Kay Hastilow trained as a bench saddler with Bliss and Co, London in the late 1960s. Having set up her own manufacturing and retailing business in the 1970s she became increasingly interested in the effect that the fit of the saddle had on her own showjumping horses and, from the late 70s onwards concentrated her efforts on saddle fitting.
In 1995 the Society of Master Saddlers set up their course and qualification for saddle fitting and Kay Taught on this course from then until and including 2021, for most of this time as lead lecturer.
Now semi-retired she still lectures and teaches in various countries and when not doing this spends most of her time at her home in Scotland with her horses and playing golf.
Here Kay answers our saddle fitting question…
Q. ‘When I get a new saddle do I need to break it in slowly, or is it suitable for my usual level of work straight away?’
A. When I started my training, the leather used in our top quality saddles was quite thick and very stiff. The seat was of pigskin, which is very hard wearing but not known for softness and comfort and the butt leather used for the skirts and flaps was meant to last.
Pre-greased or specially dressed leathers weren’t an option and consequently you could expect a saddle to take two to three months of regular use to get them broken in to your and your horse’s shape.
The leathers used nowadays are either pre-softened, tanned in a particular way so as to make them malleable or often a soft hide is fixed to a light solid leather to give immediate grip and comfort. Most seats and knee grips are of calf skin, hide or sometimes doe skin. All of this makes the saddle almost ready to go, my only proviso being that you should use it for a few days so that the girth straps can stretch and, if flocked, the flocking can settle to the shape of the horse. Therefore have your saddle fitted on a Monday, ride from then until Friday and you should be ready to do whatever you are wanting to do at the weekend. Enjoy!