If you grew up horse "crazy," you probably know and love the ponies of Norman Thelwell. The hapless young equestrian on the cover of his "A Leg At Each Corner" is no doubt a victim of not only the famed pony "attitude" as well as a less than secure saddle on the round as a barrel pony back.
Our first pony, Glenmore Surprise Party is a member of the leggier British Riding Pony tribe. Party belongs to Amy Fortney-Brown. Amy describes him as a sassy, Energizer© Bunny who jumps and is trained to Second Level in Dressage.
When I first met Party, he had the traditional round Pony back, with only a faint indication of withers. With his build, the only saddle tree that would work is one we call the "Hoop" tree, resembling the iron hoops that bind a barrel. The photo below shows how a bare tree in this configuration allows the rail to lay parallel to the pony back. The saddle points below the pommel are the same width as the shoulders. Amy selected the Lovatt & Ricketts Ellipse Dressage saddle as it was possible to have the correct tree and shorten the flaps to the correct length for Amy’s legs. The natural texture of the Buffalo leather also helps Amy keep up with Party when he gets up to his "tricks." Notice the level seat and pommel height on Party’s saddle---just a few of the indications that he is correctly saddled.
Our next pony is Thistle, "The Pistol," owned by the Holden family. Thistle has to be one of the "biggest" little horses I know. Isabel Holden was his first rider and now he belongs to her sister, Clair. He is wearing a Thornhill Vienna II, another hoop treed saddle.
Thistle exhibits the classic broad, flat pony back. This combination can easily result in saddle wallowing, a sure recipe for a sore, less than willing horse. If this goes on too long, the incorrectly saddled horse will either quit OR turn into a plunging bronco OR come up lame. Whether saddling English or Western, the tree of the saddle must lay parallel to the pony’s back muscles. Trees that are too narrow will drive the pommel or horn into the air and make the pony sore. This is often accompanied by a condition we call bridging—where the rail (see the tree photo) "bridges" in the middle. This divides the bearing surface of the saddle by as much as 50%. Where the saddle does touch the back, those muscles are subject to twice the amount of pressure they should be experiencing.
Trees that are too wide will leave the rider feeling like they are constantly pitching forward over the pony’s head. This rocking is very hard on the pony’s shoulders as the points are driven into the muscling.
Whether too wide or too narrow, in both cases the rails of either will not lay flat against the back. When correctly fitted, the saddle will not wallow or roll. One of the best tests to place the saddle on the pony’s back without a pad, grasp the billets and pull straight down. If the tree shape is right, the saddle will stay in place even without a girth.
Dr. Joyce Harmon, author of several good books on saddle fit, believes 95% of training problems are caused by poorly fitting saddles. If you have problems saddling your pony, please feel free to go to my website, www.saddlefitter.com I have posted many articles on saddle fit and I am always happy to answer questions by email or phone. Ride happy!