THIS MONTH: KAYLEY IS AWARDED THE SADDLEWORLD FELLOWSHIP.
I have been saddle fitting for well over thirty years during which time I have undertaken a great deal of research, the vast majority of which relates to horses.
Throughout this period I have becoming increasingly aware that ponies tend to be the poor relations in this sphere. Consequently, I have set up The SADDLEWORLD FELLOWSHIP which is designed to encourage research that will increase understanding of the needs of ponies and the special considerations that apply.
The Fellowship has been set up in conjunction with Hadlow College (Graded Outstanding, considered to have one of the best equine departments in the UK). Application was open to all Hadlow students in the second year of their BSc Equine Management programme. The applications were whittled down to four candidates, all of whom were interviewed by a panel chaired by me. The standard was very high but the judges unanimously selected KAYLEY LANSTON.
The Saddleworld Fellowship is a ‘First’. It is designed to increase our knowledge in a specific area of saddle fitting while at the same time giving the selected student a unique experience. Guided by me and helped by her tutor, Stuart Attwood, and Equine faculty manager Derek Payne, Kayley will be paid by Saddleworld to undertake the research. The material Kayley produces will benefit Saddleworld, Hadlow College and the saddlery industry in general.
Research and development are important in all business sectors yet they are often relegated to the bottom of the ‘to do’ pile. In times of recession when money is tight, they tend to be ignored. On the other hand, when the economy is buoyant – and orders are pouring in – it is often lack of time that is the limiting factor. And of course, ‘success’ can limit R and D because, when a product is selling well, it can seem there is no call for innovation and development!
The equestrian industry is possibly one of the worst culprits. Consider that saddles in a form that is recognised today were being made well over three thousand years ago! And that these early saddles – either by design or good luck – appeared to take into account the importance of distributing weight over as large an area of the horse’s back as possible. They created the large ‘bearing surfaces’ that are fundamental to saddle design today. The saddle-makers of ancient times also seemed to understand the need to ensure the back of the saddle didn’t extend beyond the horse’s last rib.
Of course – and in all fairness – saddles have undergone some massive developments in the intervening time. Today’s riders are completely spoilt for choice and there are numerous designs intended to help horse and rider to produce optimum performance in virtually every equestrian discipline and sport.
At the same time, the technical aspects of saddle fitting have advanced by leaps and bounds. The Society of Master Saddlers’ saddle fitting course and qualification have virtually revolutionised the fitting services available in this country. The Society has also helped to alert riders to the importance of saddle fitting while increasing awareness and understanding about the horse owner’s responsibility in ensuring their horse is equipped with a well-fitting saddle.
Whereas the vast majority of horses have their saddles fitted, it is relatively rare in the case of ponies. This is unrealistic! Pause to consider the many different breeds of pony native to the British Isles. The conformation of these breeds varies enormously – and it is often quite idiosyncratic. Some native breeds lack the wither definition that is such an important factor in saddle fitting. Furthermore, flat withers are often combined with a back that is fairly flat – and wide! In the case of the native pony/Arab cross, these idiosyncrasies are often compounded by a high croup.
Fitting a saddle for this type of conformation demands genuine expertise which has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with simply plonking a saddle on the pony’s back, standing back to admire – and commenting ‘that looks nice’! Sadly, all too often this is the treatment meted out to ponies! Fairly large percentages of pony saddles are purchased across the counter or via the internet – consequently it isn’t unusual to see a pony equipped with a saddle that is unbalanced – slipping – moving backwards or forwards, bouncing and producing other unwanted movement.
Horses change shape for to a variety of reasons – but very rarely to the extent that ponies do! In its natural state the native pony’s condition can be subject to huge seasonal variations. Careful management of the domesticated pony can control these seasonal variations to some extent but it is very difficult – impossible – to eliminate them completely.
Another problem relating to pony saddles: child riders grow! The saddle that was large enough for the rider when originally fitted can be woefully inadequate to accommodate the same rider some years later. The young rider is often forced to sit on the back of the saddle with his/her legs stuck forward. Alternatively, the rider may retain a central, balanced position at the expense of their legs dragging near the ground – and some personal discomfort!
When a pony is sold on because it is outgrown, it is far from unusual for the saddle to be retained. For some reason there is (unwarranted) assumption that the saddle will automatically fit the new pony – and that it will still be adequate for the rider! Highly unlikely!
Returning to my original point: saddle fitting for ponies needs – and deserves – greater consideration, hence the Saddleworld Fellowhip.
My sincere congratulations to KAYLEY and I hope she finds the research challenging, stimulating and fulfilling – and my thanks to HADLOW COLLEGE for encouraging so many high calibre applications for the Fellowship.
KEN LYNDON DYKES is an ex-international level three day event rider. A qualified Society of Master Saddlers’ saddle fitter, his specialities include competition horses and ‘difficult’ fittings and he is increasingly in demand as a professional witness and adjudicator in relation to saddlery-related claims and disputes. KEN can be obtained at head office (01622 844440) or on his mobile: 07973 50187