Eveliina Marttisdóttir (Hestbak ehf.) about saddle fitting:
What is saddle-fitting, who needs it and is it even necessary with the Icelandic horses?
Let’s start from the beginning. Long time ago when people started to use horses as a mean of transportation and for work, they soon realized that the horses would be capable of working much more and until older age if they got help with carrying people and heavy loads in their backs. A saddle tree was created. Now the heavy loads were distributed evenly along the horse’s back meaning that the horses could be healthier and work until older age. For people back then their income and even survival was often dependent on their horses. In the modern world having a healthy horse is not a question of survival, and a lot of knowledge has been forgotten: saddles are now made in mass production rather than individually, and saddle makers are motivated by business rather than knowledge.
Unfortunately, the horses never changed. The facts for them are the same, we just forgot about the “why”. Today horses are bread to be more sensitive, hypermobile and lightly built with shorter and shorter saddle support areas. This makes the jobs of saddle makers and fitters increasingly difficult.
What about the Icelandic horse?
What about the myth, that Icelandic horses can have a “standard size” saddle that is designed for the Icelandic horse, and therefore fitting the saddle is not that important? Or that on Icelandic horses the saddle needs to be fitted differently than on a “big horse”?
As long as your horse has a skeleton that looks something like in this photo and you want to put a saddle on it and ride it, I promise you that all of the same rules apply. The horses are just as individual in size and building as us people and I think you also agree that the same shoes wouldn’t fit on every person in Iceland, even if they were all Icelandic.
Fitting trends and marketing lines
As said before, today saddle companies are often more knowledgeful of marketing than actual saddle making or horse and rider anatomy. This has brought saddles to the market, that are very comfortable for the riders, but unfortunately extremely unhealthy for the horses. This many times works: the horse is not the one paying for the new saddle. But the horse is also not the one paying the veterinary bill once injury occurs.
So how can you avoid buying the wrong saddle? Here is some tips:
Avoid brand fitters.
These kind of “saddle fitters” usually only sell saddles from one brand. The education they get is almost never sufficient. They usually spend a few days with the saddle manufacturer, learning about all the special qualities of the saddle(s). Again, the “why” is forgotten. These people rarely know much about equine or rider anatomy, and the information they get is almost never evidence based. In addition, having only one brand of saddles in your selection is definitely not enough to find well-fitting saddles to variety of customers. They will sell you a saddle anyway.
Ask about your fitter’s education.
Today it is possible to get a saddle fitter certification through online courses that take only few days to complete. Try to find a fitter with proper education that also includes exams or practical learning. Remember that trainers, body workers or veterinarians are not saddle fitters.
Always ask why and how.
Many companies have gotten so good at marketing that they can make the customer believe almost anything about their product. “Anatomically shaped”, “fits every horse” or “relieves pressure”, and the list goes on. Always question these marketing lines. Ask why and how. If you can’t get a proper answer, there is most likely no purpose behind the design.
Evidence based information.
People will tell you all kinds of information about saddle fitting and equine anatomy. Always ask them how they know. Is the information based on research, or is it someone’s opinion? There is two kinds of saddle fitting out there: opinion based and evidence based. We are blessed with so great technology it is possible to reliably test almost anything: make sure your knowledge is not based on opinions.
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