production never gets old. Each step is as important as the next to produce a saddle that is symmetrical, aesthetically appealing and built to last a decade or two of solid riding. How does a particular order arrive on paper and process into an exquisitely handcrafted ‘made to measure’ saddle designed for the individual comfort of horse and rider? There are few better places to see it all happen.
I visited the workshops of a number of different saddle makers, manufacturing from 3 to 100 saddles a week, each with its own style and “eau d’workshop” scent. One thing they each had in common was a warm welcome and a cup of tea. I left Walsall this time with an even greater understanding and appreciation of the skill and high level of craftsmanship in made to order, bench made saddles.
“Tales of Nottingham…”
Almost everyday I am faced with a saddle that doesn’t fit or an asymmetrical horse, often both. Throughout my years of training I have been told to adjust trees asymmetrically, add shims, add flocking, use saddle pads, etc. to solve these types of situations. These ‘solutions’ sometimes work, but sometimes they don’t. At the end of the day they are band-aid solutions to a problem that isn’t necessarily being addressed. Why is the horse so asymmetrical and how is adjusting a saddle to match a horse’s asymmetry going to solve anything long-term? Does an asymmetrical horse have to remain that way? I am well educated on the anatomy, conformation and movement of the horse and feel that a saddle-fitter should also address musculo-skeletal issues, not just ‘fit’ around them. Easier said than done mind you, but nonetheless shouldn’t be overlooked or ignored all together.
Researching asymmetries in horses is pretty exciting because you find out that several highly respected experts don’t always agree, especially about Limb Length Disparities (LLD). I will save a more in-depth discussion on this topic for an upcoming newsletter, but this was the start of the quest that led me to Nottingham.
I highly recommend that horse owners, veterinarians, trainers… ok anyone involved with horses pick up a copy of Farriery ~ The Whole Horse Concept by professional farrier David Gill. Not only is it an excellent read, David is a fantastic person and equine professional. I contacted him after having read his book (that I purchased off Amazon) to see if he would be interested in connecting and sharing ideas. As a massage therapist and saddle-fitter I tend to examine from the knees up and farriers tend to examine from the knees down. Imagine all of that knowledge combined!
We enjoyed a fabulous visit to a local farm where we were able to engage in a hands-on discussion. We were fortunate to visit the farm of Louise Graham, editor of Equestrian Life Magazine, who happened to have 2 rare Exmoor ponies. For those of you not familiar with Exmoors, there are only around 800 worldwide, with about 300 active adult breeding mares in existence. Meeting these two Exmoor ponies was one of the most memorable moments of my trip!
Returning from such a great trip was the perfect way to start off the New Year (though the jet lag, flu and a 20 hour travel day meant I didn’t make it for any midnight celebrations!). For 2012, I look forward to sharing a new quarterly newsletter, Horse Talk Travels, with everyone in addition to the regular updates here. The newsletter will expand on my experiences, share useful information and include input from other equine professionals. Please take a moment to sign up for it, there’s a spot at the bottom of this site to enter your email address.
Until then, good health and good fit!
Left: Louise Graham, Centre: Holly Barnett, Right: David Gill