By Jennifer Klitzke
Saddle fitting. Argh! Since 2007, my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Makana and I have ridden in nine different saddles to find one that fits. Most saddles are too narrow for my horse which pinch her shoulders and restrict her movement. I’ve ridden in round skirted western saddles, dressage saddles, gaited-tree saddles, and treeless saddles. The last all-purpose saddle I rode in was wide enough in the shoulders and fit Makana great (so I thought).
My gaited horse has a rather long back for her size, and bending her through the midsection has been sticky. That’s one of the biggest reasons why I registered for the 2013 gaited horsemanship clinic with Larry Whitesell and Jennifer Bauer. At last year’s clinic Larry and Jennifer showed me ways to unlock the braces in my horse’s poll, and they set me on a course to lead Makana into balance and relaxation.
This time Larry and Jennifer helped me address my horse’s back bracing issues. We began with saddle fit. At closer examination, the saddle that I thought fit my horse didn’t. I had made a ridiculous mistake of saddle fitting my horse in the cross ties. Sure, the saddle had plenty of clearance over her wither until I sat in the saddle. Then the saddle rested on my horse’s wither—likely a good reason for a hollow back and reluctance to move forward, but I knew there was more to it than this since I had only been riding in the all-purpose saddle for a month.
We switched to Larry’s Freedom saddle with a gaited tree which fit perfectly (in and out of the cross ties). While riding, Larry and Jennifer helped me open my awareness to the “feel” of my horse’s back—the feeling of hollow, the feeling of round, and the impact each have on movement. When my horse hollows her back, she loses forwardness, impulsion, and the depth of step. Cueing her forward while hollow only makes her take short quick steps that I refer to as the “scamper step.” It is still a smooth four-beat gait but not the quality flat walk I had been asking for.
Larry explained the bio-mechanics needed to improve my horse’s way of going. Instead of driving her forward while sluggish and hollow, I need to help my horse utilize her abdominal muscles to lift and round her back and engage her hindquarters in order for her to travel comfortably forward with relaxation and deeper steps.
Larry taught me a great exercise that I call, “Back and Forth to Better Movement.”
How to perform “Back and Forth to Better Movement”:
- The exercise: Beginning at a soft and round halt, I gently cue my horse three-five steps of rein back and halt and gently cue her three-five steps forward, halt and repeat the back and forth sequence three times. This is not rushed or forced as it is important that my horse remains relaxed and round—nose to tail. Once the horse feels lifted in the back, then I continue to move forward after the last rein back and maintain the feeling of the lifted back in the forward motion. My horse knows rein back well now, but when I introduced this exercise, I only asked for a step or two of rein back.
- During the rein back, I close my fingers on the reins without pulling back, lighten myself in the saddle, draw my heels slightly behind the girth, and hug my horse with my heels to encourage her to activate her abdominal muscles and lift her back.
- The forward cues are opening my fingers without giving away the reins and squeezing my seat and calves.
- Repeat the back and forth three times until I feel my horse’s back lift the saddle beneath me. Then I proceed forward ending the exercise and maintain the roundness in her back, the connection back to front, and engagement for deeper steps.
So each time I feel my horse’s back begin to sag, I repeat the “Back and Forth to Better Movement” exercise and then resume where we left off before the exercise. This exercise has made a big difference in my horse’s movement and willingness to go forward.
Makana is happy that I am now on saddle number nine that is wide enough for her shoulders and tall enough to clear her withers.
Does anyone want to buy a saddle?
Video: Back and Forth to Better Movements
Article about saddle fit by Larry Whitesell: “Is it Saddle Fit?”
For more information about the Freedom Saddle, visit FreedomSaddle.com.