Saddling the Gaited Horse
Looking for a horse who won’t turn your back into a corkscrew? You are not alone. The demand for the smooth traveling gaited horse continues to grow as America’s riders get older or make their first forays into riding.
The secret behind the gaited horse’s smooth ride is the four beat (amble) or two beat lateral pattern (pace.) Within the gaited breeds, each has a special name for their special footfall. One of the big issues gaited horse riders face is non-gaiting or incorrect gait. While training plays a large part when this occurs, so does saddling. A large hurdle to saddling these horses is a mythology which has grown up around them, suggesting that the Gaited Horse must have a saddle built in their country of origin or a saddle that is built for that breed alone.
I have trained/shown Paso Finos, ridden Icelandics and the least favorite ride in my life--a pacing Morgan. (This individual should have harness raced—not been a saddle horse!) I have saddled every gaited breed and can say with confidence that there is only one constant—no matter brand or label, correct fit is still the first and most important element. (Please refer to my earlier articles on this site.)
Generalizations are both a comfort and a hole to fall into. Saying all Gaited Horses need a saddle
that is more "A" shaped than "O" shaped is a generalization, not a fact. I have saddled gaited horses with Quarter Horse bars and Quarter Horses with Gaited bars. The only generalization I am comfortable with is that each horse is an individual and should be approached with an open mind and a multitude of possible solutions.
(Photo Right: Gloria Verrechio, DVM on Aradis in a Laser 747 Dressage saddle. For more info: www.penridgeicelandics.com or to see the saddle in action)
First up, we meet the six year old Icelandic mare Aradis and her breeder, Gloria Verrechio, DVM. Gloria and her husband, Vince, have a beautiful Icelandic Breeding Farm in the Stillwater, MN area. I first met Gloria when she and her marvelous (beautiful, sweet, smart, sane) stallion, Fonix fra Sydsta-Osi were having problems with a German made "Icelandic" saddle. Inspection found a saddle with two completely different panels and a broken pommel rivet (heartily denied by the maker—talk about not standing behind your product.) Because Gloria rides a varied age group of Icelandics, the saddle that proved Heaven sent was a Laser 747.
Laser Equestrian is the only "adjustable" saddle that I personally own and turn to when conditions warrant. Designed by Major Jeremy Beale, a British Olympic rider, these are among the few saddles on the market designed by a rider, rather than just rider endorsed. (Trust me, it makes a difference!)
Gloria’s "747" is an older model with the mechanism built into the pommel head and capable of being adjusted by tiniest increments. My own "747" has started eight horses! What I love about this saddle is that if (let’s be realistic, when) your horse withdraws their back for whatever reason—sore feet, playing too hard in the pasture, overwork---with a tweak, the panels (made of PrOlite gel which takes the mold of the horse’s back in about three rides) can be lowered to encourage the horse to round up and meet them. Gloria is able to go from horse to horse and have each one correctly fit.
(Photo left: Jeanine Vigen on Reina, five year old Peruvian Paso mare wearing a Meleta Brown Freedom Saddle and a ThinLine Western pad.)
Jeanine is a dear friend whom I have watched with fascination as her herd of Peruvians has grown, along with a collection of authentic Peruvian tack. Beautiful as it is, it has proven a challenge for Jeanine to keep her show horses comfortable through in the Peruvian gear. Together, we explored the "EQUImeasure," a heat in the oven saddling "tool." When she told me she’d invested in one of these, I was delighted to help. WE molded the "EQUImeasure" to her mare’s back and while it hardened, I did drawings of the back with a flexible curve. When I compared the two, my best advice was, send the tracings. IF the Peruvian Saddler worked from the EQUImeasure the desired adjustment wouldn’t have occurred. (As the form cooled, it spread!)
In order to keep her horses comfortable, we used ThinLine shims, (www.thinlineglobal.com) under her Traditional tack. Training rides? A Meleta Brown Freedom Trail saddle with round skirts for Jeanine’s short backed horses. Even her finer built babies have been going happily in the Freedom saddle and without soreness. Notice in the photo the angled Wall’s Stirrup Irons. In them, Jeanine’s feet remain parallel to the ground. Other Western stirrups make the rider angle their legs away from the horse in order to maintain the stirrup and as a result can create foot, ankle, knee or leg pain. A tip of the hat to S.A. Walls, inventor of this stirrup!
(Photo right: Cordia Person on Pantera Negra La Estancia, 6 year old Paso Fino mare at The Paso Regional in Perry, GA.)
I "inherited" the ride on Pantera after she washed out with another trainer. By the time I got her, Pantera was a "Flying Mount," either the rider had wings or didn’t make it up in the saddle. She was prepared for pain and wanted no part of it. Thankfully, her owner brought her to me after learning I had had success with one of her neighbor’s Pasos
Pantera was mostly a training problem, but I had to fly in the face of the Paso Class A tradition in that I refused to "hook" up with either a saddle made in the breed’s country of origin or the then trendy, OrthoFlex. I held my ground and saddled her with a Blue Ribbon Dressage saddle (sadly, no longer made.) It took weeks before we didn’t have to box her for mounting, but when Pantera learned to trust me, we were unstoppable. Her hooves sounded like a machine gun on the sounding boards. Her shinning moment was winning her Performance class at the Paso Regionals.
The lesson with Pantera is simple—correct saddling, patience and kindness made her a winner, not some marketing genius’s "magic bullet" saddle.
Gait is bred into these horses and they will do their best when they are comfortable and feel safe. Each horse’s back and conformation is as individual as yours is. Approach saddling with the same care as you do "shoeing" your feet, and you both will be happy.
A tip of the hat to all the Tennessee Walking Horses, Rocky Mountain Horses, and other Gaited Horses not featured in this article—if only there’d been room for you all.
If I can be any help saddling your Gaited Horse, contact me!