I want to share my experience, in hopes of helping just one person or just one horse …
First a quick background on myself, I am a USDF Certified Instructor, L Graduate and a human LMT. I am a Masterson Method Practitioner, and I am a strong believer in human and horse body therapies. Not one person is symmetrical, and we take our asymmetries on to each horse we ride. I do many different types of therapies/activities for myself, and I always put the horse’s well-being first.
In January 2020 I had just imported my young horse and I knew I needed to make sure that my saddle fit him and would allow room for him to grow. He was just coming 4 years old and at 17.3h I knew his lean lanky body would be filling out massively as he got stronger and started building muscle. I had a saddle fitter out and was instructed I should go the complete custom route to ensure any foreseeable issues. So, I did just that, paying $6,000 which I thought would give me a tremendous peace of mind moving forward. It did and I put way to much faith in this custom saddle … meaning I never imagined it was this very same saddle that was causing all the issues.
Within a few months I started to notice some serious training issues, especially in the right lead canter. He felt like he had a flat tire, and would sometimes buck or bunny hop and not separate his legs like he would in the left lead. I was scared to death that my horse had a major problem! I also noticed on the ground that he was having difficulties rotating his head to the right, like when doing carrot stretches. He would barely turn his head and look… like how someone with whiplash would try to look over their shoulder. In addition, he started to spook at so many things that he had not done prior.
I decided to ask my vet to have a look and do a basic evaluation. He suspected SI and/or possible Stifle issues…. This horse was just coming 4!!! I could not bring myself to do injections, because to me injections and medications just treat the symptoms and sometimes do not necessarily address the root cause. I needed to know what was causing this.
So, I decided to reach out to an acquaintance I had met at a Masterson Conference years ago… Tami Elykayam. Well, we had numerous riveting conversations… since we are both equine bodyworker geeks, and I can feel in the saddle when a horse is having a hard time with something. She wanted very specific confirmation photos, and a few videos. Then, Tami gave me specific exercises to do on the ground before and after riding or as often as I possibly could do them. Well, I was determined, and I wanted to give him the best shot I could. Within just 5 days I noticed a huge difference in how he felt and a comparison of new photos, we could see changes happening and I was excited. We had periods where there would be more improvements, then followed by setbacks… and we were both dumb founded.
Well… long story short, and jump forward about a year and a half… I have found such an amazing friendship with Tami, and she has helped me unravel the mystery I was having with my horse and now many client’s horses as well. I knew the saddle needed adjusting and it had this annoying squeak in the right point of the pommel since it arrived. So, I agreed to send my saddle for what I thought would be at the most 2 weeks. Well, after 5 weeks I had enough. The winter is when we get serious work done and move ahead in training and I was losing valuable time. Then I inadvertently found out from a mutual friend that apparently my saddle was 1 out of 5 that the manufacturer realized there was some sort of issue with the tree. To this day, I will probably never really know to what extent the issue was and I should have been notified immediately. Selling faulty equipment that causes serious issues could have been a lawsuit, but that was not my intention. I just wanted my horse to be happy and feel good.
There is always a silver lining, even in something as unfortunate as this… I spent 6k to get a saddle that would not cause my horse issues, and it did just that. I decided to reach out to Graham at N2 Saddlery, and I sent him photos of my horse and he had a saddle to me within a week. But this is the MOST exciting part… in just 2 rides in the saddle and ALL my training issues went away! My horse could pick up the right lead and not buck and had clear separation of his hind legs. In the first saddle it always felt like I could not feel his back under my right seat bone, and I thought it was an issue with my horse. Because who would blame a brand-new custom saddle?? I feel just awful, and I have lost so much time and training and caused my young guy unnecessary anguish. In the end I am relieved it wasn’t my horse… it was the saddle!
I will still have some rehab of course, both mentally and physically for probably sometime… since his neuroplasticity has been comprised. The moment we put a saddle on we change the horse’s spinal mobility, then a damaged saddle on top of that… then we add ourselves to the equation… we can lose suppleness and mobility. I know there has been damage, but his young age is a blessing. If he had spent his whole life in this saddle, that would be a different story. I have a year and a half to make up for, and he has now been in this N2 saddle for almost 2 months, and the positive changes are enough to make me cry happy tears.
My horse feels good! I am not looking to bash the professional saddle fitter I had, I am hoping to educate everyone. Just because you pay for a custom saddle, does not mean that it’s not hurting your horse. Do what you can to try to unravel training issues, don’t blame the horse, don’t blame the saddle… but be educated with the choices you make and do not stop searching for answers. If it’s one thing horses have taught me… It’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey. I truly believe all the horses I have had the pleasure to help, have been brought into my life for a reason… to teach me something new!
Is it the saddle, is it the horse??
Carol Cunefare USDF Certified Instructor through 2nd Level
USDF L Graduate and Bronze Medalist M
MCP Masterson Method Certified Practitioner
*The only change between these two photos was the new saddle