Here Kay Hastilow Master Saddler, Master Saddle Fitter, answers our question on what to expect from a saddle fitting appointment.
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.
Q. What should I expect from my saddle fitting appointment? Is there anything I need to do to prepare my horse?
There are two types of saddle fitting appointments – to buy a ‘new’ saddle or to check your existing saddle. For simplicity I will cover the latter, buying a saddle.
For the saddle fitter we would like the horse to be inside, or at least under cover, clean and dry. He should be used to being handled, and to strangers coming to him. Good manners make things much easier with a fitting.
You should have a bridle, stirrups, leathers, assorted sizes of girths and a saddle cloth, ideally not too thick, to hand. You will need to have hat and boots and body protector if you use one ready so that you can ride, and there should be a safe, enclosed area (a secure field is fine) to ride in. If the saddle is for jumping it is advisable to have a coupe of jumps in place ready.
The fitter might have taken details before your visit but they will need to know height, age, sex, colour and breed type of your horse. How long he has been in your ownership, what fitness level he is at and what your aims and ambitions are with him. Has he or you had any old injuries that might affect his / your way of going. Likewise recent injuries.
The fitter will take a description, look at his conformation as regards saddle fitting and check for areas of asymmetry, discomfort or sores, noting anything that might be relevant.
They should ask to see the horse walk and trot on hand to see if the way he moves might influence the saddle fit.
They should discuss your requirements and what might be suitable for both you and your horse. It may be that you want a specific brand or style of saddle but the fitter thinks this an unsuitable choice for you both, explaining why and advising something similar but not what you asked for. This isn’t a sales pitch – if we know that your choice will lead to problems we would usually walk away rather than sell an unsuitable saddle. The welfare of the horse is the uppermost for us at all times.
Having tried suitable saddles and selected 2 or 3 to try, each will be girthed up with irons and leathers fitted and a saddle cloth beneath the saddle. You will be invited to mount and try each saddle at walk, trot, canter if you are happy to do so and jump if that is a requirement for the saddle.
If you or your horse obviously dislike the saddle you will be asked to stop and try others.
Be aware that a saddle must be seen ridden in by you on the horse in question to confirm a good fit. No one can say that a saddle fits without this!
Having decided on the saddle that you want any alterations or changes that you require will be discussed and then you get down to the nitty gritty of cost, payment, delivery (if having a similar saddle to that tried made) and paperwork. A record of the visit, templates and measurements should be taken and the fitting form shared with you. Terms and conditions, the right to cancel contract and other relevant paperwork should be dealt with. A saddle made specifically for you MUST be ridden in on the horse before the sale is complete and follow up visits to check the fit should be discussed.
This is a brief overview of what to expect but you can see that it is thorough and takes time so please allow up to a couple of hours – you cannot fit this in during your lunch hour!
Kay Hastilow MS MSF
For more information visit www.mastersaddlers.co.uk or contact The Society of Master Saddlers on 01449 711642.