Question:I have an old Stubben Siegfried saddle that I have had for 25 years. It seems to fit both my wide-body Paint gelding and my more narrow Thoroughbred gelding well, but should I get it checked? Neither horse has rubs or sores, and neither has ever shown signs of back pain.
Answer: These old saddles are often well made and can fit many horses due to their design. Since your horses are not sore, you may be in luck and need to do very little.
However, all saddles need to be reflocked (restuffed) on a regular basis, usually about once a year, depending on the amount of riding you do. This comes as a shock to many people, myself included when I learned this useful piece of information. The pictures at right are of saddles that need reflocking; the leather on the bottom of the panels is easy to pinch between your fingers. The flocking is important to spread your weight out evenly along your horse's back. You do not want it to be thin, lumpy or hard. Many of the old saddles have so little flocking left, that the horse can feel the hard tree, instead of a nice inviting soft panel.
Try an experiment to see how your horse might feel with an lumpy saddle--neatly fold a sweatshirt and place it behind your back in the car while you drive home from the barn. By the time you reach your house (if it is farther than a few blocks) you will know where every lump is. This is what your horse feels when a saddle needs reflocking.
The next challenge is to find someone to check your saddle and perform the reflocking. You need to find someone with extensive training, not just in reflocking, but also in saddle fit. The best way to find someone is to ask around locally. There are a few saddle flocking courses offered and if you can find a person who has completed one, that may be your best start.
There is an art to working with saddles, and the more you can educate yourself the better qualified you will be to evaluate the information given to you.
My saddle fitting book, The Horse's Pain-Free Back and Saddle-Fit Book, can give you step-by-step guidelines and information to help you understand what the person is telling you. Be careful if a person is also a salesperson for one company, sometimes they want to sell you a new saddle. Independent saddle fitters, or ones that represent multiple companies are often a better bet.
If you live in an area far from a reflocker, you may need to send the saddle away. The person will not be able to see the horse, so you will need lots of pictures and as much information as possible. Good luck and happy riding!
Dr. Joyce Harman is a veterinarian and respected saddle-fitting expert certified in veterinary acupuncture and veterinary chiropractic; she is also trained in homeopathy and herbal medicine. Her Harmany Equine Clinic is in northern Virginia.
Do you have a veterinary question for Dr. Harman? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Check back for her answers on EquiSearch.com.